We Need A Little Christmas!

We Need A Little Christmas!

 

Although it is still autumn for another two weeks here in the northeastern United States, last weekend we had our first big snow storm.

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So it feels like winter has already begun, with the holidays of Solstice and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Christmas looming on the horizon…

As recent readers of this blog may recall, my two sisters live on a farm in upstate New York.

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One of them has lived there for many years, is a terrific photographer, and has agreed to let me use her photos in this blog post. You can click here to read a post from two years ago which also featured her photos and the song “Winter Wonderland.”

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My sisters take at least one long walk with their dogs each day.

Stella, a very large black Lab mix, is unfazed by rain or snow.

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My younger sister and nephew moved from California a couple of summers ago.

He, too, is unfazed by snow…

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Their beloved dog of 14 years recently died, and after some reflection they decided to welcome a herding dog into their lives.

This is Tasso.

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Right now he’s still growing.

But eventually he will help with these woolly beings..

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My older sister works in Cornell’s department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design.

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This is one of the reasons why she invited several pregnant Icelandic ewes onto the farm last winter.

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Here is a sampling of their un-dyed wool…

They have a soft, insulating undercoat as well as a hardy outer coat which helps them keep warm during the winter months.

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My older sister also has a very hardy flock of Australorps who are willing to venture out into the snow if someone offers something delicious such as sunflower seeds.

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They have been very healthy and generous egg-producers.

My sister has learned firsthand how intimately connected with sunlight their egg-laying cycles are.

Egg production drops off as the days get shorter and gradually picks back up after the winter solstice.

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I continue to be amazed that hens can create such enormous and beautiful and nutritious objects inside their bodies ON A DAILY BASIS!!!

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My sister feeds them organic grain from a local mill and lots of left-over vegetables — and in non-snowy months they forage outside all day long, too.

She sells some of the eggs to local customers, and her family consumes a goodly number of them, too.

During the holidays my grown up nephew and niece and her husband return to town to partake in various family rituals.

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The cutting of a tree..

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The baking…

And decorating of cookies.

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The chopping of wood…

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The singing of songs…

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The lighting of torches with cousins to drive away the winter’s gloom…

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The trimming of the tree…

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The baking of pies…

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The eating of pomegranates…

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And those daily walks around the farm with the dogs…

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Past the irrigation pond…

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Along the edge of a field…

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Admiring the beauty of an invasive species…

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Sometimes shoveling a path…

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Sometimes visiting with a sheep…

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Or watching a squirrel’s adventures on the side of one of the barns…

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Under which Stella is taking a break…

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I have long loved the song “We Need A Little Christmas” — written by the songwriter Jerry Herman for Angela Lansbury to sing in the musical Mame.

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Here he is with Angela and Carol Channing, who starred in another one of his hit musicals — Hello Dolly.

Pianist/composer Doug Hammer and I recorded the version in the player at the beginning of this blog post several years ago.

I also perform it each December as part of an hour-long program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish lyricists and composers which jazz pianist Joe Reid and I bring to Boston-area retirement communities and public libraries.

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In our current era of cultural polarization, I am grateful to remember that some of our favorite winter holiday songs — including “Silver Bells,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (and all of the other songs from that animated TV special), “The Christmas Song” (a.k.a. “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire”), “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” and “White Christmas” — were written or co-written by Jewish-American songwriters.

I thank them for their creativity and their appreciation/respect for the loving spirit of Christmas.

I thank my older sister for letting me grab all of these photos (except the one of Angela, Jerry and Carol) from her Facebook archives.

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And I — standing in snowy field during a visit to upstate NY — thank you for reading and listening to another blog post.

May you enjoy healthy and happy holidays during this season of short days and long nights…

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And maybe some pie and tapioca pudding and colorful root vegetables, too…

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Here’s To Life

Here’s To Life

 

“Here’s To Life” is a song I recorded with pianist Doug Hammer many years ago

It was written by Phyllis Molinary and Artie Butler and first recorded by Shirley Horn in 1991.

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Sometimes people say, “They don’t write songs like they used to.”

I respond that many great songs ARE still being written.

But the era of different pop stars each recording their own version of a particular hit — with different versions of the same song riding up and down the charts simultaneously — are long gone.

So a song like “Here’s To Life” is savored by a few rather than beloved by multitudes.

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I had not known anything about Mr. Butler and Ms. Molinary until I started poking around on the internet.

Mr. Butler is a composer, arranger, songwriter, music director, and record producer who has worked on an extraordinary range of songs — including Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child,” Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” and Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”

For a more complete list of songs with accompanying stories, you can visit his web site.

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He was inspired to write the tune for “Here’s To Life” after watching Johnny Carson interview George Burns on The Tonight Show.

He gave it to a few different lyricists before Phyllis Molinary (about whom I have not been able to learn much of anything…) wrote the set of lyrics which became “Here’s To Life.”

And now we are all blessed with this wise and elegant song…

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It reminds me of a birthday party I recently attended for a vibrant eighty-year-old who has lived much of her life in western Massachusetts.

Before dessert was served, many of her friends shared stories about their relationships with her.

In her understated, thoughtful, generous, organized, humorous, and wide-minded — as one woman from South America described her — way, this woman has touched thousands of her fellow human beings in significant ways.

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She taught for many decades at her local college, serving as the head of the psychology department (if I am remembering correctly) and also overseeing the college’s counseling center.

She has advised several generations of students, mentored countless faculty members, led the campus teachers’ union, been very active in town politics, and on and on and on…

I know her mainly as a very faithful cousin-in-law.

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She always visits during the winter holidays, bringing gifts for everyone and sharing stories about a web of family and friends she has accumulated around the planet.

And she shares her perspectives on what is happening locally — what options her town is exploring to mitigate an underground plume of contamination that the water department has recently discovered, for example, or how a new local restaurant (which she, of course, is eager to support) is faring.

She has a gentle finger on the pulse of her town…

Her birthday party was held at a local retreat center which is run by a very ecologically-minded order of nuns.

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As the festivities were winding down, we were invited and encouraged to explore the property.

They have converted a huge carriage house — originally built in the late 1800s by the Crane family, who earned a lot of money making paper (including the paper which is still used to print US currency) — into a function hall.

On the second floor of the carriage house they have created many different areas where guests can make art, meditate, read, pray, explore eco-spirituality, marvel at the miracle of evolution, and rejuvenate their souls.

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Outside the carriage house are fruit trees, free-ranging chickens, a labyrinth, a cathedral of very tall pine trees, a huge community garden, and lots of flowers.

To me it felt a little bit like heaven on earth.

Here’s a link to the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center if you are curious to learn more.

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I found these great photographs on Pixabay, and I am grateful to all of the photographers who have shared their images there.

I am also grateful to Doug Hammer, for his exquisite piano playing and terrific engineering skills.

And to the birthday woman whose life is an ongoing inspiration for how to move through the world with empathy and wisdom and generosity and balance.

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And to the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center for inviting us to roam around their property after her birthday gathering.

And to Art and Phyllis for writing such a lovely song.

And to you for reading and listening to another blog post.

A healthy and happy summer to you — full of berries and flowers and friends and family (unless you are reading this from somewhere in the southern hemisphere, in which case I wish you delicious winter adventures instead…)

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May all your storms be weathered, and may all that’s good get better.

Here’s to life…

Here’s to love…

And here’s to you!

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Walking In A Winter Wonderland

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

It’s the end of another year.

And the beginning of another winter.

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Although the days are getting longer, many months of cold and icy weather lie ahead…

Today I am visiting my sisters and nephews in upstate NY, where a flow of air from the Arctic has lowered the temperature to the single digits.

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At least once a day we bundle up and tromp with the dogs through fields and woods, observing nature in a somewhat frozen, dormant state.

Ponds are covered with ice and snow.

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Creeks are mostly a cascade of ice, with an occasional hint of water still flowing underneath.

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Crows fly overhead.

We see many animal tracks in the snow — rabbits and deer and something very large (a bear?) which is stepped on by one of the dogs before we can correctly identify it.

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Woodpeckers and blue jays and cardinals and chickadees and sparrows and finches visit the bird feeder.

How any animal manages to stay alive during the long winter months amazes me.

The nights are SO COLD with a breeze to make it feel even colder.

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I made this recording of “Winter Wonderland” with Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA, many summers ago.

It is another great winter holiday song written or co-written by a Jewish lyricist or composer.

In this case the composer, Felix Bernard, was Jewish.

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Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1897, his father was a violinist from Germany while his mother was Russian. His family spoke Yiddish at home.

Felix worked as a pianist on the American vaudeville circuits, and also performed in Europe. Like many other composers (including Jerome Kern and George Gershwin) he worked at one point for a music publishing company, and eventually formed his own dance band.

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According to historian Nate Bloom, he also “wrote special musical programs for leading singers of his day, including Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, and Nora Bayes (all of whom were Jewish).”

Unfortunately he died when he was only 47 years old.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

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Wikipedia tells us that Richard Smith — an Episcopalian — was inspired to write the lyrics for “Winter Wonderland” after seeing the Central Park in Honesdale, PA (his hometown) covered in snow.

He contracted tuberculosis in 1931 and died at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC in 1935 — just a year after “Winter Wonderland” was published and recorded.

He was only 34 years old.

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Another deep breath in.

And out.

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I love the melody of “Winter Wonderland” and agree with the lyrics — winter IS a great time for hoping and dreaming about the future.

What will 2018 hold for the astounding and intricate web of life on our planet — of which we humans are only one thread?

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Sometimes it seems like we human beings are an enormously successful invasive species — ignorant of our place in the web of life and daily ignoring the balances which must remain in effect between plants, animals, decomposers, microbes, etc. for all to flourish.

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Why do we human beings devote hours and hours and hours of our lives to watching (or listening to) seemingly endless amounts of news, commentary and speculation — as well as entertainment in the form of sports contests, TV shows, movies, web-videos, etc?

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Why do so many of us choose to live so many hours of our precious lives transfixed by an electricity-powered, screen-delivered deluge of images and words and ideas and stories and opinions and advertisements?

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There are so many more important things we could be doing — or NOT doing — which would actually be helping re-balance some part of life on planet earth which is currently out of balance.

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We could be sitting still and breathing.

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We could be helping someone else learn a new language or a new skill.

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We could be singing or dancing or maybe even making music with friends and family.

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We could be walking outside in a winter wonderland, gazing at trees and sky and earth.

Perhaps in 2018 more of us can choose to put down our phones, ignore our Facebook feeds, turn off our devices, and simply be with ourselves — and with the natural world — on a regular basis.

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As 2017 fades away…

Here’s to a sense of flow!

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Here’s to singing!

Here’s to consuming fewer natural resources!

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Here’s to health!

Here’s to friends!

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Here’s to family — human, animal, plant, fungal, microbial!

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Here’s to hope and faith and patience and perseverance!

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Here’s to life!

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Here’s to love!

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And here’s to you for reading and listening to another blog post!

Thank you for your participation with my blog in 2017.

Thank you, too, to my sister Christianne for letting me use a few of her lovely photographs — taken during current and past winter walks.

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A healthy, happy, well-balanced, low-impact, music-filled, surprisingly-satisfied New Year to you!