Friday, February 25, 2011

Laughin' at the Hard Times...

Far to the west of here, on a small island in Puget Sound, there once lived three women who loved to sing. Actually, the island was full of people who loved to sing. There were church singers, garden singers, lullabye singers, and rock & roll singers. There were folk singers and filk singers, serious song scholars and raunchy tavern chorus-belters. The meekest music-makers kept to their showers--maybe allowed themselves to occasionally whistle for their dogs in public--but many folks believed that music was something to be shared.

The three women, Mary, Elizabeth, and Velvet, were music-sharers with a mission. They had been singing together for years--in community theater shows, workshops, churches and all kinds of other venues and get-togethers. They started writing their own songs and got together to perform them. They called their trio, "Women, Women & Song."

They sang about common, everyday themes: washing windows, raising children, braces and break-ups and long car rides. To each of life's frustrations they added sweet harmonies, hard-earned wisdom, and joyful comedic twists. I recall one summer appearance on the open-air stage at the Strawberry Festival, when they prefaced a hilarious madrigal-style primer on human sexuality with the warning, "the next song we'll be singing is a little 'blue,' so you might want to hand each of your kids a dollar and send them up the street to buy snow cones now." My mother and I laughed together at the lines that followed:
"Some of us like one lover and one only,
Some of us have lost count and still are lonely.
Some of us can do it just for fun;
Others of us have to marry everyone,
But most of us find a way to get the thing done,
For that is the way of sex."

Mom and I laughed til there were tears in our eyes as the song ranged through its perilous, hilarious territory. Then, mother and daughter, we faced each other with a gaze of mutual understanding at the final refrain:
"...But, ignore sex or embrace it,
In some way you'll have to face it...
For that is the way of,
That is the way of,
That is the way of sex!"

These three women--all around the age of my parents--sang me through adolescence with some of the best messages any young woman could hear. My teenage body-image angst was mitigated by a catchy little tune with these lyrics:
"This body is mine, it'll be what it will,
And I don't plan to change it with diets or pills,
And if you don't like it, go look for another,
'Cause this body's mine and I like it ruther."

They helped me weather other societal pressures and strengthened my resolve to make my own path and pursue my own joys. The following song influenced my mother, too--so much so that she and her best friend eventually started their own organic floral business to live out some of this song's aims:
"I won't wait to be happy.
I won't put it off 'til everyone loves me.
I won't wait until my ship comes in and the freight is all for me...
I won't wait to happy.
I won't put it off until the Great Someday.
I'm gonna grow a bunch of roses--and give roses away."

Women, Women & Song lifted me up and carried me along. I've returned to their music countless times, seeking--and finding-- much-needed courage and humour. There was one song, though, that I couldn't quite join in on. I just wasn't ready to sing it yet--at least, not with conviction. But--folks, I'm here to tell you--THIS morning, I'm finally ready:
"Well, I woke up this morning; didn't feel the same
Felt a new spirit in my heart but I couldn't quite give it a name.
Well, I felt kind of cocky. I felt kind of tall--
And then I remembered, and the mystery was solved:
I'm forty--and I don't care what people think.
I'm forty--and my life is my o-o-own!
I'm forty and I'm happy to just be here,
Laughin' at the hard times that I've known!"

Oh, AYE. With all the courage and wisdom and laughter I can muster, I am ready to face the NEXT forty--and who knows how many more years after that!

So, to Mary, Elizabeth, and Velvet--and all the other singers who've helped me find my own voice--Thanks for getting me this far down the road!

P.S. Women, Women & Song no longer perform together, but Mary is a regular contributor to Vashon's alternative newspaper and she blogs as "Spiritual Smart Aleck." CDs of WW&S are still available.

Credit where credit is due: all song lyrics copyright WW&S and/or the three artists of the trio: Mary Litchfield Tuel, Elizabeth Anthony, & Velvet Neifert. (I lost the cover of my old cassette tape, so I don't know for sure who wrote what.) Tile was made by my sister, Krissie, based on an embroidered jumper my mom sewed for me when I was small. WW&S image can be found here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The wheel of the year turns once more, and we arrive at Imbolc, one of the four "cross-quarters" or turning points of the Celtic agricultural year. This is a festival sacred to Bride (a.k.a. Bridgit)--an Irish Goddess or Saint (you choose!) One excellent reflection on this festival can be found here. Here on the farm, we're celebrating in grand style: we're going to play at yoghurt-making while pumpkin soup simmers on the woodstove. There are also rumours of a whipped-cream cake in the making, to be flavoured with lavender or whisky!

For Northern, pre-industrial folk, this was a hard time indeed, as winter storage foods dwindled and the prospect of new nourishment glimmered and wavered far off in hunger's haze. Imagine, then, the joy that came with fresh milk as lambing time approached and the ewes "bagged up" in preparation! The old name for this cross-quarter is "Imbolc," from old Celtic words for "ewe's milk." Traditional feast items for this time featured milk and cream and butter and cheese. If you don't have time for fancy stuff, celebrate by making a yoghurt smoothie!

In the deep February cold, this was also a time to celebrate fire--the fire of creation, captured in the blacksmith's work as well as the poet's inspiration. Smiths and poets were celebrated along with midwives and dairy animals. In fresh milk and creative fire, the hopes of earthborne people are renewed!

Here is a bit of bardic work for Imbolc, with a nod to Robbie Burns, Violet Jacob, and other Scots poetic forebears. (Hmmm. Haggis & Neeps might deserve a place on tonight's table, as well. They, too, are seasonally-appropriate elements for an Imbolc feast!) The poem incorporates the imagery of the "Cailleach," (pronounced KYLE-yok) or Old Woman of Winter, whose silver hammer kept the ground hard and cold until Spring.


When yon Auld Grannie gyres an gimps
an unco dance on cranreuch groond
an gies her sillar curls a crimp,
Ye ken that Imbolc's comin roond.

When sillar hammers, blaw for blaw
fa habber-haird in hinmaist hone
then haud ye fast, for soon the thaw
will prize awa cauld winter's loan.

Nae lang she'll lanesame bide, nor sup
Wi'oot the dochter she lo'es best;
Nae grannie redds the kailyaird up
But for the thocht o some comin guest!

Nae mair the lanesame anvil-drum
Will mark the pace o Grannie's dance--
The Lass o the Lintin Wand shall come
An lowpin lambies hae their chaunce--

For Grannie Cailleach's time grows short
An wee snaw-drappies rowthie ring
for Bridgit cams, blithe hope tae sport
An after Bridgit cams-- the Spring!

--copyright Mainecelt 2011

Glossary: unco=strange, cranreuch=frosty, ken=know, Imbolc=Celtic Feast/source of Groundhog's Day, blaw=blow, fa=fall, habber=stutter, hinmaist=last, haud=hold, prize=pry, awa=away, wi'oot=without, dochter=daughter, redds the kailyaird up=cleans the place, thocht=thought, comin=coming, Lintin Wand=glinting wand of Bridgit, lowpin=leaping, chaunce=chance, Cailleach=crone/Celtic Earth-Goddess, snaw-drappies=snowdrops, rowthie=abundantly, cams=comes, blithe=joyous