Archive for December, 2009

There was this song several years ago – Merry, Christmas, Darling (Carpenters), that was sort of melancholy but with a very memorable tune.  The words were so apropos to how I have been feeling lately . . .

I wish you Merry Christmas
Happy New Year, too
I’ve just one wish
On this Christmas Eve
I wish I were with you
I wish I were with you

2009, the last year of the oughts, was our second year to live on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  Whoever thought of calling it the pond hasn’t a clue!   Wading across that “pond” takes one into a whole new world – people, attitudes, practice of courtesy, health and wellness or it’s lack, the experience of wealth or poverty, and faith in God.  On the U.S. side of the pond, the “rank and file” are either unaware or misunderstand how different the cultures really are.  I know I did not realize until I arrived.  On the Britain side, there seem to be two prevalent views – both lacking in substance.  One is that Americans are all wealthy and somewhat selfish and the other is that they have incredibly high ideals and are the best hope for saving the world.  Depending on where you are when you read this, you will see the inaccuracies of both of these views.

I think the first view is much closer to reality.   There was one lady we knew in Britain who was mentally challenged.  She was the least functioning person I ever knew (on both sides of the Atlantic) who was out and about in society.  She sort of latched on to our family and me in particular.  I thought she wanted to be friends for whatever reason.  It took me the better part of our stay to realize that what she really wanted was for me to give gifts to her family members on the birthdays and other special days.  I was not hurt in the slightest by this revelation, yet it showed me that I had been stereotyped as the rich American.   People who do not view you as a person are not so difficult to leave.

But the other people, who had become our friends and brethren in Christ, leaving them was and is difficult.  We had really invested in a common life by going out to them at Church, by calling on, phoning, and praying with them, by joining committees and working to build the Kingdom of God.   We attempted to live the life of the People of Praise with our friends in Britain.  I guess you could say we succeeded to the extent possible.  But keeping up with the relationships is much harder when you know that you have stepped back over the “pond” and now you are in a wholy different life.  Again.

Maria - Annandale to Cheltenham and back...*

Whenever I see a photo or receive a letter or email, I feel a twinge.  It is hard to love and leave or be left.  Today, my life is back where it started and where it needs to be for now.  It is time to move on from the “Oughts”.  In fact, I ought to be focussing on our life here in NoVA with John and our family (all home in Virginia) and our branch of the People of Praise with all that involves.  I would like to say I will not forget, but I know that life has a way of sorting our memories, and as time passes, the older ones sift further and further down.  But from September 11, 2008 to July 17, 2009, what a wonderful group of mates we had in Cheltenham, Glos and environs!

I hope your 2010 will be a year of loving and community and an ever-growing life of holiness building the new heavens and new earth wherever you may be.

*cool photo taken by J.T. in Edinburgh during Hogmanay celebration 2008

May the name of the Lord be praised.  ~ Job 1:21


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On the second day of Christmas…

(Posting has been out of the question with the flurry of last minute preps for the holy day of Christmas.  As we are now into the 12 Days, I will try to get on with the blog.)

The celebration of the feast of the Birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ began beautifully for us with a children’s pageant at St. Philip’s followed by Mass at 5:00 on Christmas Eve.  Kristin, Kathryn, and Jane sang in the choir and Dad Elliott joined us.  After church, the family headed over to Present, a restaurant that serves Imperial Vietnamese cuisine.  It seemed a gift indeed to be enjoying the delicacies of this country we did not know and found it all to be truly delicious as well as very interesting.

Showing off the Elliott tartanShowing off the Elliott tartan

Then we headed home WITH Grandpa who was planning to spend the night due to adverse weather predictions, and our neighbor helped us record the wearing of our real Scottish tartan before we settled to watch the wonderful 1999 version of A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart as the inimitable Scrooge.  Grandpa elicited hearty laughs by complimenting Scrooge’s grimace and declaring that he identified with the man.  The movie, so memorably performed, seemed just perfect for the evening.  After the movie, John and I encouraged the children to repair to their rooms; though Kristin and Kathryn remained for a a bit to help finish the tidy-up that needed to happen in the kitchen and the family room where the Christmas tree stood, aglow with lights, ornaments from every stage of our family’s existence, and the hopes and fears of all the years… or something like that.

As usual, the final preparations took John and me into the wee hours, and Kathryn was puttering about too, but we all made it to bed by 1:30 a.m. – eek!  When will we ever learn as Pete Seeger would ask?  Still, a good night’s sleep seemed to be had by all, and merrily, we arose on the special day with Grandpa, and greeted Sharon who had stopped over.

Miss Sharon on Christmas

The festivities commenced, as is our custom, with the reading of the story of Jesus and then sang O Come All Ye Faithful while processing to the cradle in the stable in which Jesus finally lay.

O come let us adore Him - Christ, the Lord!

The Christmas brunch was then consumed by the hungry faithful at 11:00.  By 11:45, we commenced opening gifts and continued till the last one had been attentively opened and admired.

Big sisters give "little" brothers cool, sweat pants

Jane lovin' her new boots from Kathryn

J.T. must have jumped up in a nanosecond after opening his...

...unbelieveably cool and awesome graphics card gizmo...

Nice sweater from Kathie

Aunt Debbie sent matching necklaces

Kristin brought us back Neopolitan glass

From Aunt Kathie

The afternoon was a time of peace and various pursuits, but the day finished with the arrival of Abuelito and Abuelita (my folks) and Bob Ingram to eat a nice meal and sing carols with my Mom playing the piano.

Christmas carolling with Marijane

A couple of days earlier, after the halls had been suitably decked, we had carried on a similar activity with my sister Margarita’s family and some of their friends, and with Ian and Serena, my nephew and niece, children of my brother Carlos and their friend Vivian who all came to visit and enjoy a Castells’ Christmas.  That evening, the big focus was  trolling the ancient yuletide carols, and the house rang with fa la la la la’s and singing joyous all together heedless of the wind and weather.  (See below…)

Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.Don we now our gay apparel, Fa la la …
Troll the ancient Yule tide carol, Fa la la ….

See the blazing Yule before us, Fa la la la la …
Strike the harp and join the chorus Fa la la la la ….

Follow me in merry measure, Fa la la la la …
While I tell of Yule tide treasure Fa la la la la ….

Fast away the old year passes, Fa la la la la …
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses, Fa la la la la ….

Sing we joyous, all together, Fa la la la la …
Heedless of the wind and weather, Fa la la la la ….

And I realized what a huge blessing it was to come from a musical family and be able to celebrate these feasts with song:

“Hallelujah, Oh how the angels sang!  Hallelujah, how it rang … and the sky was bright with a holy light, t’was the birthday of a King.”  (Birthday of a King)  (Click on the link below for more pictures…)

A Castells Christmas

May the name of the Lord be praised!  ~ Job 1:21

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How delightful it is to attend a school program that is actually musical and pleasurable!  This was the happy state of affairs on Thursday evening last, when Jane and Brad participated in the annual Fine Arts Night program concluding a semester of musical preparation and rehearsal.  How I appreciate the Trinity Schools curriculum that assumes all students are capable of learning to play, hear, compose, sing, and appreciate serious music and even excel at it.

The program was eclectic, interesting, appealing, and well-presented.  Jane, who was in two vocal ensembles, worried aloud that they had not done as well as she would have liked.  Tho’ I am particular, I was able to assure her that much of the program was excellent and all of it enjoyable.  All things weren’t perfect.   But music has the delightful aspect of being a time-art that is enjoyed in the moment; if something goes wrong, it passes quickly.

In the case of the Fine Arts Night, the felicitous moments far outweighed the less-than-stellar moments.  First, the program moved smoothly, a tribute to good preparation and planning.  The recorder ensembles were the highlight for me.  Far from being screechy or tiresome they performed with precision, surprisingly good tune, and excellent blend.  The decorum exhibited by the students, who were seventh and eighth graders, was impressive and was not accidental or coincidental – it was due to Mr. Dusenbury’s thorough instruction.  Naturally, I thought that Brad’s group played well, and I was proud of his melodic lead in one of my personal favourite carols “What Child is This”.  His group worked very hard on a technically challenging piece and succeeded admirably.  I can honestly say that every other group was just as good or even better.  Bravo recorder players!

The choirs were also well-rehearsed and put forth spirited performances.  The Men’s Chorus – Tempest in a Barbershop was a joy to watch and hear.  Young men blending and singing joyously is one of the finer things in life and not the common high school experience.

The Trinity Chorale began strong with a Bach chorale sung very well and persevered through two more pieces including the early American “Bethlehem” by William Billings, whose “New England Psalm-Singer” of 1770 was the first collection of music all composed by an American.  The choir ably sang through the solfege of the first section (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do) before singing the rest of the lyrics.  This would have been difficult enough, but they did so in four-part harmony – outstanding!

The Chamber Choir, Jane’s select group, was the vocal highlight in my opinion, maintaining excellent pitch and blend, and sounded quite angelic.  Their first number “Emet Ata” was absolutely thrilling and could have only been improved with a translation of the Hebrew to enhance our understanding of the text.  Even the young children in the room were rivited, and I was well aware of the curly, dark-haired moppet in front of me.   But nothing could disturb the prevailing atmosphere in the room, of beauty, harmony, and peace – what more could any audience hope for?

I wish the photos I took could carry some of the musicality that we all experienced, but as they say, you had to be there!

Tempest in a Barbershop

Brad, Daniel, Ben, Aaron - What Child is This

Chamber Choir - Jane

Trinity Chorale

May the name of the Lord be praised!  ~ Job 1:21

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Hey, y’all, it’s really snowing!

This carol is only appropriate sometimes around here where the weather is often too moderate for snow in December.  But this year we have a chance to do more than dream of a white Christmas!  It started about 8:00 last evening in Northern Virginia, and the white stuff is still globbing down as if Mother Nature were making up for lost time and opportunities in winters of old.  By Christmas, no doubt the snow will lay on the ground, giving a suitable atmosphere for a yuletide of good cheer.  Meanwhile, this traditional carol tells again of the real reason for the season in alternating English and Latin (a common technique in medieval carols of Great Britain).

Enjoy this YouTube arrangement from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z0xUQEpeCw&feature=related with it’s inspirational pictures, or just listen to it while reading the lyrics below.  (BTW, the lyrics below are the traditional ones, however, the audio arrangement by George Atwell, adjusts the first and second lines of verse 2.)

The snow lay on the ground
The stars shone bright
When Christ our Lord was born
On Christmas night.
Venite adoremus Dominum
Venite adoremus Dominum.

Venite adoremus Dominum
Venite adoremus Dominum
Venite adoremus Dominum
Venite adoremus Dominum

‘Twas Mary, daughter pure
Of holy Anne
That brought into this world
The God made man.
She laid Him in a stall
At Bethlehem
The ass and oxen shared
The roof with them.


Saint Joseph, too, was by
To tend the Child
To guard him, and protect
His mother mild
The angels hovered round
And sung this song
Venite adoremus Dominum.


And thus that manger poor
Became a throne
For He Whom Mary bore
Was God the Son.
O come, then, let us join
The heav’nly host
To praise the Father, Son
And Holy Ghost.


Blackhedge Snow 2009

May the name of the Lord be praised. ~Job 1:21

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Area Christmas Celebration

Central Area gathering:  a family-style Christmas party. . . held in homes . . . too many of us to all go to one house . . . Area split and went to two locations . . . same agenda . . . beforehand, some obstacles had to be overcome!

It was pouring Christmas cats and Deck the Hall dogs . . . we had run out of some ingredients I needed to bake . . . extra trip to the store after Church . . .  already behind . . .also out of flour . . . I couldn’t make the cookies . . . another trip to the store . . .  two unexpected phone calls . . . about 25 unplanned minutes – yikes! . . . I couldn’t work the copy machine – needed two pages of music . . . we ran 10 minutes late for the meeting . . . deep breathing and trying hard to remain calm . . . not quite achieving that goal . . . Praise God, I discovered that others were also late . . . some were more frazzled . . . putting aside the pre-party jitters . . . able to relax . . .be part of the solution instead of the problem . . .

We had a participatory Lessons and Carols for which I played piano . . . our kids each helped by doing a reading . . . all the children invited to make “Gingerbread” houses with grahams, frosting, and goodies . . . nibbles and treats and fellowship . . . people seemed to be pleased and blessed . . . drawn into the real meaning of Christmas . . .

. . . Jesus came to save us and show us how to hear

and follow the way to the Father!

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How many of us in the U.S. right now are feeling the bite of winter?  Here in Annandale, it is 32° F, but the wind chill is 25°.  Just the other day it was 54°.  What happened, talk about shock!  We have not had much cold weather at all, and now the breath is freezing into smoke as it leaves our nostrils.  It is really winter in Virginia – time for me to play “Puff the Magic Dragon”. . . which I haven’t done in almost a year!  I know this is child’s play for the MinneSOtans who are enduring 9° right now.   My daughter at the U. said, “Mom, if you stepped out in 28° and then 8°, you would notice the difference.”   Well, maybe… but it’s a pretty harsh picture for me to contemplate.

Our children’s school, Trinity at Meadow View, had a marathon of basketball games after school today starting at 4:00 with the M(iddle) S(chool) G(irls) followed by MSB, V(arsity) G, and finally VB.  We have two boys on two separate teams and sneaked out during the VG game to grab a quick bite.  Interesting how much fun it can be to watch those great students excelling on the field as they do in the classrooms.  It warms the heart to cheer for your team, then to go ahead and applaud and cheer for the other team too, when they make a good play.

There was one athlete on the other school’s team that played our MSB then to our surprise, showed up again with the Varsity boys.  He was the shortest on the MSB team, so you can imagine what he looked like on the older team.  Yet, he was the best player they had, giving all the TMV players a real “run for their money”.

I am not a very knowledgeable spectator, but this young man was smooth, fast, smart, daring, and v e r y good at making his shots.  He was not afraid to mix it up with all those hulking Varsity players.  Unfortunately for his team, this star player could not prevent them from losing badly to our team.  He did cause a great stir in the MSB game and single-handedly brought the score much closer to a balance, although they lost as well.

After the games, as we were leaving, I was just about to remark about this player to my younger son when I looked up and the other teams’ coach was walking out as well.  I decided to direct my remark to him, “Your #11 is really an amazing player.  What a great future he has.”  “Yes,” he replied, “and he is only a sixth grader.  Thank you very much.”  Wow, I thought.  Look what a person can do when he knows he can do something.  I think there must be many applications to that little lesson:  Don’t let the bigger guy get the better of you;  Go out and conquer the world;  Don’t let them despise you because of your youth (or your age…);  etc.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”   That’s quite an encouraging thought, esp. for someone who is not quite sure I really know what I can do.  Better curl up in a blanket and make out my to-do list.

May the name of the Lord be praised!  ~ Job 1:21

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December 10, 2009

Today was a good day with one really bad moment.

First the good news.  One of my friends in the community had a shelf to give away.  Being the first of many to respond, I was fortunate enough to get it.  With my son J.T.’s help, we brought in the six’ tall x three’ wide shelf and carried it downstairs to the study – one part of the house that has had about 14 boxes just sitting in the middle of it for months.  Seven of the boxes are neatly stacked against the wall behind the door and full of John’s work stuff; he will get to it when he can.  But the rest were just waiting for that shelf before they could be emptied.

With the help of Brad and Jane, in a matter of one hour+ a few minutes, those boxes were dispensed with, emptied, and GONE!  I did some minor rearranging of furniture, and Voilà! The study is now suitable for relaxing, reading, meeting with friends, and working on the computer.  Also, there is a built-in table in a sheltered part of the back of the room, a perfect spot for wrapping Christmas gifts!  What a good feeling!

Now the bad news.  I did something today of which I am ashamed.  I heard of a very difficult problem that someone was dealing with and made an assumption I  understood the whole situation and was competent to remark on it.  So I offered him my unsolicited opinion with a  disparaging remark about the remedies that had previously been applied.  In my arrogance, I was sure he would be grateful for my “input” and make the “necessary changes” in order to achieve success in solving the difficulty.   Later, as I continued to think about it, it occurred to me that maybe I was off-base.  When I went back and revisited the facts, I knew positively that I had misread the situation and had totally mispoken!

Oh, what horror and dismay I experienced then.  I felt compelled to ask forgiveness, not only for arrogance, but especially for increasing the poor fellow’s pain and worry afflicting him like a gadfly instead of lifting his burden with encouragement and kindness.  Or maybe even just keeping my mouth shut.

Why should I mention this?  Because we don’t just share the good things and make it seem like everything is always coming up roses.  Ought we not learn from our mistakes?  Also, I think when I bring my failings into the light, it helps ensure that I will not forget that I need to work on changing them.  With the help of a loving and merciful God.

May the name of the Lord be praised!  ~ Job 1:21

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