what I’m listening to

This is the third in the trilogy of posts on what I’m watching, reading, and listening to.  I may make this a regular, periodic feature.  

This category is harder to write about because listening to music is easier to do, and therefore I do so much of it throughout the week.  As you probably do, I listen to music while I’m doing other things, though I make a point of not listening to music with lyrics while I’m working or reading.  (I’ve had that personal rule for several years now, ever since I heard a neuroscientist talk about how lyrics distract us on some level even when we think we’re not listening to them.)  This means that at work, I listen to a lot of classical, post-rock, ambient music, movie scores and trailer music, and yoga/New Age/relaxation music.  I’ve also been listening to a bit of modern funk, a lot of which has no lyrics.  Spotify (I use the free desktop version) is brilliant at finding me new tracks in these genres, so my Discover Weekly playlist, which I listen to every Monday, is almost all instrumental.  (If you’ve never listened to your Discover Weekly playlist, try it–Spotify “curates” it from music similar to what you typically listen to.)

Lately, I’ve also been listening to ambient music, nature sounds, and something called “binaural beats” (supposedly scientifically proven to help you relax) while falling asleep.  I find these tracks on a meditation app called Insight Timer.  The Yoga Radio station on Pandora is also a good sleep soundtrack.

In the car, I mostly listen to audiobooks, and although those are not the topic of this post, I will mention that I’m thoroughly enjoying The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd, another recent children’s lit selection.  When I feel like rolling down the windows and singing, I like modern folk, like the Avett Brothers, and timeless-sounding rock, like Dawes.  I also enjoy Pandora’s 80’s Alternative station when driving or running.

But let’s talk about the music I love enough to buy.  Lately, I have been buying music only in the form of records.  My record collection is growing and extremely eclectic, and it includes some thrift store finds that are just plain weird, like Sacred Music from the Russian Cathedral and an electronic version of Holst’s The Planets.  Here are my most recent acquisitions: Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, Dawes’s We’re All Gonna Die, NEEDTOBREATHE’s The Outsiders, and an orchestral album that includes songs from Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I always say I’m going to take a tour of my albums, listening to all of them in some sort of order (alphabetical, chronological, or just the order they happen to be sitting in), but I end up listening to whatever I feel like at the moment.  Sometimes, there are strategic reasons for my choice (e.g., I had people over Saturday afternoon and didn’t want to put on something with distracting lyrics, so I chose the soundtrack to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them); other times I just feel like listening to The War on Drugs or The Head and the Heart.  Last Tuesday evening, I knew I was going to be cooking for a while so I chose to listen to my entire Decemberists collection.  (It consists of only two albums, The Crane Wife and The King Is Dead, but the former is a long album.)  Yesterday, before I watched the Steelers’ pre-season game, I put on Born in the USA because both Bruce and the Steelers make me think of steel, sweat, and working-class America.

I hope you didn’t start reading this post expecting me to review recently-released albums.  I don’t listen to much new music.  But maybe some of my scattershot name-dropping has inspired you to revisit a classic or look up an artist you haven’t tried.  Let me know what you’re listening to, too!

 

 

Advent week 3: Christmas rituals

Last week, actual tears came to my eyes while I was writing my blog post, and I don’t feel like going through that emotional wringer again (plus I can’t think of anything profound to say this week), so I’m going to write about something more fun.  But first, I have to tell you about a book I checked out of my church library.  It’s called Simply SenseSational Christmas.  The title, interestingly enough, isn’t the cheesiest thing about the book.  Let’s just say that it savors strongly of the 1990s, when it was published.  But although the hip DIY bloggers of 2016 might sneer at much of this book’s aesthetic, its central points are perhaps more relevant than ever: 1. Christmas is about the time when God was born in a stable, so stop stressing yourself out trying to have the perfect showplace home, and 2. Appealing to all five physical senses is possibly the best way to create a memorable, delightful, and even worshipful experience for yourself and your loved ones at Christmas.  The book goes on to offer simple strategies like scattering a handful of cloves around candles so that they give off a spicy, festive scent when they get warm.  This might not be life-changing stuff–then again, it might.

This book has got me thinking about some of the rituals, most if not all of them involving the physical senses, that I enjoy in my own home each Christmas.  This is the second Christmas I’ve spent in my house.  Before that, I was renting an apartment, and while I enjoyed some Christmas rituals there too, there’s something special about celebrating in one’s very own home.  (I also enjoy a number of Christmas rituals in my parents’ house, where I always spend the actual day of Christmas and usually the week or so before and after it, but those aren’t the subject of this post.)  Here are some of them.

  1. I have a number of Christmas albums in my iTunes library, including some that I’ve been listening to with my family since childhood (The New Young Messiah) and some that I’ve acquired in recent years (Christmas at the Renaissance Fair by Moat Jumper–exactly what it sounds like).  I start listening to these while I’m decorating on December 1, and I usually get through the whole collection about three times during the Christmas season.  I also have some individual Christmasy tracks from other albums that I include in the rotation, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Greensleeves” and John Williams’s “Christmas at Hogwarts” from the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone soundtrack.  I also like to listen to the Nutcracker suite on record #12 of the Festival of Light Classical Music record collection I bought at Goodwill last year for $2.50.
  2. I light candles like a pyromaniac all year, but at Christmas, it really gets out of hand.  I go through tealights like my family goes through toilet paper at a large gathering.  The last year I lived in the apartment, my neighbor made me a lovely set of candleholders created from upside-down stemware decorated to look like Santa Claus, a snowman, and other festive characters.  I also have a balsam-and-cedar scented large Yankee jar candle that almost compensates for the fact that my 1.5 trees (I have a big one in the living room and a little one in my home office) are artificial.  My Pier One Holiday Forest room spray, a gift from a friend last year, also helps.
  3. I love mail.  I check my mailbox obsessively on Saturdays when I’m home to check it, and I actually have a real honest-to-goodness pen pal.  So it’s no surprise that I enjoy sending Christmas cards.  I love writing in them (even if it’s just a simple “Love, Tess”), sticking Christmas seals on the envelopes, and putting a big fat stack of them out in the mailbox.  In turn, when I receive Christmas cards, I hang them with tiny clothespins on twine in the corner of my entryway.  It’s an easy and beautiful decoration, especially when I get cards with gold on the front, which catch the light from my many candles and my tree lights.

I could go on–I haven’t said a word about food–but I think you get the idea.  These rituals are so common as to sound almost banal, but they’re meaningful to me.  I’m sure you have some that are meaningful to you.  Feel free to share in the comments!