An Easter-Themed Arrangement

This weekend, Erick and I visited my grandmother and aunt, who live in Quebec City. We had a fabulous time catching up and celebrating Easter, but it was bittersweet at times. It will come as no shock to anyone who knows my family to hear that my lovely grandmother is living that awful, cruel disease they call Alzheimer’s. My aunt is living it right along with her, and doing a frankly heroic job taking excellent care of her. It has been so hard to watch the vibrant, intelligent woman who was my grandmother become a shell of her former self. (And it’s not as if I live with the effects of this disease every day. I have no idea where my aunt finds her strength, to be honest.)

I digress.

Flowers make my grandmother happy, and I that makes me happy, so I decided to do up this little Easter-themed arrangement to please her.

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I purchased the flowers at Rose Drummond, which is our favourite mid-way stopping point between Montreal and Quebec City. For this arrangement, I was inspired by this pin.

I used:

3 pink roses

1 stem (multiple blooms) white daisies

1 pink/coral gerbera daisy

2 yellow roses

1 stem pink snapdragon

[1 stem Italian ruscus, which I ended up discarding from the arrangement]

3 packages of Easter-coloured jelly beans

1 medium-small mason jar

1 elastic band

1 medium glass cube vase

* You could do this using floral foam, to create a more secure arrangement. I wasn’t too concerned, since it wasn’t travelling. *

This is a really easy arrangement to create, and the filling of the cube with the jelly beans was actually the most difficult part!

Step 1: Choose and prep your flowers – at least 5-6 large blooms (roses +gerbera) plus filler (the daisies).

Step 2: Create a simple, round bouquet, alternating different blooms. Make sure to cross your stems in the same direction, so that you can easily change the tightness of the bouquet. Secure the stems with an elastic and cut them to the desired length. (BTW, this is how you can make a simple bridal bouquet. DIY brides for the win!)

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Step 3: Put your mason jar inside your cube vase (obviously, fill the mason jar with water). Insert your bouquet.

Step 4: Fill between the jar and vase with the jelly beans, a little at a time to keep everything even.

Step 5: Take a step back and check your arrangement to make any little tweaks. Literally and figurative, smell the roses!

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Now here’s the part where I tell you that I did the little step-back-and-smell-the-roses-and-do-a-tweak for a good hour. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what was bugging me about this arrangement.

And then it hit me. The greenery: way too Downton and not enough happy-go-lucky.

So I took it out.

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Bam. The power of editing!

Happy spring, fellow flourishers!

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India – Part 3

This is the final post about my trip to India, where I taught music classes at Angels’ Place, a home for children in Manipur. You can read about the rest of my trip here and here.

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Monday, April 7th

Monday morning began with rehearsal with the older kids. We worked on the harmony for “Down to the River”, and while it was not yet completely solid, I knew that they were very close. The children’s local music teacher attended and watched with interest as I worked with the kids. He then took the stage and worked on a piece (perhaps of his own creation?) using solfège syllables.

Later that morning, we visited the seller of the land for Angels’s Place, Mr. Nemzichuwang (apologies for any spelling errors), and enjoyed a walk through his very wild but very beautiful garden. He showed us how curry plants grow and gave us some samples to take home (which Mrs. Sanga and her cooking team prepared perfectly).

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There were hundreds of different varieties of flowers, and I laughed to see the kinds that I buy in the grocery store in Canada, growing wild!

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There were even peruvian lilies, or Alstromeria, growing. They seemed so much more beautiful in the wild than they do at Loblaws!

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I was astounded to see Amaryllis flowers growing wild in his garden!

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In the afternoon, we visited Churachandpur again and ate at a very nice restaurant. I had a mixed chow mein which was delicious and easy on my stomach.  We then stopped, at my request, at a beautiful textile store, where I purchased saris for myself, my mother and my friends. I figured that even if they didn’t want to wear them traditionally, they could make something from the fabric. On our way back to the car, we stopped for the obligatory stand-next-to-wandering-cow photo:

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We visited the home of the superintendent, Mr. Englian, where we met his wife, mother and father, and daughter. They welcomed us warmly into their beautifully kept home and gave us a tour of their garden.

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His daughter was very animated, and I enjoyed our conversation. His mother was hilarious, even though I couldn’t understand a word of what she said! She would laugh like a loon half the time, but clearly had all her buttons on. His father and wife were quieter, but no less lovely.

When we returned to Angels’ Place, I taught the younger and intermediate groups, and then also with Mr. Nemzichuwang’s daughter, who had a violin but no one to teach her. She and her family came over for about 45 minutes and we learned the basics of position, the strings, the bow, and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. She had a very good ear, and picked up the basics quickly. I think she was shy, and must have felt a bit intimidated to be having her first lesson in front of an audience of three!

I took plenty of photos of the kids with their new recorders, of course. They were very proud to have their picture taken!

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My teaching day wasn’t over, as a trio of girls wished to have a voice lesson. They were planning to perform in Tuesday’s concert, so I worked with them for a while. They were preparing a traditional Paite song called “Mangpha”, which means “goodbye”. It is really a gorgeous melody, and very plaintive. I love the harmonies that they have learned and they were kind enough to write out the song for me.

We had a powerful rainstorm, and the power went out several times. In between, we enjoyed the most delicious dinner thus far: duck, potato curry, black bean and mushroom ragout, rice, and fruit salad. It was fantastic!

Tuesday, April 8th

Tuesday morning was filled with rehearsal, as I prepared the children for the evening’s performance. I began at 6:30 with the oldest children, who named their choir the Foster Melodies. We worked a lot on our pieces, and on using dynamics effectively. Achieving a balanced piano sound was the most difficult thing for this group, but they go it in the end! After breakfast, I worked with the youngest children, who I’ve named Seraphim, partly in honour of the choir I sang with in Montreal and party because they are so angelic. And then I worked with the middle group, who have named themselves the Blessed Choir. They still needed some work, but young “tween” boys are almost always reluctant to sing. It will take time to build that culture of choir.

I also worked with the boys on their recorders. Some had good natural ability, and others… not so much. It was a pleasant half hour, though! Several of them have begun to grasp reading the notes, which is a huge achievement for such a short amount of time.

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I rehearsed my recorder duet of Planxty Irwin with Hedi and also our hymn “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds” in Paite! I had no idea how it would go in the concert, but I hope the kids would appreciate our efforts to sing in their language.

The afternoon was fairly calm, and then we prepared for the concert. I wore my beautiful new Punjabi dress, and put my hair up nicely. I was glad I had, because the girls in particular got dressed up really beautifully. Many of the boys did too.

The children had decorated the dining hall with banners in our honour, and I was very moved by this personal touch. The concert opened with Seraphim singing “Peaceful River” which went really well, and then “Fish and Chips” which was a lot of fun.

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 A young boy (whose name I didn’t catch) sang a solo, but kept forgetting the words. Thank goodness his friend brought him a notebook with the lyrics, so he was able to complete his song. There were speeches, and everyone spoke very eloquently. Jan, Leslie, Hedi and I performed our hymn which went quite well, though I don’t know if they children even understood our Paite. Sanga read out the lyrics to them afterwards, so I hope they got the gist of it!

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The Blessed Choir performed their two songs, “Simple Gifts” and “Tshosholoza” which both went ok. The girls did a great job, and the boys improved a lot since their first class. I was proud of their effort and perseverance!

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Hedi and I performed our recorder piece, “Planxty Irwin”. How ironic that I had to travel across the world to perform an O’Carolan tune! For my personal contribution, I gave a speech and sang “Wild Mountain Thyme”. I taught the chorus and they joined in on it. It was a wonderful moment!

A group of five boys performed two One Direction songs, calling themselves 5A Foster. Despite having worked hard on their songs with me, they got very nervous and had a difficult performance. But I was proud of their courage, all the same.

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The trio of girls sang “Mangpha”, and it went beautifully. I can’t wait to teach it to one of my choirs in Montreal. Jan and Sanga told the story of the Billy Goats Gruff, which the children enjoyed. The Foster Melodies performed “Down to the River”, which was absolutely gorgeous. Sanga then gave a short speech of thanks and presented us with parting gifts. Mine included a traditional Paite necklace and a plaque of thanks. I was quite overwhelmed to receive these gifts and cried all the way through the closing prayer. We finished with a rousing round of “Siyahamba”, which was a total triumph for the kids!

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Here’s a video of the highlights from the concert!

Following the concert, I distributed a maple toffee to every child and adult, which they really enjoyed. I must have taken over 100 photos! Here are a few of my favourites:

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By this time it was quite late, so we ended up having dinner close to 10:00. It was very simple, and I was so tired that I was barely hungry.

Wednesday, April 9th

Wednesday marked our departure from Angels’ Place. I was so sad to be going away from these marvellous children. They have so much promise, so much enthusiasm, and there is little of the sense of entitlement that we often see in Canada.

I am thrilled that they would like me to teach via skype more regularly. During their meeting yesterday, it was decided that installing a reliable internet connection would be a priority. This is going to open up so many doors for these kids, and also for their sponsors and volunteers.

Before breakfast, I met some of the little girls in the hallway. Seized by sudden inspiration, I took them outside and taught them how to play  the school yard game “What Tme is it Mr. Wolf?” It was an instant hit!

We had a very delicious breakfast. Warm naan bread!! It was heaven. We also had a noodle dish, sweet fried bread, fruit salad, and some kind of cream of wheat-like thing which I did not care for. The naan was definitely the best part, though.

I saw the younger children outside playing circle games so I went downstairs to join them. There was a silly song that we sang and then the person in the middle spun around with their eyes closed and pointed to someone. That person had to go and dance in the middle the next time. Lots of fun! Some of the older children even joined in.

When it was time to leave, the children presented us with small posies of flowers, which they had made themselves.

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The children all lined the driveway and waved handkerchiefs at us as we drove by. I received many high-fives and blew kisses. I could barely hold back my tears. Only the knowledge that I will go back kept me from bawling.

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We drove to Imphal to the airport, where we said a heartfelt goodbye to Sanga’s family. It is amazing how strangers can become so close when you live together for a week.

This has truly been a life-changing experience for me. These children have nothing and yet they have everything that matters. Their worldly possessions amount to the clothes on their backs and a few small trinkets, but they are content. What seemed like absolute necessity to me: hot running water, constant electricity, internet connection, suddenly seems like extreme opulence. These children are fed, clothed, educated and housed in a caring environment. For all that my Canadian students enjoy the wealth and privilege of the first world, I don’t believe they are any happier than the children I met this week. 

Of course I knew going in that this was how much of the world lives, but experiencing it first had has taught me not to pity them. In fact, in many ways, I envy the  simplicity and greater spiritual connection of their lives. Yes, I want to do all I can to provide opportunities for these children, but I have zero desire to provide them with things.

What I have truly gained on this trip is a greater sense of purpose. I could feel a higher being’s hand in what I was doing and in what is being done on a daily basis at the home. I don’t pretend to become a fervent church-goer, nor will I begin to spout Gospel verse; instead, I can claim a heightened sense of spiritual direction. I always knew that teaching is my passion, but I have realized God’s role in turing a passion into a vocation. 

These children have taught me much more than I have taught them, and I am eternally grateful.

***

Click here to learn more about Angels’ Place and their supporting organization, the James Connection. All of the children at Angels’ Place are sponsored by loving people in North America, and they are always seeking more support!

 

India – Part 2

I’m back with the second installment of my trip to India, where I taught music classes at Angels’ Place children’s home! Click here to read about the beginning of my adventures in North-East India.

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Saturday, April 5th

On Saturday morning, I was presented with a selection of tops to wear for our conclave event that afternoon. Sanga’s wife had purchased them for Hedi and Leslie and myself, so that we would have traditional dress to wear for the event. I chose a stunning coral chiffon top with coral beading and lace. But that wasn’t all! Mrs. Sanga wrapped me in a gorgeous turquoise sari, embroidered with turquoise and copper thread. The whole ensemble was really striking! Their generosity was truly touching and I admit that a few tears were shed over this beautiful and heart-felt gift.

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Some of the little girls joined us in our room for a recorder party. They didn’t really get it, but one of the older boys showed promise. He picked up “Jingle Bells” quite quickly! I had to laugh about playing “Jingle Bells” in April, but whatever motivates the kids is good with me!

The little girls enjoyed my pictures of home and playing with Garage Band on my iPad. I reached up to feel my hair, and one of them had put her bow in it. I really feel like these children are so completely selfless, and I wish all of our western kids had that sense of giving.

I had my first encounter en masse with the older students at Angels’ Place, and boy, do they ever sing! When I heard them at the devotional the day before, I was itching to get my hands on them as a choir, and I was totally right: they were naturals! We learned the African song “Siyahamba” in two parts, and the baritones were already very solid on their harmony, which was a fairly new concept for them. I would like to work with them again on something in three parts. I think they’re ready.

After choir, Hedi, Sanga, myself and Heidi’s two sponsor girls, Sarah and Raveena went into the market area of Churachandpur.

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The flowering trees were just gorgeous and I couldn’t resist asking Sanga to stop for a photo!

In the market, we purchased some clothing and shoes for the girls. They wanted high heels, and both chose very nice (but uncomfortable-looking) pairs. We took a quick trip through the food market, with its many sights (like wandering herds of cattle), smells and sounds. I saw banana flower for the first time, and also many new vegetables.

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It was fascinating, but we had to return to Angel’s Place to drop off the girls.

We returned to town for lunch at a restaurant called Fat Jame’s [sic].The food was delicious but too spicy for me to eat all of it.

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When we arrived back, there was just time to get changed into our Manipuri dress before the special conclave event. It was a lovely, if long, ceremony, with the children singing several numbers and performing a traditional dance. There was a speech by Jan which talked about the importance and effect of music worldwide. Sanga also spoke, and I was suitably embarrassed when he read my entire CV to the crowd. Yikes! I was also put on the spot when there was some kind of delay with a number, and in was asked to sing a song. I sang “Amazing Grace”, which the audience seemed to enjoy and then I gave a short speech, thanking the kids for introducing me to their culture.

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We greeted the crowd and took many (many!) pictures, and then we were free to relax a bit before dinner. I ended up sleeping for two hours, until I was woken up for dinner! Dinner was light, consisting of a lentil soup, called “dal”, and a sort of flatbread/tortilla with cumin in it. I must find out the name of it, because it was delicious. I slept soundly, and woke again when the bells from the nearby farms signalled the start of the day, around 4:30 am.

Sunday, April 6th

On Sunday morning, we got up a bit later, though I still woke much earlier than I am used to. Despite my efforts to go back to sleep, I couldn’t seem to block out the roosters’ crowing. I lay and listened to the early morning sounds until it got light enough to see. You hear the bells from the nearby farms, the small rustlings of people stirring, and then CRASH! The home with its young inhabitants begin their day!

I worked on an arrangement of “Down to the River to Pray” for the older kids to sing, and when I took our tiny keyboard downstairs to try it out, the kids were fascinated by how I was writing out the music. I tried to explain the basics as best I could, but I’m not sure how much I actually conveyed.

I took a particular interest in a boy named Pau, who showed a lot of promise musically. He really took to the recorder, so I gave him some one-on-one time and then gave him a recorder and a book to continue practicing. I planned to take some more time with him the following day. Pau was also a very good singer, and helped to translate my classes. He was a good sport about singing along with the younger children’s songs, and  was the kind of quiet student who observes and takes in everything.

At breakfast, Sanga arrived with our newly-delivered Punjabi dresses! I tried mine on and it may be one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing I’ve owned. The silk was light as a feather, and it fit me like a glove. I cannot believe that the whole thing cost me only 900 rupees, which is about $17 Canadian! The seamstress only charged 300 rupees, which is less than $10, and seemed so very little. I wanted to pay more but that just isn’t what’s done. I couldn’t wait to wear it for the final concert on Tuesday evening.

Unfortunately, I had some rather bad indigestion after breakfast, which caused me to miss the Sunday church service. I could hear their singing, though, and it was nice to nap to its sound.

After resting until the early afternoon, I felt much improved, and was able to eat some lunch. One dish (which I only tasted, as it was quite rich) was potatoes and shiitake mushrooms and was absolutely delicious!

After lunch, I did about 45 minutes with the young children, where we worked on “Fish ‘n Chips” as a round (which they totally got), the first part of “Dona Nobis Pacem”, and the first part of “Peaceful River”. I also showed them the video of the GJS singing “Peaceful River”, which they seemed to enjoy. It’s hard to tell because their English is still quite poor. They seemed to understand the song better with the addition of hand gestures, just like my kids at home!

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Next, I saw the 10-13 year olds, and boy, was that a tough crowd. The girls were very willing and have lovely voices, but the boys were quite shy and didn’t want to show too much enthusiasm. We worked on “Tshosholoza” and “Simple Gifts”, but I had lots of work to do there. Afterwards, I came up with the idea of asking some of the keen older children to join this younger group. I figured it might boost the confidence and interest of the boys.

We had our devotional service in the evening, which included two hymns in Paite. Their hymnals are printed in Paite, which uses English characters, and instead of notation, they use solfège. The children are actually quite well-versed in solfège, although they don’t know how this related to the staff. I did an exercise with the older kids the second day, where they moved around on a giant staff and the rest sang those notes. I’m not sure if I shouldn’t have used A, B, C notation, though, because they use moveable Do. Hmm.

After devotional, I kept back the older kids and we worked again on “Siyahamba”, and I started them on “Down to the River to Pray”. I taught the melody, because the harmony is homorhythmic, so it would make learning the harmony a bit easier the next day. They really were a fantastic group: extremely responsive and a pleasure to conduct.

Speaking of which, it looks like I may yet get to conduct them again! Leslie and I have concocted a plan to bring 25 of the best singers to Canada and the States next year for a concert tour. If it happens, it means that I will be going back to prepare them, likely during March break next year! I can’t wait!

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Check back on Saturday for the final installment of my trip to India!