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Monday, January 28, 2013

My Grandma Lucy......

was a one of a kind lady. There will never be another human being quite like her. She had real "personality"; indeed, she won an award for the best personality in High School. That was back when she was part of "The Dizzy Seniors", her school clique that was commemorated in her year book by a photograph of them brandishing fencing swords. "See my pinky, see my thumb, see my'd better run!" Yes, that was Grandma. Sweetness and spiciness wrapped up in a classy exterior. She was always meticulous about her appearance, as long as her mental faculties remained in tact. From blouses and skirts in her younger years, to turtlenecks and slacks, a pocketbook slung over her shoulder as she reached "the golden years", she was fashionable and well-kept. 

     I remember vividly the times I spent with her on family trips to New Jersey over the years, and I fondly reminice on all the adventures we had together. There is no way to chronicle them all in one small article. There was the time the lights went out, and she and I descended into her musty cellar to see what had gone amiss. There, in the infamous "cement closet", the terror of youths for generations, I dutifully held aloft a flashlight for her to see as she rummaged about to figure out what had gone wrong. It was eventually discovered that the power failure was  not just at the house, nor just along the street, but across part of the the eastern seaboard! As a result, Fort Lee residents one and all emerged from their homes to eat dinner on their porches by candlelight. As darkness fell, everyone continued to loiter outside, enjoying the familiar sense of community and good conversation.

    I remember traveling to Aunt Kay's in New York State with my parents and Grandma, annoying her to death with trivia and eating too many sticks of bubble gum; I remember visiting her friend Rose and all the adjacent NJ towns; I remember how we would take her to church on Sunday and then come home to a lunch of cold-cuts and noodle salad; I remember sitting alongside her on her living room couch in the evening, watching "Antiques Road Show" or "Sanford and Son", eating Dixie ice cream cups. I also remember the "pick-up" dinners from Boston Chicken and Hiram's Hotdogs, the instant sweetened oatmeal for breakfast, the buttered muffins, the glasses of NJ tap water, and the way she would call up the stairs at 7 A.M.: "Are you people ever getting up???" She always was punctual, and a painfully early riser!

      I remember the visits from relatives, the way Grandma and Mom would clean up the house, and Dad and I would go out to the local stores, A&P and others, to buy packages of pastries and tea. I remember how I would help her hang her laundry on the clothes line stretching across her flower garden and how I would build "fairy houses" out by her yard gnomes and blue glass ball on a pedestal. I would take pictures on everything in sight with my little pink camera, paste them in a notebook, and surround them with stickers. I would also draw pictures galore with my handy-dandy art kit. Grandma always commented on how artistic I was. I remember how we would "spy" on her neighbors together through her front curtains, how she would read the newspaper, watch the news, and keep track of things going on in the world around her. I remember showing her the contents of my backpack, all of my treasures, and her marvelous laugh and sparkling blue eyes.

     There's so much to remember. So many things that hurt to think back on. Going to Fort Lee, NJ, for Grandma's funeral last Friday left a burning ache in my heart. She's gone from this world, and Fort Lee, for me at least, seems to have lost it's soul. Almost everything I saw reminded me of her, but she was nowhere to be found. And even years before she died, her "memory bank had broke", as she so aptly put it. She suffered from advanced Dementia, stopped being able to take care of her appearence by herself, and became paranoid to be alone. She had a hard time remembering people, even those who were closest to her, and would sometimes lash out at those trying to care for her or those who she percieved as invading her privacy. But she could still clearly remember old time songs as well as ever, and we got her to sing with us over the phone when we made our weekly calls. She’d ask me repeatedly, "How old are you now?" "Where do you live?", and then would teasingly inquire, "Got any boyfriends?" That was before she caught Pneumonia. Complications ensued. She drifted off into ther own world for the last several weeks. And then.....

    Gazing at the skyline of New York City, the colossal buildings, trucks and traffic, and castle-like smoke-spewing factories with red lights made me feel like I had entered the fantasy world of J. R. R. Tolkien. I thought of my farmland home in Maryland and thought of the hobbits leaving the Shire, facing the darkness pervading the outside world. I felt in bear down on me heavily, as I tasted the distinct taste of tap-water and thought of Grandma, when we explored a great empty pink house on the bluffs about the be demolished and gazed on the great city from across the G. W. Bridge together. Oh, Grandma, where are you? May God bring us together again, someday, in a place where nothing can separate us....let me hear your laugh and your wonderful singing voice, let me see your smile and your beautiful blue eyes.....let the darkness of the night give way to the dawn...

"Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread,
Through shadow, to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight,
Mist and shadow, cloud and shade,
All shall fade, all shall fade....."

"Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord,
And let your perpetual light shine upon her,
May the soul of Lucy
Through the mercy of God
Rest in Peace,

P.S.  I'm so thankful to all those family members and friends who extended their love to her, through visits, cards, calls, and care over the parents, Uncle Bobby, Uncle Donny, Uncle Louie, Cousin Nicky, Dean, Aunt Lori, Aunt Jacqui, Nancy, Jessica, Maryana, the doctors, Fr. Carrie, etc. Thank you also to all those who prayed for her and our family during this difficult time, sent kind messages, lent support, etc. We are deeply grateful.

We Love You, Grandma.....

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Forgotten connections......

often prove to be the most fasciantingn ones of all. In many traditional texts, the “redcoats” and “rebels” of the American Revolution are portrayed as having been generally disconnected from each other or otherwise connected by only the most unpleasant interaction. However, the colonial relationship with the mother country linked many unlikely individuals through ties of blood and affection, making the revolution to come an extremely heart-wrenching experience.
    A good example is the story of British officer Thomas Gage, who courted the beautiful, ambitious, and independent-minded Margaret Kemble of New Jersey during the French and Indian War. He was a guest at the Kemble home in the winter of 1757, and even though he was less than dashing and could be excessively “by-the-book”, she admired his gentlemanly nature and perseverance in his chosen career. Hence, the two were married in 1758.

Gage was appointed governor of Montreal not long after. He proved to be a competent administrator, dealing with various details of municipal governance and military occupation. He passed practical laws for daily living, such as forbidding livestock from roaming the streets and enforcing carriage speed limits. In addition, the Anglican Gage had to establish good relations with the predominantly Catholic population of which he tended to be highly suspicious.
    This prejudice on his part may have been particularly intense because the Gage family had once been one of the staunchest Catholic families in England, right up to the point when Thomas Gage’s father converted to Anglicanism to prevent his prized racing horses from being confiscated by the government! Gage always seemed to go the extra mile to distance himself from his family’s rather embarrassing religious past, especially since both of his parents were reconciled to Catholicism before their deaths. Despite his anti-Catholicism, however, he came to be respected by the citizens of Montreal because of his basic integrity.
    Eventually, Gage was made commander-in-chief of His Majesty’s forces in North
America and transferred to New York. This placed him and his vivacious wife at the center of a vibrant social life that had been nonexistent in dreary Montreal. They were noted as being an exceptionally close couple, appearing in public together routinely and raising a large family of eleven children. They had many influential guests, including George Washington, who was one of the first visitors to their New York home.

     Both Gage and Washington had gone through their baptism of fire at the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755. The former was remembered for unintentionally entangling the British columns in the midst of an ambush, while the latter was remembered for heroically trying to rally the fleeing soldiers. But Washington also had some less than sterling moments in his early career, and both men were evidently familiar with having to explain themselves for good intentions gone awry. Based on these shared experiences, they developed a cordial relationship.

    In addition to Washington, Gage had befriended colonial officer Israel Putnam during the war with France. Putnam, like Gage, was sociable and seemed to have a knack for connecting with future enemies and their families. When the energetic young British officer, Lord George Augustus Howe, was mortally wounded in a skirmish in 1758, Putnam held him in his arms as he died. Everyone grieved the loss of Howe who was known as a brave and amiable commander. Unlike many other upper-crust British commanders who treated Americans with snobbish contempt, Lord George respected the colonials and was eager to learn everything he could from them. Some have stipulated that if he had lived into the years of the Revolution, he might have been able to defusing the volatile situation before it erupted.

    From 1765 onward, tensions rose in response to various direct taxes passed by Parliament on the American colonies. Gage’s efforts to enforce the unpopular laws caused many of the citizens of New York to turn against him, resulting in riots. He was then forced to bring in troops which restored some sense of order. After the Boston Tea Party, punitive measures were enacted by the British government, shutting down Boston Harbor and putting the city under martial law. They also decided to transfer Gage to Boston as military governor of Massachusetts, hoping that his steady demeanor would help quell the hotbed of revolt.

    This made Margaret Gage feel increasingly uneasy at the thought of her husband subjugating her fellow Americans. Apparently, Gage didn’t realize how deep her sympathies went and continued to confide in her, personally and militarily. Meanwhile, Gage learned that Israel Putnam planned on joining the American rebels and tried to persuade him to take a position in the British service. Putnam courteously refused.

    The Battles of Lexington and Concord were brought about by Gage’s order for the British troops to confiscate a cache of weapons and ammunition held by the American rebels. These unexpected skirmishes turned the “cold war” into a fiery hot one. But Gage had an even more pressing matter to deal with. Circumstantial evidence led him to believe that his wife had given information about British military movements to the American rebels. Her betrayal of his confidence was emotionally crushing for him.

    When the Americans dug in on the hills surrounding Boston, Gage acted aggressively and impulsively. He ordered Breeds Hill (later mistaken for Bunker Hill) to be taken by storm. The result was a pyrrhic victory for the British. The casualties were enormous, inflicted by the orders of Gage’s old acquaintance, General Israel Putnam, who ordered his American soldiers not to fire on the British “until you see the whites of their eyes.” In a twist of irony, General William Howe, the younger brother of Lord George, was the leader of the second British assault.

    Howe told his men that they wouldn’t have to go any farther than he would go himself.    Nearly every member of his staff and the majority of his men were killed or wounded; Howe remained unscathed. He had to be helped off the field in a state of disillusionment and in tears. One cannot help but wonder if Putnam spared Howe on purpose for old time’s sake. After all, the American general seemed quite capable of having the British officers singled out when he ordered his men to “shoot for the reddest coats.”

    To further prove that the bonds of friendships often transcend war, Putnam sent General Gage a cut of beef to prevent his household from going hungry during the siege of Boston under the leadership of General George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Desperate to conceal that his wife was a potential spy, Gage had her shipped back to Britain in order to silence the circulating rumors and keep his family out of harms way. This left him alone in Boston, the brunt of crude ditties accusing him of taking to drinking, a broken man with defeat looming.

    King George III tried to save his pride by ordering him back to Britain to “discuss future plans”, but everyone knew the real reason for his recall. His colonial titles were stripped, and some even suggested he be court-martialed for the debacle at Bunker Hill and the military secrets revealed under his watch. Apparently Margaret Kemble was a shrewd deal-maker, since none of her husband’s lands in America were confiscated during the Revolution.

    Thomas Gage was later given the job of mobilizing troops to repel a possible French invasion of Britain in 1781. The invasion never materialized, but Gage was given the rank of full general a year later. After an extended illness, he died in 1787. His wife Margaret survived him by 37 years but never remarried. Their story divided loyalties and enduring friendships stands out as a poignant example of the heartbreak that often accompanied the personal lives of those who took part in the struggle of the American Revolution.

General Thomas Gage

Margaret Kemble Gage


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Poems for Little Christmas......

are here for your reading enjoyment! The first is a contemplative study of a snow-covered landscape by Canadian poet, Archibald Lampman. The second is a pulse-pounding poem about the hard labor of a Scottish seaman's Christmas by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I hope you find these as moving as I do! Happy Feast of the Epiphany, everyone!


White are the far-off plains, and white
The fading forests grow;
The wind dies out along the height,
And denser still the snow,
A gathering weight on roof and tree,
Falls down scarce audibly.

The road before me smooths and fills
Apace, and all about
The fences dwindle, and the hills
Are blotted slowly out;
The naked trees loom spectrally
Into the dim white sky.

The meadows and far-sheeted streams
Lie still without a sound;
Like some soft minister of dreams
The snow-fall hoods me round;
In wood and water, earth and air,
A silence everywhere.

Save when at lonely intervals
Some farmer's sleigh, urged on,
With rustling runners and sharp bells,
Swings by me and is gone;
Or from the empty waste I hear
A sound remote and clear;

The barking of a dog, or call
To cattle, sharply pealed,
Borne echoing from some wayside stall
Or barnyard far a-field;
Then all is silent, and the snow
Falls, settling soft and slow.

The evening deepens, and the gray
Folds closer earth and sky;
The world seems shrouded far away;
Its noises sleep, and I,
As secret as yon buried stream,
Plod dumbly on, and dream.

Christmas at Sea

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate Jackson, cried.
..."It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old

"Plod dumbly on, and dream....."

"The shadow on the household and the son that went to sea...."

Christmas Carols......

are almost as old as Christianity itself, reflecting the joy experienced by the faithful as they celebrated the birth of their Redeemer. Early European carols hold a particularly keen sense of wonder and awe, since the story of the Nativity was still relatively fresh in the cultural consciousness. The people really did find immediate cause to rejoice when they heard the news; it was the hope of their salvation, freedom from the bondage of sin, and liberation from the heartless gods of old. Some of these venerable carols have particularly fascinating back-stories. The following are just a few of my favorites from Merry Olde England:

“Adam Lay iBounden”

      This 15th century carol dates back to the reign of King Henry V, when the vernacular tongue of Middle English began to come into its own and replace Latin on court documents. It was originally part of a Mystery Play, a dramatic performance used as a visual catechism for the common people, and it tells the story of Adam’s Fall as it relates to The Incarnation. Adam's sin, it is purported, actually had “blessedness" since it set into motion the process by which God became a human being to share the supreme intimacy with us and ransom us again. Also, it prepared the way for Mary to become the "New Eve” and later The Queen of Heaven, our special advocate on high.

Adam lay ibounden
Bounden in a bound
Four thousand winter
Thought he not too long

And all was for an apple
An apple that he took
As clerkes finden
Written in here book

Nay hadda the apple take been
The apple take been
Nay hadda never Our Ladye
A been heavene queene

Blessed be the time
That apple take was
Therefore we maun sigen,
Deo Gracias!

"Boar's Head Carol"

     Another medieval carol, this one refers to a Christmas tradition continued into modern times at Oxford University. Legend has it that a student from Oxford was walking through the woods on his way to midnight mass. Suddenly, a wild boar charged out of the shadows and attacked him. The student promptly produced his silver-gilt Latin Psalter and struck the beast on the head with it. The boar’s was taken back to Oxford where the student and his friends enjoyed a lavish celebration in thanks to God for his preservation and quick-thinking. Every year afterwards on Christmas Eve, the tradition was kept alive.

The Boar's head in hand bear I
Bedecked with bay and rosemary
So I pray you, me masters, be merry
Quo estis in convivio!

Caput apri defero!
Reddens laudes Domino!
Caput ari defero!
Reddens laudes Domino!

The Boar’s head, as I understand
Is the rarest dish in all the land
Which thus bedecked with a gay garland
Let us severe cantico!

Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss
Which on this day to be served is
In Regenece Atrio!

"Coventry Carol"

     This carol used to be part of another Mystery Play put on in the city of Coventry, the rest of which has been lost to posterity. The lyrics are somewhat difficult to interpret word-for-word, but it is essentially a lament by the mothers of children were slain by King Herod during his hunt for The Christ Child. Hence, it is actually is actually in honor of the Holy Innocence, although some mistakenly believe it is referring to Baby Jesus. Actually, some of the verses could apply, taken into consideration His Passion to come.

Lullee, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye, bye, lullee, lullay,
Lullee, lully, thou little tiny child,
Bye, bye, lullee, lullay

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day?
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
Bye, bye, lullee, lullay

Herod the king in his raging
Charged he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee
And every morn and day
For thy parting, neither say nor sing
Bye, bye, lullee, lullay

"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"

    Everyone knows this song, but few know its original purpose. Dating from between the 16th and 18th centuries, it sprung up in the streets of London and was sung by town watchmen to the gentry of the vicinity. This act of Christmas merry-making would earn the watchmen extra money during the Yuletide. As a final note, "God Rest Ye Merry" was a traditional greeting dating back to the time of Shakespeare.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day,
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray

O Tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O Tidings of comfort and joy

In Bethlehem in Jewry
This blessed babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn
The which his mother Mary
Did nothing take in scorn

From God our Heavenly Father
The blessed angel came
And unto certain shepherds
Brought tidings of the same
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name

The Shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm, and wind
And went to Bethlehem straightway
This blessed babe to find

And when to Bethlehem they came
Whereat this infant lay
They found him in a manger
Where oxen feed on hay
His mother Mary kneeling
Unto the Lord did pray

Now to the Lord sing praises
All ye within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace
This holy tide of Christmas
All others doth deface

"I Saw Three Ships"

     This nursery rhyme-like ditty alludes to a legend about The Christ Child and The Virgin Mary visiting Britain with Joseph of Arimathea when he worked as a tin-trader for Imperial Rome as a tin-trader. Cornwall has is often identified as one of the main places they stayed. Joseph supposedly returned to Britain after the death and resurrection of Christ and planted the miraculous Glastonbury Thorn. It was said to have blossomed every Christmas and Easter. Even though the destination this carol is clearly Bethlehem, the reference to Jesus and Mary traveling on board ships is indicative of other journeys.

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day in the morning

And what was in those Ships all three
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?
What was in those ships all three
On Christmas day in the morning?

Our savior, Christ, and His Ladye
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day
Our savior, Christ, and His Ladye
On Christmas Day in the morning

Pray whither sailed those ships all three
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?
Pray whither sailed those ships all three
On Christmas Day in the morning?

Oh, they sailed into Bethlehem
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day
Oh, they sailed into Bethlehem
On Christmas Day in the morning

And all the bells on earth shall ring
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day
And all the bells on earth shall sing
On Christmas Day in the morning

And all the choirs in heaven shall sing
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day
And all the choirs in heaven shall sing
On Christmas Day in the morning

Then let us all rejoice amain
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day
Then let us all rejoice amain
On Christmas Day in the morning

"Gloucestershire Wassail"

     While this isn't a carol per se, it does refer to a Yuletide tradition of particular significance. The word "wassail" comes from an old Anglo-Saxon term meaning "good health". A pre-Christian custom of “wassailing” apple trees involved sprinkling their roots with cider in hopes of a good harvest the next year...and to scare away any wood-nymphs who might be loitering around the vicinity! The better-known form of wassailing involves marching through the streets with a bowl of spiced brew and singing songs that request entry into houses to partake in the Christmas feast.

Wassail, wassail, all over the town!
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown,
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree,
With a wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee!

And here is to Cherry and to his right cheek
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef
And a good piece of beef as we all may see
With a wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee!

And here is to Dobbin and to his right eye
Pray God send our master and good Christmas pie
And a good Christmas pie as e’er he did see
With a wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Broad May and to her broad horn
Pray God send our master a good crop of corn
And a good crop of corn as e’er he did see
With a wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year
And a happy New Year as we all may see
With a wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee!

And here is to Colly and to her long tail
Pray God send our master, he never may fail
A bowl of strong beer, I pray you draw near
And a jolly wassail it’s then you shall hear

And here’s to the maid with the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in!

     So the next time you’re at church with a hymnal on your lap or at a Christmas party with a mug of nog in your hand, relish the songs of this jubilant season and remember the stories behind the carols. They just go to show our mother country wasn’t called “merry” for nothing!

"With a wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee....."

Friday, January 4, 2013

The 1st Anniversary.......

of our little blog is upon us! Honestly, I feel like this year has contained a decade of events. So much has happened since I started "Longbows and Rosary Beads" on January 4, 2012, and I feel that the future is uncertain at best, on both a personal and global scale. But the blog has really helped with to channel my feelings, make new friendships, strengthen old ones, and stand up for the things I believe in. Here are some recollections of blog highlights for 2012:

     After starting "Longbows and Rosary Beads", my first order of the business was to recount my Christmas experiences for 2011, including a rather stressful Christmas concert, a beautiful mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, my annual cold-weather illness, and Christmas morning choir singing. The subject of Charles Wesley's original lyrics for what would become "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" was among the subjects brought up in the comment boxes. Later, I recounted my participation in the Living Stations of the Cross production at church, Easter Vigil Mass, and my thoughts on allergies and spring fever. Also, my commenters obliged my request to post what they planned on offering up for the Lenten Season.  Several months later, I recorded my meetings with several friends in Gettysburg (they know who they are!), plus my rather inglorious "ship-wreck" performance at Bay City! Well, you can't win 'em all..... ;-)

    Stories of the Saints are always bountiful as the calendar runs its course, and I tried to post the back-stories of some of my favorite holy men and women, including St. Cuthbert, St. Thomas More, St. Margaret Ward, St. Edmund Campion, etc. Also, I posted various poems from the pens of famous authors, from our own "Poet Laureate", Mack from Texas, and from yours truly. Among the list were "The Highwayman", "The Lady of Shallot", "At the Sign of the Blue Boar", "Our Lady of Britannia," "Ever England," "Strong John of Waterloo", etc. As you can probably deduct from the titles, the majority were inspired by romantic historical settings and themes. The comments and analysis posted by my readers added real dimension to pieces themselves.

     Movie reviews also provided some fun forays into historical films and fantasy flicks, old and new. Although I am still primarily a period piece buff, this year I took a plunge into world of pixie-dust when I watched The Chronicles of Narnia, Merlin, and finally (under duress!) The Lord of the Rings. My reviews on the latter caused a flurry of commentary from my various friends who insisted I view the films. I must admit, their absolute zeal in the ranks of "Ringers" helped me appreciate the depth of the storyline better than I ordinarily would have. I can appreciate it best as a type of allegory for human nature and providence, as well as a parallel with different incidents in history. Plus I have gotten some fringe benefits, such as getting to write for a Tolkien-themed issue of an online magazine several my friends and I created, and being invited to a Tolkien-themed party!

    The issue of Scottish independence (or conversely, the issue of breaking up the UK) came blasting onto the scene when the Scottish Independence Referendum was brought to the fore in early 2012. I started off by writing a few posts on this blog in favor of the Union, freelance operations that occasionally drew some angry commentary from SNP advocates and encouragement from pro-union followers. But a step towards reaching a wider audience took place when I was invited to be a guest-writer for "Open Unionism." My first post there met with a firestorm of wrath on the part of the opposition. My second post caused far less reaction (thankfully, for the sake of peace of mind!), but I have been told from the blog administrators that it was still a relatively widely read post.

     Several major international events took place in 2012, including Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, the Summer Olympics in London, several tragic mass shootings in the United States, Hurricane Sandy, and American Presidential Election. Also, issues such as the controversial reforms in the British Parliament, the pressure to legalize same-sex marriage in Britain and America, and the continued attack against Christian symbols in public places were brought up in our World News posts. Many of these articles generated opinionated yet polite discussion, and I thank all those who took their time to contribute. Although the Presidential Election went against my deepest wishes and the wishes of many of my readers, I think we can all be thankful we live in a country where a peaceful democratic process still holds sway. Furthermore, we can be thankful that no matter how things around us may change, we don't have to change our ideals to accommodate the world.
    This year had it's ups and downs for my family on a personal level as well. We had to attend the funeral of a dear family friend who we knew since I was very young (full story to come in a future post.) Our own immediate family went through a variety of unexpected ailments, including my mom throwing out her back and later having an allergic reaction to corn, as well as my annual "exercise in misery" known as the common cold! Also, my elderly grandmother was taken to the hospital just the other day after contracting Pneumonia. She already suffers from Dementia and is now in a particularly weakened condition. While we have had some positive reports about her today, nothing is certain yet, and she still in suffering from an internal infection. She is in a Catholic hospital, and we put in the request that she receive the Anointing of the Sick and be visited by a priest for a blessing. Please pray for her recovery, the strength of her caretaker, and the peace of our entire family. Thank you to all those who responded with prayer and kind messages. We deeply appreciate it.

    A final thought comes to mind when looking back on this year's blogging ventures is the way that music has played such an intricate part in my writing. My political blogging, especially dealing with the Scottish Independence Referendum, has been charged by rhythmic Gaelic singing from my collection of Celtic cassettes and CDs. My movie reviews have been given dimension by listening to correlating movie sound tracks. My Christmas and Easter chronicles are given a special sense of fondness by listening to traditional seasonal favorites. I believe that my two greatest interests, writing and music, really are mystically connected with one another. They are both very emotional arts, coming from the heart. It is interesting to muse on how the ancient bards of Celtic tradition sang songs and weaved yarns as a way of life, letting the two mix and mingle, flowing together like living water or rich wine. The Celts believed that the journey was just as important as the destination. Perhaps that is a very good summary for blogging, as well.    

    Again, thank you to all my readers and commenters for your encouraging, enlightening, and thought-provoking posts. Without you, this blog would never have gotten off the ground as it did. By the way, if you have any favorite memories from reading or commenting on "Longbows and Rosary Beads" this year, please post them!

The Journey goes on....