Organtuan

5 manuals! And all those stops!

Last week I got to go to an Organ Workshop at the Conference Center. Brother Longhurst is in my stake and arranged to take us there. You must understand that I am NOT an organist. I took Organ 101 at BYU, so I knew a few basics, and then during the couple years I played the organ as my church calling [which I started right after Andrew Unsworth got released, I might add---I'm sure my first meeting was quite a rude awakening for the congregation] I was finally starting to get comfortable sightreading with the pedals. That's the extent of my skill. But, I was very excited to go see the conference center organ up close---and, Bro. Longhurst said we could even play it if we came prepared with something! So I practiced and practiced.

I took Abraham with me to the workshop, and we had the best time. There were probably 25 or 30 of us there. It was SO interesting to see the organ and the pipes (there are nearly 8000 of them) up close. Amazing to sit up in the choir seats of that hu-normic (or gigantimous, or whatever it is--my kids always get these words wrong and I'm starting not to know the true ones anymore) building and look out at the 21,000 seats. Awesome to hear Brother Longhurst demonstrate the varied capabilities of that imposing instrument. And MOST AMAZING of all to hear MYSELF producing that unmistakable pipe organ sound in that vast room---regal, full-bodied, resonant, magnificent. Brother Longhurst walked around me pulling out stops as I played, choosing registration that made me sound way better than any combination I would have known how to create myself. I played on each of the manuals (though not all at once). What an experience. It was unforgettable.

Abe, of course, was just as fascinated with everything as I was.  He liked the different background lights the organist can select:
The tallest pipe is 40 feet tall!

And we both greatly enjoyed getting right up next to the pipes and peering through to see the rows and rows of pipes behind.
Like this
And this.  Note the wooden pipes here---these make the woodwind sounds on the organ.

Abe didn't play, but got to sit at the organ.  He particularly liked the "secret drawer" with a midi recorder in it,  and the little blower tubes that can blow air on the organist if he gets too hot under the bright TV lights.

After the workshop ended, there were only a few of us gathering our stuff together, and Bro. Longhurst offered to take us to see back behind the pipes. Of course we jumped at the chance. (Abe: literally.) We got to go back through secret tunnels and elevators (secret to us, anyway!) and then into the organ casing. We climbed up through a trapdoor:
where we could see some teeny-tiny pipes like these (the smallest pipe on the organ is 3/4" long!)

Another narrow door brought us in to where we could walk all along a thin passageway to different divisions of the organ, tiptoeing around blowers and pipes and wires and casings. Abe and I kept whispering to each other, "Can you believe we're actually doing this?" It was so cool and so fascinating.

And here is my favorite picture of all: looking out at the conference center seats from behind the organ pipes!
2

Letter to Daisy, age 2 1/2

 Dear Daisy,

I was hanging up some clean clothes in my closet yesterday, and you came to join me.  You had your baby doll and you were putting her in her "mammas"---which are pajamas, of course.  You sat her up in her high chair (our bathroom stool) and gave her pancakes, which you called "takes."  I made the mistake of asking if they were cakes, and you corrected me immediately: "Not birthday takes!  TAN-takes!"  Slowly the cake idea took hold,  though, as so many ideas do in that little wispy head of yours, and in a few minutes they had morphed into birthday cakes.  You sang, "Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, may all that you wish come true," and then you sang "Happy birthday dear Daisy" and turned to me in delight: "Baby boo tando-dout!" I'm your mother, Daisy, so I understood: "baby blew the candles out!" I love your language. It looks like baby talk when I write it, but it's more like a foreign tongue: exotic, trickling and watery, but clearly meaningful.
You're holding "Tiny Purple Car," your favorite
The way you seize on any idea you hear, and then make it your own, is one of the things that makes you such a delightful companion.  You don't talk, you converse.  At the table the other day, your brothers and I were talking about the glaciers getting bigger in Antarctica.  "Daisy's getting bigger TOO!" you hurried to add.  You held your arms straight up above your head in case we didn't get the picture.  You copy your brothers in the way they talk (your robot voice saying "does-not-compute" is one of the funniest things ever) and in the way they interact, right down to saying, "I need to go to the bathroom.  Don't take my soup!" when you leave the table. (Only you pronounce soup  "boop", of course.)  Your daddy and I aren't sure why everyone's so all-fired worried about soup theft in this family, but if your brothers are, we can be certain you are too.
Only six months ago we were wondering if you would ever really talk.  Oh, you said words all right, but you were taciturn.  You kept your own counsel and certainly never parroted something on command.  We didn't ever really worry, but we just wondered.  What was going on in that tiny, almost-bald head of yours?  I guess the urge to talk grew in with your hair.  Now you wear "no-nee tails" and I can hardly get you to stop talking!  You like to hear yourself talk and sing, certainly (you were singing the other day, "Jeg har et aeble," a little Danish song Grandma Nelson and I sing to you, and when I started to join in, you ran over to me and put a restraining little hand on my arm.  "Diet, mommy," you ordered, and seeing my surprised expression, amended it to, "Peeeeease be diet?") but you also like an appreciative audience. If anyone else gets up to perform, you run to join them, standing at the front of a crowd like you were born to it.  When your brothers practiced for a performance of "Reverence is Love" in church a few weeks ago, you always insisted on having your own verse to do, "my durn." The amazing thing wasn't that you learned that whole song at age 2 1/2, little Daisy---I've always known there were a lot of amazing talents behind those bright eyes of yours.  The amazing thing was that Daddy was able to keep you from running up to join them during the performance, as you felt so sure of yourself and so entitled to a place in that group.  Don't worry; you'll be there next time.  It was only because you are too small to show over the pulpit that we kept you out for now.

When we tell you you have to do something you don't like, you hurriedly examine the situation to see if there's a way out of it.  Sometimes it works, like when we tell you you need to cheer up or else be put to bed early.  "I AP-py!" you assure us, tearfully.  Other times, like when you want to zip up your coat yourself (but you don't know how), we have to be firmer.  "Daisy, you need to let me zip you," we say.  "I doooo!" you wail, meaning you DON'T.  I suppose this must have come from some long-forgotten scenario in the past: maybe we asked if you wanted more lunch and when you said you didn't and we said it was time for nap, maybe you changed your mind and said: I DO!  Whatever the case, now you think it's the magic phrase to end all oppression.
"Okay Daisy, you need to get in the car now." "I doooooooo!"
"Daisy, give Malachi his birdie back." "I dooooooo!"
"Come upstairs for bed!"  "No, I doooooo!"
You can't stand it that we agree with you.  "That's right, you DO need to come upstairs," we say, smirking.  "I doooooo!" you argue again, unsure why we're being so thick about it.

2

Mormon Lit Blitz contest

Have you heard of the Mormon Lit Blitz?  It's a contest showcasing short literature by Mormon writers.  All month they'll be publishing the finalists' work, and you can vote on your top 5 in March.  I love this quote they reference, by Orson F. Whitney:
“We must read, and think, and feel, and pray, and then bring forth our thoughts, and polish and preserve them. This will make literature.”
What a great description of the process and the importance of writing!  You'll find my poem there today, and more discussion here on the Facebook page.  UPDATE: I've now posted the poem here as well.

In Bulk
“But as good as the price-per-ounce may be, you just don’t need that much mayonnaise.”
—CBS MoneyWatch, “5 Things You Should Buy At Costco”

It is tempting to begin aggressively,
To ask what you—with your elevators and your “buzzing-in,”
Your taxis and your tiny, drooping houseplants,
Your Holiday Parties, and your solitary coffee breaks—
Know of shouting, giggling masses of children
Bursting like not-quite-sentient maggots
From the secondhand, mortifying Station Wagon.

But that would limit the scope of this argument,
Which, I admit, began relatively blandly—
With mayonnaise, to be precise,
Which is a sort of metaphor for blandness—
But which will flourish in the potato salad of my indignation
Until it is perfectly seasoned, surprising, and delicious.

And so I will say instead, that you must have been kept
All your life beneath the veil of city lights,
Unlike Wordsworth and yes, me; we who love stars,
And are Habituated to the Vast.
You must have never known contented crowdedness,
Two-to-a-bed, whispers and tangled feet,
Enough space in your eyes to hold the desert sunlight,
Elbowing its way over the mountains at dawn
And blazing up like brushfire in the evenings.

And so it is unreasonable to expect you,
Your compact refrigerator and your collapsible umbrella,
To conceive abundance. Oh, but do not think it is not real,
Though perhaps you have not met it in your dim-lit halls.
I find it daily, sifting down into my 50-pound bags of flour,
Nesting contentedly in my gargantuan cartons of eggs.
Here, it falls down on us like stardust.
My children run laughing through its showers.
We shake it, shining, from our hair.

                                                  ---Marilyn Nielson
14

Buttered Popcorn Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Sauce

I made this ice cream for a little get-together we had awhile ago, and wanted to get the recipe down before it vanished into the mists of my (non)memory.  I wasn't originally sure this would be good (I love popcorn, but thought these avant-garde flavors you always hear about---Bacon! Olive oil! Avocado! etc.---might be more trendy than they were tasty. Although I really want to try avocado ice cream, actually, and I've had olive oil ice cream and it's good too) but Sam, with his love for popcorn-flavored jellybeans, convinced me to give it a try.  I'm glad I did, as it might be our family's new favorite.  So buttery!  So unexpected!  So delicious with the caramel sauce as its complement!

I drew upon these recipes as I adjusted and tested various combinations of ingredients.  I think I like the egg/custard version best, simply because it scoops better later on (it remains somewhat soft)---but if you are going to eat it all the same day, the eggless version (which is what I made for the party) is easier, and perfectly delicious.

I just used regular kettle-popped popcorn since that's what I had on hand, but one of the recipes I consulted said that microwave popcorn works fine too, and in fact gives a slightly more assertive popcorn flavor to the ice cream.
Buttered Popcorn Ice Cream

2

Names, part III

I have a few more thoughts.  This poem is such a great bridge between my two previous ideas: the uncertain power of giving names, and the unequalled surrender of taking them.  I'll let you read the poem first; then we'll discuss.  It's from that ground-breaking new volume, (please picture me re-enacting this scene here) Fire in the Pasture.  The poet is Matthew James Babcock.

Jerusalem Artichoke
After visiting The Religious Reflection Room in the Detroit Metro Airport

In The Squatter’s Pub Brewery, two pilots
       (I hope not mine) quaff beer
and devour Black and Bleu Rocket Wraps.
       The label on the Odwalla’s bottle
from which I sip green puree says I have
       swallowed Jerusalem artichoke,
a plant that, contrary to what its name
       might suggest, is not an artichoke
and not from Jerusalem. This is
       the equation of life: Nothing is what
it says it is. Despite the high price,
       somehow this is healthy. The Italian,

girasole, means “sunflower.”
       After Samuel de Champlain dispatched
shiploads of the bundled tubers
       from Cape Cod to France, people
added “sunroot” and “earth apple”
       to the legend. What is prayer but
a commerce of discoveries? When
       is misunderstanding a pilgrimage?
Some days, the greatest risk
       can be to sit and stare
at the intoxicating flight of daylight
       through two glasses of amber.
This is, after all, the quest of the new world.
       To drink the strange. To explore
without leaving. To grow into the myth
       of one’s name and, having exiled
the nomad eye, make a holy city of the heart.

There’s so much here. First, “the equation of life: nothing is what it says it is.” In other words, the thing that divides us—our inability to truly understand each other—also equalizes us: we are all more, and less, than the face we show the world.

The speaker in the poem compares our search for God to our search for common ground with other humans. To connect with another person, we must exchange bits of self (“a commerce of discoveries”) and allow our misunderstandings, instead of further dividing us, to lead us (in a journey as important and revealing as a “pilgrimage”) to encounter those depths of identity we rarely see in others. The search for an understanding of our fellow-travelers requires the same faith as does the hopeful stretching toward an unknown God—the same faith we need to travel by plane, putting our lives in the hands of pilots who may or may not have been “quaff[ing] beer” in The Squatter’s Pub Brewery before the flight.

And then I love the way Babcock engages with what I see as the ultimate paradox of names: the way a name can both define you and fail to define you. Like the Jerusalem Artichoke, which is “not an artichoke/ and not from Jerusalem,” we are so much more than our names.  We; like this plant with its sunflower-like flowers and its ugly, bulbous roots; may be composed of vastly different parts, impossible to be summed up by what others call us.  And yet, we always begin there: our names are a starting point, a harbor from which to cast off, a “myth” atop which we build our true selves. And so, with Babcock, we “drink the strange” by allowing new experiences to enter us and blend with the old, leaving us changed but not unrecognizable. We “explore without leaving,” trying out new aspects of identity from time to time, learning to “grow into” the things others have seen in us---but never able, either, to escape who we have been all along.

Thus, even though we are more than what our parents named us, and more than what others see and name us as, we can still find rooted meaning in those names given us by others. We can still be nourished by our names.  It is not, in other words, a hopeless quest to try and find our own and others’ true selves, within the clouds of misunderstanding and myth. We can know ourselves, and we can know others—but such knowledge is a “quest”, a “pilgrimage” rather than a quick jaunt. Instead of accepting without question the conventional labels, someone on such a quest must be willing to endure glimpses of another’s true self, like the “intoxicating flight of daylight” through a glass, without fear or disillusionment. And as a clearer pictures emerges of who he is, who others are, and who he is in relation to others, such a pilgrim must also be willing to build new truth amid the ruins of the old, creating a “New Jerusalem” that blends elements of his past with those new names he has forged for himself. I think what I was trying to say in my last post, about the power of taking a new name for yourself, comes through in these beautiful last lines: “To grow into the myth/ of one’s name and, having exiled/ the nomad eye, make a holy city of the heart.”
1

Household Duties (part III)

Who is this handsome man? I'm still figuring that out myself. These lists are really just my way of naming him, you know. Give me another 50 years and I'll have a portrait that begins to approach all he really is. For now, in honor of his birthday, enjoy installment #3 of Sam's Household Duties:

  • Marvelling at the various visual effects produced by polarized sunglasses
  • Surprising me from time to time by using phrases such as "Troll lore"
  • Unerringly leading the way out of movie theatres
  • Trying not to read the comments on articles, reading them, and then being mad
  • Saying "I'll go deal with it" when I say "I hear someone out of bed"
  • Editing for clarity
  • Editing for brevity
  • Making guacamole
  • Knowing what day it is
  • Engaging in mutually enjoyable ranting ("It's so satisfying to rant with someone who agrees with you!")
  • Patiently answering the question, "What other movies is this guy in?"
  • Going home from church to get things I forgot
  • Holding people on slides


  • Finding my glasses
  • Finding my phone
  • Putting bacon on the pan for baking (first separating the pieces with a butter knife)
  • Choosing the kind of popcorn
  • Scooping people up
  • Squeegeeing the shower doors
  • Running the garbage cans out to the street (overcoat flapping)
  • Pronouncing the name of the company Wacom as "walk'um" (which is correct, apparently, but not good)

  • Speaking for babies
  • Regarding haircuts: believing, with touching naïveté, that "it doesn't have to be now" means "it will be sometime soon" rather than "it won't be for another three weeks"
  • Throwing out moldy things
  • Periodically becoming fed up with all the papers on the computer desk
  • Getting the mail
  • Lovingly saving up and presenting me with stacks of junk mail
  • Making milkshakes
  • Researching/wanting the latest cameras and lenses
  • Telling me to "go with my instincts" when I'm about to take food out of the oven
  • Carrying sleeping children
  • Doing the voice of that guy in the seminary movie: "This-here pump works just fine!"
  • Remembering the correct spelling of avocado
  • Keeping abreast of current astronomical events (e.g., eclipses, meteor showers)
  • Knowing what that star/planet is, when asked
  • Approving of cute baby clothes purchases
  • Approving of new shoes
  • Assuring me I didn't look stupid when I tripped/stumbled/fell
3

Names, part II

Here's another thing I think about names: giving them to someone else is powerful.  But choosing them for yourself is even more powerful.  I loved this post here.  If you can't be bothered to click over, I'll sum it up inadequately by saying that to view a woman's change of surname, upon marriage, as capitulation or weakness, is to miss a very important part of that tradition.  I love Laura (I call her Laura)'s point that a woman's choice to share her husband's name can be a strong and intentional statement of who she is and what she (freely) offers toward this new family she is creating. I'm also intrigued with the idea of joint name-creation she mentions at the end of the article
"Could my husband and I have found another name -- a mashup, perhaps, or a reference to a shared experience or value -- that would have been better for us? Is there another name in our family trees with a rich tradition that might otherwise be forgotten? Maybe we would have ended up choosing Wattenberg regardless, but that mental journey would still have been worth taking."
I love sharing my husband's name.  It amuses me that my maiden name is so neatly contained within it (a symbol of our well-fitted personalities, perhaps?) but I also find a lot of pleasure in the fact that by becoming a Nielson, I share not only his future but his past.  And I love how that new name has made me, quite literally, more than I ever was before.  Who he is shines out between the spaces of who I am, and I grow toward that light.

I don’t want to belabor the point, as I’m sure you’ve grasped it already, but it deserves a brief mention that my identity as a Christian follows this same path.  I don’t care if people want to classify "Mormons" as non-creedal, unorthodox, un-Trinitarian, whatever, but they can’t deny us the choice and burden of Christ’s name—that choice is uniquely ours to make.  As a follower of Christ, I try to allow Christ’s good name to shine through and past my own, even as I continue to discover and refine who I am.

Anyway, I hope that whether my children, as adults, like these names we gave them or not, they will at least be able to see the beautiful symbolism of fusing old with new.  Of (both for sons and daughters) blending their first name—and all it represents of their identity as an individual—with their last name, which speaks of both the old family in which they first saw beyond self, and the new family identity they will form when they voluntarily become more-than-self.  Of how who we called them can be an anchor to who they really are.  And most importantly, of how who they name themselves can be a pathway to who they want to be.
2

Names, part I

I like names. Do you remember having to write acrostics in grade school, using your name as the form?  You were supposed to somehow capture who you were in so many (non-)descriptive adjectives: "marvelous"; "awesome"; "rad"!  Re-reading any of my own grade-school poems is almost unbearable to me now, but I remember thinking Philip's a gem of understatement:

Pretty
Hungry
If
Left
In the
Pantry.

I have loved the process of naming, with Sam, our children: as our tastes agree, we have luckily been spared the arguments, and left with the delight of endless discussion: "This name says this with its syllables, this with its visual height"; "Is the strength or the lightness here more prominent?"; "When you say this name, whose eyes peek around its corners?"  I confess to naming imaginary babies, and to occasionally re-naming people around me (how presumptuous of me, Becky/Mary; thank you for allowing it!), and certainly to listening for the ringing of names, in my head and everywhere:
the "ineffable effable
       Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name."


I have written about the way words ring in my head elsewhere (it's why I like poetry, I'm sure) but I'm still turning the topic of naming things over in my mind and trying to see what else I think. (That oft-quoted line from E.M. Forster: "How can I know what I think until I see what I say?")  You may hear from me again on the subject.

But here's one thing I think: when you try to capture some abstract thing and re-present it with a name, it's almost magical.  I loved learning about this in English classes; I even sat through the dreaded Deconstruction lecture with interest because I like to see what's inside words.  Names are talismans (we Christians should know that if anyone does) and even as I watch the tiny bundles named by us---they turn before my eyes into people who begin to name other things around them, who fill their own names and animate them with their own spirits, who both slip into and slip out of all the things I named them when they arrived in my arms.
That's why I like this poem, by Katie Peterson.  I think it's kind of a difficult poem partly because of its long, spun-out phrases, but I find a lot of truth in the way the speaker grasps at, yet cannot capture, the essence of a thing in naming it.  There is so much of that at the beginning, and even well into, a relationship: the fumbling attempts to find out who are you really? and who am I with you?.  I love the image of the mathematician full of false confidence, thinking he has described the tree when all he has really done is counted it.  I guess we could also add the idea of the poet, thinking he has created the tree when all he has really done is described it.  I do feel despairing, sometimes, wondering how anyone really begins to understand anyone else---with so much room for error and offense even among those closest to us, and so much imprecision in language, and when we so often don't even know our own selves.  I wonder if the things I've named my children, those tiny strangers---not just their names, of course, but the identities I inadvertently impose on them---are even capturing a small part of who they actually ARE.  This poem speaks to that hopelessness.  More on this later, but for now:

At the Very Beginning
by Katie Peterson

When I named you I was on the verge
of a discovery, I was accumulating

data, my condition was that of a person
sitting late at night in a yellowing kitchen

over steeping tea mumbling
as his wife remotely does the laundry.

My condition was that of a mathematician
who cannot put the names to colors,

who, confusing speaking and addition,
identifies with confidence the rain

soaked broad trunked redwood tree (whose
scent releases all of winter) saying as he passes one
4

Mad Gab

Have you played Mad Gab?  It's that game where you read a nonsensical string of words aloud, over and over, until a real phrase suddenly emerges out of the sounds.  Like this: "Ohm They Eaters Hiss Dumb"="Home theater system."

It's a fun game, and I'm good at it, probably because I feel like 80% of my daily life is a game of Mad Gabs.  This tiny girl is so talkative and engaging that I feel quite dull every time I have to bring her sparkling syllables down to earth by asking, "Wait, what?"  But I'm getting better.  Each of my kids have definitely had their own languages and I am slowly becoming fluent in hers.  It's fast-moving and B- and D-heavy (at the moment; though it's always evolving) and I can't resist that little voice saying, "I bubboo, Mahmee!"
Perhaps you'd like to try your hand at it?  I will try to be faithful in my phonetic renderings of these common phrases.

"Dan-doo bick me bup?"=Can you pick me up?
"Ah bip!"="Rumble strip!" (she always notices if we drive over this on the freeway)
"Det ME doo-dit!"=Let me do it!
"I-dite-do doo-dit!"=I'd like to do it!
"Dan-doo Belp me?"=Can you help me?
"I'd dike a durn!"=I'd like a turn!
"Don't, Bebby!"=Don't, Sebby!
"Ga-kye OAT me!"=Malachi hurt me!
"Bee-bye-boo"=BYU
"Dee doe doot!"=She's so cute! (usually referring to Junie)
"Dan-do belp me bine my nane-net?"=Can you help me find my blanket?
"Die dike-doo dit on-door bap!"=I'd like to sit on your lap!
"I die-do bee-bo deh ahba-deh-dah-doe!"=I'd like to peel the avocado! (this is tricky because she adds a syllable and calls them "abadedados" instead of "avocadoes")

I love the way kids have their own ways of Naming things.  It makes the language so useful and full of meaning: our word "Blanket," for example, could refer to so many different things, but "Nane-net" is only Daisy's beloved blanket.  Same with Sebby: when we hear "Bebby" we see not just Sebastian, but Daisy's Sebastian (who is sometimes a terrifying and capricious god, I'm sorry to say).  And I highly doubt I will ever make guacamole with anything but "abadedados" again.
And now you can speak Daisese.  It is a whimsical language which may be wholly different by next week, but I love it anyway.
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