Entries in The Food of Love (33)


Music Monday: Dylan Covers

Let me just get this out of the way: I don't love Bob Dylan's voice. I appreciate it on classic folk hits such as "Like a Rolling Stone," but his voice doesn't get me all goosebumpy the way Brian Stokes Mitchell's, Bryn Terfel's, and Alan Doyle's do. Dylan purists, feel free to sue me (be warned: I have a fabulous lawyer).

But as a pop songwriter? Bob Dylan is unparalleled in both quality and quantity of output. My respect for him approaches worship. It never fails to amaze me how great his songs are, how outstanding his genius is. I'll give you a couple of examples.

I absolutely adore the bluegrass band Nickel Creek. These kids are amazingly talented writers and performers, hopefully with a very long and successful career in front of them. But when their album Why Should the Fire Die? came out, what was the best song on it? Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow is a Long Time," by a country mile.

Solas? One of my favorite Celtic bands. They write great stuff, and they can jig and reel like nobody's business. But once again, when I first got their album The Edge of Silence, one of the two stand-out tracks was Dylan's "Dignity" (the other was Jesse Colin Young's "Darkness, Darkness").

Plenty of top-tier songwriters seem to agree with me. Joan Baez, June Carter, and Bono aren't exactly slouches when it comes to crafting a great piece of music, yet they've all chosen to record Dylan songs. Fabulous performers like Hugues Aufray, Robyn Hitchcock, Bryan Ferry, and The Hollies have recorded entire albums of Dylan covers. The breadth of Bob's appeal astonishes me: from Echo and the Bunnymen to Earl Scruggs, from The Dubliners to Waylon Jennings, they've all done some Dylan in their time.

There are SO many from which to choose, but after some soul-searching, here are my top ten favorite Dylan covers:

10. Olivia Newton-John: "If Not for You"
9. Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash: "It Ain't Me, Babe"
8. Bryan Ferry: "Positively 4th Street"
7. Buckwheat Zydeco: "On a Night Like This"
6. Felicia and the Hotheads: "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"
5. The Byrds: "Mr. Tambourine Man"
4. Sting: "I Shall Be Released"
3. Solas: "Dignity"
2. Nickel Creek: "Tomorrow is a Long Time"
1. Jimi Hendrix: "All Along the Watchtower"

Here's a Youtube 'response video' with Nickel Creek singing my second favorite. The melody and words are so very lovely; the song is pure joy. See what you think.

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Music Monday: My BFFP

I love to sing. Rock, opera, euro-synth-pop, bluegrass, and just about everything in between. I sing in the car, the kitchen, and the shower. I sing while weeding, knitting, and rowing.

But I think I love best to sing at church. One of my favorite memories of my mother is her playing the hymns--from the LDS hymnal and Sing With Me, the children's songbook at the time--on the piano for what seemed like hours on end, night after night. Because of her love for those pieces of music, I have a lot of our congregational repertoire memorized. This makes it easy to sing along in our church meetings even without looking at a hymn book, convenient for times when I'm rocking someone, helping with a sticker book, or passing out those cheesy goldfish crackers.

For my non-LDS readers: there's no paid clergy in the LDS/Mormon church. We all take turns serving in various 'callings,' or church service positions. Patrick and I have been married for 18 years as of a few days ago; for all but three of those years, Patrick has served either as a counselor to the Bishop or as Bishop himself, as he is now. Part of the requirements of Bishopric callings is sitting up on the stand, near the pulpit, and presiding over and conducting the worship services.

So I've sat alone for 15 of the last 18 years. Well, not alone for the past 14; I've had the kids with me, which is mostly great. Teaching children to be still for a 70-minute meeting is something of a task; there were a couple of rough years in there. But we've pretty much got the drill down at this point, thanks again to sticker books, paper dolls, and goldfish crackers--and the fact that the three older kids have actually sat and listened now for several years. So I'm not complaining about the way our Sundays are structured; we've made choices that I live with happily.

But I do miss singing with Patrick on Sundays. I'm glad to live in a ward (Mormon lingo for a geographical 'congregation' or 'parish') that sings out loud and strong; this worship through music is often a high point of our services for me. But as much as I love it, twice a year it gets even better: I get to sing with Patrick at my side.

(I have a basic, serviceable, soprano voice with decent intonation; I can also 'switch-hit' and sing alto, if needed. Patrick, however, has a beautiful voice: a clear, rich tenor-to-baritone, with lovely, dark color to it. I remember the first time he sang to me when we were dating; I was pretty sure I'd never get him out of my system, and I was right.)

Twice a year, we have meetings called 'Stake Conference.' (Wards are organized in groups of seven to ten into larger groups called 'stakes.') The designated wards get together for special two-hour meetings; sometimes leaders called 'General Authorities' fly out from Church headquarters in Utah to speak. At Stake Conference, the 'Stake President' presides and conducts, and the Bishoprics of the wards get to sit with their families.

This past weekend was Stake Conference. Joy! His arm around my shoulders, Patrick sat with me and we sang together, trading parts back and forth: melody-alto-tenor. We sing hymns at home with the kids regularly, but singing in a group of 1,000 or so people, with a great organist accompanying and the love of your life at your side? Pretty incredible.

Here's a video of the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing an arrangement of "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," one of Patrick's and my favorite hymns. We once sang this arrangement together in a choir for a special meeting in the Kirtland Temple, one of the most treasured LDS historic sites--so this video brings back another great memory of singing with my BFFP.

For more Music Monday, visit Soccer Mom in Denial!


Music Monday: Ella Fitzgerald

In 1984, I don't really know who I am. I'm 17, so maybe that's normal, but I've been out of high school for a year and still have no idea what I want to do with my life. My high school friends are all away at university now; my sense of identity seems to have left with them, and I'm not getting much in the way of new direction in my classes at Modesto Junior College. I'm very, very lonely.

I meet a new crowd; they're not the deepest dishes in the drawer, but they are fun and different. I reinvent my external self in their image. Why not? I've done the preppy thing, I've been a punk; now it's time to try the vintage/mod look. For everyday wear, I comb through thrift stores for boxy cashmere cardigans, muslin shirtwaists, and moleskin capri pants. But I can't resist also buying dupioni silk suits hand-tailored for well-off women a quarter century before. And hats: a friend's mother gives me some gorgeous pillboxes--one completely covered in ostrich feathers--that would have met with even Holly Golightly's discerning approval. I soon add to this collection, courtesy the local Salvation Army and Goodwill outlets.

But where does one wear such finery when one lives in the Central Valley of California, America's Apricot/Sugar Beet/Almond Basket? Conveniently for Anj (not my sister), Deb, Lily, Don, Kasey, Mike, and me, a new slice of heaven has opened up in downtown Modesto: The Café Decadence.

It's much more innocent than it sounds. A couple of guys create a little restaurant that is open in the evenings only. There's a garden out back that they string with copious amounts of tiny white lights and fill with mismatched patio furniture. Foodwise, they focus on one thing: excellent desserts.

My favorite is Cake of Joy. Thin layers of chocolate butter cake and crispy, light, hazelnut meringue alternate with generous amounts of mocha buttercream and creamy, dark ganache. Every bit of it is homemade by one of the partners, and it is fresh, rich, and perfect. (I've been dreaming of recreating it for years.) But the Carrot Cake is also excellent, as are the Linzer Tarts, the Berry Crumbles, and the Sour Cream Lemon Pie.

To drink, of course there's coffee, but that's not my thing. I either have the iced Ruby Mist tea or the Hot Buttered Milk. That last I have recreated: warm milk with cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, and brown sugar stirred in. Delish; don't knock it till you've tried it.

The other mods and I aren't really welcome at "The Dec" during prime-time hours; hordes of real adults with real jobs (and who can leave real tips) show up perhaps before or after a movie, enjoy something fabulous to eat, and go home to their real lives. But after 9:30 or so, the place empties out, and we mods arrive in full regalia. The guys wear thin-lapeled suits with skinny ties and mismatched cufflinks, acting natty backdrops to us girls. We do our best to be Audrey or Marilyn, Doris or Sofia, and as we sit under the fairy lights, making our orders last and chatting for hours on end, we imagine we're in San Francisco or New York, or the ultimate: Paris.

The music, wafting out of speakers wired to the sycamore trees, helps us along. It's stuff I haven't really heard before, but I fall head over heels for it. The owners favor Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. I enjoy Lady Day and the Divine One, but sometimes the tragedy that wells up out of the voices of these first two is too much for me; it reminds me of how alone I really am with this sparkling but shallow group. Ella, on the other hand, becomes my my friend and secret ally.

Even when she's singing the blues, there is a warmth and wit to Ella's lithe, pure voice that lifts my spirit and makes me smile. I can't decide which is more marvelous: her technical perfection, or the way she pours every drop of her glorious soul into her music. Often, when one of her songs comes on, I drop out of the conversation, close my eyes, and just listen.

And it's a good thing I do, because it turns out that Ella has messages intended only for my ears. You're stuck, she whispers. I was stuck once, too. Everything around you is just a shadow of something bigger and better, but you're in danger of falling for the mirage. You can get out, though, if you want.

Really? I ask silently, night after night. How? Where? Show me the way out.

Wait and watch, girl, she answers.

Filled with a new, restless energy, I do as she counsels, and when I get offered a job in the Bay Area not long afterwards, I gather my courage, leave the mods behind, and go. I'm fairly certain they don't really notice I've gone. But no matter: though there are plenty more mirages and mistakes on my journey, I'm starting to get a sense of direction at last.

It's 1994. I'm sitting in a lovely Manhattan apartment with Patrick and our close friends D&S. I've been to the real Paris, and it is worlds better than even Ella describes. Sweet Baby Christian is asleep in another room, and we four linger for hours over fabulous dessert and talk. The conversation sparkles, but it has depth. Our friends are beautiful and stylish, but they have minds and hearts even more attractive than their clothes. I feel loved and treasured, warm, safe, and understood.

Ella comes on the stereo, soft in the background. Suddenly, she's speaking to me again, whereas I've heard only her songs for most of the last decade. Look around, girl, she whispers. You did it; you got unstuck and found the reality behind the pretty shadow. You made it out.

I look around with a sudden lump in my throat and realize she's right.

For more Music Monday, visit Soccer Mom in Denial.


Music Monday: Bob Marley

It is April 2006. Patrick, the kids, and I are staying at FDR Pebbles, a kid-friendly, all-inclusive resort in Jamaica. We're having a wonderful time.

Daniel is eating sand to his heart's content. Tess, in her Coast Guard-approved floating bathing suit, is in the huge pool with fabulous water slide for hours at a time. Hope is enjoying meeting new friends and tie-dyeing as many T-shirts as possible. The boys are thriving on their freedom to shuttle between the game room and the swim-up grill ("I'm eating a cheeseburger in the pool!" crows James). Patrick and I are sea kayaking and snorkeling whenever we're not napping or getting massages.

How is it possible that the seven of us are each doing exactly what we want at any given moment? The genius of FDR Pebbles is that it assigns each family a nanny for the entirety of its stay. Since we have five kids, we opt for paying an additional $100 for an extra nanny for the whole week. We meet Tina and Sonia within minutes of arriving and fall in love. Both are mothers themselves; are certified in first aid and CPR; and are kind, funny, and sensible.

The nannies are with us from 9 to 5, and we can pay them $3 per hour to stay longer. They very much want the extra work and are happy to stay as late as we'd like; we can't help but oblige. They trade off: one oversees Daniel, who still naps twice a day, while the other watches the girls. The boys are generally under the supervision of the older kids' Activities Coordinator, but know to check in with either the nannies or us when they want to do something new.

Complete freedom is a heady thing. We can take the older kids snorkeling. We can spend one-on-one time with any one of them, building sand castles or reading and chatting side by side in hammocks. There are many off-resort adventures available, but we find ourselves content with the myriad of activities we've already paid for right on-site.

There is one notable exception, which turns out to be the highlight of the entire trip for me: Ron, the snorkel boat driver, highly recommends a trip to the Luminous Lagoon, ten minutes away by car in Falmouth. Tina and Sonia agree: the lagoon is not to be missed. So one night, we leave Tess and Daniel with the nannies, and FDR's shuttle bus takes the rest of us off to adventure.

We are dropped off and wait at the Glistening Waters Marina until it's fully dark, sipping oversweetened fruit punch and admiring the mangroves while the rest of the tour group assembles. Finally, our captain arrives with his boat and introduces himself as Timothy. About 30 of us strap on life vests and clamber aboard; as Timothy hands me into the boat, I smell the unmistakable, cloying odor of ganja. This gives me pause for a moment, but I decide to be zen about it. Yeah, mon; this is Jamaica, after all. Once we're all aboard, Timothy heads out.

It's a beautiful, warm night; the stars hang low and the breeze is soft. As the boat picks up speed, Timothy starts to sing. What does he bawl to the moon, his dredlocked head thrown back, his gravelly voice carrying out over the dark water? None other than what seems like the entire oeuvre of Jamaica's own son, Bob Marley.

"Lively Up Yourself." "Three Little Birds." "Stir It Up" (for the first time, I realize that the lyrics to this one are emphatically rated-R). And of course, the peace anthem made cliché by Jamaica's Board of Tourism: "One Love."

What could be cheesy and annoying is instead magical. Sometimes Timothy's captive audience (most of the members of which have had several rum punches at this point) sings along, which he actively encourages as confidently as any arena rocker would, pumping one fist in the air as he steers the boat with the other.

Patrick, the kids, and I lean over the side of the boat to watch our progress; we are the first of the group to notice that the boat's wake has turned a phosphorescent green, and that we can see what look like glowing missiles darting to and fro in the water. "They're fish!" cries Hope, and our mouths fall open in astonishment. We have arrived at the Luminous Lagoon. It is only now we realize that the lagoon doesn't glow all the time; the water is as black as you would expect on a dark night--until something moves through it.

There are only a few places in the world where plankton called dinoflagellates glow, or 'bioluminesce,' when disturbed: Bioluminescent Bay in Puerto Rico is probably the most famous, but the little lagoon in Falmouth amazes us. Timothy stops the boat and invites us all to get in and swim. We jump in right away; I am surprised at how many of the other passengers opt to stay on board. The very muddy bottom disconcerts us. The water is only about three feet deep, so we do our best to float or tread water shallowly as we enjoy the spectacle.

We wave our arms through the water and spin around, watching trails of bright green follow our every movement. Hope is the first to raise her arms out of the water; the glowing droplets running off her body transform her into a little goddess of light, like something out of an ancient myth. We all imitate her, mesmerized by our own glory. And all the while, Timothy sings, his lusty, gravelly renditions somehow the perfect accompaniment to our watery dance.

Like all magic, it's over all too soon; Timothy announces that our time is up, and we reluctantly climb back into the boat. As we glide slowly back to the marina, we all sing along with our blissed-out captain: "Don't worry about a thing/'Cause every little thing gonna be alright." Our arms around our children, Patrick and I look at each other and smile. This is a night we'll remember forever.

For more Music Monday, visit the glamorous, globe-trotting Soccer Mom in Denial.


Even So; Amen.

Eleven months ago, I celebrated the fact that our family had finished reading the Old Testament aloud together in this post. This morning, we read Revelation Chapter 22, completing our reading of the New Testament.

This year, because of Christian's high school schedule, we have less family scripture time in the mornings than we did last year: only 10-15 minutes most days. But a little bit, done consistently, goes a long way. As Zechariah says, "For who hath despised the day of small things? For they shall rejoice..." (Zech. 4:10)

I treasure our morning time. The family sits at our kitchen table bathed in the soft lamplight; Patrick, the older three kids, and I take turns reading verses, while Daniel and Tess look on in their picture Bibles. Hope's reading has improved most dramatically in the past two years since we started Genesis, but all the kids read with more expression and facility, making the beautiful passages come alive for the whole group. Jacobean English isn't easy for modern tongues and ears, but it has become much more natural for all the children since we began our journey.

I hope, however, that our scripture reading has been more than a daily elocution lesson; I hope the words are sinking deep into the hearts of my children, giving them daily sustenance and equipping them with divine tools to handle life's many challenges.

I can't read the last few verses of Revelation without thinking of the following piece of music. I've been lucky enough to sing it a few times; it's gorgeous.