Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Aftermath!

The problem with baking is the aftermath! What a mess I had to clean up. Does handwashing mixing bowls and pans burn off enough calories to offset the cookies I ate? No, don't answer that's Christmas after all :-)
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The After

Despite the 17" half-sheet pan, my blondies runneth over and maketh a big mess in the freshly cleaned oven. Of course! But they were scrumptious and a big hit at the Relief Society cookie exchange party.
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The Before

Ghiradelli White Chocolate Chip-Gingerbread Blondies
adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Spirit of Christmas

The weather has been terribly cold here in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We've even had snow flurries -- something not common in early December around here. I put up my Christmas tree and started baking a few cookies, all things that help me get in the holiday mood. But the thing that really helps me feel the Spirit of Christmas is music. I've been singing and playing music my whole life. For much of that time I was in either a choir or an orchestra rehearsing for December concerts and Church meetings. It's the songs, carols, and oratorios that speak the loudest to my soul about what Christmas is truly about, the birth of Jesus Christ.

Of course my favorite Christmas music is Handel's Messiah followed closely by the simple carol Away in a Manger. Given my background as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I have a special fondness for the Christmas music performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I have been blessed to have opportunities to sing in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, first as a member of the Utah Oratorio Society and later The Mormon Youth Chorus. Now that You Tube is a household word, I can share some of my favorite Mormon Tabernacle Choir videos with all of you. May this music spark the Spirit of Christmas in you!

First the choir's most recent video of the Hallelujah Chorus, followed by Mack Wilberg's amazing arrangement of The First Noel. Last is another Wilberg arrangement featuring one of my favorite opera singers, Renee' Fleming, singing What Child is This?. Merry Christmas to one and all!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

On this day in history...

On this day in 1859 the abolitionist John Brown was hanged in Charles Town VA (now WV) for leading a raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harper's Ferry. Brown's brazen act was just one of the highly controversial actions which ultimately contributed to the onset of the American Civil War. I visited Harper's Ferry last June and took this photo of the fort John Brown used during his raid, now a part of the Harper's Ferry National Historic Park. Located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers near where the states of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland meet, Harper's Ferry was a critical point of crossing from Washington, DC to the Western United States and an important focal point at various times during the Civil War. Now a scenic and serene place except when the trains come roaring through, Harper's Ferry serves as a tangible reminder of the conflicts of our past.

Over the next few weeks and months we as Americans will be given the opportunity to pause and remember the events that transpired as we commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. It started with the succession of South Carolina on Dec 20th,1860and was followed by the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The Stars and Stripes didn't fly over Fort Sumter again until April 14, 1865, more than four long years later. The Civil War marks a horrific period in our country's history. It's history is multifaceted, the originating conflicts complex. Too many of today's history books portray slavery as the salient issue behind the war. The reality is that slavery had little to do with the onset of Civil War, becoming an issue only after the war had started. While important, the Civil War was about much more than just slavery. It was about regional differences, about state's rights, and about westward expansion. It was about humble farmers and hunters and owners of large plantations. It was about large factories and big cities and taxes and tariffs. It was about the powerful few and the humble majority. It was about one group and ideology trying to impose their will and power over others of different values and circumstances. It was also about ignorance, miscommunication, and misunderstandings. Most of all, it was sad that so many felt that war was the only answer to the problem.

As we look back 150 years I can't help but wonder what could have been done to prevent such an atrocity from happening. Perhaps if the citizens of that time had been less concerned with power, pride, ignorance, & greed and more concerned with mutual respect and understanding this ugly war could have been avoided. Perhaps if those with political clout had been more willing to listen with open hearts and work to find an acceptable middle ground and had been less concerned with self & party-focused wants, maybe war could have been avoided. I also wonder about what is happening in our country today. While we are not involved in a civil war per se, deep divides once again exist in the USA. Politics and parties, pride and prejudices continue. The power struggle is as fierce as ever and it is ugly. Can we not learn from the bloodstains of our past? Can we not learn to work together to truly be "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?" Surely we can find a better way if we try hard enough. Let's not repeat the same mistakes that ultimately led to the Civil War. America can be better. Americans can do better. Our very lives and liberties depend on it. God Bless the USA!
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