Friday, December 31, 2010

Thanks and Happy New Year to Everyone Who Reads My Blog!

2010 has been the year I regained my love for blogging, rejuvenated my blog, and even launched a new, separate blog.

After blogging since 2003, I had kind of lost interest. I was posted halfheartedly and rarely. Then something changed. I found a new blog design (free, of course!), and started blogging again on a regular basis.

At first, it was mainly re-runs from past years. Then I found other blogs that featured gorgeous pictures and welcoming atmospheres, and I took some cues from them. Suddenly I was finding all sorts of things to blog about!

Hardcore reading addict that I am, I decided to start a separate blog that is solely about books and reading--Cindy's Book Club. I think it's interesting and fun, and I would really appreciate it if you'd check it out!

I truly enjoy blogging. I've always been an aspiring writer, and what better way to indulge that love? It's like having my own personal little magazine, where I can pretty much write about whatever I want.

I want to say a great big thank-you to those of you who read this blog. Yes, my goal is to increase readership, because I'm not content to just project my thoughts out into the ether. Words need an audience, and I so appreciate those of you to take the time to read mine.

I'd like to wish all of you a very wonderful and blessed 2011. Thanks for reading "Notes in the Key of Life"!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

My grandson, Payton

To all who read this blog...
May you know the true peace and abiding joy found only in the One whose birth we celebrate today

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday Thirteen: The Most Performed Christmas Songs

According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, these are the Top 25 most-performed “Holiday” songs for the first five years of the 21st Century (find the complete list here):

1.The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) РMel Torm̩, Robert Wells
2.Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie
3.Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin
4.Winter Wonderland – Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith
5.White Christmas – Irving Berlin
6.Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne
7.Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer – Johnny Marks
8.Jingle Bell Rock – Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe
9.I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, Buck Ram
10.Little Drummer Boy – Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati, Harry Simeone
11.Sleigh Ride – Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish
12.It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year – Edward Pola, George Wyle
13.Silver Bells – Jay Livingston, Ray Evans

I'm a little sad that only one of these songs even refers to the birth of Christ, which is the reason for the season. So I'm offering you Michael English's "Mary Did You Know?" Listen and be blessed.

Participate in the Thursday Thirteen here!
*Photo via

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'm participating in the Wednesday Hodgepodge, Podcast Style!

(Say that three times fast!)

Listen to this SHORT podcast (less than 5 minutes) as I participate in the Wednesday Hodgepodge, hosted by Joyce of From This Side of the Pond!

(If you're not seeing a player, go here to hear the podcast.)

Click on the icon to participate!

And please take a moment to check out my book blog, Cindy's Book Club, where I'm currently talking about my latest literary crush. No, not Clive Owen. But--oh, just read it! :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Christmas Tag!

My grandson Payton, Christmas 2008

I've been tagged by the lovely Mrs. Amber Apple. Here we go!

The Christmas Quiz

1.What is your one favorite dish to see on the table at Christmas dinner?
My sister-in-law Gail's sweet potatoes

2.Do you have a Nativity scene or a creche? How many pieces does it have?
I do! It was given to me a couple of years ago by my dear friend Teri. It has eight beautiful pieces.

3.What is your favorite Christmas movie?
It's a Wonderful Life

4.If you and your family could spend this Christmas in another country, where would you go?
Well, all my loved ones would have to go with me...but much I would love to go to Ireland or France, I think probably the Swiss Alps would be amazing at Christmas time!

5.Does your grandmother usually knit you something for Christmas, or does she give you something different — say, a Wii?
Sadly, both my grandmothers are in heaven. But interestingly, neither of them knitted!

6.Have you ever gone out of the house wearing a reindeer headband? What about a Santa hat?
Not yet, but I wouldn't be opposed to it!

7.Do you usually make or buy your Christmas gifts?
I've made some in the past (when everything was all about the "country" look), but not lately.

8.When do you set up your Christmas decorations? When do you take them down?
Usually it's a trickle that starts the day after Thanksgiving and is fairly complete by early December...but we don't have a tree yet! :(

9.What kind of activities does your church usually have at Christmas?
A Christmas cantata/reader's theater.

10.Did you ever believe in Santa Claus as a child?
Honestly, I can't remember actually believing in Santa, but I thought it was fun to go along with it.

11.Which of the Gospels gives your favorite account of the Christmas story?

12.Have you ever acted in a Christmas pageant? What part did you play?
I don't remember acting in one, but I've sung in them. A particular memory is when I was in the fifth grade, attending a school in Beirut, Lebanon. We had a big Christmas pageant and even sang on TV.

13.Do you buy Christmas presents for your pets?
I have a couple of times, although I don't make it a priority.

14.What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

When my kids were little, we had Swanson family Christmas on Christmas Eve, with all my husband's brothers and their families. The Swansons are Swedish-American, and Swedes celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. We would eat delicious food, open gifts that we had exchanged names for earlier, and the evening would culminate in watching and laughing over hundreds of family slides.

When we got home--fairly late--we would open our own family presents. Yes, on Christmas Eve!

After everyone went to bed, I would fill stockings, hopefully giving each child some things they would really enjoy getting in their stocking, plus candy, of course. So the stocking was like a kind of bonus gift, and Christmas Day itself was spent with our own family and one or two others.

Our Christmas celebrations haven't always followed a specific pattern, though. Several times we've gone to Texas for Christmas; a couple of times we've gone to Wyoming where my sister Beverly lives.

One of my favorite Christmases completely broke our pattern. When my son Jonathan was a student at Cedarville University in Cedarville Ohio, he worked at a Franklin Covey store at the mall. He had to work both Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas, so he couldn't come home.

So we decided to bring Christmas to him. My husband, my other son and my daughter and I packed up and went to Cedarville. We stayed with him in the little Victorian home he shared with some other guys, who had all gone home for Christmas.

It turned out to be one of our happiest and most fun Christmases, and it was just the five of us.

For me, Christmas is all about celebrating the birth of Christ with my family. I'm overjoyed that all my three children and my two grandchildren will be with me for Christmas!
I'm not going to tag anyone in particular, but if you do this on your own blog, please let me know in my comments section!

Please hop over and check out my book blog, Cindy's Book Club, where today I'm featuring some awesome bloggers!
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Life Made Lovely: Lovely Teacups

So, I've recently discovered that I'm obsessed with pictures of teacups. Why? I'm not sure...I'm sure it has to do with their basic prettiness, but I think it also evokes a sense of comfort that harks back to my childhood. My mom has always drunk tea instead of coffee, and she is one who loves the ritual of drinking from something that is as pretty as the drink is tasty.
And what little girl doesn't love to have a tea party with her own little tea set?

Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company. ~Author Unknown

This is part of my own tea set that was given to me by my mother, inherited from her mother. I have no idea if they're worth anything monetarily, but they are worth a lot to me. I love their dainty prettiness.

There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea. ~Bernard-Paul Heroux

Something about images of tea cups with books strongly appeals to me...combining two of my favorite "creature comfort" activities. Here is one of my cups atop a couple of favorite books.

If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you. ~Gladstone, 1865

How pretty is this? And the gingerbread boy...a nice touch, don't you think?

This looks more like coffee than tea, but does it matter? Ahhhhh.....


Is it possible that calories just flew off the page and into my body? Never was worth it.

I'm participating today in Life Made Lovely, hosted by Blessed Little Nest. Click on the icon!


Photo credits:

Photo 1: Me and Alice, via tumblr
Photos 2 and 3: Cindy Swanson
Photo 4, via tumblr
Photo 5, via tumblr
Photo 6, via tumblr
Photo 7

Please check out my book blog, Cindy's Book Club, where I'm currently reviewing Diane Noble's The Sister Wife

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Say "NO!" to inferior Christmas music!

I love Christmas music.

But sometimes I hate Christmas music.

You know, a few years ago, when radio stations started playing all Christmas music from Thanksgiving on, I was delighted. I could simply turn the radio on and enjoy my beloved Christmas tunes all season long.

Yeah, well, now I’m not so crazy about it.

Yes, I love hearing some of those songs over and over. Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas” will never get old. Most versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” are decent; many are excellent…same with “The Christmas Song,” AKA “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” although Mel Torme’s is undoubtedly the best.

But if you’re not Karen Carpenter, don’t even try to sing “Merry Christmas, Darling.” I heard some un-named chanteuse try to do it justice the other day, and not only did it fall pitifully short of the mark, it was actually PITCHY in places!

And trust me, I will be perfectly happy if I never hear another version of the smarmy “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” much less the same-sex one that “Glee” is now offering. It’s always been annoyingly cheesey, but I think Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson’s version took it to new lows.

As for Madonna squeaking and mincing her highly annoying, cringe-inducing, faux Betty-Boop way through “Santa Baby”…well, please just shoot me now.

I realize it's personal...

I understand that musical tastes are highly personal. You may have personal reasons for absolutely loving “Santa Baby” (although I have to question your judgment…just sayin’.)

My mom can’t stand Andy Williams’ “It’s the Holiday Season” because of these lyrics:

With the whoop-de-do and hickory dock
And don’t forget to hang up your sock
‘Cause just exactly at 12 o’clock
He’ll be coming down the chimney
He’ll be coming down the chimney, down

I don’t actually mind the song, but I understand her annoyance.

And when I hear Barbra Streisand croon “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” I have to ask, “Exactly what significance does what happened in Bethlehem have for YOU, Babs? You're Jewish!"

My son Jonathan experienced almost complete Christmas music burn-out while working at a retail store in the mall one holiday season. I used to accuse him of being a Grinch, but I'm starting to understand how he felt.

You know what? I think the “all Christmas music, all the time” format is causing these radio stations to really have to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

"Marilyn Manson singing 'Jingle Bells'? Sure, throw it in there!" (Exaggeration on my part...there is not, that I know of, a version of Marilyn Manson singing "Jingle Bells." I do admit that I could be wrong.)

I’ve found myself avoiding the all-Christmas radio stations in favor of my own Christmas CDs. 4Him’s original Christmas album is a classic; I love every song on it. Michael W. Smith has three wonderful Christmas albums; Point of Grace’s two are both Christmas staples for me.

This one's a winner

And sometimes I just love to turn off all the lights except the Christmas tree and revel in Handel’s incomparable “Messiah.”

Yes, I love Christmas music. But I have to say that now, that statement is a very qualified one.

Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoy the decking the halls, silver bells, sleigh rides and chestnuts roasting as much as anyone, and that's all definitely a part of the Christmas season for me.

But nothing can beat the rousing, joyful message of a "Joy to the world! the Lord is come..." or a "Hark, the herald angels sing glory to the newborn king!"

After all, isn't that what it's really all about?

--Christmas Carolers picture via

Please check out my book blog, Cindy's Book Club, where I'm currently reviewing Diane Noble's "The Sister Wife"

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Follow-up: a beautiful old church in Owston Ferry, England

UPDATE: Owston Ferry photographer Steve Oatway sent me this beautiful photograph, taken by him, of St Martin's Church in the snow

I love this moody, evocative portrait of St Martin's Church in Owston Ferry, England

St. Martin's Church, Owston Ferry, England (Wikipedia)

Not long ago, I blogged about my connection with a murder in a tiny English village. It's a pretty fascinating story, if you have a moment to read it.

Granted, my connection is tenuous. It all revolves around a book called Red Knights from Hy Brasil, and this sticker inside the book:

Shortly after writing that post, I got an e-mail from a photographer named Steve Oatway who lives in Owston Ferry and actually knows Peter Torn and even the vicar who signed that sticker (now retired.)

Steve offered to send me some photos of the village, and I haven't received them yet. (UPDATE: Steve has now sent me a photo of St Martin's, which I posted above.) But I got curious about St. Martin's Church, and turned up some fascinating photos and info about it on the internet.

Photo by Paul McConachie via

A very old place of worship

When Steve Oatway told me that St. Martin's is 600 to 800 years old, I was awestruck. We simply don't have buildings, much less churches, in America that are that ancient.

According to the church's website:

The earliest reference to a church in Owston Ferry is about 1150 CE. As none of the present fabric dates before 1280, there must have been an earlier building on the site. The site itself is within the inner bailey of the "Motte and Bailey" castle which formerly stood there.

A triple archway was built in 1859 at the entrance to the avenue of trees leading to the church.

photo by wiatrak2 via

Stained glass window inside the church

Another website relates:

The parish church, situate at the western end of the village of Owston Ferry, is dedicated to St. Martin and contains much of interest to the family historian, not least are those tombs therein of local gentry, the family containing most being that of Pindar, prominent in the Isle since the mid-sixteenth century.

... On the south side of the Church can be seen the mound on which stood in former times the keep of a "motte and bailey" castle, said to have been built shortly after the Conquest and held at one time by the powerful Mowbray famiLy. It was taken by Geoffrey, Bishop elect of Lincoln, in 1174, on behalf of Henry the Second and was later destroyed and never after rebuilt.

A view of the church's interior, from a Church of England website

St. Martin's choir members (also from this Church of England

As a confirmed Anglophile and lover of history, all this fascinates me. How I would love to visit England someday and see this incredible old church for myself.

In the meantime, I hope you've enjoyed these photos.

Note: Every effort has been made to give proper credit for these photos, which do not belong to me

    Saturday, December 04, 2010

    A Snowy December Day

    I awoke to a winter wonderland this morning. Just thought I'd share some pictures!

    A view off our back deck

    Another deck view

    Our mail carrier proving that, indeed, "neither snow, nor..."

    A neighbor's Christmas decorations look even prettier in the snow

    I invite you to check out my book blog, Cindy's Book Club, where today I'm reviewing Lisa T. Bergren's Breathe!

    Friday, December 03, 2010

    Flashback Friday: O Christmas Tree

    Our Swanson family tree a couple of years ago

    No, I haven't decorated for Christmas yet, except for putting the Christmas wreath on my front door. After our houseguest and dear friend Ray had a major heart attack on Thanksgiving Day, things have been a little crazy. I hope to attend to that task this weekend.

    However, I'm linking up to Mocha with Linda today for Flasback Friday, which is all about Christmas trees. Here we go:

    When you were growing up, when did your family put up and decorate the Christmas tree? --We usually put up the tree around my birthday, which is December 10th. In later years, after I was grown and gone, I believe my mom did it shortly after Thanksgiving.

    Was it real or artificial?--It depended. I can remember a fair amount of real ones, but we also succumbed to the metal one with the color wheel light during the 70's.

    Who usually decorated it? Were there special decorations? What was on the top?--Decorating was a family affair. I can remember early on, throwing tinsel "icicles" at the tree so they would land just right. (When did people stop using those icicles?

    After my mom's beloved aunt died in the late 60s, she inherited some beautiful Christmas decorations and ornaments. Her uncle had been German, and he had some gorgeous German pieces which came to my mom when her aunt died. Her uncle had been a Christmas enthusiast and had always made a huge deal of the holiday.

    As I recall, there was usually an angel on top.

    White lights or colored, blinking or steady? Definitely colored lights...the white light trend didn't come into vogue until much later. I can remember huge colored doesn't seem like they make those big ones anymore. Sometimes we had blinking ones, sometimes steady.

    How much did your family decorate for the holiday other than the tree (wreaths, dishes, snowglobes, miniature villages, etc.)?--There were decorations all over the house...nativity scenes, dishes, candles, wreaths, etc.

    Did y'all do outdoor lights?--I can't remember ever having outdoor lights@ My dad was a busy pastor and I guess he just never got into it. We always enjoyed looking at other people's lights, though!

    Are there special memories associated with decorating for Christmas?
    Christmas was always a very special time. My dad loved Christmas, and always wanted to make sure everyone had a great one. We didn't get tons of presents, but we loved and appreciated everything we got. Decorating the tree was always a warm time, with holiday music playing in the background.

    As always, Linda, thanks for stirring up good memories!

    You can link to Flashback Friday by clicking on the icon.

    I'm also linking to Company Girls Coffee today. Click the icon!

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Life Made Lovely: Lovely Kate Middleton

    ...Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom
    Kate of Kate Hall, my
    super-dainty Kate,
    For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
    this of me, Kate of my consolation.--
    William Shakespeare, The Taming of the

    If anybody brings style and glamor back to England's royal family, it will be Kate Middleton--Prince William's fiancee, who is poised to inherit Princess Diana's crown as the Princess of Style.

    Kate is lovely, has a beautiful figure, and looks good in anything she wears.

    I can definitely see the public's fascination with her growing, just as it did for Princess Di. If you have a coffee-table book of photos of Diana's fashions, get ready to nudge it over a bit to make room for your Kate book, which is surely forthcoming.

    Every woman I've talked with who sees pictures of Kate says wistfully, "I wish everyone wore hats..." or "I wish hats were in fashion..."

    Women seem to be afraid to take a leap and bring this style back, but really, don't hats look gorgeous?

    How classy is this? Love the hat, love the pink, love the style of the jacket.

    Love. This. Everything about it--the smart little suit, the scarves, the jaunty little beret. Adorable.

    Great flowy skirt. She has really pretty legs, too. I've noticed in some of her dressier shots, she's wearing some type of pantyhose that look so

    shimmery and flattering...I'd love to know what they are!

    Kiss me
    Kate, we will be married o' Sunday
    .--William Shakespeare, The Taming of the

    I'm participating today in "Life Made Lovely"--click on the icon to find out more!


    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    The Fragile Curtain

    A near-tragedy on Thanksgiving Day recalls a meaningful book--and a vivid truth

    Nearly thirty years ago, I read a book that made a huge impact on me. It was The Fragile Curtain, by Karen Burton Mains.

    Shortly after reading the book, I did a radio interview with Karen, and I've never forgotten it, or the message of the book.

    Life is fragile. The curtain separating us from life and death is very thin.

    Karen had written the book after a trip to refuge camps around the world--and the near-death of one of her children-- deeply impressed her with that truth. This from her website:

    In the spring of 1980, Karen made a traveling survey of the refugee camps of the world. She went to interpret the pain and suffering of these people; instead they showed her the meaning of her own life—and of yours and mine.

    There in the crowded refugee warehouses, Karen saw the beauty common to us all. The wonder of birth. the sacredness of words— "I love you," "I'm sorry," "I want you." And the joy of a welcome home: the glad clamor of hello as a new group of refugees arrive at a camp, resurrected from death and despair to begin again.

    The six-week journey became a pilgrimage through two worlds: the one of the camps and the thousands and the backyard world of home and family.

    Karen wrote:

    "I have lived all my life behind a fragile curtain, formed by the small worlds I know: backyard worlds, the familiar ground of home and work.

    "Illusion is my curtain's name, the illusion that all is well, that I am safe. Neither is it mine alone. . . .

    "We all live behind a curtain of our own illusion. Seeing, we do not see..."

    Several times in my life, I've come face to face with the fragility of that curtain. This past Thanksgiving Day was just such a time.

    Around 6 PM, we were laughing and eating and enjoying the fellowship of our friends Ray and Teri and their children.

    Around 9 PM, we were in the emergency room of a local hospital after Ray collapsed while playing basketball. For hours, we were uncertain if he would live or die.

    Thanks to CPR given to him by his son and a friend of the family, the timely arrival of EMT personnel, and many prayers, Ray is indeed alive today.

    Ray suffered a major heart attack. Yesterday a stent was inserted when an angiogram revealed an artery was 100 per cent blocked.

    While Thursday night we were frightened and tearful, tonight we laughed with Ray and praised God for miracles.

    As I'm sure anyone who has had a heart attack knows, Ray and his family have a long road ahead as they deal with the aftermath of this traumatic physical event. But Ray is with us, he knows us, he is living and breathing and smiling.

    Once again, I am powerfully struck with the immense importance of family, friends, and relationships as we travel this earth.

    This quote from the back cover of The Fragile Curtain sums it up very well:

    "Karen dares us all to look at our own lives: to assess the good-and the bad. To celebrate the joy and the blessing of family life. To be thankful that despite sorrow and suffering we dare to begin again."

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    A Visit to Stockholm Inn

    Our friends Ray and Teri and their family, who live in Dallas, are visiting us for Thanksgiving, and we're having a wonderful time. Today we went to one of our favorite restaurants, the Stockholm Inn.

    The restaurant has a new addition that includes rooms decorated with the artwork of Swedish painter Carl Larsson, and a gift shop full of charming Swedish and other Scandinavian treasures.

    The Stockholm Inn boasts some of the most delicious Swedish pancakes I've ever tasted, and we all thoroughly enjoyed our meal.

    I thought I'd share some pictures from our visit. Enjoy!

    (Click on pictures to view them larger)

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