Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Our evening with The Tenors

(this is a publicity photo -- though I would have liked to have taken this shot!)

Our family are huge fans of The Tenors (formerly The Canadian Tenors).  Their Christmas CD "The Perfect Gift" is the one that gets played the most in our home at Christmastime; Jonathan even asked me to put it on earlier this week!

Back in the fall when I saw ads in the paper that they were coming to Kingston in February, I'd say, "Ooh, the Tenors are coming."  It wasn't exactly a hint (although I was definitely thinking we should consider going), but Richard took it as one, and on Christmas morning, he presented me with two tickets.  I cried!

Last night was the concert.  Rich's mom, and her niece who's visiting her, came over for the evening to look after the kids, which was a gift in itself.  And the performance was  wonderful.  I felt so proud of "our" Canadian guys -- humble, personable men from all different parts of our country.  They each had a chance to tell a bit of their own story and how they got into singing:  one is a Newfoundlander from a musical family; one had a mother who sang and a father who listened; one was coerced by an overzealous dad into singing at church; and one did his first performance inside a bathroom stall (an operatic rendition of "spaghetti bolognese" and other Italian dishes) while his female friends stood outside listening.  Whatever their individual journeys to where they are now, the result is truly awesome.  Their voices are powerful and pitch-perfect, and their harmonies are glorious.

(The Tenors:  Fraser, Victor, Remi, and Clifton.
This is the best pic I could get - excuse the distracting head of the person in front of us)

They performed quite a varied repertoire:  from operatic pieces like "O Sole Mio" and "Nessun Dorma" to pop numbers like Elton John's "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word" and Canadian favourites like the Rankin Family's "Fare Thee Well, Love."

For me the most awesome part was the last section.  Fraser Walters did a beautiful, prayerful solo of "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables; the audience responded with a standing ovation.  Then he launched into "Amazing Grace":  his fellow Tenors sang their parts from different sections of the arena before rejoining him onstage.  And they closed with what is probably their most popular number:  Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."  This song has been covered so often that it's in danger of becoming a cliche, but their version is so fresh and strong, with each Tenor taking a verse before they join at the end.  When their voices harmonized on the last verse it was so beautiful and worshipful:

And even though it all went wrong,
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

Thanks, Tenors, for a wonderful evening.  Hope you come back to Kingston very soon!!

(row eleven - great seats!)

Monday, February 25, 2013

"You're amazing!"

I don't know if this has anything to do with my "looking for the good" pledge or not -- but today as I walked downtown I saw the most heartwarming little scene.

L'Ecole Cathedrale (the small Catholic elementary school downtown) is right next to a busy one-way street.  The kids were out on the tiny playground for recess, and some boys were playing soccer.  One of them kicked the ball and it went flying over the fence and out onto the street (which probably happens at least once a day).  Two guys were walking past on the sidewalk, and one of them, a young man in a big brown parka with the hood up,  dashed out on the street to retrieve it.  The oncoming cars all slowed down, and there was no honking -- it was as if this was just a matter of course.

The young man lobbed the ball back toward the schoolyard, but unfortunately ... it landed in a tree just outside the fence.

Without hesitation, he plunged into the big pile of mushy snow under the tree and then climbed the tree, got the ball out, and tossed it down to them.

The kids all yelled, "Thank you!  You're amazing!  You're amazing!" while he stood there on the sidewalk, leaning against his friend while he took off each of his running shoes to dump the snow out of it. 

I was struck by the huge grin on the guy's face.  It made me wonder when the last time was that he'd been called amazing.  For that moment, he was a hero.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"We don't even have to try -- it's always a good time!"

When I was reading the newspaper a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a list of the five most downloaded pop songs of that week -- and I knew all of them. What does that mean?  Well, for one thing, it means I have a 14-year-old daughter.  For a while there, Allison was spending almost every moment between after-school and bedtime listening to the radio.  (She even did her homework with the radio on, which seems like it would be awfully distracting -- but I did exactly the same thing at her age, so I can't really complain.)  Anyway, we quickly became very familiar with all the songs.  Allison doesn't seem to mind that her parents know the songs she likes; she even seems to enjoy it when we say (jokingly) things like, "Jonathan, I knew you were trouble when you walked in."  (Apologies to Taylor Swift.)

I'm a sucker for a catchy tune, so one song I enjoy is a fun, playful, innocent number called "Good Time" by Carly Rae Jepsen and Adam Young (a Christian musician who's also known as "Owl City").  It's not profound, just an upbeat song about getting together with your friends and having a -- wait for it -- good time.  The chorus is simple:

Good morning and good night
I wake up at twilight
It's gonna be all right
We don't even have to try --  it's always a good time.

I was thinking about these lyrics for a couple of reasons.  One is that, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm re-reading Pride & Prejudice as part of a synchro-read with Classical Quest.  And it really struck me how Jane, the oldest Bennet sister, has a natural tendency to see the good in everyone and everything.  I'm certainly not like that:  my habitual first reaction to many things is to be critical and judgmental.  So when I was considering whether I should give up anything for Lent, I decided, "No, I'm not going to give up something, I'm going to do something.  I'm going to look for the good, like Jane."

I'm finding it's not that easy.  Maybe it's because my habitual first reaction is to be critical and judgmental (did I already mention that?).  But I'm working on it.  And today I had a neat encounter.  I was heading downtown and had to stop at a mailbox to mail a letter for an elderly neighbour.  A woman was standing near the mailbox waiting for a bus; as I stepped past her she said, "Hi, how are you?" It was apparent that she was developmentally handicapped.  I said, "Good, how are you?"  I posted my letter, and as I went to leave she said, "Bye now, you have a good day."  I wished her the same and turned away with a smile on my face.

Then I realized, some people (like this woman, and Jane Bennet, and Jonathan) really don't have to try.  It's not a huge effort for them to look on the bright side or give the benefit of the doubt.  For them, life is good, and everyone they meet is a friend.  It's always a good time!

This was another good reminder to be more accepting, more open-minded, and less inclined to judge.  Maybe it's possible for this mindset to become as natural as breathing, not a forced effort.  I still have 33 more days to go in Lent, so maybe I'll find that out.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Her "hour upon the stage," and his hour at the dentist

A couple of recent experiences reminded me of what I probably already knew:  that I should never assume what my kids are thinking or capable of.

Allison and I attended a meeting at school to make some tentative course choices for next year.  The teacher who coordinates the Challenge program was helping us with this process, and she was very gentle and encouraging with Allison.  After inputting the required courses she asked Allison about some electives:  "What about French?"  Allison looked thoughtful and said, "Maybe," so the teacher put it in as a possible option.  Then she asked if there was anything Allison was especially interested in.  I forced myself not to make suggestions but just to let her go with her own preferences.  Allison's eyes lit up, a huge smile spread across her face, and she said, "I think I might like to take Drama!"

Although Allison is very quiet and often lacks self-confidence, she does very well when she has to speak or perform in public, so drama's actually a good fit.  She's excellent at memorization, and she likes the structure of knowing exactly when it's her turn and what she's expected to do and say.  Last year her class put on "Macbeth," and although her role was very minor she put her heart and soul into it and was walking on air after the performance was over.  I should clarify that in fact she had two small roles, both of which involved her being stabbed to death onstage (in one instance she was dragged offstage by her feet).  I hope she can break out of that typecasting niche in any future roles she may have, or her dramatic career may be a bit limited!  But I was proud to see that she had the confidence both to want to take a drama class and to speak up and say, "This is something I think I'd like to try."

Jonathan also surprised me this past week.  I had to take him to the dentist because of a cavity, and although he'd been to this dentist 2 or 3 times before for checkups, I had no idea how this more invasive appointment would go.  Of course, few kids actually enjoy dentist visits!  But Jonathan's behaviour can be especially challenging when he's insecure about the situation, and because he can't communicate everything he's thinking and feeling (or communicates it by yelling and screaming).

The first task was X-rays, which the dentist had never been able to get from him before.  Jonathan must have found it uncomfortable having that big plastic thing shoved in his mouth and keeping still, but he cooperated and let her get four X-rays.  The cavity proved to be quite deep, and the dentist just wasn't sure how he would take to having it filled.  One option was to book him to have the work done at the hospital under general anesthetic -- which would mean several months' wait, plus an anesthesiologist consultation because of his seizures, not to mention the cost.  Finally we decided to give it a try in the office.  If he could handle the freezing, she'd either fill or pull the tooth, depending on how he was responding; if he couldn't, then obviously the hospital route would be the default option.   "By the way, the Lidocaine could slightly lower his seizure threshold," the dentist said as she prepared the equipment.  Yikes....

Well, Jonathan did it!  He let her stick that big mouth-prop apparatus into his mouth; he submitted to the needle; he let her put the clamp around the tooth -- every one of which I absolutely hate when I go to the dentist -- and while one of the staff regaled him with stories about her new kitten and her daughter's Valentine cupcakes, he lay there submissively while his tooth was filled.  The dentist was very pleased, and I was so proud of Jonathan.  In fact, the only time he cried was when he came home and we wouldn't let him have a snack because his mouth was numb.  A couple of hours later he ate a huge supper as if nothing had ever happened.

So the lesson is:  when it comes to kids, never assume, and never underestimate.  Actually, that's a good lesson when we're dealing with anyone of any age, I suppose.  None of us likes to be pegged and told, "This is who you are and we don't expect anything different."  In the end, we want to be the ones who'll decide who we are and what we can do, whether that's being an actress or a cooperative patient!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Let us love one another"

to my family.

Lest you think this is going to be a rose-coloured description of our family's Waltons-esque perfection, I should confess that the picture below is closer to what we look like at times:

... like at Sunday lunch, when Jonathan was snooping around the hot pots on the stove instead of going to wash his hands like I'd asked him to do five times already, and in the course of the table-setting process I believe I actually said, with no ironic intent, the words "What is this -- the Spanish Inquisition?"  Ouch.  We ended up saying grace through gritted teeth. 
But I do love my family:

Richard, my #1 Valentine.  To the world Richard is a talented athlete, a dedicated volunteer, and a skilled nurse and nursing instructor.  To me he's a great friend and to the kids he's a great dad.  He and I do things together, but we also have our separate interests and pursuits. I walk, he runs.  I write and blog, he collects stamps.  I cook, he eats.  :-)  We enjoy one another's company.  I can't imagine being married to anyone else.  Happy Valentine's Day, hon!  xo xo

Allison, my sweet daughter:  avid reader, excellent writer, super game-player, and infectious giggler.

And Jonathan:  yellow-blue-red champion, jigsaw-puzzle master, great cuddler, proud owner of world's cutest smile (dimples included).

Valentine's Day isn't about flowers or chocolate.  Correction: maybe it is kind of about chocolate.  But mostly it's about love.  

"Dear friends [and family!]:  
let us love one another, for love comes from God."
I John 4:7

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thankful: "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!"


again already!

I'm thankful for books.  I've been reading steadily so far this year.  I just finished Robert Goolrick's novel Heading Out to Wonderful.  It's about a mysterious loner who comes to a small Virginia town and befriends a small boy and his parents.  He also falls in love with a young married woman; the fact that we sense from the outset that their love is doomed still doesn't prepare us for the violence that occurs.  This book has a strong religious undercurrent and is full of Biblical echoes, but I'm not sure that was enough for me to find the book (and particularly the love affair and what it seemed to symbolize) truly satisfying.

I'm also going to join my friend Adriana (who blogs at Classical Quest) this Thursday as she starts up a "synchro-read" of Pride and Prejudice.  A synchro-read is where a bunch of people all read the same book at the same time.  I feel like I should be doing something to prepare:  like learning to like tea (sorry, never happen), saying things like "I am excessively diverted," or trying on bonnets.

And I think I'm thankful to be having the somewhat strange experience of reading Beth Moore's Believing God and re-reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts at the same time.  At first it seems to be such an odd mix.  Ann uses earthy, raw images; Beth uses snappy one-liners.  Ann talks about the daily grind of parenting; Beth talks about claiming the promises and increasing our personal level of sanctification.  I envision Ann with her hands in a bowl of bread dough; I envision Beth with her French manicure wrapped around the handle of a sword (and she's gonna use it!).

I think Beth Moore is the kind of writer whose book would be better appreciated if you heard her read it in person.  I've seen her on TV and enjoyed her; the realness of her larger-than-life personality comes through in her live presentations in a way that her books can't quite reproduce.  So as we're reading her book in my church women's group, we're constantly saying, "I wish she'd give an example.  I wish she'd say what she means by 'Our current practice of faith isn't working' rather than assuming we all agree and implying that it looks the same for all of us."  (It's also possible that she's written about her own experience in previous books and doesn't want to repeat all that, but I really do miss personal anecdotes and examples.)  If I was watching her present this material I might have an easier time grasping it, whereas with Ann's book I find it easy to sink into the words and feel exactly what she's feeling. 

But I think the combination of the two is really helpful -- because actually they are saying very much the same thing in their different styles.  Ann's starting point is the poisonous danger of ingratitude, unwillingness to accept what God gives, and lack of trust.  ("No, God, we won't take what You give....And God?  Thanks for nothing.")  And that's exactly what Beth is getting at in her title Believing God:  it's one thing to believe in Him, but another to really trust Him and live in faith that He is who He says He is, and I am who He says I am.  ("Are the few effects most of us see and experience all Christianity has to offer?  Is this it?  All we can expect?")  So yes -- I am thankful that I'm reading these books together.  There must be a reason for it!

Friday, February 08, 2013

"And since we've no place to go ... "

"... let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

Today we're having a snow day.  All school buses are cancelled, which means Allison can stay home (though really, she could walk ... really, she could ... naah).  Jonathan has a bad cough, so he wouldn't have been going anyway.  Rich has the day off.  Time to hunker down and enjoy the luxury of being able to stay inside on a stormy day.

In memory of many childhood snow days, I thought I'd post this picture today:  it's not my house, but my family home in Prince Edward Island.  And yes, it does kind of look like Green Gables.  My brother took this photo one morning several years ago.  Last time we were in PEI, I just took a photo of the photo (hence the white spot at the top -- that's the reflection of my flash).  I love this picture.  The light in the windows is so warm, and I like how the tree is standing with a little help from a pole to prop it.

And here's the Little House on the Circle this morning!  The weather doesn't look too frightful in this picture but the forecast is for lots more snow and wind.  It's a great day to be safe and warm inside.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Thankful Tuesday: or "I thought squirrels ate nuts!"

On the blog  Mama: Monk by Micha Boyett, every Tuesday is

so I thought I'd participate today!  I'm thankful:

- that our phone is working again.  We had no phone and spotty internet for 3 or 4 days last week.  It turned out the main cause was a wire that had been chewed by a squirrel (or as a t-shirt I saw once put it, "one of Nature's speed bumps").
- that Allison is happily starting a new semester of high-school courses this week:  French, Science, Music, and Healthy Active Living (what we used to call Phys.Ed. or Gym back in the day.)
- that our family's had a very healthy winter so far.
- for my groups:
*writer's group (we've been meeting for nearly 5 years, during which I've written a dozen short stories, 5 or 10 poems, and a 'tween' novel draft that's still in [sloooooow] progress)
*book club (just had our 17th-anniversary meeting - we discussed T.S. Eliot's "The Four Quartets")
*church women's group (I've attended now for 7+ years - this winter we're doing Beth Moore's Believing God.  A bit outside my zone but it's always good to try new things, right?)
*New Wineskins (little home worship group that's been meeting monthly for 5+ years) .
It's great to talk about ideas, words, and God with other people.