We all know the classic Christmas ballet, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker."

But did you know about the enchanting 1990 animated film "The Nutcracker Prince" loosely based on E.T.A. Hoffman's story, "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King"? It uses music from the Tchaikovsky ballet and features the vocal talents of Keifer Sutherland and Megan Follows.

"The Nutcracker Prince" 
I grew up watching this movie every holiday season, and it's still a favorite for me and my sisters.

I have always strongly identified with the protagonist, a young dreamer named Clara (Megan Follows). Her "uncle" Drosselmeyer is an inventor and magician of sorts, and he brings stories and other realms to life for Clara when he gives her a nutcracker shaped like a soldier and fills her in on the gift's history.

This clip from the movie is the prelude to one of my favorite scenes. Clara can't sleep, so she comes downstairs on Christmas Eve and dances with the nutcracker, singing him a song set to Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers":




"Clara's Song"


If you could hear me now 
If I could only get through 
I'd open my heart, whisper my dreams 
Share all my secrets with you 

If you could see me now 
Waiting for someone to hold 
Someone so brave who's never afraid 
Someone who's strong like the knights of old 

I save this dance for you 
I hope it lasts forever 
So let one star shine through 
And make my wish come true 

If you could hear this song 
This dance would last forever 
I'd carry us along 
To a place where we belong

If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it. The animation is ... well ... 1990 animation, but that aside, it's a beautiful, imaginative story with lots of color, humor and joy. 

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.
(Photo: Free images)

Mariah leaned against the door frame as if she'd like to melt into the wood, becoming part of it, making herself invisible to the loud group that gathered.

She made standing on the periphery an art, just as she noticed her cousins clustered close to the punch bowl and relish trays, where the crowd was thickest and conversations mingled in a blender-like buzz.

Sentence fragments floated her way during lulls:

"Out bounced her hearing aid into my cup..."

"My boss called to tell me the news..."

"When did you say your plane flies out?"

"In theory it was a great idea, but it turns out monkeys like to fling their dung..."

Mariah smiled to herself as she caught these detached story snippets, glad to be free from the responsibility of keeping a conversation going.

She glanced over the room, candlelight reflecting off the gold Christmas trimmings, and found her mind drifting back to holiday gatherings of the past, much less elaborately furnished, with fewer guests and smaller quarters.

No matter where the party or who had been invited, Mariah would stay with the group long enough to finish dessert, then the lure of a novel hidden in some fold of her coat would be too great to resist, and she'd find a quiet nook somewhere, making the excuse to her mother that she was tired, or simply slipping away when the moment was right, spending the rest of the night curled up reading in a window seat or in an empty side room.

During the drive home, her exasperated parents would lecture her about her antisocial tendencies, but Mariah always felt assured that no matter what they said, her way of enjoying a party was just fine. She'd heard the laughter and mingled conversations from her perch, away from the crowds, and felt comforted by relatives' proximity and the warmth of family love, but far enough removed from it that her imagination could stretch its legs and breathe life back into her drained body. That knowledge filled her with a peace all its own, which her social parents could never understand.

Isn't imagination its own gift, its own reward? This thought returned to Mariah now, in her young adulthood, as she stood surveying the gold-trimmed room and propping up the door frame.

She wandered over to the snack table and filled a plate with crackers and veggies, pausing to compliment a cousin on her excellently baked pie from dessert earlier in the evening.

The Nutcracker Prince takes Clara's hand. (Scene from 1990
animated film "The Nutcracker Prince")
As she said the words, Mariah's mind flew off to the Land of Sweets, where a glorious dance hall awaited, bedecked with Russian candy canes, chocolates from Spain, Arabian coffees and all the tea in China. She let her mind's eye linger over each delicacy, watching Mother Ginger dance with her many flower children, skimming through the room on the Nutcracker Prince's arm and out the doors to a coconut-frosted garden, with swans pulling purple-cushioned boats across a punch-colored lake.

Mariah sighed. "You see?" she said to herself. "Imagination wins again."

Read more of my short stories here.
(Photo: Free images)


Gratitude for You


When we say our prayers each night,
We thank God for each other, our home, our friends.
We thank Him for our furry companions,
Our vocations, our callings that intersect.

Over our families we speak a prayer for safety,
And blessing and love and gratitude,
We think of each sibling and parent
However nearby or however far away.

With humor, wit and joy we make our way
On a winding and sometimes thorny path
That is filled with reminders great and small
Of the oneness we’ve pledged to forge.

The winter creeps in and blankets our hearts,
Then the spring renews and cleanses.
The summer is a time of abundance and joy,
And the fall is a harvest of blessing.

Wherever we’re at in one of these seasons,
We’ll have a hand to hold and a heart to cherish,
A home to call our own, just yours and mine,
Because I've got you and you've got me.

Copyright © Rachel E. Watson 2014.



Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.
Nat King Cole

I love Nat King Cole. As many others did, I grew up listening to his Christmas album, with favorites such as "The Christmas Story," "Adeste Fidelis," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" and "O Tannenbaum," to name a few.

But I haven't really explored past his Christmas recordings until now. There are some truly beautiful songs on the list.

Here's a smattering to keep you warm on a cold, possibly snowy late autumn day, before we head into the holidays:



"Autumn Leaves"


The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall


And here it is in French, the language of love:



"Les feuilles d'automne"


C'est une chanson, qui nous ressemble 
Toi tu m'aimais et je t'aimais 
Nous vivions tous, les deux ensemble 
Toi que m'aimais moi qui t'aimais 
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment 
Tout doucement sans faire de bruit 
Et la mer efface sur le sable les pas des amants désunis

And here's a melancholy yet bewitching story-song:


"Nature Boy"


There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea

A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day, a magic day
He passed my way, and while we spoke
Of many things, fools and kings
This he said to me

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return"

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return"


Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.
(Photo: Freeimages.com)

Proud, thick oaks, pungent pine, strong, young maples and the occasional dying birch kept close company in that wood, as unplanned and scattershot as any forest in the area, trees birthed by seed carried on the wind, soft grasses hiding the forest floor, ferns mingling with autumn olive bushes in the underbrush.

Tangled though it was, it provided her sanctuary, a place that would always be there when she needed solace.

Now, a world apart, Mariah thinks of that wood often. When she walks down city sidewalks littered with trash on her way to the bus stop, she remembers the fresh scent of the dark earth underfoot in those days, how clean, rich and fragrant it smelled compared to the streets of this dirty college town.

Mariah remembers finding inspiration in that forest, hiking to its very edge, reaching the clearing, sitting on the broken split-rail fence and looking down onto rolling hills and snug homes below. When resting in that clearing, with the wood at her back, the green valley below and the sky above, it was easy for Mariah to remember her calling. In that wood, the words would fairly come to her unbidden, the poems would spin themselves into existence in the golden air. Her only task was to remember them long enough to get back to the house and write them down.

(Photo: Freeimages.com)
Today, trudging over dirty sidewalks, alert to angry, honking horns and a cheerless office waiting ahead of her, Mariah clings to the memory of that flourishing wood.

Once, when she was 13 or so, she'd brought a friend to see the woods, and he'd told her all his ambitions while sitting next to her on that split-rail fence. He wanted to be a fighter pilot in the Air Force like his grandfather had been, but he could also see himself as a pastor or a lawyer. With so much time ahead of him, and so much confidence, she'd thought, he could probably be all of those things. She'd just wished he'd stop fixing those bright green eyes on her and keep his gaze on the horizon.

Another time, even longer ago, her parents invited some old friends from out of town, and Mariah was asked to entertain their daughter, a girl her own age, while the grown-ups played cards. They'd hiked in the woods all afternoon. Her guest intently scoured the ground for signs of animal life, taking out a copy of "Tracks, Scats and Signs" for young nature detectives and poring over each paw print and poop pile, completely engrossed.

While she loved the woods, Mariah couldn't care less about scat, so she'd slipped off to that ridge for a few minutes' solitude, to let the sights and sounds wash over her and carry her away. 

By the time she woke from her reverie, the sun was sinking and a chill had crept through the forest. The guest had given up on Mariah and gone back to the house, where four inebriated parents still sat at the card table, laughing and plunging their hands into the snack bowl every so often.

The office is buzzing today. HR and upper management have been leading executives through the plant and giving them a tour of all the corner suites. Mariah doesn't try to edge into any of the huddled, whispered conversations at the watercooler or in the break room, as co-workers speculate on a possible merger. It's all too obvious, and she doesn't care. So she goes straight to her cubicle and tackles the mountain of work waiting for her from last Friday.

A photograph taped to the corkboard behind her monitor keeps her heart light. It's a snapshot taken looking out over that green ridge bordered by trees, with the cozy rolling hills and the snug homes nestled against the earth. 

She's going back very soon.

Read more of my short stories here.
(Photo: Free images)


Snow. It binds us to itself with love-hate intensity. We romanticize it on greeting cards and fantasize about those first, magical flakes each winter ...

... but then we also complain when there's too much of it, when it clogs the roads and bridges and sidewalks, when it falls continuously, windswept from roofs and trees, packed against our cars and homes, multiplying toil and burying all that is living and prosperous.

Let's face it. It IS dangerous. It traps and blinds, it coats and freezes, steals loved ones away, relentless in its quest to cover the northern lands for a season or two.

I don't deny any of that. I don't deny that for me, it announces the dark season, the one that leaves me feeling trapped and blue, affected by the lack of sunlight, pulled into a melancholy not of my choosing.

But I can't ignore its beauty even as I curse its cruelty.

Here's a poem that celebrates that wondrous paradox.

"Snow-flakes"

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

And here is its beautiful theme song, shared with me earlier this week by a blog reader: 



Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.
On Sunday, my dear husband spent a chunk of his rare weekend down time making me a CD of our favorite Beach Boys songs.

My husband made me this CD. (Photo: Rachel E. Watson)


I started reflecting on which songs of theirs we love, and my mind traveled back to one of our most special moments together as a couple. 

We were invited to celebrate his grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary with the whole extended Forrest family at Bil-Mar, a beachside restaurant in Grand Haven, in December 2011. We savored each minute in the car on the drive there, watching the sunset over Lake Michigan. At the time I snapped the photo below, the song "Little Saint Nick" was playing, right before we went inside to join the family for dinner.

Sunset in Grand Haven, December 2011. (Photo: Rachel E. Watson)


Little did I know that, at the time, Adam was saving up for an engagement ring, and exactly one year later, on his grandparents' 51st anniversary, we'd be getting married.

The song "Little Saint Nick" isn't by any stretch of the imagination a love song, but it will always remind me of that special memory with Adam during Christmastime 2011. 


"Little Saint Nick"


Oooooooo
Merry Christmas Saint Nick
Christmas comes this time each year
Oooooooo oooooooo

Well, way up north where the air gets cold
There's a tale about Christmas that you've all been told
And a real famous cat all dressed up in red
And he spends the whole year workin' out on his sled

It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick
It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick

Just a little bobsled we call it old Saint Nick
But she'll walk a toboggan with a four speed stick
She's candy-apple red with a ski for a wheel
And when Santa hits the gas, man, just watch her peel

It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick
It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick

Run run reindeer
Run run reindeer
Whoaa
Run run reindeer
Run run reindeer

He don't miss no one

And haulin' through the snow at a frightenin' speed
With a half a dozen deer with Rudy to lead
He's gotta wear his goggles 'cause the snow really flies
And he's cruisin' every pad with a little surprise

It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick
It's the little Saint Nick
Ooooo, little Saint Nick


Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.
Dreaming is so much fun when you can remember your dreams in vivid detail the next morning, especially the ones that come out of nowhere. Earlier this week, I had a doozy of a dream I can still remember without having written any of it down at the time.

I dreamed it was summertime, and I was in charge of watching a large group of kids while their parents attended a church function. 

Who knows why, but the person acting as my co-chaperone was, of all people, Young Robert Downey Jr., potentially the worst candidate to act as a chaperone in the history of babysitting.

We must have been watching this crew of unruly kids somewhere in the Deep South, because it was hot, sultry, weather, and Spanish moss dangled from the limbs of mammoth trees all around the yard.

To add another terrible factor to the scenario, the estate where we were watching the kids had a large pond, so not only was I in charge of overseeing 20 kids plus Young Robert Downey Jr., but I had to make sure none of them drowned in the process.

I remember there was a swing set nearby the pond, because the kids kept climbing on the swings and jumping off them into the pond.

At some point, Young Robert Downey Jr. revealed he had a bicycle — I don't know where he'd been hiding it; maybe in the folds of that billowy white, floral shirt? — and decided to give all the kids rides around the yard and out on the gravel road in front of the estate.

Well, turns out the gravel punctured a hole in the tire of the bike, and since the bike was Young Robert Downey Jr.'s ride home, it was ultra-important for him to get the tire fixed. All the babysitting came to a screeching halt as I got into an altercation with him over whether he could fix the tire himself or not.

He insisted that all he would need to do would be to sew the punctured seam with really strong thread. I of course laughed this suggestion out of the running. 

Finally, he conceded that he knew a magical seamstress who could charm the puncture shut. She had long fingernails and green hair a la the witches from "Macbeth." 

She appeared in the yard out of nowhere and explained patiently to cocky Young Robert Downey Jr. that his stitches would never have worked to patch the tire, because there was an invasive silkworm species embedded in the tire wall, and it would disintegrate the stitches as soon as he tried to ride away. She said the only way to get rid of the silkworm was through a magical incantation that only she could perform.

Thankfully, her price was low, she soon fixed the tire, and Young Robert Downey Jr. was on his way home. 

I don't know where all the kids went. They just weren't around anymore. I was left on the estate by myself, so I climbed onto a swing wearing a white billowy sheet, and the last thing I remember is floating through the air after jumping off the swing.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.
Earlier this week, I was reading an article about a diver who found a cluster of shipwrecks off the coast of the Island of Skillagee, between Cross Village and Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. 

The reporter describes the waters as particularly hazardous in the days before advanced navigation tools, because a "pair of treacherous underwater tentacles in the form of shallow gravel shoals" stretch out from the island in otherwise deep waters, causing ships to founder.

The diver, Ross Richardson, theorizes one of the wrecks is the 150-foot brig Julia Dean, which foundered in 1855, and the other was the 226-foot-long A.D. Patchin, a wooden steamship that was lost in 1850.

I've always been eerily fascinated by shipwrecks. I don't feel that way about plane crashes or train wrecks, so I have to attribute it to the fact that it's the whole concept of the vessel's remains being hidden from view in a watery grave, waiting to be discovered for centuries. It really gets me.

I think about being a diver, coming around the bend inside a wreck, scared out of my wits by a shark hiding in the wreckage, or the sight of a long-decayed skeleton trapped in some compartment. 

I went so far as to start searching for more shipwreck images to share, because, well, they're beautiful.

Please enjoy this collection I've gathered for you from the Interwebs. 

"Unknown Shipwreck" (Photo: Jakub Sisak)


This shot is of photographer and diver Andreas Franke installing his photo
exhibit. The images are of living actors layered over scenes from a shipwreck
off the coast of Florida. He installed the images on the shipwreck itself, creating
a creepy, meta underwater photo gallery of what life might have been like
on the ship. It was called "The Vandenberg: Life Below the Surface."
(Photo: TheCoolist.com)


"Shipwreck in Mediterranean Sea," oil on canvas by A.A. Orlinski


"Shipwreck," drawing/digital art by Rodolfo Guerreiro

Photograph of the cargo vessel Plassey, shipwrecked off the coast of Inis Oirr in the 1960s.


"Inverness Wreck," photo by Athena Carey

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.
David Bazan and the Passenger String Quartet.


On Saturday, my husband and I met up with some friends who were in town from South Bend to see a singer-songwriter perform a concert at the Ladies Literary Club here in Grand Rapids.

I'd never heard of David Bazan, a Seattle-based indie musician, but apparently he's been performing shows in town for 16 years, throughout all the stages of his career, first as frontman for Pedro the Lion, then as his solo singer-songwriter career developed.

Bazan currently is touring with the Passenger String Quartet, a neo-classical outfit of two violins, viola and cello that have backed acts such as Suzanne Vega and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on tour. They're now on the road with Bazan, playing songs from their new album together.

The music cracked my heart open as I sat spellbound, eyes glued to the stage. Bazan's writing deals with themes of faith, doubt and bitterness. He is honest on his website about his struggles with alcoholism and his personal faith crisis from 2006 and beyond.

What I appreciate about Bazan is his unwillingness to tidily resolve these struggles in two verses and a chorus. The open-endedness in his music is heart-wrenching but resonant for me, a person for whom faith and joy do not come easily.

It's funny to note that despite its deep melancholy, his music brought me so much comfort. I felt, "Yes! This guy gets it. I'm not alone."

As he says on his website, "It's like my guts are on display in a museum, and I'm willing to keep paying admission night after night."

Here are two of the songs that struck the deepest chords for me:



"The Fleecing"


Deep green hills whose shoulders fade
Into the gray tall wet grass
Whose flesh makes fools of grazing sheep
Whose fleecing makes a fool of me

And who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble?
For every stupid struggle, I don't know
I could buy you a drink, I could tell you all about it
I could tell you why I doubt it, and why I don't believe

But I can't say it like I sing it
And I can't sing it like I think it
And I can't think it like I feel it
And I don't feel a thing, oh no, I don't feel a thing

And who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble?
For every stupid struggle, I don't know
I could buy you a drink, I could tell you all about it
I could tell you why I doubt it and why I don't believe it

And why I need it and what the pharisees don't see
And we'd have more drinks, we'd speak of so many things
But I don't know you and you don't know me



"Hard to Be"


You've heard the story, you know how it goes
Once upon a garden we were lovers with no clothes
Fresh from the soil we were beautiful and true
In control of our emotions 'til we ate the poison fruit

And now it's...

(chorus)
Hard to be
Hard to be
Hard to be
A decent human being

Wait just a minute
You expect me to believe
that all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree
And helpless to fight it we should all be satisfied
With the magical explanation for why the living die

And why it’s...

(chorus)

Childbirth is painful toil to grow our food
Ignorance made us hungry
Information made us no good
Every burden misunderstood

I swung my tassel to the left side of my cap
Knowing after graduation there would be no going back
and no congratulations from my faithful family
some of whom are already fasting to intercede for me

Because it’s...

(chorus)


Buy Bazan's newest album


If you like what you hear, you can buy the David Bazan + Passenger String Quartet album on Amazon or on his website.

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.
Recently, I was reminded to take seriously that each day is a gift. I can forget that truth amid the rush of work projects and the worries of life. Because my editing 9-to-5 is so much about meeting deadlines and staying one step ahead of the mountain that threatens to swallow me, I can forget to look around and appreciate the most important treasures in life.

This post is about recovering that sense of wonder. Here are some of the things, large and small, for which I am thankful:

1. The right and privilege to vote in U.S. elections


(Photo: Rachel E. Watson)

This is a solemn responsibility and at the same time a great privilege, one that the women of my 238-year-old nation have only had for 94 years. It fills my heart with a sense of power and pride when I step into that booth after careful research and fill in the bubbles that represent my choices. 

On Election Day last Tuesday, I couldn't help noticing the looks of satisfaction on each of the faces in line. Here we are to vote, and here we've just voted. How simple a joy. The smiles were infectious. 

2. Poetry and songwriting


In meter and wonder, with rhythm and expression, words and music weave a tapestry that conveys our shared human experience. 

How is it that one person can pen a song that moves the hearts of thousands? When we read or hear the lines borne out of the writer's mind, we can't know fully what it was that led to the writing. But we can feel it deeply inside. We can connect. We can welcome the words and sounds into our spirits and carry them with us into the night, a great sustenance through the valley of the shadow.


3. The power of spoken prayer


(Photo: Free images)

I like to be alone, where I may speak my fears to God. I find Him at the zenith of my frustrations outside in nature, where I walk alone and talk to Him aloud. 

Speaking my thoughts moves them from the confused cage of my brain into the light of day, where I can see them for what they are. When they are said aloud, though I hear no audible response from God, they lose power over me. 

One example last week was when a project took a sharp turn just when I thought it was finished, and I lost my cool. 

I gathered my keys and coat and headed for the woods to seek solitude. I remember telling God, "What's going on here is not cool! I'm really angry that you'd let this happen! And then there's the matter of my niece born today. I was really hoping to get out of here early so I could go see her, but then all of this happened. She's not getting any younger, God!" 

After I said those words, I just burst out laughing at how I sounded. I was released from anger's grip.

Speaking of my niece ... here's my final item of gratitude:

4. A new life to love


While I was praying on my solitary walk on Friday, I realized that I already loved my newest niece, November "Emmy" Rose, born that morning at 3:30, even though I hadn't met her yet. 

Emmy sleeps in my arms. (Photo: Adam Forrest)

And when I did meet her, I couldn't get enough of those tiny features, the small hands with perfect fingernails, the head of thick, silky black hair, the little button nose and chubby cheeks, the personality waiting to be discovered. 

What will she love? Who will her friends be? Will she like to read? As her limbs grow strong, will she test their limits in sports and work and play? 

I'm thankful to God for her, and for each new breath He allows me to enjoy all of His good gifts.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.
(Photo: Free images)

I came across this beautiful poem today that captures so eloquently how I feel about this transitional time, when autumn's colors quickly fade, the winds blow, and the earth is laid bare, waiting to be kissed by a blanket of snow.

My favorite line from the poem, perhaps, is "The gnarled thorn seems a crooked hag."

The other day, I imagined myself a painter as I beheld a cluster of trees on the horizon. I wondered how my brush could ever capture the twisted blackness of those limbs, layered in the foreground against a backdrop of more limbs, stretching ever backward through the forest, with hints of gray sky peeking through. The winds had all but ripped away the last of the curled yellow leaves.

I'm not a painter, so my brush may never craft that scene. But I'll forever celebrate the blank lined sheet with which a poet begins. The page is the canvas, the words are paint, and the poem is a finished scene.

In that spirit, may I present Madison Cawein:

"Under Arcturus"

By Madison Cawein (1865-1914)

I

"I belt the morn with ribboned mist;
With baldricked blue I gird the noon,
And dusk with purple, crimson-kissed,
White-buckled with the hunter's-moon.

"These follow me," the Season says:
"Mine is the frost-pale hand that packs
Their scrips, and speeds them on their ways,
With gypsy gold that weighs their backs."

II

A daybreak horn the Autumn blows,
As with a sun-tanned hand he parts
Wet boughs whereon the berry glows;
And at his feet the red fox starts.

The leafy leash that holds his hounds
Is loosed; and all the noonday hush
Is startled; and the hillside sounds
Behind the fox's bounding brush.

When red dusk makes the western sky
A fire-lit window through the firs,
He stoops to see the red fox die
Among the chestnut's broken burrs.

Then fanfaree and fanfaree,
His bugle sounds; the world below
Grows hushed to hear; and two or three
Soft stars dream through the afterglow.

III

Like some black host the shadows fall,
And blackness camps among the trees;
Each wildwood road, a Goblin Hall,
Grows populous with mysteries.

Night comes with brows of ragged storm,
And limbs of writhen cloud and mist;
The rain-wind hangs upon his arm
Like some wild girl who cries unkissed.

By his gaunt hands the leaves are shed
In headlong troops and nightmare herds;
And, like a witch who calls the dead,
The hill-stream whirls with foaming words.

Then all is sudden silence and
Dark fear -- like his who cannot see,
Yet hears, lost in a haunted land,
Death rattling on a gallow's-tree.

IV

The days approach again; the days
Whose mantles stream, whose sandals drag,
When in the haze by puddled ways
The gnarled thorn seems a crooked hag.

When rotting orchards reek with rain;
And woodlands crumble, leaf and log;
And in the drizzling yard again
The gourd is tagged with points of fog.

Now let me seat my soul among
The woods' dim dreams, and come in touch
With melancholy, sad of tongue
And sweet, who says so much, so much.


Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.
Dawes is a folk-rock band from Los Angeles, California.

The song "When My Time Comes" by folk rock band Dawes made me want to reread the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. So I did. 

Here are the parts it reminds me of:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time. (1:9-10)
 and this:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun. (2:10-11)
and this:
A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart. (7:1-2)



"When My Time Comes"


There were moments of dreams
I was offered to save.
I lived less like a workhorse,
more like a slave.
I thought that one quick moment
that was noble or brave
would be worth the most of my life.

So I pointed my fingers
and shouted few quotes I knew,
as if something that's written
should be taken as true.
But every path I had taken
and conclusion I drew
would put truth back under the knife.

And now the only piece of advice that continues to help
is anyone that's making anything new only breaks something else.

When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.
When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.

So I took what I wanted
and put it out of my reach.
I wanted to pay for my successes
with all my defeats.
And if Heaven was all
that was promised to me
why don't I pray for death?

Now it seems like the unravelling
started too soon.
Now I'm sleeping in hallways
and I'm drinking perfume,
and I'm speaking to mirrors,
and I'm howling at moons,
while the worse and the
worse that it gets.

Oh you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks.
Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it's starin' right back.

When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.
When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.

Well you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks.
Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it's starin' right back.

When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.
When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.

When my time comes,
Oh oh oh oh.

The Book of Ecclesiastes is a notoriously confusing bit of Old Testament literature. While there's a lot that is indisputably true — everyone dies, what has been will be again, etc. — the writer who calls himself The Teacher also doesn't offer a lot of hope — mostly cynicism.

I won't attempt to solve that mystery in this post; I'm certainly no theologian. But I will point out that it's fascinating to see themes written about in 450 B.C. still resonate with songwriters today. There truly is nothing new under the sun.

But ... I love hearing what's old restated in new ways. This song actually moved me to tears. I hope you find something of value in it, too.
(Photo: Free images)


All week, I've been about to spin the best story for you out of the happenings of my life.

But now that the week is over, I've realized no one particular story I can share with you will do the trick.

This week was a collection of essentially "boring" moments, but somehow, they represent a picture of why I'm grateful to be alive. They depict the steady gait of life the way it is for most of us: mundane, familiar, routine, not glamorous.

And yet, I felt grateful ...

  • When the sky and trees collided so far above me as I walked through the woods, and I really noticed that beauty. I felt so small, but so glad to be alive.
  • When I was at a Halloween cocktail party/game night, and I looked over at my husband, so relaxed and happy to be among friends, so in his element, cracking jokes and talking about games and playing games. He makes me smile.
  • When I saw my cats basking in the sunlight, not a care in the world. We could all take a lesson from that.
  • When my Bible study group helped me realize a new truth about the definition of the word "abide." On the one hand, yes, it's about obedience, but there's a prerequisite to that: sticking with Jesus like two pieces of fast-bound duct tape and letting his power work in your heart and life. It's so freeing to know I don't have to be the strong one. I'm still learning that.
  • When a friend from the gym noticed my absences over the past week and took a moment to encourage me to keep at my exercise routine.
  • When a project I'd been obsessing over at work started to (finally) take shape, and I began to breathe again.
  • When a leader spoke the words "Just say what you're comfortable saying," and I felt a weight lift off my heart and mind.
  • When it snowed on Halloween, and as the flakes swirled about, co-workers started smiling or bemoaning the event, displaying the love-to-hate spectrum common among Michiganders when it snows. Then, someone walked in with a box of pumpkin cream-cheese cupcakes, and moods universally lifted.
  • When my sister texted me to tell me she'd made too much food, and would I like her leftovers? I was all tied up that day so it didn't work out, but her generosity touched me just the same.
See? Even in the most mundane of weeks, the list of small, stunning moments can stretch on and on.

I have two more thoughts to share about "boring ol' life":

1. Faithfulness is boring.


This was a truth pointed out to me this fall by our lead teaching pastor at Ada Bible, Jeff Manion, during his series "Faithfulness" on the life of the prophet Samuel. 

Samuel's long, God-honoring life consisted of this: "From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah ... (then) back to Ramah, where his home was" (1 Samuel 7:16-17). He ministered to the people in those four towns, over and over and over, all the days of his life.

Think about your average week. For me, it's like this: Get up, hit the gym, go to work, come home, feed the cats, cook dinner, eat dinner with my husband, do dishes, tidy up, pack the gym bag and lunches for tomorrow, read/write/do other evening chores, go to bed. 

Then, I hit rewind and play all over again, times five. Then the weekend comes: Commitments, chores and play commingle.

What is that made of? Lots of repetition. It's not very spicy or sexy. There's plenty of room for complaint, if that's the route you choose. 

But the life of continued faithfulness ... is just a series of choices. It's the kind of life led by the people who, when they die, the whole town turns up at their funeral, and everyone's got a never-before-heard story of a time when the deceased friend helped them, reached out, showed kindness and love, and in so doing, built people up and left a lasting legacy.

And it was all because of consistency. Faithfulness.

2. There's always something to be grateful for.


Awhile back, I heard some sound advice: If you're struggling with depression, sit down at the end of each day and choose three things to be grateful for. Look for a new set of three each day, and write them in a gratitude journal. 

This exercise won't cure your depression, but it will help keep the tide from swallowing you.

A November challenge


Keep a gratitude journal. Each day this month, seek those little glimmers of hope, light and beauty, such as the ones I shared above, and write them down.

If you want to get started by listing one or two here, I'd love to hear them. Leave me a comment below or over at my Facebook Community page.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.
In my book, this has been one of Michigan's loveliest autumns. The weather has been comfortably cool without being too cold, and the trees have been such brilliant hues of red ...

A maple near my office in Walker, Michigan. (Photo: Rachel E. Watson)

yellow ...

The tree in my front yard. (Photo: Rachel E. Watson)

and all the colors of the spectrum ...

Trees along M-46 between Lakeview and Edmore. (Photo: Becky Howard)

It makes me want to take time out to confess that of all the fine art I could possibly enjoy and celebrate in this world, whether it's music, poetry, film, literature, painting or other visual arts, none of them could exist were it not for the Creator by whose power the universe was formed.

And who can top the beauty in His world? 

Today, while I was walking on the trail that cuts through my office park, a strong wind rushed through the trees and set them to swaying, and a golden brown leaf tornado spun up from the ground as I watched. 

In that moment, hymns began playing, one after another, in the symphony of my mind. These are the hymns I heard:



"For the Beauty of the Earth"


For the beauty of the earth, 
For the glory of the skies, 
For the love which from our birth 
Over and around us lies; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
This our hymn of grateful praise. 

For the beauty of each hour 
Of the day and of the night, 
Hill and vale, and tree and flower, 
Sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise. 

For the joy of human love, 
Brother, sister, parent, child, 
Friends on earth and friends above, 
For all gentle thoughts and mild; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
This our hymn of grateful praise. 



"This Is My Father's World"


This is my Father's world, 
And to my listening ears 
All nature sings, and round me rings 
The music of the spheres. 
This is my Father's world: 
I rest me in the thought 
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; 
His hand the wonders wrought. 

This is my Father's world, 
The birds their carols raise, 
The morning light, the lily white, 
Declare their maker's praise. 
This is my Father's world: 
He shines in all that's fair; 
In the rustling grass I hear him pass; 
He speaks to me everywhere. 

This is my Father's world. 
O let me ne'er forget 
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, 
God is the ruler yet. 
This is my Father's world: 
The battle is not done
Jesus who died shall be satisfied
And earth and heaven be one.



"How Great Thou Art"


O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed:

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, How great thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel a gentle breeze:

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, How great thou art!


I'm so thankful for Creator God, the finest artist, the best composer, The Word Who Became Flesh.

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here
This is my 100th blog post. Since it's Groovy Tuesday, the day I write about music, let's travel back in time 100 years and see what music was written in the year 1914.

"Twelfth Street Rag"



This ragtime song written by Euday L. Bowman was later used as the theme for television's "The Joe Franklin Show," and a ukulele version has been featured in the background of the show "SpongeBob SquarePants." (Bet Bowman wouldn't have seen THAT coming, eh?)

"Your King and Country Need You"



Keep in mind 1914 was the first year of World War I. This British song, with lyrics by Huntley Trevor and music by Henry E. Pether, was written for the purpose of recruiting soldiers to the Allies' cause. 

"I Want to Go Back to Michigan"



Irvin Berlin composed this charming but cheesy song in 1914, and its most famous performance was by Judy Garland in the 1948 film "Easter Parade."

"Saint Louis Blues"



By far my favorite of the crop, "Saint Louis Blues" was composed by W.C. Handy and has been performed by tons of famous blues and jazz musicians. The Louis Armstrong/Bessie Smith version above was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1993.

Here's a list of more songs composed in 1914. Do you have any favorites?

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.
In the past couple of weeks, I've dived back into novel-reading, a favorite pastime I was neglecting in favor of some other spare-time pursuits: yoga, running, writing and Netflix-watching.

But, as workshop leaders reminded me recently at Breathe Writers Conference, the best writers spend as much time reading as they do writing. Reading strengthens the muscles of the imagination, teaches the brain about the flow of language, etc.

So I picked up a couple of novels at the conference, and I'm back in the game.

A word on perspective




Here's one thing I noticed yesterday and today while reading the novel "When Mountains Move," by Julie Cantrell: I feel close to the protagonist, Millie, because the novel's point of view is third person limited. 

If you need a refresher on what point of view is, here's a definition from fictionwriting.about.com:

  • Point of view: The perspective from which the author tells the story; the narrator's position in relation to the story. 

There are three possible points of view: First person (The narrator is the protagonist and speaks in "I" terms), second person ("you") and third person ("he/she/it/they"). 

The story can be told in first person singular or plural, that is "I" or "we."

Second-person narration is very rare, but not unheard of. If you'd like some examples, here's a roundup: Books about You - Novels Written in the Second-Person Narrative.

The story can be told from third person omniscient or third person limited perspective. That is, the narrator can be an all-knowing storyteller who shows you the thoughts and feelings of every character or several characters, or the narrator might only share the feelings of the protagonist.

In Cantrell's novel "Into the Free" and its sequel I was reading yesterday, "When Mountains Move," Millie Reynolds is the main character, and her story is told by a narrator who lets you see her thoughts and feelings but not those of the other characters.

It's a way to let the reader feel close to the protagonist without limiting him/her by first-person narration. First-person narration constrains the story in a couple of ways: 1. It offers a spoiler: The narrator ultimately survives the events of this book because s/he is writing about it later. 2. We only get to perceive the supporting characters from the eyes of the narrator, who can't know their hidden motivations. 

I should note that I have enjoyed novels that use first person and third person omniscient points of view. 

First person examples: 

  • Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" is narrated by the titular character, and it feels as if we're reading her memoir. None of it feels stale, though; it feels like we're in Jane's head, traveling through the events as she remembers them. And we trust that she remembers accurately.
  • Holden Caulfield also narrates his story in first-person, past tense in "The Catcher in the Rye." But he tells us straight off that he's an unreliable narrator: "I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. If I'm on the way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera." So the novel is fraught with tension as we try to sort out fact from fiction.

Third person omniscient examples: 


Many 19th-century authors used an omniscient point of view, most notably:

  • Jane Austen's "Emma" and most of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Sense and Sensibility" are written using an omniscient narrator who gives glimpses of all the characters' thoughts and motivations, while spending the most time letting you into the inner lives of Emma, Elizabeth and Elinor.
  • Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby"

As the novel developed in the 20th and 21st centuries, the third person omniscient point of view became less common in favor of third person limited, which allows readers to enter into the feelings of the characters and helps move the climax of the novel forward.

What's your favorite point of view?


As I mentioned, second person narration is pretty rare. Can you think of any novels, besides the ones mentioned in the blog post I linked to, that use second-person narration?

Do you have any favorite contemporary novels that use an omniscient narrator?

I'd love to hear from you. Leave me a comment here or over at my Facebook Community page.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.
(Stock photo: Free images)

I'm a perfectionist. If you know me, this won't come as a surprise to you. If you're also a perfectionist, who, like me, has good taste but little artistic ability, I recommend you try something new: social painting.

If you've never heard of this trend, allow me to explain: It's where you go to an art studio with friends and follow instructions to recreate a predetermined scene while drinking wine and having a good ol' time. It's also been called a wine and canvas event.

I kid you not, when I went this week, I almost refused to drink any of the wine because I wanted to keep all my faculties sharp and blow that painting assignment out of the water.

But then, my sister-in-law offered to buy me a drink, and, well, the whole "getting it perfect with a completely focused mind" thing started to seem really overrated. 

At the place we chose, called Arts and Carafes Cafe, the studio owner, Jackie Sporte, and the on-duty teacher/artist, Taylor, walked us through the whole thing step by step. 

The scene of the day was an autumn forest, specifically a wood full of birch trees. Taylor, the artist, took us through the basics, from taping the canvas to start the underpainting, to what brush to use, to when to rinse it, to how to mix the colors, to when to switch to a different brush.

It reminded me very much of watching a favorite PBS show from childhood, "The Joy of Painting" with Bob Ross, only instead of just watching, this time, I was participating. 

I technically never took an art class, so my experience with painting has been limited to sporadic 4-H classes and "The Joy of Painting" show. I didn't pursue either very proactively because it wasn't an area of natural gifting for me.

Here's my painting! (Photo: Faith Watson)

As you can see above, it still isn't. 

But here's something I learned during this night out with my sister and sister-in-law: You've got to let go of that self-criticism. The pursuit of creativity is always worthwhile, even if it's painful to you because you don't like how your work turns out. 

Why? Because your hand and brush connect, you mix the colors, you flex your creative muscles and you exert power over your canvas. You listen to toe-tapping music, feeling the wine on your tongue. You hear the laughter of your friends, and you feel in your bones that you've just made something. Something that didn't exist before.

That's what creativity is all about. 

What do you make?


What kinds of creations have you made with your hands? How did you feel during the creative process, regardless of the end result? I'd love to hear your story. Leave me a comment below or over at my Facebook Community page.
(Stock photo: Free images)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Brandi Carlile has a song for every one of my moods/experiences/thoughts/emotions. We can add her song "That Wasn't Me" to the list today.

I woke up thinking about one of the shows Brandi did at the Frederick Meijer Gardens amphitheater — it was either 2012 or 2013 — where she sat down at the piano and began to tell a story about this song before her performance.

She said she visited a women's prison after this song was released as a single, and the inmates were clamoring to hear her perform it. They said it resonates with them because it feels like an open letter to their families and to the families of the people they wronged. 

It's a plea to be remembered as a whole person, not defined in a lasting way by the choice or series of choices that landed them behind bars.

We all want to be characterized more by our good and beautiful acts, don't we? 



"That Wasn't Me," by Brandi Carlile


Hang on, just hang on for a minute
I've got something to say
I'm not asking you to move on or forget it
But these are better days
To be wrong all along and admit it, is not amazing grace
But to be loved like a song you remember
Even when you've changed

Tell me, did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you've seen, that wasn't me
That wasn't me, oh that wasn't me

When you're lost you will toss every lucky coin you'll ever trust
And you'll hide from your God like he ever turns his back on us
And you will fall all the way to the bottom and land on your own knife
And you'll learn who you are even if it doesn't take your life

Tell me, did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you've seen, that wasn't me
That wasn't me, oh that wasn't me

But I want you to know that you'll never be alone
I wanna believe, do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet
When you fall I will get you on your feet
Do I spend time with my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
When that's what you've seen, that will be me
That will be me, that will be me
That will be me

I think the thing that's so powerful about this for me is that it's not denial of the wrongdoing itself. The bad deeds are already on the table. What I see here is an insistence that those terrible sins aren't who I want to be. 

I don't want to do the terrible things I do ... hmm ... where have I heard that before?

"It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge" (Romans 7:21-23, The Message).

I join those women at the penitentiary in their humanity, their brokenness, their desire for a day when they can again make themselves a blessing. Don't we all?

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.
Behold, one of my favorite dress shoes of all time. 

I just did something I've never done before. I took my shoes to a shoe repair shop instead of ditching them and buying new.

And guess what? It was a great experience.

I had two pairs of shoes in need of repair. One pair was damaged when I was strolling on a walking trail with co-workers recently. The heel of my left boot tore off and flew backward into the grassy embankment next to the path. I quickly retrieved it and limped around one-heeled for the rest of the workday. (This is why you should always bring extra shoes to work. Or wear walking shoes if you're planning to take a walk.)

My damaged boots look similar to these ones. 

The heel of the other pair was damaged a while back — I believe when I stepped on the crack of a sidewalk as I was leaving the YMCA. (This is why you should always jump over the sidewalk cracks.)

During the former excursion, the co-worker with whom I was walking mentioned she has had good luck with a local shoe repair shop on Leonard Street, Mieras Family Shoes.

I decided to give it a whirl.

Mieras is on the West Side of town, a short drive from where I live. It has been a family-owned business since 1922.

When I walked in, I was greeted by a young man behind a cash register who was wearing an apron. (Men wearing aprons are always a good start to a customer service experience.)

He directed me to the workshop in the back of the store. The place smelled strongly of what I imagine was leather polish, caulks, glues and resins of various kinds. 

"Jimmy, you've got a customer," the young man said, gingerly approaching a much older man with thick glasses and wild, wispy gray hair. 

Jimmy at first appeared not to hear, but then he shuffled over toward me and, without greeting me or looking at me directly, waited patiently for me to state my business.

I was instantly charmed. It was clear the young man was the one with the social ease and sales persona, and the older man was the fixer, the craftsman, the quiet fella with no taste for chatter.

He assessed my shoes with a bit of prodding and flexing of the damaged areas and determined within 30 seconds or less that they were fixable.

"I've even got some new light-colored heels that will be just perfect for this pair," he said, indicating the damaged tan pumps.

My receipts from Meiras Family Shoes.

He took out a couple of tickets and a pen and wrote down my name, phone number and the date, then ripped off the stubs and said, "We'll call you in two weeks." 

The shoes were ready in six days. They charged $10 per pair.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.