Memorial Day: A Day for Remembering


Planting corn in Vermont the old fashioned way

Planting Corn the Old Fashioned Way

Memorial Day weekend has always been  one of my favorite holidays.   When I was a child in Vermont it was the time when we could begin to  plant our garden with reasonable expectation that we would have no frost or snow until the next fall.   Although I live in California now and can plant all year round,   I still think of Memorial Day weekend as a time for getting busy in the garden.   Our neighbor down the road from my mother’s house in Vermont will plant some corn using his horse and an antique seeder..and my mother will  plant  petunias  in her barrels beside the house.

petunias ready to be planted in barrels

Don’t plant petunias until after Memorial Day!

Memorial Day was  always the time to take a drive to our grandparents’ farm in Shoreham, Vermont to pick lilacs and deliver them to the small country  cemetery where our forebears are buried.   Driving to visit the East Shoreham Cemetery has become a family tradition for my own children when they go to Vermont.   We have  enjoyed summer  picnics there,  hearing  the stories  that my father would recall about the days when all the neighbors, now buried in that place, knew each other well.   My dad helped take care of that cemetery,  just up the road from the farm where he grew up, and later brought my mother to begin their family.   In 2005 on Memorial Day weekend we buried my father  there too,  near his parents, grandparents and the neighbors whose stories we had heard so many times.  Each Memorial Day I wish we lived closer, so we could pick the lilacs and decorate the stones in the East Shoreham Cemetery like we used to do.

East Shoreham Cemetery

Memorial weekend in 1977 was the time when I was packing my car to move out to California for graduate school after a particularly long and snowy  winter.    Just as the weather was turning warm and sunny in Vermont, my younger brother and  I drove all the way across the United States to learn  that California has “June Gloom” instead of the warm sunshine we had anticipated.   Expecting to return to Vermont, I didn’t realize at the time that many Memorial Days would pass before I would be back in my home state once again  for that special weekend.

purple lilacs beginning to bloom

Purple Lilacs Bloom for Memorial Day

For Vermonters, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer.    It’s a great time to visit the state, as craftsmen and artisans hold the semiannual Open Studio Weekend.   Signs point the way to wonderful workshops and home galleries,  where artists,  potters, jewelry makers, woodworkers and makers of the beautiful crafts  made in Vermont offer to meet visitors on this special weekend.  School will be out in a few weeks and the delicious anticipation of warm sunshine and wild strawberries is in the air!

This holiday used to be called “Decoration Day” because it was a day of remembrance for those who died in service to our country and the graves of those who served would be decorated with American flags.    The little country cemeteries in Vermont are freshly mowed,  and brand new American flags  flutter in the breeze.    Gravestones  dating  back to the American Revolution,  the War of 1812, and the Civil War are decorated, as well as graves from the  more recent wars.   Granite and marble quarries and monuments are a major industry in Vermont, and  the cemeteries themselves are like special galleries of historical art,  places of pride and incredible beauty.  Towns in Vermont  have parades down main streets with high school bands playing patriotic marches,  ending at a stone war memorial in the center of town where speeches will be made and wreaths will be placed.

A few years ago a group of friends from our church choir traveled to France to visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial near Omaha Beach,   where American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II are honored.

Normandy American Cemetary and Memorial

Even though Memorial Day  has become a joyful  holiday celebrated with family reunions,  street fairs and town festivals across the nation,  it’s important to remember how it began and the reason that we celebrate on this day.  We have many more heroes  to honor now who have lost their lives defending our freedom in recent wars.   Young men and women continue to lose their lives in service to our nation every day.   Last year a young cousin, an Army Ranger at age 22, Sgt. Tyler Holtz  lost his life in combat in Afghanistan during his fourth tour of duty.   Many friends and family members attended the memorial at Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego  where the reality of heroism and the price of freedom was made crystal clear to all in attendance.

In this spirit,  I’ll leave you  with  a musical tribute to honor all those who have died and all who continue to serve.   The singers are St. Timothy’s Choir whom I have had the honor of directing since 1987…the very friends who  traveled to France together to visit Omaha Beach in 2009.   The band is the Coastal Communities Concert Band, of which I am proud to be a member, performing at the Center for the Arts in Escondido, Ca. in 2010, directed by Dr. Robert Fleming.   This is “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan by John Williams.




Holiday Sing-a-long Spectacular!

partridge and pear ornaments

Use a bird decoration and pear ornaments to make a Partridge in a Pear Tree for a sing-a-long

A few years ago I found a decorative bird at a discount store next to some large pears that were meant to be hung as Christmas ornaments. I scooped them up to use as props for holiday sing-a-long on “The 12 Days of Christmas”. That year I did several sing-a-longs with groups, and asked one guest to hold up the bird while other guests extended their arms, holding on dangling pear ornament in their fingers. It was a hit! We created pear trees and used cardboard signs to represent all the other characters in the song. Oh, I did buy 5 large key rings, interlocked them and spray-painted them gold. Those 5 Golden Rings were a hit too, especially with sight-impaired participants, who could feel the shapes and twirl the rings around for all to see.

Five Golden Rings

Use key rings sprayed gold and linked together

This year I was determined to find more good props for The 12 Days of Christmas.   In October I started looking for puppets and plush animals to fill each of the characters’ roles.

The two turtle doves were easy to find on They are the Mourning Doves by Audobon Plush and cost about $5 each. They even make cooing sounds when the magic button is pushed. Then came the Three French Hens. I found these on 50% off clearance sale for $12.63 each at These are best used as puppets (raise them on hands) rather than hats, as men aren’t crazy about wearing chickens on their heads while singing holiday songs in public.

Three French Hens puppets

Use the Chicken Hats as puppets for Three French Hens

Next I found the Four Collie Birds. Many think the words are “Four Calling Birds”, but I learned by researching that these are actually 4 black birds, or ravens, called Collie Birds (think black as coal.) I found mini-Raven finger puppets at for $5.60 each. Usually I give them to four ladies, who can make them flutter all together at the right time in the song.

Four Collie Birds

Raven finger puppets are the Four Collie Birds

So now I had all the characters up to the Five Golden Rings. What to do about the rest of the verses? So I started looking online and found a wonderful artist in Australia who has provided all of the characters as printables. You can print them in black and white to color yourself, or you can print them in her wonderful artistically colored versions. She has given me permission to share her site with you here. Scroll down to the “Christmas” directory and you’ll find all the characters of the song.



My daughters went out and found some wooden tulips on dowels at Michael’s craft store for 26 cents each, and I used those to make stick puppets from Beccy’s art work.

base for making puppet

Use wooden dowel purchased at craft store as puppet base

I printed her gorgeous pictures onto card stock, reversing the images in Photoshop when necessary to make both sides of the puppet. I mounted them on foam core, and then onto the wooden tulips with two-sided craft tape. Then I added glittery bows made of tuille that I found on sale at Joanne’s Fabrics and Crafts.

stick puppets

Stick puppets made with art from

The puppets have been so much fun! Here is a photo of the Glenaires chorale at their holiday show with all their props. When I get the video of their presentation, I’ll add it to this post.

Glenaires Chorale

The Glenaires’ Holiday Concert using 12 Days of Christmas puppets

A family who takes piano lessons from me also used the props with their brother playing the song. Here’s a video of “The Jingle Brothers and Grandma” doing The Twelve Days of Christmas!

Last week  our church choir visited a convalescent hospital and had a hilarious time presenting this song. Some of the patients were able to sing with us and take part in the fun with the puppets.   Families who love to sing could make puppets, adding every year until they had a full set.  What a wonderful holiday tradition for children of all ages!

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