Musical Evening

This evening (Saturday night) we had a “Musical Evening” at our house. It was a lot of fun. The idea behind the evening is that I want music to be accessible to everyone. I feel like there is a pervasive attitude in our culture that music is for the professionals. Our job as average people is to sit and listen to the professionals. And that’s just not true. Music is to be enjoyed by everyone. Every age and every ability level. And when we do get the chance to hear a professional, it’s just icing on the cake.

Almost all of my kids performed something, along with almost all the adults in the room. We had some self-made compositions on the piano. We had some kids do their own rendition of the Avenger’s Theme song, complete with drums. We heard the ukelele, the guitar, the piano. We had some really fun songs that made you laugh and some songs that had me crying. Patriotic, Religious, Humorous, Classical. Considering that we really were a small group, we did pretty good.

I am hoping to do more of these throughout the year. I want music to be an important part of my children’s home culture.

When I was a kid (pre-internet, pre-cell phones) music seemed to be everywhere. I went to a little elementary school in Eastern Kentucky, back in the hollows (pronounced hollers). My fifth grade teacher was an amazing musician. He kept a guitar in the corner of the classroom and when the class would start to get rowdy, he’d pull out his guitar and we would sing “Big Rock Candy Mountain”. I know we sang lots of songs, but that’s the one that stands out to me. In that community everyone played the guitar or the banjo or the fiddle. My dad would take his guitar with him when we would go to community events and a group of guys would always gather around and all start playing together. Blue grass. Folk songs. Gospel.

When I lived in Haiti we would sing for entertainment. Songs with different parts, harmonies twisting around each other. I remember my family learned a song that I believe was a translation of a piece by Bach. The words are, “Father in heaven, hear now your children, hear and bless us with your love, ever and ever, stronger yet and merciful, is your love for us, hallelujah amen.” It was a fairly simple two-part round song. I took such pleasure in singing it with my family.

I remember in Alaska hanging out with my friends in the summer. Some evenings we would gather around a piano and sing worship songs. Just for fun.

I remember going back to Haiti when I was 20. One of the missionary houses at a hospital compound, where I spent some time each week, had a piano. The piano was in a little nook close to the dining room where the nurses and doctors and other volunteers would eat their meals. I would bring my music and hide away in the nook,  playing to my heart’s content. I remember one dark evening, playing the entire Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. I knew that people were listening in the other room, but as long as they left me alone, I could relax and feel like I was just playing for myself.

I remember when I was still 20 and now in Chile living with my brother and his wife. I didn’t have a piano to play on. I felt desperate to be connected to music in some way. My sister-in-law had a music cd by Twila Paris. (I may be remembering this wrong, but I’m almost positive it was her.) The music was worshipful and had a couple songs I recognized. When I was home alone, I would put the cd on and sing along with it, full voice, full emotion, joining in the only way I could.

You know, there are more important things to teach my children than music. Jesus. Learning how to love people. Being kind. Responsible. But, music is like adding color to a black white photo. Putting sprinkles on the cupcake. Upgrading to first class on that long flight. It’s getting a vacation in Hawaii. Eating PapaJohns Pizza instead of Little Caesars. Life is just richer with music. I’m so thankful for my musical heritage that my parents passed down to me, and so thankful for a chance to share this amazing thing called music with my children. Thank you to all our friends and family who came out joined in!

 

No Politics at the Dollar Store

I ran down to the Family Dollar Store, just a block away. We needed tape. My younger kids and I had just spent a happy hour cutting out snowflakes and we were now going to tape them all over our kitchen and their bedrooms. We love decorating for Christmas. Once we get started, it’s hard to stop.

I went into the store, stepping around the puddles that dotted the pavement. It was an unseasonably warm, wet December day. I grabbed a shopping basket and quickly got the tape, plus some treats that I would pass out for our daily advent readings. Some LifeSavers for the day we discussed rings and how Jesus is the Bridegroom of the church. Some candy canes for the day we discussed how Jesus was the Good Shepherd. I also got some candles to keep up the festive atmosphere I love to create during the Christmas Season.

Finally done with filling my basket, I went and got in line. There was only one line open, but only a couple customers in front of me. I started daydreaming as I casually watched the people around me. I found myself a bit curious about the two people in front of me. They were obviously together. Latino. He looked like he was in his early 20s, clean cut, quiet. She had long, thick black hair, maybe 10 or 11 years old. They moved up to the register and he put his purchase on the counter, a big jug of laundry detergent. The girl quickly laid a lollipop next to it. It reminded me of outings with my parents when I was a child, “One piece of candy…please??”

The lady at the register was a friendly girl. Pure country accent, messy blond ponytail, friendly smile. She looked like she’d been working for a while, her eyes tired. She rang up their purchases and then told him how much it was. He hesitated a moment and then pulled out a card and stuck it into the slot of the card machine. Apparently there was an error. He continued to try and stick his card in, nothing changed. I wondered if his card had been denied. It happens. It’s happened to me. I was preparing for an awkward encounter. The clerk leaned over the counter to see what the display was saying. Her face brightened up. “Oh! Look, you have to swipe that one.” The man stared at her blankly. “Swipe it! Swipe it!” She made a movement with her hand and his face showed comprehension. He swiped his card, a visa gift card with the activation sticker still on it, and it worked. Hurray! The screen continued to ask him questions and he hesitated again. The clerk leaned over and read the screen out loud. “Pin, enter your pin.” The man’s companion spoke up in rapid Spanish. The man slightly nodded and started entering in a number. Ah. He didn’t speak English. Obviously none at all since he was struggling even with purchasing something at a store. I had a quick flashback to the first time I went to Chile when I was 20.  I spoke no Spanish. None. Zip. Zero. Not even a high school Spanish class. I remembered the panic of trying to do simple purchases and hoping the person would just take my money, give me correct change and not ask me any questions. Now, watching this man, I felt myself tense up. Maybe I could help if he needed it. I had managed to pick up a little Spanish during my time in Chile. Enough to at least help out with a purchase if necessary. The clerk had picked up on his lack of English by now, and started saying things slowly and repeating herself. Giving encouraging smiles. The little girl interjected a quick comment every once in a while, giving me the impression that she was interpreting for him. Not surprising. Kids always pick up languages faster than the adults. She probably benefited greatly from being in school every day, whereas the grownups could hang out and work with fellow Spanish speakers and not have near as much pressure or opportunity to learn a new language.

Finally the sale was finished successfully. The clerk grinned really big, wishing them a good evening. I smiled, happy that it had all ended well. I paid for my stuff and left the store. I had felt a moment of connection. Strangers in a store, all poised to help the foreigner, wishing him well. And I hoped that maybe this really is the normal for our country. We see a stranger, a foreigner, struggling to make it in a new country. We don’t ask about their immigration status, country of origin, income level. We just step in and see if we can help somehow.

Sure, when we’re on Facebook, we have to raise all the questions. We have to choose our news channels with care. We have to speak up about our views on immigration and foreigners and people who don’t speak English. We have to contact our congressman to tell them our views in hopes that they will align their policy with our wishes. We have to write editorials and engage in online debates. I am not being facetious. Yes. We do need to do all these things. We live in a democracy where our voice is supposed to matter. We are supposed to take a part in our government. But do we let our politics dictate our behavior when we’re down at the store? Or do we let our religion have preference. That religion that says, Love your neighbor as yourself. And when questioned “Who is my neighbor?” the story was told of a foreigner who befriended a stranger, an enemy of sorts, simply because he was in need.

I am an optimist. I like to look for the good in people. I like to presume that my friends who are very concerned about our current illegal alien issues, that they are still ready to help when they meet someone face-to-face. They’re still willing to lend a helping hand. And I sincerely hope that all my friends who are so passionate for open borders, I hope that this passion translates into helping the foreigners in their midst, not just talking about it.

It’s a good way to start the Christmas Season. Let’s be ready to help whoever we see in need. Maybe, we can just leave the politics for social media.   

 

Meandering Thanksgiving Memories

thanksgivingpic

After my husband and I got married we gallivanted around for a while. We spent our first year of marriage in Knoxville, Tennessee, while Andy finished up his last year at UT. Then when our first born was only 10 days old, we moved to Alaska to be near my parents. We stayed in Alaska for a year and half then, when I was 7 months pregnant with our 2nd child, we moved to Chile to be near my husband’s parents. We stayed there 15 months then moved back to the states when his parents retired as missionaries. We arrived in Florida, bought a used car, packed all our earthly belongings, a 2 ½ yr old, 1 yr old, and our dog into a little Suburu station wagon and headed north. We found out right away that our car needed work. It overheated continually and our 10 hour drive to Knoxville, TN turned into a 24 hr drive as we crawled our way up the highway in the middle of summer, stopping every couple miles to let the car cool down before we crawled forward again. Our goal was to make it to Knoxville where we had some friends who were willing to give Andy some work and give us a temporary place to stay. We eventually made it in and enjoyed our couple weeks in Knoxville, catching up with our friends, fixing our ailing car, getting some traveling money.

After Knoxville, we headed north again, this time heading towards Green Lake, Wisconsin where we met up with Andy’s parents at the American Baptist World Missions Conference. During that time I discovered I was pregnant again. We now needed a place to hunker down while I weathered the months-long intense nausea. Andy’s parents were settling into a new home in Maine and offered for Andy to come and remodel their kitchen. We loaded up our car and headed towards Maine. We ran out of gas money just as we got to New Hampshire and so we made our way to one of Andy’s adopted Moms’ house, Lynn Yule. She was willing to let Andy do some handyman work around her house in exchange for some gas money so we could make it the rest of the way to Maine.

We spent several months in Maine with Andy’s parents while Andy built a new kitchen for his parents and I stayed close to the bathroom. Finally I started feeling better and we prepared for the future. Our plans had been to go to Kentucky to live close to my Grandparents who were having some health problems. It was where I had been born and spent some of my childhood so it seemed like as good a place as any to settle down. We bought a very old camper/trailer. It looked and felt like a miniature trailer home instead of the more modern campers, but it had a built in bathroom, beds, and a small kitchen. No living room furniture, just empty space which we later filled with a loveseat/hideabed. Andy bought an old truck (an ‘86 F250 4wd diesel) (my husband said some people would want to know) that “needed work” to haul the camper and we figured we could live in it until we got ourselves more established. We were ready to go. About a week before we had planned to leave, my grandmother wrote and asked us to not come. Life’s messy. All the reasons behind that letter really aren’t my story to tell, but we did feel a bit like the rug had been pulled out from under us.

So, we regrouped. Looked at our options. Andy’s uncle offered a job in Florida, but we didn’t know anyone there, no friends. No church. We had a place we could stay in Maine, but the job options were very limited. We could go back to Tennessee. We didn’t have any jobs or place to live there, but we had a good church family, good friends. We finally decided that Tennessee was the way to go. With the connections of friends and a church, we figured that jobs and places to lived would fall in place. We loaded up the trailer, truck ready to haul, Suburu stuffed to the gills again. It was November and I was now 5 months pregnant and would be driving from Maine to Tennessee with two little ones in the backseat, following Andy while he hauled our camper. I just have to add some pertinent information. I didn’t get my driver’s license till after my first child was born and the only driving I had done was in small, rural towns. To say I was terrified of the drive would be putting it mildly. This was before cell phones were completely dominant so we bought a set of walkie-talkies to keep in touch while we drove.

It took us 7 days to get to Tennessee. Not because we were taking our time, but rather because everything that could go wrong went wrong. Vehicles breaking down, weather breaking windows on the camper, me going left while Andy went right when we got to a confusing intersection. We spent a couple nights at a Flying J’s truck stop while Andy tried to fix problems on the truck and camper so we could keep going, and I tried to keep two small children happy in the middle of November at a truck stop.

We finally limped into Knoxville on November 12th and headed for the Volunteer Campground up on Raccoon Valley Road. We had looked it up in the yellow pages, called ahead, and they were affordable and had space. We got there on a Sunday afternoon. We pulled into a short-stay sight and Andy got us all hooked up, went to the camp store and got some food to cook for supper, then he told me he figured he would head over to our old church for the Sunday night service. Maybe he could hook up with one of his old friends and ask about jobs. I inwardly groaned at having to settle the kids in for the evening by myself, but I was grateful for his willingness to pursue work right away.  I nodded and agreed it was a good idea.

Andy came back a couple hours later and said he had spoken to his friend Tony and he would be able to head into work the next morning. It was just a temporary job, but it was something. We took it as a good omen. The temporary job ended up introducing Andy to another person who was hiring and for whom Andy ended up working for another six years.

We settled in pretty quickly. We got together with old friends and had a good time comparing our new parenting experiences. At church I got hooked up with our church’s homeschooling co-op and ended up getting some piano teaching jobs, plus a whole new group of friends. Life at the campground was fun. We were moved over to a more permanent spot and had fun meeting lots of interesting people. There was a strong sense of community, and people helped each other out.

Our finances were very tight. There was a man in our church who worked for a bread store. He had got permission from all the powers-that-be and he would bring in the old bagels that could no longer be sold and put them on a table at church where people could help themselves. Every week I would got get a couple bags and that kept us fed for lunches for the rest of the week. I figured out which grocery stores had the best deals and stretched my pennies to the breaking point. I learned how to be very creative with what I had. I couldn’t afford to buy a calendar, but I had some craft supplies so I got my two little ones to help me make a calendar page for our current month, complete with stickers and little stick drawings. During the holidays I bought a large bag of oranges and some sugar and using my saved jam jars, made orange marmalade and homemade cards for Christmas presents. Andy got some wood and made homemade wooden blocks for the kids which entertained them for hours. I would go borrow a bunch of books from the library to read out loud. We only had a tiny space to live in, but it was full of peace and fun. The kids even managed to somehow play hide-and-seek with their dad. In a camper. It helped that they were little and unobservant. 🙂 It was a difficult time, but a very rich time. Andy and I were determined to do whatever we needed to move forward and we didn’t let the hardships get us down, because that was just part of the adventure.

We got to Tennessee in November and Thanksgiving rolled around very quickly. My parents flew down from Alaska and got a room at a nearby hotel. My mom and I went shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner and I kept having to remind my mom that I only had a tiny fridge and a little stove. As it was, when it came time to cook the turkey, we had a big scare that the turkey wouldn’t fit in our mini-oven. But we finally managed to cram it in there. We had a little card table set up as our dining room table and we got some folding chairs and somehow, holding small children in our laps, we managed to squeeze around our little table and enjoy our feast. Sometime during the meal we went around and shared what we were thankful for. Family, good food, a roof over our heads, a job, new beginnings. Friends.

In retrospect I can see how that Thanksgiving kind of held to the spirit of the first Thanksgiving so many years ago. Starting over in a new place. Things aren’t super comfortable. Some mixed emotions about the places you left behind. No idea how the future is going to unfold. And taking some time to be thankful. Because there is always something to be thankful for. This Thanksgiving, fifteen years down the road, I give thanks for Tennessee and how it’s people have opened their arms to us. I give thanks for my family, a roof over my head. Jobs. Old pathways that continue to meander their way into the future. Friends.

God is good.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!