Once Upon a December

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_michaklootwijk'>michaklootwijk / 123RF Stock Photo</a>This is not a #MusicAdvent post. It’s also not a #Holidailies post.  Oh, and it’s not a #DecemberReflections post either.

This is an admin post warning you about what’s going on with the Bathtub Mermaid this December.

Because I like to challenge myself (or because I’m insane, possibly both) I’m doing a triple cocktail of Holiday Blog/Twitter/Instagram projects, and may (or may not) be combining them.

(Actually, I may be doing a fourth project at the same time, but that will only be 12 days, and not 25 or 31)

So, here’s the lowdown on what to expect.

Today (1 December 2016) is the first day of MusicAdvent, in which people share a song every day from now til Christmas. This year, the challenge is to chain the songs together, so that each song somehow connects to the previous one. I came this|close to using “The Alphabet Song” or  “Alligators All Around” because that way the instant connection would be that they’d be in alphabetical order, but that would be cheating. So, you’ll have to go follow me on twitter (see my link in the sidebar) to find out what song I start with.

Today (1 December 2016) is also the first day of Holidailies, which I’ve been participating in for over a decade now. If you visited this space, or listened to my podcast, in October, you know I also participated in the darker version of that project, #HorrorDailies. But this month is for the original.

And finally, today (1 December 2016) is the first day of December Reflections  which I’ll be doing mostly on Instagram (link in sidebar).

Oh, and that fourth project? It will be a 12-day podcast thing, like a mini-version of Dog Days of Podcasting, and you’ll be able to follow that at BathtubMermaid.com when it begins.

Now, if this all sounds a bit ambitious, please remember that I reserve the right to skip days when necessary. (12/21, for example, I’ll be on a plane).

I hope you’ll take the ride with me this month. Some blog entries may incorporate the music or photo from that day; some may not. Let’s see what happens.

Oh, who am I kidding. This is totally a holidailies post.

I Keep Writing Entries in My Head

Dinner, December 16I keep writing entries in my head, but somehow they never make it to the blog, which is a problem since I actually look forward to Holidailies every year, as a way to recharge my writing. I’m writing other things, of course… working on the collection of cafe vignettes I’m releasing in February, working on a chapter of a story for a private group of people, but mostly, I just feel tired this month, and that’s absurd because I have to real reason to feel tired.

I’ve been keeping up with #MusicAdvent, at least, but that’s a lot easier because I can do that from my phone. Interestingly, it’s been more difficult than I expected because I committed to only using songs that are either cello covers or feature the cello in their instrumentation, and trying to do that while also not resorting to only classical, and stay in alphabetical order, has been more of a challenge than I thought it would be.

But I can do that from my phone.

So, I keep having these ideas for posts, and then I forget to write them down, even in my head, and when I sit down to actually type, my mind goes blank.

I’ve been enjoying cooking up a storm, though. It’s been unseasonably warm, which means I’m trying to balance lighter foods with the seasonal flavors I’m craving. Tonight we roasted yams with herbed sea salt I brought home from Mexico, curry, and ginger, and baked salmon with Mediterranean Rub from Tom Thumb (it’s really good; I use it for everything) and mixed greens. I love the $5 tubs of herb salad or spring greens from the O! Organics line. Most nights we add dressing, but we don’t even bother adding other vegetables.

I baked a metric ass-load of chocolate chip cookies today, because I like to have them to give away. I don’t usually chill the dough, but I did this time because (see above) I was so tired that I napped from four til dinner-time (actually, that was also the hormone-induced lethargy that always hits me really hard at certain times of the month).

It’s 12:04, but technically this entry is for the 16th, because I started it at 11:43.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll actually write something real.

Holidailies 2015


Counting Days

I can’t remember a year when I didn’t have an advent calendar.

For most of my life, these tangible countdowns to Christmas were simple affairs: a pretty, seasonal picture (sometimes religious, sometimes not) with perforated doors, one for each day. You wuld fold open the flap, and inside would be another picture, an inset of the greater image, perhaps, or an enhancement. One of my favorite calendars had an image of a Christmas tree in a Victorian bay window, and every door added an ornament.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about advent calendars with ‘stuff’ in them. Now, usually this ‘stuff’ consists of cheap, waxy milk chocolate, but apparently there are some that come with toys, as well. When I learned about them, I spent five minutes feeling gypped, and then I realized I liked the old-school version where the only treasure hidden behind the open door was my own imagination, sparked by the ever-dwindling number of days until the Big Event.

Of course, we count days throughout the year, not just during advent, not just in December.

We make red Sharpie x’s across the calendar squares that march us toward the next deadline, the next paycheck, the next special occasion, the next vacation.
We open our own doors and windows, and we find whatever life offers, and some days it’s as precious as a baby in a bed of straw, and other days it’s the manure from the ox in the corner, but we keep on counting.

Counting up: I’m five, ten, sixteen, twenty-one, thirty, forty-five.
Counting down: Christmas, the new year, Valentine’s Day, tax day, another birthday.

I read about my friends who have advent calendars with pockets that hold treats for their children, and I’m wistful for the days when I was innocent enough to believe marking a day on a calendar, picking a toy out of a pocket, burning the candle down to the next mark, held some kind of special magic.

And maybe, just maybe, they did.

And maybe, just maybe, recent years have led me toward virtual Advent calendars like #musicadvent, or Holidailies, or even the collection of poetry my friend Jancis is doing on his tumblr account because that’s the grown-up way of opening a door and finding a prize to help you count the days.

Holidailies 2015


1984. The Winter Olympics. British ice dancers Torvill and Dean nearly melt the ice with their passionate performance to Ravel’s Bolero. It makes ice dancing sexy. It takes the world by storm.

I was thirteen, watching the Olympics with my mother. We both love ice skating, and used to make televised ice shows into appointment viewing. Once I was old enough to have a real income, treating Mom to skating shows at the Shark Tank in San Jose became a tradition. One year, we even had seats on the ice.

1986, my junior year of high school. I’m sitting in my Humanities class watching a video of Zubin Mehta conducting Bolero. He’s wearing rehearsal clothes. Black, I think. A t-shirt or a turtleneck. Or maybe it’s just a blazer. A classmate (whose name I won’t mention because it’d be wrong to name-drop during Holidailies) says aloud what I’ve been thinking: Conductors are so sexy.

2002. I’m flipping channels and a half-remembered video is playing on PBS. I saw it once when I was much younger. Dinosaurs marching to extinction to the familiar Ravel composition. Bolero.

2014.  I’m in my mother’s rental house in Mexico, the one across the street from the house they were building –  the one they moved into in May.  The wind is high and I am watching hawks circle the cardon cactus, their circles looping higher and higher as the currents change. I’m starting a new story for a fiction community I belong to. My inspiration comes from the hawks and the music from my ipad: Bolero.

2015. I bought a guitar for my birthday, but all year I’ve also been falling back in love with my cello. I decide to challenge myself. #MusicAdvent wants an alphabetical list this year.  I decide to see how many of my choices will feature the cello.  Today is Day 2.

I choose Bolero.
Played by 4 cellists.

Back to December

December has come to mean two things to me: Holidailies and #musicadvent.  Both begin today.

The first CD I ever bought was Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin’s collaborative album Hush.  There isn’t a cellist my age who didn’t grow up following Ma’s career, and McFerrin was just becoming popular when I was a freshman in high school. To me, the pair of them represent some of the best of my musical memories from those four years.

Hush is also the album I come back to, over and over.  Just as I do with favorite novels, I find new things in it every time it resurfaces. Originally, my favorite pieces were the eponymous Hush, and the Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3, but lately it’s the Ave Maria that really speaks to me, maybe because there’s such peace in that song – the kind of peace you need at the beginning of December so that you stay calm and strong throughout the month of craziness and busy-ness and inevitable crankiness.

The entire album, though, is just lovely. The combined talents of these two men draws you in and makes you focus on the music first and the musicians second, and while it’s grounded in classical music, it pokes fun at the serious tone of the genre, and softens itself with lullabys.

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who is also a writer in which I explained that I think in music.

At this time of year, when I go back to these two projects, I’m really going back to the Decembers of my youth and celebrating themm in song and story.

Today’s Song::

Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod) as performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin on the album, Hush.  (audio only) :

Black & White (From Music of Conscious to Melody for the Masses)

This year for Holidailies, I’m also podcasting daily through the month of December. Click HERE to visit my podcast site, and listen to yesterday’s entry.

Pete Seeger

My #MusicAdvent pick for today, from 1972, was another Three Dog Night song, one I mentioned a couple of days ago: “Black and White.” My two-year-old self probably fell in love with the catchy melody and watered-down message of unity. Hey, I come from a progressive, liberal family. What else would you expect?

It’s a song that has stayed with me most of my life, partly because of it’s innocent optimism, and partly because it’s just fun to sing. And hear. And bop around the house to. In my head, when I hear this song I’m six or seven, with golden-brown hair that borders on being strawberry, and thick braids, and a summer tan, and sand in my shoes. I have memories of having a family friend, one who was trained as a classical musician, to play it on his organ (and we’re not talking a cheap electric organ, but one of those room-filling instruments with pull-out stops for different sounds, and a dual keyboard, and…yeah).

So, yesterday, when I went looking for the songs of my first few years of life, I investigated the history of this song (thank you, Wikipedia), and learned that Three Dog Night’s version, while immensely popular, is a cover of a song that was written by David Arkin and Earl Robinson, and first recorded by…wait for it…Pete Seeger.

No, really, it’s a folk song.

In fact, it’s a folk song about Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which ended segregation in public schools.

Here is one of the verses that the popular version omits:

Their robes were black, their heads were white
The schoolroom doors were closed so tight
Were closed up tight

Nine judges all, set down their names
To end the years and years of shame
Years of shame

And here is another:

Oh, the slate is black, the chalk is white
The words stand out so clear and bright
So clear and bright

And now at last, we plainly see
The alphabet of liberty

The activist part of me likes the original better. It has more depth, tells a better story, and makes sense.

But the Three Dog Night version is the one that turns into an earworm, probably because they based their version on a reggae-inspired cover by a British band, and that freshens the melody, and adds syncopation that the original didn’t have.

But it loses the message.

Want to compare them yourself?

Here’s the Pete Seeger version:

And here’s Three Dog Night:

Which one do you prefer…and why?

Holidailies 2014

#MusicAdvent – Music and Coffee (and More Music)

This year for Holidailies, I’m also podcasting daily through the month of December. Click HERE to visit my podcast site, and listen to yesterday’s entry.

Joy to the World

The first song I remember hearing on the radio is Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” It was released in November, 1972, or about three months after my 2nd birthday. Something about either the imagery (my story) or the cadence (my mother’s story) of the “clouds in my coffee” refrain stuck in my toddler-brain. Perhaps this means Ms. Simon is to blame for my coffee habit. After all, until I was a teenager, my mother drank instant. (Yeah, I know, the thought is truly frightening.)

The first pop songs I remember asking musician friends to play, or humming on my own were a kind of eclectic batch that included Donovan’s “Happiness Runs” (they taught it to us in school, Shaun (yes, you read that right, Shaun) Cassidy’s “Teen Dream” (which album my mother would not let my then seven-year-old self have, claiming I was ‘too young’), and 3 Dog Night’s “Black and White” which, interestingly, is also from 1972. This is relevant only because I told another Holidailies blogger that I was pretty sure no one actually remembered music from their ACTUAL FIRST YEAR OF LIFE, and, indeed, while I may have since learned music from my birth year, 1970, I don’t have any organic memories of commercial songs from before I was two.

Why am I talking about this at all? Because:
a) I love music. I mean, there are times when I think in music. If there was a movie of my life, it would be a musical.
b) One meme at a time isn’t enough, and so many people mentioned this #MusicAdvent thing that I’ve caved and decided to play.

I’m not entirely certain of the rules, but apparently you share a song that matters to you every day during Advent, and this year, people are supposed to begin with their year of birth, and post song from each of their first twenty-five years of life…which means if you’re under twenty-five years old, you’re kind of screwed, I guess, or you can just make up your own rules.

Anyway, since it started yesterday, I’ve got two songs for today.

Day 1: The Carpenters, “Close to You,” the number one single from the week of 15 August 1970 (I was born on the 17th).

Day 2: The song from my birthday week is the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” but it’s not a song I really like, and there were so many good songs from 1971, so I’m going with Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” because it never fails to make me grin, and it was on Billboard’s Hot 100 list in the summer of ’71.

Holidailies 2014