18 December 2013

Trolling the ancient Yule-tide carol

While I do not have memories of distinct events or points in time related to Christmas in my early childhood, there are four traditions I particularly remember.

When I was three to nine, we attended a Presbyterian church in Los Angeles that kicked off the Advent season with its Advent workshop. This was a gathering after church on the first Sunday of Advent (which the church celebrated with the lighting of candles in the service), during which families could enjoy some food, music, and crafts. We made ornaments, wreaths, and other sorts of decorations. The whole fellowship hall smelled good, between the cider and pine branches. We kids looked forward to that workshop every year. I know that one ornament we made there in maybe 1990 survived at least until I graduated ten years later - a reindeer made with felt and a candy cane. Good times.

A few weeks into Advent, on December 13, we celebrated Santa Lucia Day. While this is not technically a Christmas tradition, it happens during Advent, so I always associate the two. There are lots of different ways to celebrate Santa Lucia Day, but I loved our tradition. Mom would bake yummy rolls, and then she'd wake my sister and me before dawn. We each held a lit candle and went to wake my dad and brother whilst singing (humming, really, since none of us knew the words) the Santa Lucia song. When Anna is a little bigger, I'd love to start the tradition with her. Maybe I'll have to learn the English words to the song...

The one family Christmas tradition growing up I remember best is the Advent wreath. Every Sunday night from as far back as I can remember until I graduated from high school, the family would gather at the dining room table to celebrate Advent. We used different homily guides from year to year, but the routine was the same. We lit the candle(s)--taking turns among us kids, usually--and read the homily, which always included a scripture passage. We would then sing two or three related carols and pray. To end it all, Mom would bring out the eggnog (with a sprinkle of nutmeg) and Christmas cookies. No matter how busy any of us were, the Advent wreath was something we always enjoyed, to which we always looked forward. We had several hymnals, and once we were old enough to read music, we would harmonize together - Dad on tenor, Jonathan on baritone, Mom (and I until about age 14) on soprano, and Lisa on alto. Even the "unison" carols we could usually find harmonies to. If there's one thing I love doing with my family, it's singing.

Which leads me to the last memory of tradition: caroling. I have memories of caroling at least from age 7, though I imagine we caroled before that. At the same Presbyterian church where we had Advent workshop, we also went caroling. The Zehnder family was very musical (Elizabeth Zehnder was my first choir director when I was about 5 or 6), and John Zehnder would bring his tuba along caroling. I remember there were tambourines and trumpets, maybe other instruments, but the tuba made the biggest impression on me. Maybe it was a sousaphone, since we did do a bit of walking along our route, and I can't imagine carrying a regular tuba very far. In any case, I remember singing those carols in the relatively-mild-but-felt-cold Southern California December night chill. People would open their doors, and their faces would light up when we sang. Sometimes they offered us cookies or hot chocolate or cider. I loved those evenings out caroling. Once we moved to Nigeria, we didn't really get to do any caroling, although I do remember doing so in our hospital one or two years when we first arrived. In college, I went out with friends from my reading club to carol in the very-white-Protestant neighborhood. Those are the only times I've actually caroled in snow, wearing a hat and scarf and gloves. Beautiful memories.

I miss these traditions, but I know I will make some of my own with my kids. The one thing I really would love to be able to do is go caroling. These days, though, I'm not even sure if it's legal let alone desired. I think we've all gotten so religiophobic that it would be hard to get a group together to actually do some Christmas caroling. And that makes me sad. I'm not certain what the best response is to the current climate. Must we really give up caroling altogether? Or is there some way we can still "safely" engage in the singing fun?

16 December 2013


I have learned to live with certain odors.

I grew up in a country where people are hot and sweaty most of the time, and where "personal space" is a foreign concept - literally. It is also a country where people burn their trash and pee in the bushes, where animals roam freely, and where almost everyone raises some kind of animal--be it goats or chickens. The markets smell mostly of fish: dried fish, fresh fish, crayfish, you name it. And cassava. Oo, when you inhale that cassava drying alongside the road, whooee! There are wonderful smells, too: night-blooming jasmine, ripe oranges, grilling suya (usually--hopefully--beef) skewers, roasted peanuts, rain after a long season of dusty dry.


When I went to southeast Asia in the summer of 2001, when I was 19, I also noticed smells. Many of them were very familiar from my childhood and adolescence: sewage, sweat, citrus. There were several new smells, like coconut and durian.

One smell in particular, though, brought me to my senses:


We didn't smell incense often, but when we did, it was always in or near a Buddhist temple. I came to associate the smell with Buddha, as does my mother, who grew up in Taiwan. My teammates and I toured several Buddhist temples, the most notable of which, of course, was the Monkey Cave Temple with the Reclining Buddha. But there was one temple, a small one in a remote village, into which I just could not go. When I drew near to the incense, I became faint and nauseated. In broad daylight, the darkness was oppressive, almost palpable. I have never felt anything like it before or since, but I could not go in. Instead, I sat and waited for the others, praying against the darkness, like a character out of a Frank Peretti novel..

That fall, when I was back in college, I attended a Sunday evening World Christian Fellowship meeting, where students met together to spread awareness of and pray for global Christians and missionaries. Having been raised as a missionary kid in a foreign country and having associated with some other MKs in college, I had become disillusioned about global missions to some extent. But I went to the meeting anyway, to see what it was like, to see if anyone cared about my Africa.

They were burning incense.

I sat through the first hour or so, but after that, I needed fresh air. Even in America, in a gathering of fellow Christians, I could feel the darkness creeping over me from the incense. Two other times I smelled incense in American churches - at a Greek Orthodox church and an Antiochan Orthodox church I visited with friends on separate occasions. Both times I just felt closed in, suffocated, almost panicky.

Yesterday's sermon focused on the symbolism of the magi's three gifts to Jesus. To make it a more sensory experience, the pastor burned some incense. The minute I set foot in the sanctuary after coffee break, I commented to my mom that I could smell incense and that I was not enthusiastic about it. The sermon was quite good (as usual), and I know why Jeff burned incense for that particular service. But I have to admit that it was hard to overcome that chest-tightening feeling of being transported back to the statue of Buddha. I hate that the magi gave a gift to little Jesus that I now associate with something dark, almost sinister. I have to wonder if there is any way at all for incense to be redeemed for me, or if I will always have that first reaction to its scent.

Will incense ever bring me closer to God instead of tearing me farther away?

13 December 2013

Reflecting on December 12-13, 2010

Three years ago today, I headed to the NICU at Memorial Hospital in Savannah to hold Anna for the third time. It was an hour's drive from our home in Hinesville, and I was anxious the entire way. After I'd first held Anna the day before, just after she was born, the pediatrician had noticed petechiae, small spots that indicate bleeding under the skin. Newborn Anna had been whisked away for more testing. I had been taken to a recovery room and left by myself. David went home to sleep, and I was there in that recovery room by myself all day, while my baby was somewhere else.

The pediatrician came back to tell me that they believed Anna had a condition called NAIT (neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia), which meant she needed to be monitored closely in a neonatal intensive care unit by a pediatric hematologist. The nearest one was in Savannah, so they were preparing Anna to be transported later in the day.

I sat there in my room, all alone, exhausted, crying, worried to death about my little girl.

I finally asked a nurse when I could see my baby. She said, oh, the baby was in the nursery, waiting for transport. Why didn't I come see her now? I was irritated. Gee, thanks for telling me sooner, lady. I don't know what time it was when I finally got to see Anna again, but I think it was about 4pm. She had been born just after 8am, and I hadn't seen her since about 9:30 or 10. In the meantime, she had not eaten anything. The nurse encouraged me to try to nurse her (duh), but Anna was lethargic and wouldn't eat. The nurses with the transport unit arrived shortly thereafter and tested Anna's glucose, which was dangerously low from not having eaten. They started an IV for her and got her ready to leave me.

And then she was gone.

I was returned to my room, and the doctor said that although it was hospital policy to keep mothers for at least 24 hours after delivery, I looked good, and he would try to get me discharged right away so I could go to Savannah. But there was one issue after another (mostly paperwork), and there was confusion about whether or not I needed a RhoGAM shot, but I finally was discharged about 10:30pm. By then, it was too late to drive the hour to Savannah, and I had to make sure things were OK at home with my aunt, who had traveled from Augusta to help out, specifically to watch 3-year-old Timothy.

So there I was on Monday, December 13th, riding to Savannah to see Anna and hold her for the third time. It was a precious day, when I got my first real pictures of my baby girl. We were all tired and scared.

But she pulled through. To make a long story short, after nine days in the NICU, which included several days of phototherapy and one transfusion of immunoglobulin, she was discharged and came home, just in time to travel to Augusta for Christmas. And there were no lasting problems. My baby girl is as healthy as can be.

So I celebrate Anna - her three years of beauty and growth. She is surely my little princess, "sweetie" (not "honey"), full of energy and verve. Happy Birthday-plus-one, Little Miss Anna!


**I must add that I am thankful for the amazing health care coverage we got in the Army, which paid 100% of our hospital stay. We never saw a single bill. If there is only one thing positive I can say about the Army, it is that they take care of their own medically. Timothy had outpatient surgery in January 2012, and I never saw a bill for that, either. Thank you, U.S. Army, for paying top-notch doctors to take care of my little ones.

06 December 2013

Revisiting Drew

You know the feeling when you’ve left something in the past, moved on, gotten over it, and then one little word or smell or event brings back a flood of memories?

Yes, exactly. That feeling.

Moving to Augusta and becoming involved in the medical scene somehow threw me back 11 years.

I’ve never really dated anyone, although I had two interesting quasi-dating relationships in high school. College was similar. I had one very complicated and not-particularly-healthy relationship with a guy let’s call Drew (just for kicks) during my junior year. He got to know me pretty well—maybe too well. It was a “friendship” full of Intellect, drama, creativity, and music. A lot of laughter, silliness, and music.

It was wonderful and exciting and ended badly the night before spring semester began. (I wrote about it earlier this year here.) The truth is I have a tendency toward codependency (think ”Break in the Cup”), and Drew did the brave thing to pull the plug when he did. The pain at that point was severe, but it could have been much, much worse. I went through a horrible spot at the beginning of the semester, which got better with intensive professional counseling and peer counseling—and an amazingly supportive roommate. She would hold me while I cried, and we would listen to “Grace” together. We had it on eternal repeat some nights. Eventually, I could speak to Drew again, but it was always awkward and strained. I kept hoping we could be friends, but it never really panned out. We were polite in passing but didn’t socialize. The book that he wrote with his dad was published, and he autographed a few copies for me. When I graduated, he came to the department celebration to say goodbye and give us both some closure. He became friendly with another young lady at our school whom we’ll call Diana. I moved away and later got married. Last year, I saw on Facebook that Drew had married Diana at long last. We weren’t keeping in touch at all, but I was glad to see the news regardless.

Great, I thought. That chapter is finally and irrevocably closed.

Then I ran into Diana’s mother at a local church here in Augusta, where I attended a Bible study earlier this fall. I had never met her before but recognized her name. Strange. Talk about a small world. Whenever I went to Bible study, we’d chat, and I came to like her. But it was still just a little weird because of the association.

The second week after I started my job, I discovered that one of the faculty I would be seeing was Diana’s dad.

Teeny tiny world.

I haven’t spoken to him and probably won’t, except in the course of work, but it is still just a little strange. Gives me goosebumps.

Let me clarify. I do not have any interest in Drew. There is no lingering wistfulness or yearning for what might have been. None. But I do have many memories—both sweet and melancholy—and wish that I had not lost a friend.

But life has moved on, and I wish him and Diana the best…

…yet still cross my fingers and hope that I will not have to run into them if they should come down here to visit her parents. I would really like this past to stay in the past. Really.

18 November 2013


Seven years ago today, I married an amazing, intelligent, funny, godly, kind, and compassionate man.

In March 2011, he went to Iraq, and he did not come back.

In his place came an imposter who shared only some of the personality traits and very few of the personal values of the man I married.

So today, I will celebrate the marriage I had with that pre-Iraq man, the one who stole my heart and gave me two beautiful children, the one who stood by me through a roller coaster four years of moves and changing jobs. I will thank God for those good years and the man with whom I shared them.

For he is no longer with us. He died in Iraq.

That guy who came back with his name and face? I don’t know him. That guy filing for divorce? A total stranger.

I am a war widow.

If only the world could see.

12 November 2013

Hear me roar

The last two months have been pretty much a blur. I have been frantic to find work and figure out all the details of my new life, so I haven’t really let myself be sad too much. When I think about the marriage that is broken (and apparently unfixable at my end), I usually just push the thought away and focus on what’s at hand: job, kids, Anna’s upcoming birthday, Thanksgiving, etc. I know that eventually, I will have to let myself feel it and grieve. I need to find a support group. When my home group prayed for me, I wept. At church during prayer time, I wept. It does happen sometimes. But most days I push it all aside.

That can’t last for too long. But for now, it’s a good coping mechanism. Not denial – just avoidance.

In truth, our daily lives are hardly different. Even with my new job, we’ve done this before. I worked full-time in the spring while David was taking classes full-time, so we’ve done the whole day care scenario before, the whole oh-my-gosh-it’s-6:30-and-I-have-nothing-to-feed-my-kids-for-dinner scenario. We’ve been here. And honestly, since I was pregnant with Anna, I have been a single mom a lot, between D’s responsibilities at school and the army. I can do this.

And I will. I’m not going to sink. One great thing is that I don’t like alcohol, so I’m not even tempted to drink. My kids are super important to me, so this mama is going to put on her big girl panties and wear the pants for us.

A couple people have criticized me for giving up on my marriage. I honestly don’t see it that way. I won’t go into all the nitty gritty because even I don’t know all the details. But I am comforted that those who are closest to me are just loving on me. God is good. In spite of all this trash, I have a home here and a new job that will support us—a job that I am loving so far. Even the people at work are only supportive. They’ve got my back; I’m one of the family.

My marriage may have fallen apart, but I am not going to.

I am strong.
I am invincible.
I am woman.

25 October 2013


On this day seven years ago, I was preparing for my wedding.

And here I am now, seven years down the road, grieving the broken covenant.

Of course I'd heard about "the seven year itch," but I had never imagined it would ever apply to my marriage. It's that same old attitude of, I know bad things happen to people, but surely, that will never happen to me. Why we believe lies like this, I'm not certain, but it is surely a lie.

God gives. God takes away.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

I am now a single mom of two small children.

I can't even begin to express all the things that have gone through my mind in the past six weeks since this became my new reality. While the official papers have not yet been signed, for all practical purposes we are now down to a family of three. And I am left with only questions.

  • Was I just not good enough?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • Was it because I'm too fat? Or because I couldn't cook? Or because I"m messy?
  • Why now?
  • How will I support my kids when the longest I have ever worked full-time is eight months at a stretch, and that was eight years ago?
  • What is wrong with me?
  • What is wrong with him?
  • How will I ever explain this to the kids, especially when I don't understand it myself?
  • How will I make it without the weekly support I get from MOPS and my women's Bible study--both of which I will have to give up to work full-time?
  • Where do we go from here?
  • Why? Why??

I'm left with questions--questions that may not even have answers at all. But this is real. This is bone-chillingly, mind-numbingly, faith-testingly, earth-shatteringly real.

But the fact is that life doesn't stop--can't stop here. I have two small children who need me to be their strength and support. And I need God to be my strength and support because I just can't do it on my own. If nothing else, this is teaching me humility, to accept help from people who barely know me, to admit defeat.

I can't do this on my own.

So with the help and prayers of amazing women God has placed in my life, I am putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. And somehow, by God's grace, we will pull through and be stronger for the struggle.

By God's grace alone.

03 July 2013

Texas Trip – Day 1

Today we started our journey to San Antonio, TX, to participate in a 5k to benefit my high school coach, Jay Tolar, who is living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). I participated last year with my best friend Laura, while my aunt watched the kids. This year I decided to take them along and drive instead of fly.

Preparation—food and activities—took hours of research and days of implementation. We’re still not “organized” because my kids and I never will be, so the car is a mess. But at least we have so far kept most of the trash in the trash can, a huge step forward! :) And there is plenty to eat.

We left at about 0615 (Eastern) this morning from Augusta, GA  Our goal was to get to Port Allen, LA, just next to Baton Rouge, where I’d gotten a reservation using Expedia. (Never again.)

It rained at least 75% of the drive, and it poured for about half of the time that it rained at all. I mean, pounding rain that made us slow to a crawl with our blinkers on. While there were the inevitable idiots zooming past at 85 (on a 70 mph highway), I was actually impressed by how many Southerners seem to know how to drive safely in the rain. They may be the only group of locals I know who do. Blinkers and headlights are awesome.

It was raining when we stopped at the Alabama welcome center. And I realized we’d left our “car umbrella” in the other car. Joy.

Alabama 070313

Anna wanted to get a photo with the stuffed fox. (Good thing she didn’t really understand that it had once been real…) Thanks, Timothy, for taking this photo!

fox in AL 070313

And it was raining when we stopped at the Mississippi welcome center.

Mississippi 070313

It was sunny when we reached Louisiana, for all of maybe a half hour.

Louisiana 070313 7-3-2013 4-48-51 PM
And here we are tonight, in Port Allen, Louisiana, at the dumpiest Super 8 Motel I’ve ever been in. And I mean dumpy. The carpet over at least 25% of the room is soaking wet—I can only assume from the air conditioner. So I’m trying to avoid fiddling with the controls in case I get electrocuted. (The room temp was set at 52 when we first arrived, so obviously I had to adjust it a little.) There are cigarette burns in the blankets. And the security lock on the door is broken, so I’ve put a chair in front so at least it’s more difficult to enter. Beware, Port Allen thieves!! I have two whiny children who are refusing to sleep, and if you wake them up in the night to try to steal from us or harm us, you will sorely regret it!

At least there is Internet. Well, sort of. It’s taking me over a half hour to try to upload this post, or even try to open Blogger.com.

mileage 070313
Yep, we drove 664.6 miles today. Without cruise control. Wow. My right leg is pretty sore.

And tomorrow, it’s the home stretch to San Antonio and a Holiday Inn Express, which is going to be 500% better than this place. Guaranteed.

I was hoping to study tonight, but since Anna is still wide awake at 2200 (Central), which is 2300 according to her body, I guess I’d better just turn off the light and maybe try to wake myself up early to study. (Ha ha. Like that ever worked in college.) After all, I did get a full 5 hours of sleep last night, so I should be fine tonight on the same, right?

As we say in my village, “Sai gobe.” Until tomorrow.

18 March 2013

In memoriam

During my first year of college, one of my high school classmates conducted a sociology experiment in which he led us all to believe that he had been killed. It was a pretty horrible time, and he had to eventually come forward to let us know it was just an academic experiment. He was genuinely sorry, but several class members had a hard time moving on from that.

That was more than 12 years ago.

This past weekend, a member of my high school class actually did die.

Jafiya 3-18-2013 6-46-31 PM.bmp Jafiya and I had been in the same class since fourth grade. He was goofy and lighthearted from as far back as I can remember--one of the class clowns in middle school who turned that same energy to sports in high school. Like many teenage boys, he was bright but concentrated more on enjoying life than studying. When classes dragged us down, Jafiya could always make us laugh. He had a contagious laugh--really, really loud, the kind of laugh you could hear all over the high school.

While I can't claim that we were ever close, I liked Jafiya. In a class of only 27, you learn to like everybody and be friends as much as possible. Sure, we ran in different circles, but he made me laugh, and he didn't make fun of me to my face, which is something.

I never saw Jafiya after we graduated from high school in June 2000. I ran across most of my other classmates one way or another, either at our high school on visits or at gatherings in the U.S. for weddings or the very occasional funeral. But I never saw Jaf. I often wondered what had become of him.

And now I know.

Jafi-D, I am listening to the U2 song "Grace" and thinking of you. "Grace finds goodness in everything." I pray that God's grace would cover you, making beauty from ashes. I hope and pray that you can rest peacefully now, at the end of all things.

With much love,

Sara B.

17 March 2013

Funny Anna

annas funny face 11-4-2012 5-52-20 PM

I’m not the mom who regularly posts funny things that her kids do or say, but I had to share this one, just for comic relief.

I was out with Anna (2)  yesterday, and she said—out of the blue—“I love it, Mommy.”

What do you love, Anna?” I asked her.

My job,” she returned. “I love my job!”

I laughed so hard and for so long that she eventually had to say, “Stop laughing, Mommy! Stop laughing!”

And that of course, made me laugh even harder.

Sweet girl.

13 March 2013

Letting go - again

Today, for no apparent reason, I am thinking of my foster brother Aaron. It has been over 23 years since he joined our family as a newborn and over 18 years since I last saw him. I think of him from time to time and wonder where he is, what he's up to.

Aaron was my first little brother. While we'd had foster babies prior to Aaron's arrival, none had stayed very long. We had Aaron for the first two years of his life, and he became our brother. When we had to finally say goodbye, it was gut-wrenching, heart-breaking. And that was for me. I can't even imagine how my parents must have felt. They have fostered so many babies since and have always had to let go, except for my adopted brother Luke.

I think of the character on the show Downton Abbey who gave up her small son to his grandparents, knowing that she would probably never see him again. Yes, she believed she was doing it for the good of the child, but I doubt that made it easier.

I know there are so many young women out there who give up their babies for adoption. I suspect that no matter how much of a relief it is in some ways, it is always heart-breaking, too. How difficult to put your child into someone else's arms and give up all (or almost all) rights to her education, her future, her development--to trust her entirely to someone else and to God! But how  much more difficult, after having your child at home for the first two or more years, to present a talking, walking child with a clear personality and very real emotions to someone else's care! I think of Hannah bringing Samuel to the temple for Eli to raise. I think of Fantine sending Cosette to the Thénardiers. How did those mothers have the strength to walk away from their babies, to ignore the tears and cries of "Mama!"? How did they deal with the inevitable guilt that followed? the loneliness and despair?

I think of my daughter Anna, who is two, and I cannot in my worst nightmares imagine having to hand her off to someone else, even someone I trust. I really don't think that even if I believed it was in her best interest, I could do it without shrivelling up and blowing away into nothing (or eating myself into oblivion--more likely). People have had to do it through the ages for varying reasons, and I know it happens today, as in the case of our giving Aaron back to his family. I just don't think that I have that strength or willpower.

I'm sure Aaron doesn't remember any of us. I'd like to think he's better off wherever he is, doing whatever it is he's doing, but my cynical side says it's probably not true. Yet Aaron left us for a reason. God has bigger plans than we do, including a plan for Aaron's life. I don't pretend to know what that is or why it included heartache for all of us (including him, at age two). But I pray for him and ask God to bless him today on behalf of my loving, compassionate, and godly parents who had to, in faith, let go.

May God hold Aaron in the palm of His hand.

02 March 2013

More than we can handle

Did God really say He wouldn’t give us more than we could handle?

I’m pretty sure I’ve never read that in the Bible anywhere, although it definitely seems to be a common understanding among Christians. I wonder if they are thinking of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which is written, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (NIV).

I am obviously not a Bible guru who has all the answers, but in there, I see the word “tempted” (also translated “tested”). Could that mean we will never face trials that we can’t overcome with God’s help? Perhaps. But from the context of the verse, I don’t think that’s what it’s saying here. In my limited understanding, the passage talks about sin and always having a way to avoid it if we choose to. That makes sense to me, even though I don’t often enough take advantage of the way (or ways) out that are provided. They’re always there.

But is it equally true that God will never put us in a situation in which we can’t lose? Will we always have the option of being overcomers? I don’t think so, unless you see death as the ultimate means of overcoming. People are put in situations daily around the world for which there is no way out except death, no salvation. Christians who are doing the right thing are persecuted, imprisoned, executed.

Or what about people who face mental illness? Some people—solid, believing Christians—do break after enough bending. Their minds just can’t take any more grief, stress, hardship.

God is with us. Immanuel. I believe that with every fiber of my being, even on the days when I don’t actively see Him or when I hear about another outrage—another abused child or devastated people group or indescribable loss. God is with us no less.

But I think sometimes people in life do face more than they can handle. I think there are no-win situations. I don’t believe that there is always hope in our mortal lives. I think the only hope we can hold onto is that our mortal lives are just that: mortal--hope that the suffering will end eventually, and we will be ushered into God’s glorious presence.

01 March 2013

Musical heritage

I would never really consider myself a musician. I enjoy singing and have been told I have a nice singing voice, but although I've dabbled in piano, guitar, penny whistle, and clarinet, I don't actually play any musical instrument. And I've never taken a music theory class. Sure, I can read music in a very average way, but I can't tell key signatures to save my life. 

Still, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate music. I grew up with music. We had music playing in the house and/or car more often than we did not. We had a record player, and when I was really little, we kids even had a toy record player that played plastic records. We'd get small records from our Sunday school class on occasion. Of course, we also had a cassette player and eventually a CD player. My dad had a nice stereo system with box speakers and a high-quality amp. We were always listening to something, be it Peter, Paul, and Mary; Nightnoise; Simon & Garfunkel; Amy Grant; or Evie.  

We also listened to the radio a lot, mostly for music but also for A Prairie Home Companion. I remember when we moved to Nigeria we took several cassettes of radio music with us, and some of my favorites were from 94.7 "The Wave." Back in the '80s and early '90s, the station played mostly what we'd call today "New Age" or possibly "easy listening." Today the station is smooth jazz, which--pardon me for saying so--is not the same thing. 

Our favorite album as a family was not in fact an album at all. It was a cassette tape of radio favorites that my parents had recorded off the radio sometime in the '70s. It ranges from folk to rock and includes songs such as "Africa" by Toto, "Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel, "Memory" by Barbra Streisand, "Your Song" by Elton John, "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor, and "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin, I found that song so moving that I memorized it at the age of 10, something I'd never done with a non-Sunday-school song before. Considering how many times we played to that tape, it's a miracle it lasted long enough for Dad to make a CD of it for each of us kids. That CD is priceless. 

One of the radio shows we used to listen to (and record) was "Thistle & Shamrock" with Fiona Ritchie. I don't remember much about it from my early childhood, to be honest, but I did love the fiddle and flute. One summer in high school when we lived in Nigeria, I went through Dad's boxes of tapes and pulled out a bunch of "Thistle & Shamrock" tapes and started listening to them. I fell in love with Celtic music and its derivatives in American music. There was one song I particularly liked about a terrible storm, but I cannot for the life of me remember it now or even enough lyrics to find it on Google. (Believe me, I've tried.) [Addendum: My dad pointed me to the song, “White Squall” sung by Stan Rogers, which you can listen to here.]

In my last two years of college I was steeped in Celtic music. My junior year, I was invited to join a group of older students and alumni who gathered monthly for folk dancing and music. I was enraptured, to say the least. Most of my favorite memories from college days are from those folk sings, with Kirstin on the fiddle, or playing guitar while she and others sang. Some of my favorites were what we called "The Dead Lover Song" (about a man seeing his drowned lover, who rises from the river to embrace him with cold arms--*shudder*), "My Nine to Fives are Over," "Bonny Lighthorseman," and "Molly Malone." One time, Anders sang "Iowa" with his sister, and every time I hear that song to this day, I think of them. The folk sing after Eddie got engaged to dear, sweet Hannah, he proudly sang one of my favorites, "Take Her In Your Arms."  

My roommate that year was an MK from France who had been born in Ireland, and she was also enthralled with Celtic and folk music. We went to these folk dances together, and they were the most peaceful moments of my entire college experience.  

So I was pretty stoked to recently discover the Thistlepod, NPR's podcast of "Thistle & Shamrock" (which is not on my local NPR radio station). I'm having a little trouble getting podcasts onto my mp3 player, but I'll figure it out eventually. I did get one on there to listen to on the way to work, even though it was only about 15 minutes long. Between the songs, Fiona asked her guests about the way music has become about performance. Her guest, Mark Williams, talked about folk music and ballads from Scotland and Ireland being about sharing music together, participation and not performance. I thought of the oral tradition of our folk sings. No one ever had sheets of lyrics. You just learned a song by listening to it more than once. It wasn't ever about Kirstin or Lisa or anyone else, about their talents and musical abilities. It was about the music and the stories, about the community we were building those nights. And I do think with albums and concerts and iPods, we lose that.I can listen to those same folk songs on YouTube or one of the CDs Lisa made for me, but I can't recreate the fellowship and warmth of those nights in a cozy home in central Illinois. 

If there's one thing I miss most about college--and high school before that--it's participating in music as fellowship, singing not just in church because it's on the schedule or in choir or other expected places, but singing for fun and togetherness. Folk music gave me that, and to this day, ten years later, I am wistful, longing to have it again someday.