11 Yesterday morning’s trio went well; when we finished, a baby yelled, “Yay!” and we all laughed. Four hours later, when I got home, my throat was sore and I was very tired, so I fixed some soup and rested for thirty minutes before going on to the matinee.

Where, oddly enough, the same thing happened. After the orchestra’s first bit, a baby in the audience shouted, “Yay!”

The only performances I have left this year are in church, and Master Chorale isn’t meeting the next three weeks. This means that I have no rehearsal tonight. I am relieved.

To answer about the advent wreath… This is a very simple custom. It is not too late to do this, because you can prepare it in under five minutes, for under five dollars. You need three purple candles and a pink one. Depending where you live, you can probably find them in bundles meant for advent; if not, you can just buy cheap candles in the right colors. Sometimes we also use a larger, central white candle to light on Christmas Eve, but often we don’t. It doesn’t matter.

You need to put the candles in a circle. If they will stand up by themselves, that is all you have to do. If they won’t, then you need holders of some kind. Then, either every evening (usually at dinner) or just on the four Sundays of Advent, you light a candle. The first week you light one purple candle, the second week two, the third week two purple and one pink to show that the wait is nearly over, and the last Sunday you light all four. The distinctions among the colors and the symbolism of the various candles and all that are recent innovations, and different people or churches use different things. So you might call the pink one “the angel candle” and the others things like “the shepherd candle,” and so on. We are accustomed to having the Hope candle, the Peace Candle, the Joy Candle, and the Love candle. You might think of the purple candles as penitential colors to remind us that Advent is a feast time, and the pink one as a hopeful reminder in the form of the color of the rose, a traditional Christian symbol. None of these things is really central to the point of Advent, so you can just pick the thing you like best, just as you do with your customs for stockings or Christmas trees.

We have a plain white ceramic wreath shape. We’ve had it for years. Sometimes we use an evergreen wreath. Sometimes we decorate it. If you have flower decorating skills, this can be a wonderful way to show them off, and your wreath will make a lovely centerpiece for your table. Theologically, it doesn’t matter. Here are simple instructions for making an Advent wreath from a styrofoam disk, with verses to read while you light the candles. Here is a slightly less simple one using tea lights. Here’s a really fancy one with embroidery.  Here are prayers to say while lighting the candles. We like to sing a verse from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and that can be the song for the day.

The words are from the 12th century and the tune from 15th century France. It was translated into English in the 1800s by John Mason Neal, and it is therefore his fault that people are so frequently confused by it. The refrain, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel is come to thee, O Israel!” is frequently heard as “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel!”” and then there’s the whole “is come to thee part,” and folks are left wondering what they’re singing. Linda Ronstadt recorded it differently, singing, “Rejoice, rejoice, O Israel! To thee is come Emmanuel.”

Whole crowds of people have recorded this song, and here are a bunch of choices on YouTube. I think that this song is lovely with one voice in the silence, and also terrific with full orchestra and enormous choir in eight parts, so I suggest that you enjoy it today with whatever resources are available to you.

Okay. In today’s following-up spirit, I’ll tell you how The Fattening of America ends. Finkelstein explained the economic reasons for the phenomenon in the first half of the book. In the second half he considered the economic costs of it, in three areas: to individuals, to the society, and specifically with regard to children.

For individuals, he concludes, the costs (monetary and otherwise) of being fat are generally less than those of being thin. That’s why people aren’t getting thinner, he says, and probably won’t. For the society, there are some costs. Health care is higher for the obese, and productivity may be lower. There are extra costs associated with providing larger seats in public places, stronger nurses to lift bigger people, and stuff like that. Finkelstein goes all economist on us at this point and talks about cases of market failure and stuff, but concludes that the government probably ought not to step in and couldn’t do much anyway if it did. This section of the book is interesting, but the overall effect is of a well-supported shrug of the shoulders. Unless we are ready to redesign our cities, subsidize the prices of fresh produce, and institute employer-funded reward systems for weight loss on a very large scale, we can’t expect to see any changes.

When it comes to children, Finkelstein is less laissez-faire. He sees more serious health consequences for kids born in the 80s and later, and has proposals for changes in schools that he thinks would make a real difference. He notes that his ideas aren’t new, and that most communities, under pressure both from No Child Left Behind (which he correctly dubs No Child Let Outside) and from financial constraints, have refused to do any of these things. So he leaves us here with another shrug of the shoulders.

This is a well-written book that should interest those of us who are interested in things like health, economics, the history of agriculture and food science, and public policy. Those who are not interested in these things may find it too fact-stuffed to make good reading. Those who wanted a diet book will get one thing: “Eat less. Exercise more. Keep doing it.” You knew that already.