The World in Solemn Stillness

I post this every Christmas Eve.

This 1663 painting by Abraham Hondius has a ma...
This 1663 painting by Abraham Hondius has a matching painting of the Adoration of the shepherds. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain

We’re watching, one more time, It’s a Wonderful Life. Clarence Oddbody, AS2 (Angel Second Class), aka Henry Travers, is showing George Bailey, aka James Stewart, how his hometown would look if George had never been born.

Travers in his most memorable role, as Clarenc...
Travers in his most memorable role, as Clarence Odbody in It’s a Wonderful Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain.

In a couple of minutes, George will learn that, because he never existed, his wife, Mary, aka Donna Reed, not only never married, but became a librarian. Judging from her granny glasses, frumpy hat, and bun, that’s a fate worse than death.

I like It’s a Wonderful Life, but it isn’t my favorite Christmas movie. I prefer Miracle on 34th Street, in which Edmund Gwenn–whom I rank right up there with Henry Travers–is declared, in court, to be the real  Santa Claus. No librarians were defamed in the making of that show.

Even though It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t my favorite, as soon as half the town crowds into the Bailey living room to pile money onto the table, I start to cry. I cry through the credits and the next three commercials. Even a not-favorite movie can stir emotions. Year after year after year.

Favorites aren’t easy. I don’t have a favorite novel or a favorite song or a favorite color. Or a favorite teacher, actor, or pet. I have multiple favorites. For me, those get-your-password questions–“What is your favorite television show?”–are useless. I never remember whether I said Andy Griffith or Law and Order or I’ll Fly Away.

 But I do have a favorite Christmas carol. The melody is lovely and singable–singable is important–but it’s the words that move me. They speak of peace and quiet and rest for the weary, of heavenly song floating above earthly babble. They speak of ancient tidings of peace to one small group of men, and of a promise of a world in complete harmony.

But the lyrics also speak of the present, of stopping, and looking up, and seeing angels. They’re there now, and they’re singing.

We have only to be still and listen.

*

 It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.

 Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o’er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains,
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o’er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.

 Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

 And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!

 For lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world send back the song
which now the angels sing.

 *****

From Wikipedia:
“‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” (1849) — sometimes rendered as ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’ — is a poem and Christmas carol written by Edmund Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts. Sears’ lyrics are most commonly set to one of two melodies: ‘Carol,’ composed by Richard Storrs Willis, or ‘Noel,’ adapted from an English melody.

“Edmund Sears composed the five-stanza poem in Common Metre Doubled during 1849. It first appeared on December 29, 1849, in the Christian Register in Boston. Sears is said to have written these words at the request of his friend, William Parsons Lunt, pastor of United First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts.”

*****

Reposted from December 25, 2010

Christmas Compromise, 2009

Posted on Whiskertips, December 24, 2009, when William and Ernest were still young adults.

christmas-leaning-tree-lights-upright1

If you read my earlier post, our Christmas tree
has been the subject of intense, but not unexpected, conflict.

As soon as the tree lit up, so did William and Ernest.
William had to be physically restrained from chewing on the lights.

The next morning Kathy found the tree lying on its side and the cats out of sight.
The tree spent the day en deshabille, as it were.

christmas-tree-lights-leaning-zoom-out

After lengthy trilateral negotiations, a compromise was reached.

Ornaments and tree skirt are, of course, out of the question.

Gifts will appear Christmas morning immediately before they’re to be opened.

 img_0506-e1261713651450-christmas-tree-top-lights

Cats 1 – Tree 0

Posted on Whiskertips, December 10, 2009, when William and Ernest were young adults.

christmas-leaning-tree-lights-upright1

Last night David strung lights on Christmas tree.

William began gnawing on lights.

Kathy went bananas, envisioning surgery
to pick shards out of William’s GI tract.

William said he didn’t care. Ernest said he didn’t care either.

David distracted William and Ernest.

This morning Kathy picked up tree, sopped up water,
dragged lights to higher altitude, considered going back to bed.

Kathy regrets she didn’t get a shot of tree lying on its side,
blocking entrance to kitchen.

William and Ernest said if Kathy had gotten up and fed them
the first time they pounced on her,
she wouldn’t be sitting here now, thinking about dragging tree to dumpster.

christmas-tree-lights-leaning-zoom-out

In Memoriam: Gale Albright

Sisters in Crime ~ Heart of Texas Chapter

Gale AlbrightGale Albright, November 2016

Gale Albright, 2016 president of Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas chapter, a member of Austin Mystery Writers and the Writers’ League of Texas, an author, and our dear friend, died on November 19.

Gale was born in Tyler, in the Piney Woods of East Texas, where her family has lived for generations. She attended the University of Texas at Austin, and in the late 2000s completed a degree in English Writing and Rhetoric at St. Edwards University.

In an interview posted on the Austin Mystery Writers website, Gale spoke of how important her East Texas upbringing was to her writing:

“I always have to write about Texas. I had many conversations with older people in my family when I was a little kid, so I heard a lot of stories about hard times picking cotton, taking a lunch to school in a lard bucket…

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Young and Brave and Naive and Amazingly Stupid… but Successful

A long time ago, when I was young and brave,* I herded about forty ninth-grade students onto a school bus and took them to San Antonio, thirty miles away, to a matinée performance of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. 

The day before the event, I learned that two girls planned to skip the trip. They were going to attend school but to sit in the library while the rest of the English class sat in a theater.

I consulted the principal. He consulted the girls. The girls decided they would go to see Romeo and Juliet with the rest of us.

English: Woodcut "Verona" from "...
English: Woodcut “Verona” from “Romeo and Juliet” from the 1847 edition of The Illustrated Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia). See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I hadn’t seen the movie and was surprised to learn that at least one major event–the sword fight between Romeo and Paris outside the Capulet tomb–had been omitted. Shakespeare’s plays are long, movies move more slowly than dramas at the Globe did, so something had to go.

Still, of all the deaths in the play–Mercutio’s, Tybalt’s, Paris’, Romeo’s, Juliet’s–Paris’ seems to me the saddest. Paris is the one innocent character: neither Montague nor Capulet, he has no enemies, seeks no revenge, but simply loves Juliet, and dies trying to prevent Romeo from (as he thinks) desecrating her tomb. Friar Laurence describes what he found in the churchyard when he came to wake Juliet:

But when I came, some minute ere the time
Of her awaking, here untimely lay
The noble Paris and true Romeo dead.
She wakes; and I entreated her come forth,
And bear this work of heaven with patience:
But then a noise did scare me from the tomb;
And she, too desperate, would not go with me,
But, as it seems, did violence on herself.

Three deaths in the last minutes of the play. Omitting one lessens the impact of the other two. But only for viewers already familiar with the play, I suppose. If you don’t know that much about Paris, you probably don’t miss him.

Something else surprised me, too: the unobstructed view of Romeo’s bare backside we got when he heard the lark and hopped out of bed. But in a theater packed with fourteen-year-olds, I heard not one giggle. That is my definition of success.**

And the day got even better. On our return to school, the principal came out to meet the bus. He and I were standing together, making sure students headed toward the building and not away from it, when the girls who’d threatened to boycott the play walked by.

“Well,” he said, “what did you think of it?”

One of them tossed her head and said over her shoulder, in the tone of bored superiority only a fourteen-year-old can produce, “They didn’t even show the scene where Paris died.”

That, dear reader, is my other definition of success.

Why do I write about R&J tonight? Because the Zeffirelli version is on the late movie, and I’m watching as I remember.

But now I’m going to turn off the television and make my way to bed.

Because I’ve already seen my favorite part, Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech:

MERCUTIO
then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O’er ladies o’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she—

ROMEO
Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!
Thou talk’st of nothing.

MERCUTIO
True, I talk of dreams…

And I already know what happens later. They don’t even show the scene where Paris died.

*****

*  … and naive and amazingly stupid.

** On network TV, Romeo’s bare backside is blurry. That is my definition of turning tragedy into comedy.

‘Shrooms: A Story in 100 Words

A short-short story.

Austin Mystery Writers

Posted by Kathy Waller

I did it again: prepared my piece for November 21 well in advance, set it aside for later revision, forgot to post it.

As we in the writing trade say, AARGH.

As my fourth-grade teacher said, Better late than never, but better never late.

As I say, take what my fourth-grade teacher said, chop off the clause starting with but and read on.

###

Because I recently attended Writer Unboxed’sUnConference in Salem, Massachusetts, I planned to write about it this week.

UnCon comprised five full days of sessions heavy with both information and inspiration: not so much how to write, but how to dig deeper, make richer, write better.

The week was intense. I’m going to have to think about it for a while before I can write about it.

So this week, following V. P. Chandler’s lead, I’m sharing a story I wrote…

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Pot Roast Plethora and a Parboiled Goose

Modified rapture!

The pot roast fell apart.

"Pot Roast" is licensed by Kathy Waller under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
“Pot Roast” is licensed by Kathy Waller under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Four hours at 250°, and a three-pound chuck roast falls apart when nudged with a fork.

It has taken me twelve years to relearn that.

Until 1988, I cooked lovely pot roasts, tender and tasty. I followed my mother’s example: no flouring, no searing, just season the meat, put it into a cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven, add onions and a little water, turn on the heat, and leave it alone. On top of the stove, in the oven, it doesn’t matter. Later, add potatoes and carrots. Cook until done.

Low-temperature electron micrograph of a clust...
Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But in 1988, I stopped cooking–that’s another story–and didn’t pick it up again on a regular basis until fifteen years later when I acquired David and thought I had to feed him nutritious, well balanced meals. He was polite, ate what was put before him, and said it was good. It wasn’t. Tough beef, tough chicken, tough meat in general. Afraid I would poison him and then have to explain it to his brothers, I cooked meat long enough to kill every possible bacterium and then some.

A modern woman steeped in the traditions of librarianship, I spent years googling pot roast recipes: Michigan Secret Pot Roast, Family Style Pot Roast, Busy Day Pot Roast, Hearty Pot Roast, Easy Pot Roast, Pot Roast in Foil, Perfect Pot Roast, Savory Pot Roast, Paula Deen Pot Roast. A plethora of pot roasts. Not much help, though, because temperatures vary widely and instructions equivocate regarding cooking times. So many read something like, Cook until meat falls apart when touched by fork. Well, d’oh.

Meal preparation is labor-intensive, and there’s little room for error. When I cook, I don’t want wishy-washy estimates. I want answers.

The break-through came with a recipe calling for an oven temperature of 250°. I’d never cooked anything that slowly, but desperate times, etc. Last night (on the theory that everything tastes better on the second day) I floured, seared, added broth–still don’t believe in it, but fifty million roasters can’t be wrong–sautéed and tossed in onion and garlic, secured our prospective entrée in a tepid oven, and went back to binge watching Law and Order. Four hours later, I removed roast from oven, inserted fork, and–voila! Immediate disintegration.

Unfortunately, I’d been so intent on the fate of the meat that I forgot to add potatoes and carrots. This morning I boiled them in the remaining beef broth and tossed them into the pot with the main course.

"Thanksgiving Turkey" is licensed by Danny Murphy under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
“Thanksgiving Turkey” is licensed by Danny Murphy under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Unless history books have it all wrong, pot roast isn’t traditional Thanksgiving fare. So why did we have it?

  1. After years of eating holiday turkey, I realized I don’t like it. I like dressing and gravy, but not turkey.
  2. I cooked a Christmas turkey in 1972 and a Thanksgiving turkey in 1999, and they were delicious. Post-1999, they’ve been flops. And a lot of work.
  3. Since marrying David, I’ve roasted, in addition to turkeys, a duck and a goose. The duck had enough meat on its little bones to last through one dinner and about a half a sandwich. The goose, selected because the Cratchitts serve it every Christmas, had to be parboiled. Without a pot large enough to hold an entire goose, I had to parboil one end at a time. I didn’t enjoy it.
  4. David and I like pot roast.
  5. I am stubborn. I do not give up, nor do I give in. If anyone thinks I’m going to be brought to my knees by some steer’s shoulder, he can think again.
English: uploaded for an infobox
English: uploaded for an infobox (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Released into the public domain by Joe Smack.

Of course, pot roast wasn’t the only dish on our table. We also had dressing, gravy,and brownies. HEB helped with the dressing. Duncan Hines helped with the brownies.

"Brownie" is licensed by Kathy Waller under CC BY NC-SA 2.0.
“Brownie” is licensed by Kathy Waller under CC BY NC-SA 2.0.

I took care of the gravy myself. It’d been eons since I made gravy, and just before adding homemade flour-and-water thickener, I heard a still, small voice say, You’re going to ruin that.  But I didn’t.

So that’s the story of Thanksgiving Dinner 2016: Relatively Perfect Pot Roast. In 2017, I’ll remember to add vegetables.

###

The other remarkable thing about Thanksgiving Dinner 2016 is that I cooked it, served it, and cleaned up after it. In the past eleven months, I’ve prepared maybe five meals–maybe–and each time I played out halfway through and left the finishing up to David. Today I stayed the course. I must be feeling better.

Oh. I just remembered–I was going to fix deviled eggs. Darn.  But I’ll do it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.

And I forgot the cranberry sauce.

###

David’s supper. He found the cranberry sauce.

Turtle brownie and cranberry sauce.
Turtle brownie and cranberry sauce.

 

Quaint and Curious

“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him and he at me,
And killed him in his place.

“I shot at him because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so—my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

“Yes; Quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.”

~ Thomas Hardy, “The Man He Killed”

English: poppy Русский: Мак
English: poppy Русский: Мак (Photo credit: Wikipedia); By Moisey (Own work (own photo)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Maven

jason-penney-armadillo-flickr-ccby2-0-2355685841_a91e48e937_z
“Texas Speed Bump AKA – Armadillo” by Jason Penney is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Once upon a time, a few days before Halloween, my friend ME called and said, “There are thirteen men under my house. They’re leveling it. For the second time in five years.” Then she invited David and me to go with her and her husband to see the Edgar Allan Poe exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center, on the University of Texas campus. The next day, I presented ME, via email, the following verse. This is its annual appearance on Telling the Truth.  Mr. Poe might be horrified, but since ME is my Muse, the result was bound to be quirky.

To G and ME,
in celebration of their tenth trimester of home improvement,
with gratitude and affection
Forgive me for making mirth of melancholy

 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a rapping,

As of someone gently tapping, tapping at my chamber floor.

“‘Tis some armadillo,” said I, “tapping at my chamber floor,

Only this, and nothing more.”

 

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the dry September,

And my house was sinking southward, lower than my bowling score,

Pier and beam and blocks of concrete, quiet as Deuteron’my’s cat feet,

Drooping like an unstarched bedsheet toward the planet’s molten core.

“That poor armadillo,” thought I, “choosing my house to explore.

He’ll squash like an accordion door.”

 

“Tuck,” I cried, “and Abby, come here! If my sanity you hold dear,

Go and get that armadillo, on him all your rancor pour.

While he’s bumping and a-thumping, give his rear a royal whumping,

Send him hence with head a-lumping, for this noise do I abhor.

Dasypus novemcinctus is not a beast I can ignore,

Clumping ‘neath my chamber floor.”

 

While they stood there prancing, fretting, I imparted one last petting,

Loosed their leashes and cried “Havoc!” then let slip the dogs of war.

As they flew out, charged with venom, I pulled close my robe of denim.

“They will find him at a minimum,” I said, “and surely more,

Give him such a mighty whacking he’ll renounce forevermore

Lumbering ‘neath my chamber floor.”

 

But to my surprise and wonder, dogs came flying back like thunder.

“That’s no armadillo milling underneath your chamber floor.

Just a man with rule and level, seems engaged in mindless revel,

Crawling ’round. The wretched devil is someone we’ve seen before,

Measuring once and measuring twice and measuring thrice. We said, ‘Senor,

Get thee out or thee’s done for.’”

 

“Zounds!” I shouted, turning scarlet. “What is this, some vill’nous varlet

Who has come to torment me with mem’ries of my tilting floor?”

Fixing myself at my station by my floundering foundation,

Held I up a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

“Out, you cad!” I said, “or else prepare to sleep beneath my floor,

Nameless there forever more.”

 

Ere my words had ceased resounding, with their echo still surrounding,

Crawled he out, saluted, and spoke words that chilled my very core.

“I been down there with my level, and those piers got quite a bevel.

It’s a case of major evolution: totter, tilt galore.

Gotta fix it right away, ma’am, ‘less you want your chamber floor

At a slant forevermore.”

 

At his words there came a pounding and a dozen men came bounding

From his pickup, and they dropped and disappeared beneath my floor.

And they carried beam and hammer and observed no rules of grammar,

And the air was filled with clamor and a clanging I deplore.

“Take thy beam and take thy level and thy failing Apgar score

And begone forevermore.”

 

But they would not heed my prayer, and their braying filled the air,

And it filled me with despair, this brouhaha that I deplore.

“Fiend!” I said. “If you had breeding, you would listen to my pleading,

For I feel my mind seceding from its sane and sober core,

And my house shall fall like Usher.” Said the leader of the corps,

“Lady, you got no rapport.”

 

“How long,” shrieked I then in horror, “like an ominous elm borer,

Like a squirrely acorn storer will you lurk beneath my floor?

Prophesy!” I cried, undaunted by the chutzpah that he flaunted,

And the expertise he vaunted. “Tell me, tell me, how much more?”

But he strutted and he swaggered like a man who knows the score.

Quoth the maven, “Evermore.”

 

He went off to join his legion in my house’s nether region

While my dogs looked on in sorrow at that dubious guarantor.

Then withdrawing from this vassal with his temperament so facile

I went back into my castle and I locked my chamber door.

“On the morrow, they’ll not leave me, but will lodge beneath my floor

Winter, spring, forevermore.

 

So the hammering and the clamoring and the yapping, yawping yammering

And the shrieking, squawking stammering still are sounding ‘neath my floor.

And I sit here sullen, slumping in my chair and dream the thumping

And the armadillo’s bumping is a sound I could adore.

For those soles of boots from out the crawlspace ‘neath my chamber floor

Shall be lifted—Nevermore!

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The Cat Lady* Writes Again

Today I’m at Writing Wranglers and Warriors. And it is about the cat(s).

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

MOW BOOK LAUNCH 003 (3)

Posted by Kathy Waller

 cat_sitting_tncat_sitting_tncat_sitting_tn

You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does — but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you’ll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use.
~ Mark Twain,  A Tramp Abroad

dscn1846Ernest Davis-Waller on back of recliner

I’m sitting in my recliner, feet up, laptop on lap, Ernest Davis-Waller stretched out on the wide overstuffed armrest to my right. His left foreleg stretches down so his paw rests against me. He’s making biscuits on my leg. Clothing doesn’t protect me: his claws pierce my flesh. I take his leg, move it up to the armrest. He reaches down and resumes making…

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