Handel’s Messiah – Take One

Okay, so it’s the morning after the first rehearsal for November’s joint Worthington Symphony Orchestra/ Community Choir performance of Handel’s Messiah and my mind is spinning from my experience last night.

As I walked into the Fine Arts building at Minnesota West I had one thing foremost on my mind: I haven’t sung in a choir for, oh, about 15 years, and what on earth makes me think I’m able to do this? I haven’t got the range I used to have. I haven’t got the breath support, and I’ve never sung this piece of music before so am I even going to be able to learn it and not be a complete voice-cracking fool as I reach for those high soprano notes?

Okay, I guess that was more than one thing, but they were all connected.

I sat down, clutching my pristine copy of the music, and pulled my reading glasses out of my purse. As I did so, I contemplated the fact that last time I sang in a choir I didn’t need glasses. Suddenly I felt old and even more insecure than I had when I walked in the door.

And then John Loy asked for a show of hands of how many people had sung this before. I was sitting in the front row, and I didn’t look back, but it felt like about 90% of the people in the room raised their hands. John was impressed by the number of hands raised. I was frightened.

Then Kerry Johnson, our fearless director for the evening, began leading us in warm ups and I flashed back to my college choir experience. I was in Women’s Chorus, a non-audition choir, because I couldn’t sight read and didn’t have a good audition for the University Singers. I was crushed mostly because I knew I could hear the music once and learn it even if I couldn’t sight read it. And then I flashed back to the present day and began worrying about sight reading and if I was going to be utterly horrible at this first rehearsal and then it was time to begin with the first song and Diane Mick began playing piano and suddenly we were singing!

And even though I couldn’t sight read and even though I hadn’t sung in years and even though I couldn’t hold a note as long as I used to, suddenly I knew I’d be okay because I knew this music! I could reach the notes (most of the time) and I could stagger my breathing with the ladies next to me and I didn’t think that Kerry and John would kick me out because even though I was far from excellent, at least I wasn’t pathetic.

Now I’m not saying that I didn’t have some voice-cracks that a could have made a middle-school boy proud, and I’m still not sure that I can ever hit a high “b” the way I’m supposed to and I’m not sure that it will be pretty if I do…but I am saying that I’m having a lot of fun trying. And to that I say, “Hallelujah”!

The Disheveled Gardener

Last spring I had the fun assignment of sitting at a table in BenLees and interviewing five ladies from the Worthington Garden Club for a story I did for the Daily Globe. That was a hoot. The five of them were so knowledgeable and encouraging. I went home feeling inspired and ready to face the gardening season, despite my previous incompetence in that area.

Flash forward to about a month later. I stood in a greenhouse at Grandpa’s Fun Farm, staring at the rows and rows of herbs, tomatoes, and pansies, trying to decide which ones were worthy of coming home with me. I bought sixteen tomato plants, some parsley and thyme, quite a few pansies and other flowers, and a beautiful red geranium.

Poor doomed plants. Next year when I come into the greenhouse all of the growing things need to play dead and then maybe they’ll escape my black thumb.

Ok, I am exaggerating. A little. But it is true that within two weeks my geranium had suffered Death by Drowning in the adorable teapot I’d planted it in because I hadn’t given it any way to drain. The marigolds were well on their way to a similar death except that I realized their plight and took them out of the adorable TAC Sale find (a roasting pan) and shoved them into an old Weber grill – which comes with a drain all ready and waiting. True, the grill got kicked over later in the summer by an unsuspecting young man, but they survived somehow…or, rather, half of them did.

My tomatoes took off well, but a few weeks into June I realized that I’d forgotten to take precautions against blossom rot and I couldn’t remember exactly what I’d been told to do, anyway. (Note to self: write everything down.)

Around that same time I finally remembered to plant some wildflower seeds I’d optimistically purchased and forgotten all about. I spent some time weeding a spot large enough to take the entire mammoth package of seeds. Then I fertilized the ground, planted the seeds, watered them, and walked into the house only to hear a loud clap of thunder followed by a violent burst of rain which took half of my seeds into Iowa in about three minutes. The other half did grow, but apparently I over-fertilized them as all I got was a jungle of three-foot high stems and leaves and about three pink blossoms two days ago. I think they’re morning glories, but I’m not certain. I noticed today that there are a few…what are they called? Oh yeah, forget me nots.

I planted some sunflowers the same day as the wildflowers, but they were all eaten by rabbits except for one which somehow grew up in the tomato barrel.

My cherry tomatoes have done well. I made a fantastic roasted tomato-basil soup but I had to use dried basil as I forgot about my basil plants and they all went to seed and got smashed up by hail. I thought my large tomatoes had miraculously escaped blossom rot but just this week I see that they have not. Sigh.

I think, when it comes down to it, I ought to stick to theology and forget about gardening. Then again, maybe if I prayed a little more for my plants that would help. Either way, the “disheveled” moniker fits. And, I’m okay with that. A few disheveled plants, plus this disheveled gardener/theologian, and I have a happy summer.

I wonder if I dare plant some bulbs this fall?

First Day of School Photos

I forgot to take a First Day of School Photo. Again. This is, I believe, the 8th year in a row I have forgotten. I remembered the year my oldest child went to Kindergarten. At least I think I did.

There have been some years that I have staged a First Day Photo by taking it in the afternoon. Or the next day. Or the next week. Last year I wasn’t even in town for their first day so I never bothered taking a photo later, figuring that a lost moment is a lost moment and why pretend otherwise. This year I probably won’t bother, either. I suppose that makes me a bad mom, compared to all the together mothers who have First Day photos taken of their kids holding adorable signs declaring the date, their grade, and probably their shoe size.

My father was a semi-professional photographer. It was something he did on the side of his Air Force career. He had a darkroom and would photograph many weddings, graduations and church events on Orcas Island. I remember well the chemical scents that would rush out of his darkroom door when he’d open it after being hard at work. I learned to count by “helping” him count down the seconds that negatives needed to soak in their solution as I heard him counting through that door.

Despite Dad’s propensity for taking pictures, Mom used to complain that, like barefooted shoemaker’s children, there were never enough photos of us, their three daughters, coming out of Dad’s camera. One year, in fact, she got so cross that she took us to the other photographer in town, who happened to be our friend. I wasn’t happy being there and nothing could make me smile until he brought out a little black and white kitten, and I held it for my picture with a smile as wide as the sun.

I’m not sure how Dad reacted to Mom’s treason. They never yelled or fought about anything so I remember nothing traumatic. But I sure do remember holding that kitten.

I do know, for certain, that Dad always took a First Day of School Photo. My favorite is of my sister Jenny and me, in our 1970’s big-collared coats, and I’m holding my favorite Peanuts metal lunchbox. We were smiling, paused on the gravel path on our way to the bus stop. I love that photo. So much expectation. So hopeful. I guess, come to think of it, that I have no proof it was taken on the first day of school. Maybe it was taken on the third. Or the even the fourth?

On second thought, I think I will take a photo tomorrow morning. Because, thirty years from now, no one will know or care that it wasn’t taken on the first day. They’ll just enjoy the results.

I Miss You Already, Robin Williams

When I was ten years old, my greatest ambition was to have a pair of rainbow-striped suspenders, a la Mork, the alien who hailed from the planet Ork on my favorite TV show, Mork and Mindy. Yes, I’m serious. I remember going to the fabric store with my mother and she, bless her heart, inquired as to the availability of rainbow-striped elastic. I can’t remember why we didn’t buy any but I think it may have been because it was out of stock. So apparently there were several other kids running around town who, like me, wanted to be compared to the incomparable Robin Williams.

I have not seen all of his movies over the years, nor did I love every one that I did see, but every time that I happened to catch him being interviewed, I had to stop and watch because he never failed to make me laugh. He always amazed me with his quick wit and his hilarious comparisons. How his mind could fly from one thing to another and make it all uproariously funny! I envied his ability to think on his feet. I can think on my feet to a degree – I actually enjoyed extemporaneous speaking in speech class – but I’m not funny. I don’t have one iota of his ability to make people laugh.

Not many people do.

The truth is, Robin Williams could also make people cry. His movie What Dreams May Come is one of my favorite movies of all time. Perhaps “favorite” is not the right word. It’s too depressing to be a “favorite”. Maybe “most heart-wrenching” would be better. Or “most unforgettable”. Never has a movie made me think more about life, about death, about heaven and hell. About theology, Disheveled or otherwise.

Is it trite to say that the world is diminished because of his loss? It is, trite or not. My heart hurts, thinking that even as he cracked us all up, he was hurting so desperately inside. I pray that I’ll give grace to the next person who irritates me – to the next and the next and the next ad infinitum – because I have no idea what is going on inside of them. Because, even if a person is smiling on the outside, on the inside they may be breaking apart.

Na-Nu, Na-Nu, Mork. I miss you.

Live Music is Even Better than My Deck

So what do you do when you’re sitting out on the deck enjoying a lovely evening and suddenly you realize that the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra concert starts in 17 minutes and you live at least 15 minutes away?

You jump up, shout, “The Concert!” Yell for your daughters to change their clothes, grab your purse, and step on the gas.

We were late. We missed the Star Spangled Banner entirely and we had to listen to Finlandia through the doors. But then we snuck in during the applause, found some seats on the side, and settled down in time for the fantastic performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor which I have loved all my life.

Even through the doors I thought that the orchestra sounded better than I’ve ever heard them, and sitting there in our seats, listening to Joan Mork playing such marvelous piano music along with the orchestra in full form, I was enthralled.

I don’t have a drop of Scandinavian blood in me (that I’m aware of) but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy the Scandinavian-themed concert. (Perhaps my Scottish blood counts for a sort of northern European connection?) I have always loved Grieg and used to imagine trolls tromping around banging things with wooden clubs as I listened to In the Hall of the Mountain King on CBC Radio – the Canadian Broadcasting Company station that was the only station my parents listened to (other than tuning in to Paul Harvey over lunchtime) back on Orcas Island.
That classical station enabled me to pass an entire year of music in college without ever having to crack open the cassettes that came with the textbook. (Cassettes! How old am I, anyway?!)

My parents made sure that, even in such a small town, my classical music education was complete. The Seattle Symphony used to come up to Orcas Island once a year and perform in the school gym. They would set up right there on the floor of the gym – over 100 members of the symphony orchestra with harps, kettle drums, a gong (all the things that kids found so very cool) – and it was amazing and inspiriting to sit and listen to them, even in uncomfortable folding chairs. I remember they played Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume and beat of the music, played just a few feet away from me. I love that piece of music to this day.

It is my hope that my daughters will remember Grieg with such fondness.

Truly, I believe that the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra sounded fantastic. I love live music and hearing the entire 50+ member orchestra fill the auditorium with such marvelous music was the perfect way to spend the evening.

Even better than sitting out on my deck.

Winding Down…and Gearing Up

My youngest daughter just blew me a kiss as she got out of the car for school. Does it get any better than that?

It’s been a good school year for our three kids and now it’s winding down. The MCA tests have all been taken. The field trips are planned. The spelling lists have been completed.

It’s a good thing, because the school lunch account is on zero. And my son’s school shoes got ripped on barbed wire when he was playing capture the flag in the back yard. Not to mention the fact that all of his jeans are wearing out.

Our youngest daughter is on her third pair of shoelaces this year and this pair doesn’t even match her pink and turquoise worn-out tennies. Her clothes are all either too small or too big and she’s ready to live in t-shirts, skirts and flip flops.

Our middle daughter – always the overlooked child, right? – needed a new backpack a month or two ago and thinks that a day is spoiled if she can’t sleep in until at least 9:00am.

Yes, we’re all ready for a break. But, of course, while one thing is winding down the next thing is gearing up. We have a whole list of summer activities.

We’ve got two kids heading to band practice, two kids off to Camp Invention, and all three to Bible camp. Then there’s Family Camp, Summer Reading programs at the Library for our youngest and, oh yes, I almost forgot – backpacking on the North Shore for certain members of the family.

All of this doesn’t leave much time for, well, summer! But it’s all good, right? At least there isn’t homework each night and waking up at 6:15 every morning. We can actually sleep until 7:00!

Back when I was a kid my summer planned activities were limited to Library Reading Hour and swimming lessons. Which I failed. (Learning to swim in algae-infested waters wasn’t my cup of tea.) I remember spending hours on the beach collecting crabs and skinning my knees, and sleeping every night on the deck beneath the stars.

I wonder, sometimes, if my kids have the freedom that I had. If they’re getting to experience the care-free, unscheduled, laid-back summers that I had every year.

The truth is, they’re not. And yet there are so many things I DON’T sign them up for! They could be scheduled from dawn until dusk – and later – every day. But I don’t believe that’s wise. I want them to get up in the morning, yes – and not sleep until noon – but I want them to have time to dig holes in the dirt. To hunt for frogs. To take walks to the lake and sleep in a tent. To read books out on the deck and sip iced tea and pick cherry tomatoes from starts they helped me to plant.

I want them to be kids. After all, my oldest begins high school this fall and he doesn’t have much time left before he’ll want a job and a car and college applications.

So for now, for this summer at least, we’ll play. Time enough to be serious in the future.

Humbled by Awareness

There are moments in our lives which stand out as light bulb moments. Moments where, in an instant, we are not the same people we were when we last breathed in. I had one such moment today, sitting at my favorite table at BenLees, writing a story for an upcoming special edition of The Daily Globe.

The story is about a man – a gentle, sincere spirit – who moved to Worthington from Mexico. This is not an unusual story in Worthington. There are hundreds of similar stories to be found here on the prairie, miles away from the homes of their birth, the land of their blood, their hearts.

But it is this story which has captured my attention. It is this story which has made me realize how blessed I am to have been born a US Citizen, to have grown up in a normal, middle class family, expecting as my right that things would go well with me. That I would grow up to have a job, a husband, children, a cozy home and food on my table. Never having to fear retaliation for my beliefs – political, religious, or philosophical – because here in America we can say what we want, stand up for whatever we choose without fear, firmly believing that the United States Constitution is on our side.

I am under no delusions that life is perfect in the US. That injustice never happens or truth is never suppressed. Nor am I saying that every American grows up to have an ideal life or that, if they don’t have what I have, they are somehow less fortunate. I’m just saying that, for me, my life is pretty darn good and I really can’t complain about anything because – other than growing up to be a famous opera singer, which never did happen – I pretty much have the life I always dreamed of. (Well, I’d like to be a published author without all the bother of being one. One always needs a dream, right?)

What I am saying is that I have taken for granted the assumptions I grew up with, that I hold still. I have taken them for granted because they have been fulfilled. And yet there are people all around me who have worked their whole lives to reach the place I was born to, the rights that are inherent in my birth. This does not make me special or them somehow less than me. Heaven forbid!

On the contrary, it makes them rather amazing in my eyes. Amazing for their perseverance. For their dedication to their goals. I am where I am because I was born to it. They are where they are because they’ve worked their butts off to get here.

I’m embarrassed that I have been so unappreciative for so long.

Their stories are all around us. There is often a huge gulf between “people like me” and “people like them” but there doesn’t have to be. Knowing a person’s story brings understanding and, hopefully, a bridging of that gulf. Knowing a person’s story opens our eyes. Knowing a person’s story takes our focus off of our self-centered selves and places it where it belongs – on others. And then, hopefully, we can figure out where and if we fit into their stories.

I am, truly, overwhelmed. I’ve traveled a lot in my life. Seen a lot of countries, both third world and first. But it’s the story of this man – my neighbor, so to speak – that has opened my eyes.

I am so thankful.

Children Shine On Stage With the Missoula Children’s Theater

One year ago, my daughter did something which she had never been able to do before. We’d wanted to do it before…but something always got in the way – like vacation, or busyness…or my memory.

But then, last January, she finally was able to try out and was in the Missoula Children’s Theater’s production of Hansel and Gretel.

This year, she did it again, playing the role of Martha in MCT’s The Secret Garden here in Worthington at the Memorial Auditorium.

I cannot adequately explain how great this experience is for the kids!
Here’s how it works, for those unfamiliar. Two staff members with MCT lead the production. They travel to different towns – both small and large – to put on these “residency weeks”. The interested kids show up on Monday after school. (Or, as in the case this year in Worthington, on Tuesday because on that Monday all schools across Minnesota were closed due to the extreme cold.) The kids audition and after a short dinner break, they begin rehearsals.

They continue to rehearse every day after school until 8:15 each night.

Then, on Friday and Saturday, they perform. (This year locally they only had one performance, on Saturday, again due to the lack of that Monday’s rehearsal time.)

Canadian Geese...complete with a Canadian vocabulary, eh?

Canadian Geese…complete with a Canadian vocabulary, eh?

The team comes complete with costumes, easy to manipulate and attractive sets, and all the scripts and teaching necessary for the kids to be successful. What emerges is a wonderful performance – funny, age-appropriate, cute-as-all-get-out. Kids from kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible.

It is a fabulous opportunity for kids to gain confidence through inter-personal skills, public speaking skills, and yes, even acting skills! It also gives them experience in theater and even in independence, giving each child a little shove towards self-discipline and self-awareness. They are encouraged through their team work and their personal achievements.

What garden is complete without flowers?

What garden is complete without flowers?

In a town our size, I think that pretty much everyone who auditions gets a part (in fact, they had to cut a few roles this year because there weren’t enough children), but that’s not always the case. However, auditions in and of themselves – even without success at the end – are learning experiences and can be good opportunities in learning how to handle disappointment. Kids need to learn that life doesn’t always give them what they want. The MCT website offers a little wisdom on how to handle the disappointment of a failed audition.

Sheep, foxes, squirrels, and, of course, a robin.

Sheep, foxes, squirrels, and, of course, a robin.

The Missoula Children’s Theater began the early 70’s. It is an international organization. They have around 75 people listed as Tour Staff, meaning that there are approximately 40 teams that travel around, winter and summer.

The Missoula Children’s Theater’s mission statement is,”The development of life skills in children through participation in the performing arts.”

They go on to say this: “MCT…strives to use participation in the performing arts as a vehicle to develop the life skills (social skills, communication skills, self-discipline, a strong work ethic, an understanding of the team concept and self-esteem) necessary to answer the challenges of our time.”

In other words, whatever the skill-level of your child – whether used to performing or compete novices – they can and will grow through the MTC experience.

The humans in The Secret Garden.

The humans in The Secret Garden.

As a parent, it is a thrill to see five intense days culminate in a splendid performance. I encourage everyone, with or without kids in the cast, to attend the show at the end of the week – it’s a great way to encourage the young children of your acquaintance and to spend 60 or so minutes enjoying the fun of a live performance – complete with the happy unexpected joys of children on stage!

Many thanks to Missoula Children’s Theater for their recent visit to Worthington!

Born for the stage!

Born for the stage!

Sherlock: Masterpiece Mystery’s Masterpiece

I love to read. No shock there to anyone who knows me. Yet somehow, in all my years of reading, I have never gotten around to reading anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Shame on me.

Even though I have never read any Holmes books, I am, like pretty much every other person in the English-speaking world, familiar with his stories. I have watched a few movies – including the newest version starring the Ironman himself, Robert Downey, Jr.

But it’s not that franchise that has inspired me today. It’s the version, simply titled Sherlock, starring Khan (of Star Trek Into Darkness fame), aka, Benedict Cumberbatch, that is currently in its third season, Sunday nights on Masterpiece Mystery on PBS.

Oy, Vey, how did I not know about this series prior to a month or so ago?

Back in early December, while ushering at the Downton Abbey premier in Worthington, Minnesota, I was talking to Les Heen, the General Manager at Pioneer Public Broadcasting. I hope he doesn’t mind me indirectly quoting him when I say that he asked me if I watched Sherlock. In fact, he mentioned the series twice.

I looked at him blankly. But I remembered that he’d asked because I felt, somehow, like I was missing out on something I really ought to know about.

Then, a couple of weeks later, low and behold, Sherlock showed up on PBS as they replayed season two in preparation for the next season, which began on January 19th. I saw it in the lineup and thought, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll record it.”

I put it on the next evening. My husband came home halfway through and sat down to watch as well.

We were hooked.

Within days, thanks to Netflix, we had watched all existent episodes and then watched some of them again as they came on TV. That’s the kind of show this is: the kind you can watch again and again because you see hidden things that you didn’t catch the first time.

What is it about this show? How is it that Khan and Bilbo make such a wonderful team? (Martin Freeman, the inestimable Bilbo of The Hobbit, plays Dr. Watson. Ironically, Cumberbatch is the voice of Smaug the dragon of the same movie – fun to think of Bilbo and Smaug being friends.)

The two of them play off each other superbly. You are irritated with Sherlock as Watson is irritated onscreen. You love him when he smiles ironically and shows those rare moments of caring. You love Watson, too, because he’s so sincere and vulnerable. You cringe when Moriarty scores a point and you flinch when Sherlock blunders along in his interpersonal relationships even as you smile when he floors you with his deductions.

It is, in short, a marvelous show. Intelligent, funny, and clever, it holds your attention and leaves you thirsting for more. And, I must say, part of its charm is that both my husband and I can watch and enjoy it equally together. There aren’t a whole lot of shows that can claim that.

And now, I really need to rectify a long-held wrong and go read the books. Because any books that have survived this long in history must be fabulous.

But first I need to make sure that my DVR is set to record the one remaining episode. Because my life will not be complete if I forget.

All That I Remember of my Grandparents

The dirt road, coming up from our beach on Orcas Island.  There was an old orchard at the end of the road.  Yum!  I'm the smallest one, holding my grandma's hand.

The dirt road, coming up from our beach on Orcas Island. There was an old orchard at the end of the road. Yum! I’m the smallest one, holding my grandma’s hand.

My mom’s parents lived up the road from us when I was young. I remember very little about them, as Grandpa died a day or two after my 4th birthday and Grandma later that summer.

I remember that Grandpa kept candy in his desk drawer. I remember that they both liked picnics on the beach. I remember their car.

I remember watching Davy Crocket on The Wonderful World of Disney one Sunday night when Grandma, my sister and I were all home sick and weren’t able to go to church that evening. My sister and I must have been sent to stay with Grandma while Mom and Dad were gone. We ate popcorn as we watched.

I remember finding a piece of driftwood on the beach that looked like a duck and giving it to Grandma because she loved ducks. She was pleased. I remember that.

And I remember being in the car on a trip – in my memory we were in Oregon, but I’m not really sure that we were – and I was bored out of my skull. Grandma, my sister and I were all in the back seat and Mom and Dad were in the front. I was grouchy and I called my sister a dumb dumb.

And I got in trouble from Mom.

I was silent for a moment. And then I began to sing. Quietly.

“Dum, dum, dum, dum,” I sang. “Dum, dum, dum…”

I got a little louder.

“Dum, Dum, Dum!”

I thought I was being so clever.

Until Mom turned around and said, “I told you not to use that word. You are not to call your sister a dumb dumb.”

And Grandma said, “Oh, she’s not calling names. She’s just singing.”

I looked down at my lap. Tears pricked my eyes and waves of guilt washed over me.

Because I wasn’t just singing. I was calling my sister a dumb dumb in song.

Mom knew.

Grandma probably knew, too.

She smiled at me. Patted my leg. And I stopped singing.

And that’s what I remember of my Grandma.
g-ma beach