Wednesday, December 31, 2008

PTSW - The Yawn

We spent Christmas week visiting with our daughter in Queens. Her employers live in a several story apartment building right on Queens Boulevard at a stop on the 7 Train at Sunnyside.

The 7 Train travels the elevated tracks down Queens Boulevard
in Sunnyside, right past the famous Sunnyside archway.
Photo by Terrell Shaw

The husband is a restaurant manager in a Manhatten luxury hotel. The wife is a soprano with the Metropolitan Opera. They own the apartment where they live with their two little girls for whom my daughter is the nanny. Downstairs and across the courtyard they rent a studio apartment as a place for the wife to teach voice. That little apartment was our home during our stay.
Brannon lives a mile or so away in Astoria between two Greek Othodox churches near an N Train stop.
All of that to explain that a good bit of our time last week was spent on the 7 Train ...
The Empire State Building from Queens. Photo by Terrell Shaw

... and the N Train and other trains commuting into Manhatten for shopping, shows, sightseeing, and Christmas Eve worship. As an inveterate people watcher I enjoyed our time on the train. I suppose Paul Blackburn did too. He captures a moment on a train from Queens in "The Yawn" from his book of poems, The Cities. (Should Paul Blackburn's heirs happen upon my little blog, I hope they will accept a plug for these books as an adequate exchange for the use of his poem. Every home should have a few books of poetry. Go buy one.)
The Yawn

The black-haired girl
with the big
on the Queen’s train coming
in to work, so
opens her mouth so beautifully
in a ya-aawn, that
two stops after she has left the train
I have only to think of her and I
wow !

by Paul Blackburn
For Christmas, besides the trip to New York, I gave myself a book of poetry: Poetry 180. The anthology is the outgrowth of the Poetry 180 website founded by Billy Collins, a collection of contemporary poetry that Collins gathered with high-schoolers in mind. Perhaps that says something about my maturity level. I have really enjoyed it. "The Yawn" is poem number 175 in the book.

Since this little poem deals with a pretty girl from Queens (though her hair and eyes are wrong) and since I happen to know a pretty girl who lives in Queens, I thought I'd share it.

The Sixth Day of Christmas: Gesu Bambino

I have sung this several times (in English). It is one of the most beautiful Christmas Carols. I have no idea of the Italian jokes at the beginning

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Fifth Day of Christmas: Silent Night

This is the quintessential Christmas carol, I suppose. It is the one most associated with the famous Christmas Truce of 1914, when German and English-speaking troops sang the song together. I remember my father using, in his sermons, the legend of the song's first performance by Frans Gruber when Gruber's church organ was disabled.

Hundreds of performers have recorded the song. Here the famous Three Tenors, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti, sing "Silent Night":

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Fourth Day of Christmas: Some Children See Him

This Albert Burt carol is one of my favorites.

Here is James Taylor's version:

Here it is sung by Melinda Doolittle and the Nashville Children's Choir.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas!

As you are reading this I am enjoying, with my wife and daughters, a New York Christmas. Brannon is a nanny in Astoria (Queens) and invited us to have Christmas here so that she could continue to care for her two little charges while her employer, a soprano with the Metropolitan Opera, rehearses for an upcoming performance. We are staying in her employers home. Brannon insisted: she says we should spend our hotel savings on her Christmas present!

This is our second New York Christmas. The four of us flew to Lagaurdia in 2004, lugged our bags onto a bus, crossed the Tri-Burrough bridge to a subway stop at the Harlem end of Manhatten. We rode the subway to the Flatiron district where we toted the bags to the avant garde Gershwin Hotel. It turned out the Gershwin is near some interesting landmarks. Next door is the Museum of Sex. Just around the corner was Cafe 28 - delicious and very reasonably priced. And on the next block was the Marble Collegiate Church Norman Vincent Peale's old stomping grounds - we attended Chrismas Eve services there. The Empire State Building towers over this section of Manhatten.

We took in four shows on that trip: Little Women, Wicked, Wonderful Town (with Brooke Shields), and Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Watching Wicked with Idena Menzel was glorious, and should have been since it was the most expensive entertainment that I have ever purchased. Don't bother with the dreary book, but the musical is magical.

One of our pleasures in 2004 was people watching and people meeting. One couple we especially enjoyed were from Singapore. We were stuck with them in an hour-long queue at the TCKTS booth at Times Square. We had a delightful conversation and then exchanged e-mails during the next few weeks as their country dealt with the horrible tsunami that struck that week.

Christmas Day 2004 we spent in Central Park. We ice skated for a while, then strolled through the park in the crisp cold of a sunshiny winter day.

From our first busride till our last and the untold miles on the subway in between, we were struck at the friendliness and helpfulness of the New York people. The only angry voice I heard during the trip was from a poor disabled fellow who was nearly knocked over by this clumsy southerner, trying to manuever an awkward rolling suitcase out of an elevator at the Port Authority terminal. He certainly used some colorful language to describe my ineptitude.

Anyway, we're in New York again. I'll try to avoid running down disabled folk this time. I hope we're having as much fun as we have had here in the past.

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Old Leaves: Top Ten Christmas Memories

Christmas 2006

While your host is off galavanting here is an oldie-but-goodie of his favorite Christmas memories, first posted for Christmas 2005 when Alone on a Limb was a baby blog:

Christmas Memories
A preliminary Top Ten
-- until the ones I'm stupidly forgetting come to mind.

10. Receiving (or giving) the girdle from the Phantom in Milstead.
9. The first Christmas that I got to stay up with the big folks to prepare Christmas for the little folks.
8. Hunting a tree with my Daddy and sisters in my childhood.
7. Hunting the perfect Redcedar with my little daughters at the Burton farm in Booger Hollow.
6. Grape juice from little bottles on Christmas morning
5. Singing "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" and "O, Holy Night" at the Christmas Eve service
4. Standing in the Nativity Scene at Trinity every Christmas Eve.
3. Hunting Christmas stuff at a flea market a few days before Daddy's death.
2. Watching my little girls come through the door or down the stairs on Christmas morning -- usually through the lens of a camera.
1. Completing Daddy's projects for the grandkids, when he died suddenly three weeks before Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Old Leaves: A Visit from St. Nicholas

While your host is flitting about other parts of the forest, enjoy this mossy old post from the Limb, borrowed from my classroom website circa Christmas 2006:

A Happy Christmas to All!!

We divided this poem up among my 26 students and practiced using our strongest voices and our most eloquent expression. Of course, we forgot strong and expressive voices completely when we recited the poem for parents.

Everybody knows this one. It is a delightful Christmas tradition. It names the eight reindeer. It gives a wonderful description of Saint Nicholas. You can sing it. It is a vocabulary builder.

(Added 1-03-08: Hear my podcast of this poem here.)

A Visit from St. Nicholas

’T was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”
-- Clement Moore


Clement Moore -- There is a lot of disagreement about whether or not this famous poem was written by Clement Moore.

sugar-plums -- small balls of sugar candy.

droll -- an adjective to describe something comical or odd.

Donder and Blitzen -- Donder is often called “Donner”. And at one time Blitzen was called “Blixem”! Here is a website that tells that story. Can you name all of Santa’s Reindeer?

Other Poems from Terrell's Anthology (or just click on
the "poetry" link at the bottom of the post):

A Visit from St. NicholasMiceAll In a WordThe SpiderThe Eagle
Some PeopleCustard the DragonStatistics 101The Spider and the Fly
Back to SchoolThe Inchcape RockOgden NashTrash
Hearts, Like DoorsCasey at the BatAlways a RoseHome at Last
Bag of ToolsCarpe DiemPoems About PoetryMan's Best Friend
Spelling is Tough Stough!Blue MarbleTacks, Splinters, Apples and Stars
Oh, Captain, My Captain!MetaphorIntroducion to Poetry
Loveliest of TreesFlax-Golden TalesThe Dinosaurs Are Not All Dead
Owl PelletsMummy Slept LateJust My Size
The Kindest Things I KnowMiles to GoLove that Brother
Oh, Frabjous Day!

Other Posts about Children's Literature:

The Lion's Paw top kid's OOP book!
Aslan is Dead!
Multiplying People, Rice, and Readers
A Teacher's Life

You can read some of my own efforts at poetry here.
And then there's Alien Invasion.

A weblog dedicated to Poetry for Children.
Watch Sonja Cole's reviews of children's books at
The PBS series Favorite Poem Project