Thursday, December 30, 2004

It's a dog's life

My poor dog does not like children. Specifically, she doesn't like the children that happen to be my niece and nephew. I don't suppose that should be too surprising: she's a 9ish year old dog who has had to share the house with only my mom and dad for the past three years. She has a room to herself, and her room is actually the biggest room in the house (we used to call it the Rec room. Now, it's "Sheena's room"). She doesn't play with her chew toys anymore, and can't be bothered to go fetch a dirty stick that you just threw ten feet out of her way. When we come home from Hamilton and GrandRapids and such, she is generally excited, because there are more people to take her for walks and to pet her and scratch her belly while she lazes apathetically on the floor.
When the grandkids come over, it's a different story altogether. First of all, these mini people have the audacity to steal any and all attention away from her. Second, they take over her floor, and there are toys strewn everywhere, in her cage, in her spot behind the chair in the livingroom, on beds that she used to be able to sleep on! Third, and probably the worst, these little people have the idea that they must annoy her to the best of their ability. In fact, they probably make it their goal to do so each day. Reuben got a new fire truck for Christmas from "Unca Dave", and he thought it would be pretty fun to let Sheena play with it as well. Growling comes from the next room over, and when Auntie Jenn goes to see what's happening, she sees Reuben standing on Sheena's tail, driving a fire truck over the poor dog. "Sheena like it? Sheena like the fire truck? It's Reunen's!" Sheena leaves Reuben in that room, only to encounter seven month old Nadine in the next room. How nice and pretty the puppy looks! Soon there are little hands grabbing onto the floppy ears of my poor dog and pulling. Sheena is freed from the grasp and escapes downstairs.
Yesterday, Grandma and Aunt Marya and Uncle Eric and Auntie Jenn and Reuben and Sheena went to the "big hill" to tobaggan with crazy carpets. Despite my best efforts to get the dog onto a crazy carpet, she wouldn't come down with me, but every time someone went down the hill, we'd let go of Sheena's leash and she'd pick up the handle in her mouth and chase us down the hill. After Aunt Marya and Reuben went down the hill together and Sheena chased them down, Aunt Marya picked up the crazy carpet and the leash and put Reuben's hand in the leash to walk the dog up the hill.
This must have been a moment of complete and utter humiliation for that dog. You could almost read her thoughts as she tried to grab the handle away from the two and a half year old. "You think that I'm actually going to let that little thing walk me back up the hill?! He's smaller than I am! I can do it very well on my own, thank you very much!" They played tug-of-war for a few seconds, Sheena grabbing a little closer to the handle every time, until, with a final yank, the leash was freed and Reuben was on his bottom. Sheena picked up the handle in her mouth and trotted up the hill, sat next to me and laid the handle down gently in my lap. I couldn't breath, I was laughing so hard. What a dog. I think she'll be pleased when she's got the house to herself again next week.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

My dear brother and I having a "sing along"... Good times. Too bad he had to leave for Grand Rapids this afternoon. Sigh. But, the rest of us are still around. And there will be more good times to be had.

Monday, December 27, 2004

In sickness and in health...

Why is it that sickness seems to descend so rapidly onto those in their vacations? Last Christmas, I remember feeling very ill, but the only reason why it bothered me so much was because I was scared that they wouldn't let me fly to England if I was sick. This year, just 24 hours after I arrived at home for the holidays, I could feel that twinge in the back of my throat and felt the fuzzy feeling in my head growing stronger. I napped for five hours one afternoon, and proceeded to sleep for another 10 hours that night. (I suppose that sleeping could have also resulted from my lack of sleep the night before...well, the 1.5 hours...) Although my body-rattling cough would seem to suggest otherwise, I currently feel fabulous. Which I'm very excited about, of course, because besides the fact that being sick is generally no fun, we're having our family Christmas tomorrow evening, and those kind of nights are always more fun when you aren't collapsed in a heap on the living room floor.
My sister-in-law, Sarah, has the incredible misfortune to be sick also at the moment, and I feel rather badly for her. I'm sick, and that sucks for me. However, it's just me. She has another one dependent on her, my little niece Nadine, so it makes the whole situation a little more sour. Not only is it very tiring for her to be sick, but they're still up in Exeter with her family, and have a 4.5 hour drive ahead of them to come here for the Van Breda Christmas. That's nothing exciting to look forward to. My brother David is a working man, and as such, his holidays end on Wednesday, so he must return to Grand Rapids. I do hope and pray that existing sickness and fevers subside so that we can all get together this Christmas-- it would be rather a shame if we couldn't, because both Dave and I are planning to be in Japan next year at this time. Sigh.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

It's tradition!

Well, December 25th has officially passed us by once more: another Christmas serivce, another ham dinner, and another day well spent with family playing games. This morning, the church choir sang a song interspersed with bible readings that quickly overviewed the story of Christ's birth, death, and earthly mission. It was a neat idea, but the song bothered me somewhat. The first line, and only line that I can remember, declares that "We are the reason for the season!" huh.
I know what they're getting at: if it hadn't been for us, Christ wouldn't have had to come and become human and die. But does it sound strange to anyone else to be declaring that joyfully in a song, that "hey, look, WE sinned, so it's cause of US that we get to celebrate Christmas day!" I think that we can get enough of that attitude, that it's all about US without singing those kind of songs. How about, for one day of the year, we take the focus off of ourselves when we're singing?

Anyhow, whilst talking to Brian tonight, I remembered that, in addition to not having my Christmas shopping done, I also do not have my Christmas poems done. (Our family Christmas is on Tuesday) Now, having just finished my creative writing course last week and handing over my portfolio containing 25ish poems, I'm not so anxious to write for a deadline again so soon. But it must be done. It's tradition. Every year since I can remember, my family has chosen names for Christmas among the kids. Along with a gift for the sibling and for each parent, we must write some sort of an original poem. My mom had the presence of mind to start collecting them early on, so there are "poems" that I wrote before I could spell and not long after I could actually write. They don't rhyme. They don't even make sense. But it is kind of fun to read them after so long. Some of them are limmericks, some are to be sung to the tune of 'Jingle Bells,' some are based on traditional poems such as 'The night before Christmas,' and some are just words scrawled on a piece of paper an hour before presents are to be opened.
A few years ago, the fateful year of the fake Christmas tree, I wrote this for my mom:

Without the first regard for me,
You did away with our real Christmas tree.
Never get a fake one, I tried to push...
but anyhow, here's something for you to put
on this plastic, pseudo Christmas bush...

Can you feel the love yet? :) My mom's poems are all nicely printed out on the Dot Matrix printer of the Commodore 64 persuasion, but the rest of ours are usually scrawled out in the shaky cursive writing of one in early elementary school. I'll leave you with a poem that I wrote back in 1992. 9 years old, just remember that, folks. Don't judge me for who I was....

To my dad who is really quite rad:
We got you a gift
but we hope that you will not have a fit!
It is not a boot,
but I ought to quoat,
"Where there is love
there is a dove!"
but it's the thought that counts!
love Jenn

Yep. With a poem like that, it's definitely the thought that counts.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Exciting news!

I have an interview with JET in Feb. for a teaching position in Japan for next year!! The three days of rushing around with applications and references and photocopies were worth it after all.... Thanks God!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Friends. I have no shortage of amazing people that God has put into my life. And the fabulous thing about all of my friends is that they don't all come from the same walk of life, and have experienced very different things than I have. Granted, there's a certain extent to which you can't escape the whole similar Dutch experience, but even within that there is the tendency for various childhood situations and high school and university decisions made differently for good or for bad. I'm quite a fan of this, because when it comes to getting opinions from others, I know that the opinions are more than the views that I might like to hear.
Something that I have always struggled with is advice from friends. I rely on my nearest and dearest friends who know me the best to comment on my life, openly, freely and honestly. If I'm being an ass about a situation, I know that I will be told that my behavior doesn't line up with my character, and that I should smarten up.
However, the fact of the matter is that occasionally, I've received honest advice from caring, close friends that I don't know how to reconcile to the situation at hand. For example, I've had a good friend or two advise me against Japan. They presented their reasons, or rather, one presented reasons, the other was just intent on, "I'm not comfortable with you going, make sure that you really think about what you're doing," and so on and so forth to the point of making me incredibly nervous but with no cause attached to it. I think that I know myself fairly well, as far as knowing one's self goes, and I think that I've made smart decisions in the past, for the most part. I have no reason to look at any past experiences and say, wow, chances are they're right, I decided to move away to BC and to England, and look at what a mess that turned out to be! See, both of those experiences were amazing, and I feel so incredibly blessed to have been able to experience what I did in both of those places. There were points in each that I would have turned back if I had the choice, but overall they were amazing times.
So this begs the question. Do my friends know something that I don't know? Do I sometimes have to just thank my friends for their concern, and carry along on my merry way? I'm rather a huge fan of making decisions with an awful lot of prayer, and my friends know this as well. I have no misgivings about Japan, even with all of the prayer that I've devoted to it. What of the valued advice of friends? I know that they have my best interests at heart, which is why I have no idea what to do with this kind of a situation....

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

To Jimmy, with love

When I was growing up, Saturday was the good day in the week. Our fresh, young bodies would wake us up at the crack of dawn, just in time to watch the Littlest Hobo on TV. However, being the well-mannered children that we were, we knew well enough that we were not allowed to watch the TV without permission: so, at five thirty in the morning, a troupe of little feet would pad to the door to the master bedroom, tap on the door and crawl on top of mom or dad, asking if we might watch TV and get ourselves some breakfast. How considerate and honest of us, we thought, mom and dad otherwise wouldn't have woken up for another three or four hours, and they never would have had to know that we were watching TV!
After the Littlest Hobo, a brief science show called "Did you know??" made way for our all time favourite, "My Secret Identity." The mailbox rattled, and the comics arrived! Second to the comics was the TV guide, where we immediately surveyed the evenings possibilities. Stephen looked for which episode of Star Trek was playing, David checked out who the Leafs were playing, and Marya and I went straight to the description of the movie playing that night on "Saturday Night at the Movies" on TVO. The arguing and debating began already at 8am, as to who would get to reserve the TV for that evening.
Once everyone was up, the TV went OFF, chores were written on the chalk board ("clean room: S, M, D, J." "vacuum: D" "Sweep: S" etc), half hour time slots of piano practicing began, and books (being read while "cleaning" our rooms) were taken away. The afternoon often consisted of a trip to the library, grocery store or mall, but mostly we spent afternoons outside climbing trees and playing games of back yard baseball with ghost runners.
Baths then took place while mom made the dough for pizza, and when we were all scrubbed squeaky clean, we'd sit down in the oven-warmed kitchen for some of the best pizza I've tasted in my life. When all had eaten and the Today was read, arguments that began brewing in the morning about the evening TV schedule came to fruition and because we had already seen that movie, or because the Leafs had a night off, the dispute would be settled, always resulting in at least one pouting child. Nevertheless, it was those evenings that we all watched either Hockey Night in Canada (Holy mackinaw!) or Saturday Night at the Movies together. We didn't have a VCR, so the movies that I grew up on were those movies, North by North West, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Sabrina, Cracked Rear View Mirror and many, many other classic movies. Mystery, romance, adventure in African jungles, we watched them all, and I love those movies. Some of the most popular movies that have been released in the past several years are remakes of the 1950's movies, and there's a reason for that: those movies, while perhaps cheesy, have good plots, good actors and did well for the technology that they had back then.
The actors were, in my opinion, that much more talented than those that you find nowadays. Sure, Harrison Ford is a good looking man and can convincingly portray a super-hero president, but I'd like to see him act as well as he does in addition to singing and dancing like Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire or Danny Kaye! We just watched It's a Wonderful Life this weekend, which stars the illustrious Jimmy Stewart. Look up his work biography, and you'll find some amazing classics: the afore mentioned Mr Smith and Wonderful Life along with such great films as Harvey, a story in which the 6'something Mr Stewart's best friend is a 6'something invisible rabbit. It doesn't get any better! You can take your Vin Diesel and his xXx-- I'll have Jimmy Stewart any day.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

What I'd rather be doing right now....

Somehow, I'm inclined to believe that climing a palm tree on San Juan beach in Spain would be a little more exciting than writing a take home exam... I could be wrong.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

I am not Martha Stewart.

Now I know that may come as a surprise to some of you who have seen the pristine condition in which I keep my room, but yes, alas, 'tis true! Along with the ladies of the Sugar Shack, I decorated my *own* house for Christmas and planned my *own* Christmas party, both for the first time! The Christmas tree, as lovely as it is, did not come from the back yard. If I was on top of things when I moved in back in May, I suppose I would have planted a sapling and fed it "miracle grow" all season and then gone out to chop it down. But I wasn't really thinking. Anyhow, the decorations were bought at Canadian Tire, since I left my glass blower and wood carving tools at home in Belleville. Again, must not have been thinking! The boughs of branches on the wall are in fact, tied together with store-bought ribbon, though I did make the bow myself.
Anyhow, I had as much fun preparing for our soiree as I did socialising at the soiree! I love to bake, when I know that it will be appreciated. And as experience has told me, the gentlemen tend to appreciate the baking just that much more than the women (sorry ladies, but it's true). So, bake I did. Cinnamon sticky buns, a cinnamon bun wreath, a pudding trifle... the ladies also did some excellent baking to fill the table. It smelled quite spectacular in our house, but I might say that it was a bit of torture not being able to eat the food...
The kitchen was decorated as best as it could, and we tried to disguise the fact that it was a lowly townhouse with icicle lights and candles (nope, we didn't make the candles ourselves, either. Martha really would be disappointed!).
People arrived, and after a while we really were one big happy family... games played, food eaten, some wine corks popped... when all 23 had arrived, we pushed ahead with our gift exchange, which I must say, really was a blast. Ducks, frogs, Lindors and Bailey's flew across the room from hand to hand to hand, and some good friendships were both made and lost as the presents traded hands. After all was said and done, we did indeed watch "It's a Wonderful Life," with my hero Jimmy Stewart, and herded all out the doors by 3:30am. Oh what a night!
Now as I said, I'm no Martha Stewart, but if I might express a guilty secret, come Christmas time I sometimes wish I was. I mean, there's only so much credit one can take for things bought in a parking lot or superstore, you know? ;)
My favourite part of the evening was, without a doubt, all of these friends in one room, some knowing eachother for several years, some meeting for the first time, but all having a blast. I love my friends!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Now I lay me down to sleep...

...I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

This prayer that I sang every night before bed as a child recently popped up in my mind once again. It's a cute prayer, but what a strange one for a little child to sing right before bed! Nothing like reminding a child of her own mortality right before being left alone in a dark room for the whole night. My best friend and her dad always sang a similar prayer, though a little more 'comforting.' Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Shepherd guide me through the night and keep me safe till morning's light. I never really liked one prayer above the other, I was probably quite ambivalent and didn't actually realize that when I prayed every night, I was talking about death.
Now this isn't to say that I think it's a bad prayer. I'm just saying that it's strange to remind a child every night that she might die that night. But then I got to thinking: it's not such a bad thing to be reminded of your mortality every night. When did I stop praying that if I die, could I please be with God? (And I'm not even going to bother trying to defend the body/soul dichotemy that this prayer suggests) As soon as my prayers became more "adult," they were filled with requests of blessings for myself, my family, pleas for help on tests, for snow days... Gone was any thought of dying in the night or even day, for that matter. God will protect me and I'll live forever. That's the thought pattern that most of us live with now. Would it hurt to pray the simple prayer above more often as adults? Just because God loves us and is with us and protects us doesn't mean that ill will never befall us. I think that I need to remind myself a little more often that the fact that I'm not a little five year old girl anymore does not mean that in the grand scheme of things, I'm still as helpless and just as in need of holding God's hand as I was then.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Never ever have I ever...

...had such a strong desire to not write a paper. It's due tomorrow morning, 10:50. And it's for Hackney. I wrote my worst paper for him last year, and got an A. It really was a fantastically horrid paper, which is why I'm not very inspired to write this paper tonight. I've got three of the ten pages written, and I fear that it might (once again) be a long night of bs-ing. On the other hand, if you want to have a Jungian or Freudian analysis done on your childhood to examine how present the Oedipus complex was, give me a shout. However, if you actually did kill your father and marry your mother, I don't want to hear it.
Why am I taking a psych minor anyhow? Will someone be good enough to tell me that?

The only happy things right now are:
1. The chocolate that Dan just brought me
2. the Mulled Cranberry drink from Second Cup (found a package of it in my drawer...)
3. The prospect of being finished all of my papers by the time I go to sleep tonight/tomorrow morning
4. the soothing sounds of MWS's first Christmas album coming out of the speakers

A Scholarly Bunch

Last night I had the pleasure to accompany a fine group of folks to Roy Thompsen Hall for a fine taste of musical delicacies. BVO described it pretty well on his site, I'm not sure that I can do better.
We took our seats last night (on the balcony, of course) only to look down and gaze upon a bare stage, with the exception of five music stands set up in a small semi-circle and on in front for the director. The bell dinged, the lights went down, and eight Tallis Scholars clad in black took their places at their respective stands. They took up so little space on the stage, but even their first clear notes and perfect tones of O magnum mysterium swelled to easily fill the whole of the Hall. It was beauty manifest in sound. A particular highlight was when the sopranos and altos left the stage and the men sang a piece on their own. I'm not sure as the the title of their piece, but there is something about the harmonies of all male voices that can't be captured in anything that women will ever be able to sing.
As to the Scholars as a whole, there was not a singer who sang louder, had better pitch, or had cleaner tones than the others. The blended so well together that they might have just been one voice split into seven parts. A fantastic evening.
Incedentally, I skipped my last Missions class of the year, but I'd more than do that again in a heartbeat to have another evening such as this.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

And They Were Sore Afraid

I had the chance last semester to sing the Messiah in England with my host and the choir that she was a part of. They were short several altos, and she thought that because I could belt out various songs around her house that I could learn the Messiah in three weeks with only three performances, whilst writing five papers and taking side trips to London to see plays. Wisely enough (or unwisely, perhaps) I declined the offer. I had no idea what performing the Messiah would require, though I knew that I was slightly too busy to participate. Looking back, I have mixed feelings of my decision. Yes, I had a lot of work to do, but to sing the Messiah with Marion's (semi-professional) choir! And there is so much more involved in learning it than I ever thought possible, so to do it in only three weeks....but singing it with a British choir!
I suppose that, in my mind, I had already sung the Messiah so it wouldn't be too difficult to learn again. Mistake: I learned this semester that there is a *great* difference between singing the Messiah for young people and the actual real deal. For one, there's a lot more solos in the actual Messiah than the Jr. And for another: there's a little word called "melismas."
This semester has been a mix of emotions for me in terms of rehearsals and practicing. In September, I was so excited to be back in choir again after a year of absence. However, by October things were starting to drag. I was enjoying learning some of the choruses, I had developed the routine of hitting a practice room once a week to "nail" some of those melismas down, but the rehearsals themselves almost seemed tedious. It occurred to me that perhaps one of the reasons is that we didn't perform as a choir until November 11, Remembrance Day. Normally we sing at an Evensong or something else, but the only thing that we had done was Grandparents day, and even then it wasn't any of the first years. After Remembrance Day, things seemed to gain momentum, and I had a lot more energy to bear the rehearsals. In fact, the closer we got to December, the more productive rehearsals were, and the more fun I had.
This past week scared me, though, in terms of both the rehearsals and the performances. It wasn't so much the singing that I was scared of; it was the fact that half the songs I was singing, despite enormous amounts of time practicing on my own, I didn't know. My fears were embodied and brought to fulfillment in Friday night's performance. Due to my lack of knowing the pieces, I wasn't able to watch Dr T as well as I should have been, and I take a huge chunk of the responsibility of the Alto problems. I freely admit to messing up on my favourite pieces, "The Lord Gave the Word," and many other pieces. One thing that I will admit: the hallelujah chorus gave me chills. It was worth going through Friday night in order to sing that chorus the way that we did. The Amen, as most know, did not go so well. I don't know that there's much more to say besides the comment that was passed around at The Brassie on Friday night: "What a train wreck!"
All day on Saturday, the Amen was not far from my mind. While getting ready for the performance that night, I must have listened to the recording of it ten times, not singing along with but feeling it. It sounds like a cliche, I'm quite aware of that. However, the sound that I was left with after Friday was not encouraging, and I needed to replace what was there. From the very beginning of the Saturday performance, I was excited. I could hear every single part of the choir: I felt as if I was a part of the choir, singing the choruses together, as opposed to Friday night when it felt (to me) as if we were all singing (some) of the choruses on our own, en masse. I had fun, and I could feel the presence of God among our choir, in the choruses and in the solos. Elation is the only word that would be fit to describe what consumed me a quarter of the way into the Amen. Well, elation, thankfulness and praise would be more accurate. I wasn't crying by the end, but my entire body shook as we sang the final measures, our director doubled over in tears. I have never been more thankful for the opportunity to be in choir.
This year is the first year that the Christmas concert has actually been performed twice, and in my opinion (and knowedge) this is the first year that the second performance has been so needed. I realize that a majority of the audience on Friday night won't have realized that we absolutely butchered the Amen of the Messiah as few have done before. However, if that was the last note of choir for the semester, I shudder to think of how it would have affected our coming semester. As it stands now, there is not a choir member who did not put his heart and soul into what we did this weekend, and there is not a member who did not experience the gift that God gave us last night. That performance has already touched how the choir will come together to sing next semester, both on tour and in concert. Thanks be to God! Amen!