My grandfather grew orchids.  Or at least he tried to.  Living as he did in Rochester, New York, his orchid garden was a light box in the basement.  If he managed to make them bloom, I know it wasn't nearly as often as he would have liked.

When my father inherited the orchids and their setup, he didn't give them quite the attention that his father had, so it was not surprising that he had less success.  He, too, lived in a climate unfriendly to orchids.

I lived for several years in the vicinity of the incredible Longwood Gardens, so it's not surprising that I've seen more than my share of orchids in bloom.  I can't say that I understand the fascination they have for many people—Like Nero Wolfe.  Their blooms are often bizarre, even macabre, in my eyes.  But many are beautiful, and I confess to a special fondness for the vanilla orchid.

And for the blc copper queen.

It was blooming when Porter brought this plant home some four years ago.  Despite a great deal of neglect, it steadfastly refused to die.  There are advantages to living in a semi-tropical climate.  But the orchid never bloomed again.

Until early this month, I noticed this:


Buds!  And buds they stayed, growing ever so slowly.

Hurricane Matthew came, and we brought the plant into the garage for safekeeping.  Both buds were as tightly closed as ever.

The next morning, the first blossom was in full, glorious flower.

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

This one, apparently, liked the ignominy of dangling from a bicycle hung from the ceiling in a corner of our garage.  But we brought it in and gave it a place of honor in the house for several days, before returning it to the free air and sunshine of our back porch.  By then, the second bloom was also in its glory.


As gardeners, we don't get any credit for these beautiful blooms, but I like to think my grandfather would have been pleased.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 22, 2016 at 10:30 am | Edit
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They [meet together] to sing out their thoughts.  They would hurt them if they didn't.  They're so strong and burn so.  With only one throat each they can't make music enough to let it out in private; but what one hasn't another has, and so they gather to help each other's love and thanks out by singing, because everyone then feels that what they all sing he sings and everyone sings, with one mighty voice, and on the great torrent of that voice their big thoughts float out of every heart like great ships out of the harbour to cross the eternal seas.

 — George MacDonald
Lilith A

One of my favorite books is George MacDonald's Lilith.  The Johannesen edition we have also includes what they call Lilith A, a transcription of MacDonald's unpublished first draft.  It has been amazing to read them back to back, to see both what an imaginative and technically able writer he was, and how the story was fleshed out into something magnificent through the rewriting and editing process.

Here is how the above paragraph looks in the published version:

They need help from each other to get their thinking done, and their feelings hatched, so they talk and sing together; and then, they say, the big thought floats out of their hearts like a great ship out of the river at high water.

The final version is more succinct, but I love the original because it speaks more specifically to what it's like to sing in choir.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 20, 2016 at 9:02 am | Edit
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Category Inspiration: [first]

One of the perks of having an annual Disney pass is the ability to make the spontaneously suggestion, "Do you want to go to EPCOT for lunch?"

Continuing from our list of food experiences


New Zealand Steamed Green-Lipped Mussels with Garlic Butter and Toasted Breadcrumbs, and Seared Venison Loin with Wild Mushroom Marsala Sauce and Kumara Dumpling. I passed on the mussels, but Porter said they were delicious. The venison was as well, though he said it was not as good as the venison he had in New Zealand itself, being less flavorful. Most of the food at Disney is made more bland than it should be.

Australia Grilled Sweet and Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp with Pineapple, Pepper, Onion and Snap Peas. Good, with more spice than I've come to expect from Disney, probably too much for our friends who like their food mild.

China Sichuan Spicy Chicken. Delicious!  Definitely too spicy for our friends who prefer their food mild.

South Korea Korean-style BBQ Beef with Steamed Rice and Cucumber Kimchi. Good, but nothing special, and far too mild. I would have said the salad was cucumber slices with a dash of vinegar—hardly kimchi.

Japan The shaved ice is becoming a tradition. Because we've had the tangerine flavor twice, we tried cherry this time. Good, but tangerine is still the best. Of cousre we had the sweet milk sauce; I need to figure out how to make that at home.

Belgium Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream. Delicious!  Surprisingly, the concoction was not too sweet, which made it delightful.

Morocco Kefta Pocket: Seasoned Ground Beef in a Pita Pocket. Very good.

France Boeuf Bourguignon: Cabernet Sauvignon-braised short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes. Porter voted this even better than Canada's Filet Mignon (see previous post). Good as it was, I disagreed, and had planned to reassure myself on that point, but...

Canada Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup served with a Pretzel Roll. By the time we had eaten our way to Canada, I was too full to appreciate the filet, so we chose the bacon-y cheddar soup instead. It was very good, but next time I'm saving room for the beef.

As we made our way to the park's exit, we stopped by the Festival Center's Ghirardelli booth to top off our meal with some complimentary chocolate.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 13, 2016 at 5:09 pm | Edit
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Here's another upside to our hurricane adventure:  We had mail delivery on Columbus Day!

I'm guessing they're making up for having been closed last Friday.  Whatever the reason, I'm happy!  It's been a long stretch without appreciable mail, since what came on Saturday clearly reflected that not much had gone through the system Thursday and Friday.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 10, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Edit
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Our power was restored around one in the morning. As the bright light over our bed came on, I mentally chided myself for not being sure it was turned off at the swtich. But actually Porter had turned it on before coming to bed himself. This was so he would be awakened as soon as we had power, and could switch the refrigerator and freezer cords from the generator to the house power.

Generator note 1:  We used just under five gallons of gasoline, running the generator on an approximate schedule of one hour out of every four or five, primarily for keeping the refrigerator and freezer (and those of our neighbors) cool.

Generator note 2:  This is not a good way to recharge the UPS that powers our computer, house phone, and Internet connection. That takes about 18 hours to recharge.

The house is light again now, with the plywood removed from our windows, and Porter is out dealing with cleanup. A much, much better cleanup scenario than we had anticipated!

For those of you who were wondering, we now have a lovely new faucet for our kitchen sink.  Porter had just completed the job, though not yet the cleanup, when power went out.

And the neighbors were happy with the cookies, even if they weren't my best.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 8, 2016 at 9:17 am | Edit
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We're fine; the lack of updates is due to the lack of power.  We're running the generator for about an hour out of every four or five, to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold, and to charge our cell phones, but it takes a lot more to charge the UPS for the computers and home phone.

So far every hurricane has resulted in a three-day power outage.  We're hoping for something less this time, but Duke Energy isn't saying.

More tomorrow, one way or another.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 7, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Edit
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Power is off.  Then on.  Then off.  Repeat.  Right now it's off, and I'm turning the computer off to save battery.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 7, 2016 at 11:20 am | Edit
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Gratitude. Waking up at 5 a.m., which should have brought us the worst of the storm, and hearing:  nothing.

After a while I heard some rain, but no wind.

The next thing I heard was our emergency radio blasting out a flood warning. Flooding is a serious worry for many here, but we live at the top of a hill.

What a difference a few miles makes.

Thank you all for your many, eastward-blowing prayers!  The very slight eastward shift of Matthew has made a huge difference to Florida. The coast is still experiencing strong gusts, but the news anchors are struggling to find stories:  a sign fallen here, a boat with broken windows there. Downed power lines, and many people without power.

With this blessing comes a cautionary tale:  an equally small shift westward would have been a different story altogether.  Preparation is always essential.  We should be grateful for miracles, but not presume upon them.

It's far from over. Matthew's eye is still south of us. They still expect serious impact on the coast and in flood zones. Winds have been picking up a bit for us, and branches sitll play occasional drum solos on our roof. For now, we have power, but we don't take that for granted:  in the past, power outages have come significantly after the storm has passed and we've started to feel safe.

But this update is far from the one I was expecting to make this morning. We are thankful.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 7, 2016 at 6:51 am | Edit
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This should be my last update for the day; I hope to be heading to bed soon.

Porter took the wiser course tonight, reading his book and keeping an eye on the TV reports. I decided to cook.

First I made a big batch of meatballs, which will be good thaw-and-eat food.

Then I decided it would be nice to have cookies to take to our neighbors. We do that at Christmas, but half the people aren't home. Now they have to be—we'll be under curfew until Saturday morning. :)

I've been working on developing and perfecting a particular cookie recipe, so I've been making cookies at least once a week for a couple of months. I should have been able to make these in my sleep. But the dough seemed weird, much too dry. I wondered, being much distracted, did I accidentally add an extra cup of flour?  I increased the liquid to compensate, but was increasingly puzzled. It wasn't until I'd already baked the first batch that I discovered that I'd left out the butter, which was sitting in the microwave where I'd left it to melt. I slopped some into the remaining dough (cookies can be forgiving), and hoped for the best. It's so far from what it was intended to be that I'm embarrassed to give them out, but they're actually not bad and I'm not going to ruin a neighborly moment just because the cookies aren't my best. But the whole affair shows my mind wasn't totally on what I was doing. And I'll even spare you the other things that went wrong, including spilling melted butter all over and losing my grip on the cookie sheet, sending the cookies sliding onto the oven floor. The worse of it was that both the meatballs and the cookies require an unusual number of utensils that require washing by hand, and it's really hard to wash big items in the bathroom sink (my temporary kitchen, if you recall from my last post). But it all worked out, even if it left me thinking maybe taking the night off would have been the better course.

Cooking done, I finished the cleaning, took a shower, did a wash, and went throughout the house taking photos—documentation that is good to do for many reasons, bu t especially when a hurricane is coming.

Oh, and here's another thing happening in our temporary kitchen. The first casualty of the hurricane, though I can't imagine why it happened, and Matthew isn't even officially here yet. We're getting a lot of rain, and the bathroom skylight is leaking. Nothing a bucket can't take care of at the moment, however.


The air had been oppressively still all day, but the wind is definitely picking up, creating a percussion section out of our roof and walls. Hopefully my first post of the morning will not be very exciting.

Good night, all!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 11:08 pm | Edit
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Thanks to the kindness of the small-engine repair hobbyist, plus $50, the generator is working!  We've finished bringing in moveable objects, and battening down whatever else we could. The garage door is secured with a 2x4 on the inside and one of our cars against on the outside. Yes, this does put the car at (additional) risk, but also leaves one car easily accessible should we need to get somewhere. The most critical windows are all boarded up, leaving a few small, otherwise-protected windows to let in some light and keep us from feeling entirely caged.

Porter and our neighbor finished that job in the rain. It's been raining off and on all day, and the finished just before the heavens really opened. Nothing like what's coming, of course.

My backups are progressing, and most of my housecleaning is set, though I can't do the kitchen until Porter finishes installing the new faucet. In the meantime, I've commandeered the bathroom as an auxiliary kitchen. I grew up camping, so it's nothing odd.

My office still could use work, about a month's worth. How much I get done will depend on how long we have power. And, of course, assuming no tree falls into it....

I'm doing some cooking, too, putting together foods that can be frozen, thawed, and eaten without further cooking. That will be good even if we get through Matthew unscathed.

They say it's shaping up to be the worst storm in recorded history for the coastal counties, and pretty significant here, too. I know it's the business of the news media to ramp up the hype and make us all afraid, but despite having endured years of such frenzied reporting, I think they may have something this time.

I know the Native Americans in Florida were much better at reading the signs of the air and the sky and the animals, because if it weren't for the news, I'd have no idea what was lurking to our south.

Further updates as I have news to report and ability to do so.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Edit
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Dusting off the "Hurricanes and Such" category....

It has been 12 years since a hurricane has bothered our part of Florida, so I can't say we aren't past due. My brother, who is in the catastrophe business, assures me that it's the lulls, not the hurricanes, that are unusual here.

Perhaps we have been lulled to sleep, but this time our hurricane preparations have been more relaxed. Part of that is experience:  we already have the plywood for boarding up our windows, and so did not have to join the crowds at Home Depot. We already have food, and water, and ice—though making more ice is always a good thing. Mostly at the moment I'm trying to get and keep current with housekeeping—laundry, dishes, general cleaning, computer backups—because if we lose power, as we did for every hurricane that has affected us thus far, it's good to have things in order. And a good supply of clean clothes.

Porter has been busy working on the one thing our experience has not helped us with. A number of years ago we bought a generator from a friend, to have for occasions like this. It was unused, new-in-box, and we never really thought about it until Porter decided it would be a good idea to make sure all was in order before we needed it.

As it turns out, if you're going to store a generator, new or used, you're supposed to start it on a regular basis, say once every month or two. It's been years.... Needless to say, it didn't start. Porter and our neighbor worked on it for a long time, then decided to call in someone who does small engine repair for a hobby. That's where the generator is now, waiting for him to have a chance to look at it. In any case, we've learned something for next time.

My plan is to try to keep this site updated as our primary means of general-purpose communication, since many of our friends and family are not on Facebook.

Thank you for your prayers!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 9:17 am | Edit
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We're not finished, I hope, with our visits to EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival, but someone asked which were our favorites, so I'll make my answer into a review, albeit one that will need updating.

This annual event at EPCOT is not for the epicure who can find cheaper and more authentic ethnic food nearby. This is Disney, after all, and thus the food is more Americanized that we would like. But for us—living here and having annual passes—it's a delightful way to enjoy many little tastes of different foods. Not having to pay for admission and parking makes us feel more free to spend what amounts to a lot of money for the quantity of food consumed.

Our procedure for getting the most out of our tasting experience is to order one item at a time from each kiosk, and share it. The portions are very small, so we can eat from many countries before running out of appetite. At those prices ($4-$8 per taste) there's no temptation to eat when we can't truly appreciate the food.

So far there has been nothing we didn't like, though some dishes were more impressive than others. In the list below, assume we liked it unless I note otherwise. If it was really special, I'll note that, too.


Ireland Irish Cheese Selection Plate: Irish Cheddar, Dubliner, and Irish Porter.

Belgium Beer-braised Beef served with Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes.

Japan Tangerine shaved ice with sweet milk topping. It's basically a glorified snow cone, but delicious and just right for a hot day. The "sweet milk" topping costs an extra dollar, but is the reason we bought this in the first place, having fallen in love with sweet milk ice cream on our visit to the real Japan.


Hawai'i Spicy Tuna Poke with Seaweed Salad and Nori Rice. It left me craving one of those big chunks of raw tuna they celebrate with in Japan.

Canada "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter Sauce. The beef was delicious and tender, though hardly the "rare" we were told it would be. The wild mushrooms and the truffle butter were fantastic.

France Soupe à l'oignon au Gruyère et Cognac. Awesome. We're coming back for this a second time, though all of the offerings at France look delicious and will need to be sampled.

Brazil Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread). Okay, but not worth buying again. The bread was good, but the cheese bland.

Belgium Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream. Delicious!  Surprisingly, the concoction was not too sweet, which made it delightful.

Morocco Spicy Hummus Fries with Cucumber, Tomato, Onions, and Tzatziki Sauce. It seems disingenuous to call these "fries."  "Fried hummus" would have been more accurate. But they were good.  Morocco is always one of our favorite places to eat at EPCOT.

Japan Reprise of the tangerine shaved ice with sweet milk sauce. The days are still hot in Florida. There are other flavors, but the tangerine is so good....

We travelled counterclockwise around World Showcase, but stopped eating mid-way around. We'll have to go the other way next time, and catch the many countries we had to walk reluctantly past.

We did, however, stop at the Festival Center on our way out of the park, for the free samples of Ghirardelli chocolate.

Now I'm hungry just writing about it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 8:21 am | Edit
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I need to finish this off. With this post I come to the end of LaMonte Fowler's points. (Loud cheers!) The series in response to the Fowler essay starts here.

Poor people need help. If you’re not helping them but complaining about how the government helps them with your money you are not a nice person.

Granted, people need help. We all do at times, some more than others. No one disputes that. The issue is, what really constitutes help?  It's a very complex issue that has produced no end of books and papers and Ph.D.'s and still an unconscionable amount of money has been spent doing no good or outright harm. That's no excuse for not being generous—but a good reason to exercise wisdom. It's funny how the same people who (correctly) rail at government waste when it comes to the military get upset when someone questions government waste in social programs. (And vice versa.)  

Be nice to the people who teach your children. Don’t send them nasty emails or yell at them. Their job is 10,000 times harder than your stupid job. You are not a professional educator so just shut your mouth and be thankful someone is willing to teach your offspring.

Ouch. This one is almost too personal, and too nasty, to answer. I'm 100% with him on not yelling at teachers—or parents, or even at people who yell at teachers. I greatly admire classroom teachers because I know I would not be a good one. But his hyperbole doesn't help. And much as I appreciate the good teachers out there, I will not be thankful for a system that tries to take from me one of the very best jobs in the world—teaching my offspring.

You don’t know what Common Core is. You think you do, but you don’t unless you’re a teacher. So stop complaining about math problem memes on Facebook. You can’t do the math anyway.

Anyone with an Internet connection can read the Common Core standards; you certainly don't have to be a teacher. Granted, some people confuse the standards with particular implementations, and get a little too hot under the collar, but that technicality doesn't mean their concerns are meaningless. And yes, I can do the math, despite growing up in the 1950's. Standards are good; forcing children to learn in one particular way is not. Especially since every "one right way" we've discovered seems to be supplanted in a few years by another "one right way."

ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States. We do not need to rebuild our military. Our military is the strongest, scariest, most badass killing machine the world has ever seen. So stop being afraid and stop letting politicians and pundits scare you.

If he really believes that about our military, I have two words for him: Genghis Khan. If I had to choose between being a civilian on the opposing side, I'd face the U.S. military any day over that conqueror. Or ISIS. Hmmm, that would be an interesting encounter: Genghis Khan vs. ISIS. Who wants the movie rights?

Stop being suspicious of American Muslims. The guy sitting next to you in the cubicle at work is probably more of a threat to you than any Muslim since he has to listen to your uninformed ranting day after day.

I've had my own encounters with people bad-mouthing Muslims in general, and my usually response is to suggest they come back to me after they've actually read the Qur'an and made a Muslim friend. But there is a clear and present danger out there, and it has claimed the name of Islam, so I find it hard to blame people who are nervous. The best solution I can think of is my constant refrain:  we need to know each other better. When we only interact with people who are like us, we build the walls higher.

Guns do in fact kill people. That’s what they are designed to do. If you feel you need a gun to protect yourself in America, you are probably living in the wrong neighborhood and should move before you go out and buy a gun. There are like a billion places to live where you won’t need a gun, or even need to lock your front door.

I wonder where he would suggest living. And how many of his billion places are near to where the jobs are. And affordable. People in the worst neighborhoods are unlikely to be able to pick up and move—or they would have done it already. It's probably true that more people have guns than need them—I know the gun control threats have driven many to buy guns and get their licenses who otherwise felt little need, just to be ready in case the need arises. I don't like guns. But guns help level the playing field between strong and weak, male and female, criminal and citizen. Until that need is eliminated, banning guns will probably do more harm than good.

If you do own a gun, then make sure you know how to use it really, really, really well. Seriously... get some training because you still don’t know how to record stuff with your DVR. Go to the gun range and shoot the thing a lot. Learn how to clean it properly and be able to disassemble it and reassemble it with your eyes closed. It’s a freaking gun and it deserves that level of care, proficiency and respect. And for God’s sake, keep it locked up and away from your kids.

Barring the abusive language, I'm with him on this one. Guns are tools that need to be respected and used properly. With rights come responsibilities. There was a time when even a child could be trusted with a gun, because he'd been taught how to handle it. Not so much anymore.

If you are even a little bit unhinged or pissed off... you shouldn’t have a gun. And the Founding Fathers would totally agree with me.

Granted, you have to know yourself. If you have a hair-trigger temper, or are abnormally fearful, or inclined to impulsive actions, or to take unnecessary risks, owning a gun is probably something you should avoid, as an alcoholic avoids taking a drink. If you can't control yourself, you probably can't control a gun. But I'm not at all sure that some of our Founding Fathers weren't little unhinged, and they were definitely angry. 

Stop sharing Facebook memes that tell me to share or else Jesus won’t bless me with a laundry basket full of cash. That’s not how prayer works. And I don’t want money delivered (even from God) in a laundry basket. Nobody ever washes those things out and they just keep putting nasty dirty clothes in them. Yuck!

Oh, hooray!  I can be very thankful that my Facebook friends are so much nicer than hisI have never had such a meme shared with meBut if he thinks that in an exchange between a laundry basket and a pile of cash, it's the money that gets dirty, he doesn't know much about filthy lucre.

We are the United States of America, and we can afford to... house every homeless veteran, feed every child, and take in every refugee and still have money left over for Starbucks and a bucket of KFC.

No, we can't. This is as foolish as the idea that we can win all wars, make the world safe for democracy, and fix all the broken countries in the world. Have you never heard of bankrupt millionaires?  Lottery winners who five years later are worse off than before they bought the winning ticket?  With wisdom, we could do better than we are doing now. But spending money as if it were endless is guaranteed to prove that it isn't.


I'm sure Fowler meant well in writing his essay. I did, too. But I'm done, and glad to be done. I need something more uplifting to write about....

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 30, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Edit
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I had no idea.

When I'm driving and see a sign that one lane is ending, I move out of that lane as soon as possible. I want plenty of time to make the merge and then not have to worry about it anymore—except for dealing with those obnoxious drivers who speed down the emptying lane and try to horn in at the last minute. Those people are so rude!

But they're right, and I'm wrong.

Apparently the technique of using all lanes until the very end, called a zipper merge, is considered the safest and best way to deal with the lane reduction problem.


They didn't teach the zipper merge back when I took driver's ed, but I can see that it makes some sense. Unfortunately, it has one big drawback: It requires turn-taking courtesy on the part of all drivers. I can imagine it working in Switzerland, or Japan. But in America?  I have my doubts. Zippers are great; broken zippers are nasty.

Next time I'm in a situation of heavy traffic—which is where the zipper technique is considered most important—I may or may not have the courage to try it out. But at least I'll be more patient with the drivers who remain in the closing lane.

Unless they start using the shoulder. Then I'll allow myself to be annoyed.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Edit
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Soon we'll be singing a new Gloria in church: Carl MaultsBy's Gloria in Excelsis. (Yes, that's how he spells his name, with the uppercase B.)  We'd experienced his music and his leadership before, at the ordination service for our bishop, Greg Brewer.  As with the piece we sang then, this Gloria is not easy for the choir, though it's singable and catchy and stays with you, so I'm sure it won't take the congregation long to learn what they need to know.

The syncopated rhythm is difficult for those of us who haven't grown up with it, and the alto part has some, shall we say, less-than-intuitive intervals.  Don't get me wrong; I really like the song and am looking forward to singing it weekly until Advent.  But I mention the difficulty to explain why I was poking around on MaultsBy's website, trying to find a recording.  If I had succeeded, I'd share it here.  Alas, I did not.

However, I did find something that rewarded my efforts.


MaultsBy's music may be difficult, but I can't say I find it frightening.  :)

I never understand how my brain works.  But because our grandchildren will probably enjoy the video, I'll confess that this song is where my thoughts went next.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 8:39 am | Edit
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