Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Useful Hymns

This isn't going to be a review, since I'm the author of the book and that would constitute a conflict of interest. I just want to let it be known that one of the projects that has been taking me away from this blog lately is now for sale at Lulu. May I recommend Useful Hymns by yours truly. You can buy it here for $10 a copy.

The Lulu blurb (which I also wrote) describes it as: "100 hymns for worship, prayer, and instruction in the Lutheran home, school, or church. Rich in style and spirituality, the poems, melodies and settings in this book are the fruit of 25 years of work by a theologically trained composer and author. Every hymn is founded on trust in the power of God's promises in Christ."

The texts of the hymns, minus a few corrections I made in the printed proof, can all be found elsewhere in this blog by anyone who has time to search for them. I think the book pulls them together into a pretty attractive package.

It's a coil-bound, 6-by-9-inch paperback, 227 pages in black and white, with each hymn accompanied by a melody (only) and an appendix containing harmonized arrangements of all the tunes in ABC order. The book also features a table of contents listing the hymns by title, a brief preface, an index of hymn texts by first line, and tune indexes by title and meter.

Many of the hymn tunes and arrangements are also my original work, though I used several old tunes that I thought deserved to be revived and I based some of my new tunes on older models. I also harmonized a handful of pre-existing tunes.

The reason I am publishing my collected hymns is that I believe this is the way the church's hymnody should grow, and realistically does grow. I am not convinced the best way to introduce new hymns to the world is to spring them on an unsuspecting church body in a new pew hymnal, having either commissioned them for the book or accepted submissions. This way lies the crop of hymns never seen in print before or since the one hymnal in which they appeared, and seldom used even in that book.

I think the church should tell hymnal editors what the contents of its hymn-book should be, not the other way around; otherwise space is wasted that could have been better used printing a tried and tested hymn. And in my opinion, the place to try them and test them is in a book like Useful Hymns, where an author puts his work out there for the church to judge. Perhaps, God willing, one or two of the hundred hymns in my book will go to the hearts of enough people that the next generation of hymnal editors will see fit to include them.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley
Recommended Ages: 13+

This mystery novel won a Debut Dagger Award for its author and has become the first of at least seven Flavia de Luce novels, from its immediate sequel The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag to the 2015 release As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. I took time out of Patrick Taylor's Irish Country series to enjoy the audiobook read by Jayne Entwistle. For lovers of mystery, kid-friendly fiction that does not talk down to children, and the romance of the English countryside circa 1950, it's the total package. I was fully entertained and hope, provided I can find them in the library, to read the rest of the series in order.

Eleven-year-old Flavia lives in her family's old baronial estate with her two older sisters, her absent-minded widower father, and a shell-shocked family retainer named Dogger. Besides them, her daily circle also includes a plump pious neighborhood woman who comes in to cook the meals. Her passion is chemistry, especially the concoction of poisons. But when a dying stranger blows his last poison-scented breath into her face one morning in the cucumber patch, Flavia switches tracks and becomes a sleuth. She has to prove, for one thing, that her father is innocent of the crime for which the police have arrested him.

It all ties together with the death of a boys' schoolmaster thirty years ago and the theft of a rare postage stamp. What it all has to do with Father, and who really done it, is going to be hard for Flavia to prove when she doesn't have the police's access to the physical evidence. All she has is old newspapers, chats with people who have no idea what they witnessed, and a strange discovery among the dead man's luggage. As she pushes closer to the truth, she finds herself in terrible danger, from the treacherous roof-tiles of a bell tower where a murder took place to the pit at the bottom of a shed where a killer holds her in his power.

Flavia's vulnerability made my heart go out to her. Her strength and spirit made me cheer for her. Her touch of evil genius made me a little afraid of her. And her keen mind made her an extraordinary crime-solver, especially for her age. The mystery is very straightforward, set in a novel whose simple structure never tries the reader's patience or wastes the reader's time. And yet it takes time to be funny, informative, touching, and as its well-shaped climax emerges, more and more intense. I have high expectations for the whole series.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

'Our pay is puppy kisses,' says Weigel

Here is a feature story I wrote for the newspaper that could not be printed due to lack of space and the low priority set on it by the fact that the subject of the story had been written about more than once in the last handful of years. Oh, well. I thought it was a good story, so may it live on here!
Carol Sue Weigel accepts a puppy kiss from Thor, a three month old Labrador-shepherd mix, Tuesday, Dec. 30 at the Stover Animal Shelter. Thor’s adoptive family returned him for a refund due to sickness. “He’s fine now,” said Weigel.
Many people may not know it, but Osage Valley Animal Rescue, Inc., of Stover - also known as the Stover Animal Shelter - is the only organization in Morgan County that finds homes for abused, neglected, abandoned and stray animals.

Its closest colleague is the STAFF Animal Shelter in Sunrise Beach, across the Camden County line. There was an Animal Orphanage in Versailles, but it went out of business.

Carol Sue Weigel, director and president of the board at the Stover shelter, said as of Wednesday, Dec. 31, her organization had placed 2,100 animals in either adoptive homes or shelters in bigger cities where they stood a better chance of being adopted.

She related the story of a coon hound whose new owner didn’t think he could hunt since he had been neutered. “Try him and if he doesn’t work out, we’ll give you a refund,” Weigel told him. The owner tried the dog out at a treeing contest, and he won.

“Of course he won,” Weigel laughed. “He didn’t have anything else on his mind!”

Weigel grew up on a farm surrounded by hounds and horses. Her father, Clarence Burkee, was an auctioneer at the sale barn in Versailles, and he kept fox hounds.

This may explain Weigel’s close connection with animals. At age 76 she still counts hunting, fishing, and handling animals among her hobbies.

She continued to ride horses until a few years ago. 2014 was the first time in 51 years she didn’t go deer hunting. Her last kill, two years ago, was a 10 point buck.

As for her own pets, she said, “I’m down to three dogs and one cat.”

Those are besides the two rooms of puppies and kittens she cares for at the shelter, plus the large basement kennel for smaller dogs, plus the shaded outdoor pen for larger dogs, all nestled beneath a thrift shop off Highway 52 at the west end of Stover.

Folks as close as Versailles may not know it’s there. But people regularly travel from Kansas City and St. Louis to adopt pets there. Many of them find their future furry friends through photos and descriptions posted on, a nationwide animal adoption website.

“I’ve had people drive here from Minnesota for adoptions,” said Weigel. “I’ve had them drive from Chicago. I’ve had them drive from Tulsa, Okla.”

A map in the thrift shop upstairs bristles with pushpins showing places where animals have gone from the Stover shelter. When last checked there were pushpins in 38 states, plus two in Canada.

Many of the adoptions have been local, but an important part of the shelter’s mission has been to move as many pets as possible to rescue groups that can put them on a faster track for adoption.

“Some dogs have been here as long as two years,” said Weigel.

They come to the shelter in a variety of ways.

Some animals are left on the shelter’s doorstep. Others are found abandoned in the country and brought in by concerned residents, or caught running wild by law enforcement. Many feral kittens have been collected from live traps. And occasionally a pet owner dies and leaves the animals behind.

Then there are the sad cases when a family can’t, or won’t, care properly for their pets. Weigel said she has been to court to testify against people whose abused and neglected animals she helped.

Weigel and her coworkers take the animals in, bathe them, give them flea tablets and vaccine shots, worm them, and have them spayed or neutered. Sick animals also get treated by a vet.

Beyond that, it’s amazing what regular food, water, and cleaning of the pen can do for the health and happiness of a pet.

One of Weigel’s favorite success stories featured an abandoned Chihuahua named Miracle - actually the name on her vaccination tags when she was rescued. The name became more appropriate afterward.

Miracle’s hind legs had been amputated due to a birth defect. When she was rescued, neglect had left her flea infested, and her leg stumps had open wounds.

By the time Miracle was adopted on Christmas Eve 2012, Weigel said, “She turned into the most loving little dog you ever wanted to see.”

The dog’s forever friend, Patricia Kirscht of Ford City, Pa., fitted Miracle with wheels to replace her hind legs. Miracle went on to become a therapy dog spreading affection and cheer to patients at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital in Kittanning, Pa.

Finding homes and rescues to house the animals is a big part of the shelter’s mission.

“Thank God for Katie and Jennifer,” Weigel said, speaking of two women in the Kansas City area who spend a lot of time arranging to move dogs to rescue groups such as Secondhand Hounds in Minnesota.

Another organization called Care Transport provides a connection between Kansas City and Denver, Colo. Many dogs from Stover have been placed in Colorado rescues over the years.

Some rescue groups specialize in finding homes for particular breeds. For example, there are rescues catering to basset hounds, retrievers, Labradors, and border collies.

Some of these rescues rely on families to foster animals awaiting adoption. Now and then, a foster animal becomes a permanent pet. Weigel said this is happening right now with a Wyoming woman, who had fostered a former Stover dog on behalf of a rescue group in Colorado.

Even with the help of other groups and concerned individuals, caring for so many animals costs a lot of money and manpower. How have Weigel and the shelter’s other friends kept it going these last eight years?

“The biggest helps,” Weigel said, “have been donations from generous animal lovers, and good volunteers.”

As a 501-c3 non-profit organization, the shelter does not have to pay taxes, and major donations and estate endowments can be claimed as tax deductions.

Weigel opened her pocketbook and showed some of the donation checks received over the past week. One came from a couple in Lee’s Summit. Another came from an organization in Tucson, Ariz. that had adopted one of the shelter’s dogs. Then there was a check from a couple in Smithton.

Adoption fees bring in a little income, but $95 is cheap compared to the $150 or more some shelters charge. It’s even cheaper considering it includes the cost of spaying or neutering the animal, or at least a voucher for part of the cost of the procedure if the animal is too young to be fixed when adopted.

When dogs are given up for adoption, or shipped from other towns without rescues of their own, the shelter asks for a donation, though it isn’t mandatory.

The shelter has a contract with the City of Stover to handle strays the police pick up. It has also taken more than 200 dogs from the Versailles city pound.

The shelter is also partly supported by the thrift shop upstairs.

Aside from that, keeping the shelter solvent is largely a matter of cost control.

“We’re an all volunteer group,” Weigel explained. “Our pay is puppy kisses.”

The dedication of the shelter’s board and volunteer staff give her hope the shelter will continue even when she can’t be there.

When Weigel slipped and broke her hip in December 2013, she worried what would happen to the shelter while she was laid up. But Elaine Jones, the thrift shop clerk, came to the rescue.

“She stepped right in and was a big help,” said Weigel. “I don’t know what we’d have done without her.”

Another hopeful sign, she said, is that the shelter has a good board of directors. Besides Elaine and herself, the members include Rick Everhart, Doug Catliff, and Barb Ulmer.

“They’re all animal lovers,” said Weigel.

It also helps that the Warsaw Veterinary Clinic gives them a price break on spay-neuter services. Other organizations they work with, such as Care Transport, offer their services for a donation as small as $10.

Even the building that houses the thrift shop was a freebie. Built in two sections in 1968 and 1986, it served as the Scrivner-Morrow Funeral Home until the owners decided to demolish it and rebuild.

Weigel said she discussed it with Honey Scrivner and Doug and Jamie Morrow, and they offered to donate the building if she could have it moved before the demolition date.

With the help of a Foristell company called Expert House Movers, the building was moved in July 2009 to its present site at 709 West Fourth Street. At first it was propped up on stilts while the basement under it was dug and poured.

After a few adjustments to make it all fit together, the thrift shop opened in the old funeral parlor. Meantime the downstairs area was furnished with a raised tub for bathing animals, an office and supply room, and roomy cages and pens for the dogs and cats.

A rack on the wall displays a a wide variety of collars, harnesses and leashes for adopting families to take home with their new pet.

Among the striking pets awaiting adoption Tuesday, Dec. 30 were a Maine coon-Siamese mix cat and a basset hound-cocker spaniel mix dog.

Adoptions are for life. Families thinking about adopting a pet should think seriously about the responsibility before making the commitment.

There is a two week guarantee on adoptions. “If it doesn’t work you, you get your money back,” said Weigel.

But she also said she would think twice about letting a family adopt again after it returned an unwanted animal.

Rescued dogs and cats must be spayed or neutered by state law. Pets under six months old may be adopted though they are too young to be fixed. The voucher they come with is an incentive to have the procedure done when the time is right.

The Stover shelter opened in January 2006, one month after the Warsaw Animal Shelter closed its doors, because Weigel saw a need for another animal shelter in the area.

Even then, she said, “We knew the Versailles shelter was in trouble.”

Now the county’s only licensed rescue organization, it takes in animals from surrounding counties as well.

Staffed by volunteers, supported by donations, the Stover shelter has nonetheless kept its lights on for eight years. It’s labor intensive, but those who know say it’s worthwhile.

“It’s the joy you see in the people’s faces,” said Jones, “and the little animal as they go out the door together.

“Their tails are wagging, and even though they’ve never seen this person before, they know instantly: this is their person.”

Monday, January 12, 2015

Left on Layout Room Floor

This week quite a few of my photographs, and a couple submitted ones, were left over after The Morgan County Press of Stover, Mo., was put together. I hate to complain, but a large amount of feature writing was also set aside for another week, some of it for the second week running. We didn't have enough pages to print them. Buy ads, folks!

Back to school: High school seniors Autumn Batson, left, and Shannon Miller get back into the routine between periods Tuesday, Jan. 6, the first day of class in the new year at Morgan County R-I school in Stover.

Same teacher, new name: The nameplate outside language arts teacher Tracy Hull’s classroom at Morgan County R-I elementary school in Stover shows a different name than last year. Formerly known as Mrs. Todd, Hull remarried in October 2014.

Kindergarteners Gabby Sidebottom, left, Gage Hayes and Blake Nairn look happy to be back in school Wednesday, Jan. 7 in Debbie Verhague’s K-1 class at St. Paul Lutheran School in Stover.

Markie Lampkin, standing, an instructional technology coach at the St. Clair R-XIII school district, shows Stover elementary school teachers how to use Google for Education applications during the teacher work day Monday, Jan. 5 at Morgan County R-I school in Stover.

Second story men: Forklift operator Ray Sparks delivers part of a bath fixture to Ryan Hood, left, David Carpenter, Tim White and Mike Carter of Mid-State Construction Thursday, Jan. 8. The men are working on a second-floor addition to Greg Sidebottom’s house at 206 East First St. in Stover.

An Irish Country Village

An Irish Country Village
by Patrick Taylor
Recommended Ages: 14+

The second of ten novels in the Irish Country series concerns a few weeks in the 1960s in the Northern Ireland village of Ballybucklebo, where newly minted physician Barry Laverty has successfully completed his probationary period as assistant to the town doctor, a force of nature named Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly.

Trouble comes early to the young general practitioner. The widow of a patient who died shortly after Barry misdiagnosed a brain bleed is threatening to sue, but the autopsy results showing what actually caused the man's death are slow in coming. If the case goes to court, Barry's practice may be finished before it really begins. Plus, the girl he loves is taking an exam for a scholarship to Cambridge, making Barry uncertain whether he wants to stay. And then there's the little affair of the Black Swan, also known as the Dirty Duck - a local watering hole that holds the community together. Only its 99-year lease is up for renewal, and the greedy guts who owns the place is thinking about converting it into a tourist trap.

Barry handles his crises by throwing himself into his work and proving, with patient after patient, to be a terrific doctor. He correctly diagnoses a rare muscle disease. He saves an unwed mother from bleeding to death when her pregnancy miscarries. He scores an appointment with a specialist for a man suffering from Parkinson's disease. And he plays a role in curing a local girl of eczema brought on by workplace stress.

The tale is told with humor, romance and uniquely Irish charm. John Keating's skillful audio-book reading doesn't hurt one bit. And as a special bonus for audio-book readers, there's an epilogue narrated by the doctors' delightful housekeeper Maureen "Kinky" Kincaid, including several recipes for traditional Irish dishes enjoyed by her charges in this book. I want to try the soda farls!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Aaaand More Harmonizations!

Here are the rest of the new hymn tunes by yours truly, and their harmonizations...
This tune goes with a paraphrase of Luther's morning and evening prayers.

This tune is for, duh, a hymn about baptism.

This tune is for a hymn meditating on the church's inheritance in Christ.

This tune is named after a rural parish my father served as pastor for a decade.

This tune is for a Palm Sunday hymn.

This is a tune for a paraphrase of Job 3:20-26.

This tune was written for a paraphrase of the Athanasian Creed.

This tune, named after my 10 year old nephew, was written way before he was born for a hymn about instructing children in the faith. Its original title honored a saintly old lady I knew at the time.

This tune is for a hymn about, like, remnant theology.

This tune is named after a line that occurs several times in the hymn text it was written for.

This tune is for a paraphrase of Psalm 95.

This tune is for a hymn about the Trinity.

This is the tune for the hymn on Christ as "prophet, priest, and king."

Still More of My Harmonizations

Here are more of the hymn tunes I wrote for the final expansion of my book Useful Hymns, of which I just ordered a proof copy from Lulu this morning. With the exception of ERSTANDEN IST they are all melodies that I wrote and harmonized within the span of about a week on either side of Christmas. For what it's worth, 75 percent of my harmonization of ERSTANDEN IST is a realization of a bass line written by Michael Praetorius.

My composing process was pretty unromantic. I sat down in front of the computer with the file of hymn texts in front of me, worked out how the rhythm should go, hummed a tune to fit it, and typed it straight into Microsoft Word without passing the piano or collecting $200. I spent parts of two evenings in front of the TV with my parents scribbling the tunes down on musical notation paper - 26 of them jammed together on 5 single-sided sheets - then spent a good part of my four-day Christmas weekend harmonizing them and typing them into Finale.

The mechanics of getting the music into the hymnal were the biggest challenge. Because the melody font wouldn't embed properly, I had to copy and paste the tunes from Word into Paint, save them as BMPs, trim them in Photoshop to eliminate extra canvas, drop them into Word and adjust the line breaks and pagination as I went. As for the harmonized arrangements, I printed them as a PDF from Finale, flattened and cropped them in Photoshop, saved them as JPGs, and dropped those into the appendix at the end of the Word document.

So, if the book ends up looking like a hymnal, no thanks whatsoever will be owed to the software engineers who could by now, and long since, have created a straightforward process for doing all this.

And so without further ado, other than trimming the JPGs in Photoshop one last time...
This is for, duh, an Advent hymn.

This is for a hymn depicting Jesus' return as a royal wedding feast.

This is for a paraphrase of Isaiah 55.

This is for a Christian burial hymn.

This is for a paraphrase of Psalm 118.

This is one of two tunes for a Communion hymn I wrote in 1992.

This tune is for a hymn on the Passion of Christ.

This tune's hymn was inspired by a church's mission statement posted above its main entry.

Here's the second tune of that Communion hymn.

This tune is for a paraphrase of Psalm 116.

I adapted this tune to fit two texts with different meters. In one hymn the third phrase ends with the last note of bar 6; in the other, that note is the pickup to the fourth phrase.

This tune is for a hymn on the idea that the church is "in the world but not of the world."

This is the one I didn't write. The Praetorius bass line peters out toward the end of the third phrase.

This tune is for a paraphrase of Psalm 68. More to come...