31 December 2011

Music Day

(It's still Friday somewhere -- right?)

Until recently I was convinced that this was Michael W Smith's most famous song ever, with the possible exceptions of Friends and maybe This Is Your Time.

Apparently I was wrong.

My friend and I sang this in church on Christmas Day, and in the weeks leading up to it, many people asked us what song we were planning on doing. So we told them.

Every single one of them except for Kristin (a fellow eighties-Christian-music nerd) gave us a blank stare.


"Yes. It's from the album Christmas."

(blinks) "Christmas?" (blinks again) "...He had a Christmas album?"

"...He's put out three of them so far."

It's worth noting that everyone who gave us these blank looks are all at least pushing forty -- that is to say, old enough to remember these songs from when they were first released.

I was speechless. How could you be a (stereotypical) Christian through more than one Christmas and not have heard that song? I'm almost certain that's the first song they play on the Christian station on 1 December when they switch to 24/7 Christmas music and goodness knows it gets played several times a day upon listener requests (not that I'm complaining about that, mind you. It's better than all the other Christmas 'music' they've come up with in the past few years). This song is a Christmas tradition, right up there with lights and the tree and the snow and the turkey and the gift-giving.

In case you may not have noticed, I still can't believe it. Not that I'm trying to shove my musical knowledge down everybody's throats, but -- still. How can you be over forty and have been a Christian for twenty-plus years and not know this song?

And now, to prevent you, faithful readers of my ranting, from being out of the proverbial loop, I present it to you now that you might familiarise yourself with what may or may not actually be a Christmas tradition...

Title: Gloria
Artist: Michael W. Smith
Album: Christmas
Year: 1989
Label: Reunion Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

The ending is my favourite part.

Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord the newborn King

26 December 2011


His stupid car had broken down at work again, forcing him to undertake a twelve-block trek to get back to his house. There were only two blocks to go, but the snow attacking his face at seventy kilometres an hour had gotten unbearable.

Then he saw the parking lot filled with cars and people trickling into the community hall.

Probably some old Southern Gospel Christmas concert going on, he thought, but his desperation drove him inside anyway, if only for a few minutes to thaw a bit and catch his breath.

As he stumbled into the lobby, a tall man with a large belly and glasses passed him on his way out the door and said, "Evening, sir".

He nodded acknowledgement at the large man as he left, then turned and slowly climbed the stairs. That guy had seemed a little young for a gospel concert, he thought, but hey, different strokes for different folks...

He peeked in around the door.

The smell of hot turkey and stuffing washed over him. Laughing and talking swirled around him. A couple of kids darted past him with hardly a glance.

This was no gospel bluegrass/country concert. To be sure, he scanned the room, but there were no instruments, no old guys in tuxedos, not even a microphone on the little platform in the corner.

He took a step inside.

It looked like a family here. The more he looked around, the more he began to think so... except that no family could be this large. There had to be at least a hundred people here.

But there was no doubt that these people knew each other, he could feel it. Perhaps it was all the smiles. They all seemed so comfortable here. He'd been to office Christmas parties before, the kind where you know all the people, yet you tread so carefully to keep up the appearance you've spent years cultivating.

There was none of that stiffness here.

Their obvious familiarity awakened a little pang in him. His family, before the trial, had been all of five people. Since then they had split five ways.

He saw a cooler at the other end of the hall and suddenly realised he was thirsty. After a moment's hesitation, he straightened his shoulders and began to stroll across the room as if he belonged.

In the back of his mind he knew there was no possible way he could make it across, get his drink, and get back without somebody calling him out -- not if they were all this familiar with each other. Any moment now, someone would say 'Hey, what are you doing here?'... 'who are you, how dare you interrupt our private party, who cares how cold it is outside?'...

It came as a rather disproportionate surprise when he arrived at the jug without being questioned.

He glanced around as casually as he could to see that no one was sending disapproving glares his way, then pulled one of the disposable cups off the stack, stuck it under the hole, and pressed the button.

A sort of orange punch came out that he couldn't immediately identify. No matter... it was wet and his throat wasn't. He took a swig.

To call it liquid sugar would have been an understatement. It was like pure maple syrup straight from the tree with chemical colour and even more sugar added. The force of the sweetness nearly knocked him back a step, but he took a breath to reorient himself and drained the rest in three consecutive swallows.

Then he turned and saw the table.

A huge table of food, rich and hot -- some of it still steaming in fact. The stragglers were just finishing filling their plates.

His stomach gurgled. He hadn't eaten since eleven that morning and it was nearly six o'clock. His eyes caressed the bounty before him.

Steaming turkey slices, bowls of cranberry sauce, piles of sliced bread at the end of the table, a rolling landscape of stuffing spread between several glass bowls, a vat of mashed potatoes...

Would it be stealing to take a little -- just to energise himself before venturing out again? After all, what was dinner at his house?

Kraft dinner, most likely. Eaten in front of the computer while playing Facebook Tetris... again.

Turkey and potatoes sounded a whole lot better than mac and cheese for the thousandth time.

He hadn't seen any indication that there was a fee for dinner, but he pulled a twenty out of his wallet and slipped it through the serving window into the jar on the kitchen counter labeled 'Help us keep up our family account.'

Then he got himself a paper plate from the stack and gave himself small helpings of all the salads and cooked vegetables and turkey and potatoes... it all looked and smelled so good.

No one seemed to notice him filling his plate and no one seemed to notice when he went over to an inconspicuous corner and sat down with it.

So he began to eat. And to observe.

It had been a long time since he'd eaten around other people, never mind a crowd like this. It was kind of interesting to look around and watch them all -- the starry-eyed couple leaning against the wall by the dessert table talking as the young man stealthily slipped cookies off the plate at the edge of the table into his mouth; two grey-haired men, three younger men, and a middle-aged woman playing some kind of game with pool cues and what appeared to be wooden checkers; a kid playing a Game Boy beside a severely overweight man in a torn red t-shirt who was talking to an old wrinkled bald man in a suit; six young people playing what appeared to be a ridiculously fast-paced card game; two boys by the juice jug he'd just left having an animated conversation about what must have been weapons based on the nature of their actions; dozens and dozens of other people all seemingly enjoying each other's company.

Part of him felt acutely alone, but part of him smiled. Just being a part of a happy family put a warm feeling in his chest, even though nobody seemed to see him here.

And that was just as well. He didn't want to intrude. He'd just finish his turkey and leave.

And what good turkey it was too. Cooked to perfection, splitting perfectly as his plastic fork touched it and the gravy... oh, the gravy was heavenly. Like butter. Its warmth mixed perfectly with the cranberry sauce as they slipped down his throat hand-in-hand. And then there were the crisp Caesar salads and the smooth mashed potatoes and the tender mixed vegetables and the most delicious slightly seasoned stuffing... whoever was the mastermind behind all this should get their own cooking show.

He picked at the loaded plate for nearly twenty minutes, trying to stave off the inevitable return out into the blizzard. It was so warm and 'friendly' in here. Sure his house would be warm, but the loneliness where there once had been love and laughter was so haunting...

Usually he pushed those memories out of his mind, but now, surrounded by loving people, he wondered if he should. There had been good times... why was he trying to erase them from his mind and focus instead on the emptiness?

He pushed the memories aside again, but promised himself he would revisit them when he returned to his house that night.

He looked down at his plate. Only a few bites of stuffing remained.

He sighed. Well, all good things have to come to an end...

He poked one of the smaller lumps with the fork and brought it to his mouth. Then the next. Then the next.

Two minutes later, only the smallest crumbs remained on the plate. He was full of food, but still lacked the desire to go back out into the blizzard.

Ah well. He'd already intruded more than he should have.

He stood up and scanned the hall, looking for a trash can. As luck would have it, there was one only a few steps away rather than across the hall and past all the people again.

He dropped his paper plate and utensils into it, then began to button up his coat.

As he did he heard something -- a weak voice, almost plaintive, as if calling for something.

He glanced over his shoulder.

An old, old woman in a wheelchair sat at the opposite end of the table he'd just dined at. She had to be ninety-five, likely nearer a hundred. Her face was puffy and sagging, with age spots and wrinkles -- the sort of creases that result from decades of smiling. A plate sat in front of her, and another, half-finished, at the empty seat beside her. No cups at either setting.

The old woman was looking directly at him. She beckoned.

"Come here," she said.

He blinked. She certainly didn't look like the sort who would give him what-for for eating some of the food... and even if she did, she was obviously much too old and weak to get out of the wheelchair.

What did he have to lose? He took a few hesitant steps closer.

The old woman smiled and beckoned again. He continued and finally stood beside her.

"You're going to leave without a hug?" she said. There was a happy sort of 'twinkle' in her voice.

He had no answer.

She held out her arms. He shrugged, knelt down, and accepted the hug.

"How are you?" she asked.

"All right."

"You're not really, are you?" she asked.

He blinked again. Was this woman psychic?

She continued without waiting for his answer.

"Ah well. I will talk to the Lord for you." She patted his hand.

"Um... thanks."

"Merry Christmas," she said.

"Yeah... to you too." He stood; hesitated.

"Thanks," he finally said.

She smiled.

"You're welcome."

He turned and left.

"Mum? ...Who was that?"

The old woman smiled as her daughter placed a cup of juice in front of her.

"I don't know," she said. "But I think he needed a hug."


In memory of my great-grandmother, who passed away August 2011 at the age of 102. As far as I'm aware this story is fictional, but I think she would have given a hug to a stranger off the street.

23 December 2011

Music Day

Seeing as Christmas Eve is tomorrow I thought this song would be appropriate.

Title: O Holy Night
Artist: Connie Scott
Album: Christmas In Your Heart
Year: 1988
Label: Image 7 Records
iTunes here; YouTube here (the song starts at about 0.05).

In case I don't post before then, Merry Christmas!

Photo by Kate

16 December 2011

Music Day

As promised, today I'm deviating from the Michael-W-Smith-Christmas blueprint.

This track is new to me -- another gem I heard on classicchristian247.com. (I'm not being paid to advertise them, honest...)

I haven't heard it often enough to quite put my finger on what I find special about this song yet... perhaps it's the layered vocals or the way the intensity of the music ebbs and flows. But either way, I thought it was a worthy feature for today.

On that note I give you...

Title: Carol Of The Bells/What Child Is This
Artist: Point Of Grace
Album: A Christmas Story
Year: 1999
Label: Word Records
iTunes here, and, of course, it's not to be found on YouTube.

09 December 2011

Music Day

More from the essential trio of Christmas albums!

Yes, this means more Michael W. Smith. (Next week will be something different, I promise.)


To break the 'monotony' of Christmas music, I have decided to feature a second song today. That's right, the first ever two-for-one Music Day.

First things first: Christmas music.

This is like the updated, more 'modern' version of his 1998 song Christmastime.  Personally I prefer Christmastime, but how can you frown at the big orchestra sound and a two choirs?

Title: Christmas Angels
Artist: Michael W. Smith
Album: It's A Wonderful Christmas
Year: 2007
Label: Reunion Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Having been listening to Classic Christian 24/7 for nearly a month now, I've discovered the titles of many songs I remembered from my childhood but wouldn't have known where to start looking for them because I had absolutely nothing to go on. But now -- oh happiness! -- I can look them up and download them and with a touch of a screen relive the days of the old green Spirit when my best friend still lived in the country.

This is one of those songs.

Title: Wild Imagination
Artist: Scott Krippayne
Album: Wild Imagination
Year: 1995
Label: Word Records
iTunes here, but it's not on YouTube...

Less than a week after I first heard it on the station, the first time I'd heard it in... I don't even know, ten years? -- I'd downloaded it from iTunes. I listened to it exactly once on my iPod before waking up the other morning with choreography in my head for nearly the entire chorus, plus a fully formed costume idea.

That's still making me smile as I write this.

Come and see
Come and be surprised...

08 December 2011

The Doubleheader -- Post-Event Update

Yes, I've been neglecting the blog a bit. 3,334 words a day was a little bit more difficult than I expected.

I also didn't expect the crash at the end of November. It felt like every energy reserve I had was sucked dry. (Coming down with a full-blown cold -- which I still have -- in Week Two didn't help though.)

It wasn't so much the fact that I was writing three thousand words a day -- it was switching between two entirely different plots that slowed me down. Within the first week and a half of the contest I'd started to put in three thousand words on one novel one day and three thousand words on the other novel the next day (I had started out writing 1,667 words per novel per day). I'd pick whichever novel I was most excited about and work on that one for the day, giving it a big enough lead that I could let it simmer for the next day while I worked on the other.

But though I was able to make it work this past month, I'm not trying that again anytime soon.

Writing 100,000 words in a month is a good challenge, and I'm willing to repeat it sometime, but I'm not spreading it across two books again. The stopping and starting of separate plots all the time really slowed me down. Often I ended up starting my writing session at 11pm and speed-typing anything, anything I could possibly think of to come reasonably close to three thousand words by midnight so I could update my word count accurately on the website. (And, incredibly, I actually managed three thousand words an hour a few times. I'm not exactly looking forward to rewriting those passages though.)

The end result?

Well, my perception is probably slightly warped from exhaustion, exhilaration, and diminished air supply through my plugged nose, but I think it was mostly worth it. Novel Two especially has some serious potential. I adore the characters in Novel One, but the plot, well... wasn't. I didn't actually wrap up the story, I just brought it past 50,000 words and dropped in favour of writing the ending to Novel Two.

My final count according to the website was 109,064, but taking the total of Novel One and adding it to the total of Novel Two gives me 108,670 words. Not too bad really, considering that I closed Day 29 at 98,506 with hardly any ideas for either novel.

Novel One ultimately ended up being (so far) 50,572 words. But like I mentioned, it's not technically finished.

Novel Two, thanks to a rather formidable burst of mad typing as I desperately tried to get my fingers to hurry up and keep pace with my idea for a (hopefully spectacular) final twist, reached the end at 58,098 words less than an hour before December.

This does break some personal records though (and that's always something to aim for). I broke my record for most words written in a month (previous record was 74,450 words, set November 2010), most words written in one day with 10,558 (previous record was 6,137 or something of that sort, also November 2010), fastest 50k (14 days 5 minutes; previous record was 20 days, November 2010), and, of course, most novels written in one month.

Something I found rather effective this time around was to structure my writing time around music.

I've always listened to music when I write, but this time I got into the habit of finding an album on iTunes and putting it on, then making myself write (no Facebook or blog) until the album finished. Then I could spend a few minutes checking Facebook and the blog and email and everything else before picking another album and doing it again.

And just when I was starting to get tired of most of the albums I already had, I was introduced to this Internet radio station.

Because I know a good third of the stuff they play on there, it was so easy just to sit down and say, 'Okay, I'm going to write until the next Petra song.' And if I wanted to narrow it down a little (because they play a lot of Petra), I would make it any Petra song from the album Back To The Street.

It worked beautifully. I was amazed.

I've always heard that in NaNoWriMo it's preferable to structure your writing time around blocks of time rather than word count (less distracting), but I'd never been able to do that -- I would spend the entire writing session glancing up at the clock and was never really able to settle into the story. Using the playtime of a complete album in iTunes really helped because then I knew when I was done and I was better able to tell myself 'no, you haven't actually been writing that long because this album's only forty-five minutes long and it isn't done yet. You can't go to Facebook yet.'

So that's what I learnt in this contest. Hopefully it helps some fellow writing music nerd.

Suffice to say I am now the author of eight novels -- even if they're all still rough drafts because I fail miserably at the rather-crucial big-picture aspect of rewriting. (But they all have impeccable spelling!)

02 December 2011

Music Day

This is one of my favourite Christmas songs. Ever. (Today it is, anyway...)

I love singing along with the choir, especially at the end as they repeat it. It's difficult, but I've come to relish finally taking that long deep breath after they (and by extension I) have finally stopped singing and the final piano notes are playing. (It's taken me about three years of practice to nail that bit, in case anyone's wondering...)

I also enjoy the rhythm of the words they sing... it's hard to explain, but I like the way they pull out the words ring and bells and loud and then rapid-fire with a message bringing and then drag out peace and Earth and the two notes on cheer and then run right into Come carolers...

Title: Christmastime
Artist: Michael W. Smith
Album: Christmastime
Year: 1998
Label: Reunion Records
iTunes here; YouTube here (the music doesn't start playing until about 0.11).

With one voice
Let the world rejoice...