Category Archives: music

The One-Way Mirror, by Carole Howard

Violinists sometimes claim they play the most difficult instrument. After all, there are no keys to press that automatically produce “C#.” Nor are there frets, as on a guitar neck, for guidance. You need to just know where to put your finger. For every single note – and there are so many of them. (Have you guessed I’m a violinist?)

I have to admit, though, that pianists have it rough, too, with two different lines of music, one for the left hand and one for the right. As if that weren’t enough, the two lines are written in different clefs. (Non-musicians: let’s just say that black dot on one of the five lines of a musical staff can mean different things depending on which clef it’s in.)

Each group has a point. Or, as my friend’s mother used to say, “There are pros and cons on both sides, and they’re all bad.”

Having been a fiction writer who dove, somewhat naively, into memoir-writing, I see that there are pros and cons in both genres. In this case, of course, they’re not all bad. But they sure are different.

My first novel was character-driven. I could use incidents from my own life, but got to pick and choose, and had the freedom to make up whatever I wanted. Having come from the corporate-writing world, it seemed heavenly to give free rein to my imagination, my creativity. Readers didn’t know which parts were fact-based and which were fictional. When people asked if the protagonist was really me, the short answer was no.

And yet, there was that intimidating blank-canvas thing.

The second novel was a murder mystery. Only a little was drawn from my life, and the canvas wasn’t so blank because mysteries have to be constructed in a certain way so they wind up being….. mysterious. Red herrings, false clues, buried truth. So the “rules” were comforting. But they were difficult, very difficult, to follow.

Like I said, pros and cons.

My most recent book is a travel memoir about five volunteer trips, each two months long, to the developing world. It’s not a travelogue: no recommendations for hotels or restaurants. Yes, it recounts experiences I had while traveling – some funny, some inspiring, some surprising, some sad. There was the time I was twenty feet from a silverback mountain gorilla with nothing between us except trees. Or the time I coached sex workers on their presentations to colleagues about the correct use of condoms. We used wooden props – use your imagination!

But the point of telling about these moments in the memoir is not necessarily, “This is great – you should do it too.” There’s a lot more. Character. Reflections. Truth. Certainly, the tools for writing fiction were also crucial for memoir: setting the scene with physical description, creating tension, using punchy dialogue. But making it all into a story was quite a hill to climb.

The strangest thing about having written a memoir, though, is realizing there are a whole lot of people out there who know some pretty intimate stuff about me. Not only do I not know intimate details about them, I don’t even know who they are!

When I’m speaking at a book store or library, this asymmetry is particularly disorienting. And there’s irony, too: People in the audience, if they’ve read the book, know how uncomfortable I feel about public speaking, and yet here I am, speaking publicly. Through the looking glass, or should I say the one-way mirror?

I guess it’s like being naked when everyone else is clothed, aka EVERYONE’S WORST NIGHTMARE!!

  •     *     *     *

Carole Howard wrote Deadly Adagio, a mystery with a musical undertone set in West Africa, published by Indigo Sea Press.

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Using Copyrighted Song Lyrics by Christine Husom

I was talking with another author recently, and we got into a discussion about using song lyrics in books, stories, or articles. She’d heard a presentation by an attorney on the subject, and the bottom line is: if you use copyrighted lyrics in your writings, you need permission from the songwriter, his or her estate, or the publishing company. It depends on who owns the copyright.

This generally refers to lyrics published after 1923, and specifically to those written after 1977, because those lyrics are not in the public domain. The best practice is to check any title you’d like to use to ensure you aren’t infringing on another’s rights. And to avoid a possible lawsuit. Here’s the website with the list of songs in the public domain, http://www.pdinfo.com/public-domain-music-list.

Learning who owns the copyright is not always easy, but it is necessary. Once you obtain that information, you can seek permission and see what happens. According to a 10-30-2013 article by Chris Robley on Book Baby Blog:

“The writers and publishers of the lyrics you want to quote are entitled by law to:

* deny you the right to quote the lyrics.

* grant you permission and set the terms for usage.

* ask you to pay them any fee they want for those usages.

* ignore all your requests until you throw your hands up in the air and decide to just invent some song lyrics of your own to fit the scene.”

Have you had an experience acquiring the rights to use song lyrics, or other copyrighted material? I’d love to hear about it.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mysteries. Secret in Whitetail Lake is the sixth in the series.

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Never Too Late, by Carole Howard

I already know how to read. And write. I can ride a bike, speak French, drive a manual transmission, knit, and a whole host of other things. You do too, of course, though your list will differ from mine.

The rub is, though, that I learned all those things a long time ago. When you’re young, you learn things all the time, but when you’re not so young and not in school, you know a lot but you don’t learn as constantly or as much. (And it’s not because you know everything!) Yes, you learn practical things like shutting down a recalcitrant computer or where to put jumper cables after you left the interior light on overnight.  But that’s different.

I was lamenting – okay, maybe I was whining a tiny bit – about how I miss learning.  A friend asked me the obvious question, “Well, Carole, what kinds of things would you be interested in learning?” In other words, “Put up or shut up.” And I knew right away. Calculus, which had defeated me in college, even though I’d been a math whiz in high school. Or maybe music theory, which I’d never learned, even though I play the violin.

The next obvious question: “What’s keeping you from learning them now?” Second verse, same as the first: “Put up or shut up.”

As it turns out, a friend also wanted to learn music theory and she knew someone who could teach us. So Marilyn and I have a one-hour weekly lesson, with homework in between. I even got school supplies: manuscript paper, a binder, a nice dark pencil.

1395164645My brain is moving in ways it hasn’t moved for a while. It’s difficult. It’s wonderful. It takes concentration and focus. It’s tiring. It’s stimulating. It’s very cerebral, and there’s actually a lot of math involved, too. It’s like traveling: being exposed to something you hadn’t experienced before.

This is not the same as a bucket list. It’s not a place I want to go or a particular experience I want to have. It’s the learning that’s important. And thrilling, even more than the actual content. I highly recommend it. So I ask you the question my friend asked me: What would you like to learn?  And are you at the “Put up or Shut-Up” point?

*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery with a musical undertone, set in Senegal, West Africa.   She loves music theory and plans to love calculus next.

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Community, by Carole Howard

Quick: What community or communities are you a member of?

Chances are, you thought of your town/city. Maybe your congregation. Or your family.  As far as I’m concerned, though, communities come in many other shapes and sizes.

For example, my husband once played in a pick-up touch football league in Central Park. Whoever showed up, played. Whoever didn’t, didn’t. The guys only saw each other for two hours on Sundays. They only knew each other by first names. But they’d played together for years. When my husband returned after two years in the Peace Corps, one of the guys said, “Hey, man, you’ve been gone for a few weeks. We’ve missed you.”

It was a community. As was your third grade class. Your gardening club.  Your book discussion group. Your touch football team. Your blog readers. You get the idea. It’s people who are united in some way. Family, geography, belief or activity. Real and virtual. If you read this blog regularly, you and I belong to a community of sorts…… so, welcome.

One of the reasons I loved Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto is its portrayal of a community that develops in a most unlikely circumstance. But that’s exactly what it was: a group with cultural understandings, behavior norms, maybe even specialized language. No matter who or what or where, the sense of belonging engendered by membership in a community can be powerful.

One community I’ve belonged to for about fifteen years is the amateur orchestra in which I play violin. As with some communities, like the football team, the cast of characters has changed over the years, but the community itself is stable.

[You can get a sense of how an orchestra is a community in DEADLY ADAGIO, where the members are bonded not only by being musicians working together, but also by being English-speaking expatriates in francophone West Africa. Oh, and also by murder.]

One of the reasons I find the idea of orchestra-as-community so interesting is that we don’t know each other very well. There are many members I’ve been playing with for years whose names I still don’t know. I don’t know where people live or what their family situations are. After all, we don’t have a whole lot of time to talk to each other: We show up for rehearsal at 8:00, play until 9:45 and then don’t hang around because it is, after all, 9:45 PM, and the staff at the rehearsal space has to wait for us to leave before closing up. On concert night, we have some time back stage to schmooze, but schmoozing while nervous is, well …. not the regular kind of schmoozing.

It doesn’t matter.

We work together, week after week, year after year, to create something beautiful. Everyone has to play his/her role. For thirty practices and three concerts a year, everyone has a part. Everyone’s part depends on everyone else’s. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed. If that isn’t a bond, I don’t know what is.

My orchestra community

My orchestra community

We have our own jokes. We have our own rituals. We know things the audience doesn’t know (“What happened to those last three notes of the first movement?”), which is a powerful and seductive kind of bond. In our own realm, we understand each other. We are the insiders.

Making music as part of an ensemble is a singular joy, but I also love being part of the community. Do you belong to any groups that can be thought of as a variation on the theme of community?

*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing.

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The Hymn of Brutal Intimacy: “Hallelujah”, by Lazarus Barnhill

(I apologize in advance for the length of this post; it’s my fail for the month.)

“I heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord,
but you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth,
the minor fall, the major lift,
the baffled king composing hallelujah.”

One way or another, we all know the song. Leonard Cohen, the Canadian folk singer, composed it in 1984 and since then it has been recorded by over 200 artists and groups. And we all have our favorite interpretation of it. My children and grandchildren love the beautiful Rufus Wainwright version included in the first Shrek movie.

“Your faith was strong, but you needed proof.
You saw her bathing on the roof.
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you.
She tied you to a kitchen chair.
She broke your throne and she cut your hair,
and from your lips she drew the hallelujah.”

One doesn’t have to have a profound familiarity with the Hebrew scriptures to know that there are multiple—and mixed—references to the Bible in the song. Of course the second verse is a reference to the restless King David, restricted from the battlefield on account of his importance to the Israelites, entranced by the exquisite, naked form of Bathsheba, the wife of his devoted servant Uriah. Cohen combines this narrative with that of another Hebrew warrior, Samson, who like David was beguiled by a beautiful woman: Delilah, who cuts the hair of the Israelite leader as he sleeps in her bed, robbing him of his great power. There are those vocalists who seem to focus on the biblical element of the song, taking great delight in the “hallelujah” chorus—if you’ll forgive the pun. Among these singers are Three Talented Girls, John Thomas and numerous church groups.

“Baby I’ve been here before.
I’ve know this room. I’ve walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag from the marble arch.
Love is not a victory march.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

It’s in his third verse, however, that Cohen affirms the real theme and message of his song. “Hallelujah” is a treatise on romantic love, specifically the sort of brutality that exists between people who share the most intimate of relationships. He focuses on the authority, prowess and might of men, and states that all male power melts away from the man who is enchanted by a woman. Their relationship becomes a struggle, a competition in which there are consequences and casualties, but no real winner. This is expressed so poignantly in the first verse, as Cohen says to the woman he loves: “I make this beautiful music, and it means nothing to you.” The singer who seems best to have captured the essence of this message was the late Jeff Buckley—the person whose rendition of the song is often considered the best of all.

“There was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below,
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
and the Holy Dove was moving too
and every breath we drew was hallelujah.”

The fourth verse once again reveals Cohen’s use of religious texts. “Holy Dove” is a reference to the Spirit of God in a distinctly Christian way—at least for a guy who is Jewish. This is actually not unusual for him (he reflects at length on loneliness of Jesus in his marvelous song “Suzanne”). In “Hallelujah,” Cohen uses the spiritual metaphor of the delicate, fleeting divine Spirit to describe the sudden absence of intimacy between himself and his lover: “Losing your love is like losing the sacred presence of the Holy.” That haunting theme of lost affection, some have said, is captured particularly well by KD Lang in her recordings of the song (maybe it’s because she’s a Canadian too)—though often she leaves out this fourth verse.

“Maybe there’s a God above,
but all I’ve ever learned from love
was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.
It’s not a cry you can hear at night.
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

Verse five is, to me, the ultimate expression of despair—the depths of loss compounded by the recognition that the Holy One is not going to intervene to set right the relationship that is so profound and precious. This is a make-or-break verse that has the power to reveal whether or not the singer has suffered the sort of emotional grief being described. Jon Bon Jovi’s understated version of the song—and particularly this verse—expresses the feeling of human and divine abandonment with particular poignancy.

“You say I took the name in vain,
but I don’t really know the name;
and if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word.
It doesn’t matter what you heard—
the holy or the broken hallelujah.

The sixth is “Leonard’s verse.” In it he deals with the great subtheme that has developed as a result of his ascribing divine importance to something as human as the affection between lovers. I can almost hear his departing love criticizing him for comparing the loss of romantic love to divine abandonment, and his response: “whether you recognize it or not, the love between us drew the angels to us and elevated us to the holy places. It is in the embraces and clashes of lovers that sacred and profane are entwined.” Leonard has a point. Those scriptural stories to which we most closely relate are not the great tales of victory—Samson slaying lions or David killing Philistines. Instead we find ourselves yoked to the brokenness of these great figures—the shame of David when the whole of the Hebrew nation learned how he plotted the death of Uriah; the humiliation of Samson, blinded and mocked in the temple of a foreign god. And this is Leonard’s verse especially because Leonard Cohen, who sings of the divinity found in the failures of life, is often considered among the poorest singers of his own song. How odd to realize one of the great lessons of this song is that we are closest to the sacred in our most conflicted, defeated moments.

“I did my best. It wasn’t much.
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.
I’ve told the truth; I didn’t come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I stand before the Lord of song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

“Hallelujah is a long song. The briefest versions are all over four minutes. Many renditions, even if they don’t have a musical bridge, are over six minutes. As a result, often singers omit verses and in particular this last one—which is too bad. Here Cohen goes back to his original statement, that music is his divine gift, saying, “Well maybe I failed (in love and in song), but ‘hallelujah’ was what I was aiming for and I’m not ashamed of that.” The song—melody and lyrics—are a bittersweet treatise on love, failure and the ever-presence of the holy. A friend of mine told me once that the angels stay so close to us because it’s their only chance to experience the depth of human love and grief. Somehow, Leonard Cohen captured all that; else 200 artists would not have recorded multiple versions of the song and millions would not have listened.

That brings me to the reason I’ve written this ponderous, lengthy examination of “Hallelujah” and its versions: I just heard a most beautiful, ironic version of it. The IDF—that’s right, the armed forces of Israel—recorded a knocked out version of Hallelujah . . . in Hebrew. Watching the video of them (see link below) encapsulates the profundity, irony and magic of this incredible piece of music. Listening to the angelic voices of these very young Israelis and watching them, dressed in drab, baggy military fatigues and bathed in smoky, blue light, is an astonishing thing. Here are the descendants of Samson, David, Bathsheba and all the generations who followed—in the process of living out—as we all do—the magnificent, excruciating truths of this tender song. –Lazarus Barnhill

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152384530103717&fref=nf
If you can’t see the video via the above link, you can see it on UTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtAMrRtuF_4

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday, The Medicine People, and Come Home to Me, Child (with Sally Jones).

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Art As Inspiration by Ginger K King

My normal inspirations are strong people I’ve known or know of, seeing interesting action (no audio) or hearing interesting interaction between people, my dreams and especially music. Art is a new inspiration to me. Especially large sculpture. It’s as if I were viewing an interesting or even an ordinary moment in the subjects life. The circumstances around them, what caused them to be in such a pose/posture, what happened before and after this moment in time. All of these questions get the creative juices flowing.

Some poetry I wrote while visiting our country’s oldest botanical garden Brookgreen Gardens in coastal SC :

©GingerKKing 2014

DSCF5860DSCF5859

Muses

What sprite or water creature moves
The muses one step closer, closer still
Toward a destiny a hope or claim
Making a mere mortal fame

When gazing into a fountain looms
A misty memory of some gray thing
The sprite or creature lilts and soon
A waning distant crescent moon

They’re running now, running still
For every freedom thought or will
A muses job is never done
Not by night or dawn of sun

©GingerKKing 2014

DSCF5846
On Marble Wings

A better perspective
I dare not try
Only looking upward to the sky
You bring to life
And lift on high
The only horse to ever fly

©GingerKKing 2014

DSCF5839 DSCF5840

The Widow Bow

There huntress and her widow bow
Will make a measure of the snow
On winter day or tide of sun
This is a hunt that will be won

Her snare is not her cunning low
But every wisdom that she knows
Is sometimes that it pays to wait
To bring home feasts for heavens gate

A widow she may stand alone
But no dark mister will bestow
For this fair damsel is not lame
Any male hunter she will put to shame

What are your new inspirations?

 

 

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Light My Fire

the-doors-light-my-fire

 

It was 1967 and you and I and everybody else heard this song by The Doors. I was a nice middle class girl attending college, but I’d already been married for two years, so the full import of Jim Morrison’s full frontal sonic assault was not lost on me. Up until that time, the sexiest record I possessed was one of Richard Burton reading John Donne’s love poems – which, by the way, was pretty sexy. The Doors’ lyrics were nowhere near that verbal elegance, and the whole bit, in retrospect, has something of that kid-who–thinks-he-just-invented-sex bombast, but Morrison was definitely the strutting cock of the walk that summer.

Now, gray-haired and arthritic, beset on every side by decay, I go several times a week to a “Granny” gym class, a.k.a., Silver Sneakers©.    It’s ordinarily helpful to listen to old pop music to get stiff, often painful joints moving. I can lift weights or work out with stretchy bands to “Money,” “Maybelline,” “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Downtown” without too bitter an experience of the heavy–handed irony of my current situation. However, the other day, toward the end of the workout, with a vocalist pumped up and screaming like a power-lifter on his final try, backed by a ghetto blaster beat, I was confronted with—for the first time in years—’Light My Fire’. 

I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. I wanted to stop obediently working my triceps, drop the dinky weights, and go dancing around the room in my present old lame body. I wonder if I could have recreated, using muscle memory, just an instant of that long gone time.

 

~~Juliet Waldron

Visit my website @

http://www.julietwaldron.com

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Sometimes, It’s Okay to Quit by Donna Small

When I was around seven or eight years old, my parents decided to sign me up for organ lessons. That’s right – organ lessons. Not something cool, like dance or even piano. I was the kid who played the organ for my church. It was a huge contraption with several keyboards, pedals that went across the floor, and large pipes that went up through the ceiling.

Remember the organ from Beauty and the Beast? Yeah…it was just like that.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled. (Note the sarcasm here.)

Anyway, every Wednesday night, one of my parents would take me to my lesson. There was a very nice woman in town who gave lessons out of her home. She, of course, played the organ, but also played other instruments as well, including…

wait for it….the accordion!

If I managed to play a piece particularly well, she would bring out her contraption, swing the strap around her shoulders, and squeeze the thing in and out making sounds to accompany my attempt at music.

It was not pretty.

I took lessons for years. Emphasis on the “years” part. When I started taking the lessons, I still had baby teeth. When I was finally allowed to stop, I had bee through braces, acne, puberty and was driving.

Years….

The interesting thing is, I hated every minute of it. I never practiced my songs, never looked forward to a single lesson, and continuously begged my parents to let me quit.

They never would.

So each week, I’d grudgingly get into my parents’ car and head to my lesson, feeling much like someone forced to go to the dentist for a root canal week after agonizing week.

Finally, I graduated from high school and began attending college. At last, I was allowed to quit my lessons. The small organ we had in our house was moved to my grandmothers’ house and the spot where it sat was filled with another piece of furniture. (It couldn’t be sold or given away because my parents felt certain I would eventually want to resume my lessons and they wanted to make sure I had an organ to play on.)

I never took another lesson.

Flash forward several years and now I’m the parent. I have two beautiful girls who are finding their way in life. A rather large part of that, in my opinion, is trying out different sports and activities to determine where they want to focus their energies. I don’t force them into sports or playing an instrument. I encourage if they show any interest. I pay the fee if they express a desire to join a particular sport. And I’m happy to do so. What I will not do is force them to continue something they hate participating in. Knowing that I put zero energy into my organ playing when I was their age makes me think that forcing them to do a sport or activity they don’t want to do is tantamount to flushing my money down the toilet and a surefire way to create animosity between us.

That being said, once they’ve joined a sport, they are required to complete the season and they know this. We discuss the fact that they are part of a team before they join. We discuss the fact that their team relies on them for a particular skill and it’s not fair to let the other players down. If, after one season, they don’t want to play a particular sport, that is okay with me.

Both of my girls have tried several sports and have found a particular one they flourish in and enjoy. My eldest is a swimmer and my youngest has chosen softball. Both of them have played their respective sports for several years now and I’m happy to pay the fees, purchase the equipment and attend any and all events.

Because they’re happy to participate in them.

I don’t have to drag them to practice, force them to put on their uniforms, or bribe them to get them to events. They look forward to them…because they had a part in choosing.

All this is not to say I”m angry with my parents for making me take all those lessons. I’m not. I learned a skill that while useless, is a neat party trick. I can’t play Beethoven or Mozart – you know, because I NEVER practiced – but I can play a mean “Down a Papa Joes!”

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Video Blurb for GRIEF: THE GREAT YEARNING by Pat Bertram

Grief: The Great Yearning is a finalist in the memoir category for the Sharp Writ Book Awards, and they asked me for a 30 second introduction to the book for their “awards ceremony” video. Thirty seconds isn’t long enough to do a real book trailer, so I put together a few photos and text pages — more like a video blurb. The music for the video is the last piano piece Beethoven created, which seemed fitting, especially since the total length of the piece fit perfectly with my images.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning.

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Christmas With My Sister For The Second Time by Coco Ihle

Joanie & Coco

Joanie & Coco

Next week I’ll be traveling to spend Christmas for the second time with my sister Joanie. Our first Christmas together was when we were in our fifties. We’d searched for one another for over fifty years after having been separated as small children, sent into foster care and later separately adopted.

Our reunion in 1994 was a fairy tale filled with exquisite joy and discovery. Two Christmases later we went to the Mall and sat on Santa’s knee for the first time together. Instead of asking for material possessions, we told him how grateful we were for the gift of each other. We’d missed many years of sharing this special holiday and many others, but we intended to make up for lost time. And we have.

My sister has two married daughters who have children of their own, so I have an extended family, something I thought I’d never have. Just think, I have two nieces with wonderful spouses, three great nieces and a great nephew, and I must not forget, even dogs and cats. I feel as though I should hum the tune to “A Partridge in a Pear Tree.” I’m sure the kids have grown quite a bit since I saw them last and I look forward to their hugs.

Joanie and her husband live in a Hansel and Gretel log cabin in a forest in the Adirondacks. It’s a magical place that looks like a scene from a Thomas Kincade painting. The warm glow of light shining through the windows onto the glistening snow outside. The sound of total silence, save the sighing of the pines in the breeze. The crisp smell of winter and stars brighter than I’ve ever seen them.

Inside the aroma of dinner, the chatter of family, the warm snugness of a throw over the legs in front of the fire, and prominent splashes of red make the rooms cozy and inviting. The glow of candlelight setting off the shining golden color of the logs as they climb up to the rafters of the cathedral ceiling. And the gentle sound of  Christmas carols floating down from the balcony.

All these memories I’ll be able to re-live soon, and I can’t wait!

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