remembering Paul

Yesterday, for the second time in a week, I attended a memorial service. My spouse B and I attended services for Paul Everett. Paul and B had been co-workers at IBM for many years before Paul had to leave work for health reasons.

While Anita’s had been a Catholic funeral, Paul’s service was in the Reformed Protestant tradition. Because it was in non-liturgical form, the service was more easily molded to reflect Paul’s life and gifts, which, if you read the obituary linked above, you will realize were many and varied.

For example, all the music in the service was arranged by Paul for folk instruments. Paul had hosted a weekly folk session for many years and compiled his beginner-friendly arrangements in the Wednesday Night Jam Canonical Tune Book. B and I had chosen seats near the ensemble, which included guitars, piano, accordion, tin whistle, fiddle, and hammered dulcimer, an instrument that Paul had both constructed and played. The gathering music took place at the beginning of the service rather than before it so that we could listen and reflect instead of being distracted by conversation.

The homily was given by Paul’s son Isaac, who inherited his father’s love of music and theology, studied them, and became both a professional musician and an ordained minister. Isaac used his father’s love for the Book of Jonah as a lens to relate who his father was. It was moving and heart-felt and beautifully crafted. I’m sure Paul, who had served as a deacon and lay preacher himself, would have been proud. Isaac also played guitar and piano during the service.

During fellowship time after the service, B was able to connect with some retired IBMers who were in attendance and reminisce about Paul, including his adventures and misadventures building boats and taking them out on the waters. Fortunately, Paul’s nautical journeys went better than Jonah’s!

Later in the afternoon, I went to vigil mass at my home parish. The opening hymn was “Here I Am, Lord” which was the gathering song for Anita’s funeral. At communion, we sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” which we had sung at Paul’s memorial service. The echo of these songs calls me to reflect on what my call is at this time of my life, increasingly cognizant that I am much closer to the end of my life than the beginning.

Rest in peace, Anita. Rest in peace, Paul. Thank you for your example of how to live fully until the end.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/15/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-15th-2023/

Weekend wrap-up

Just a quick evening post today, because I’ve had a busy weekend with two performances of Twelfth Night with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton.

Both performances were well received by very appreciative audiences. As always, there are moments that don’t go quite as well as they might have but those aren’t noticeable to the audience, so they don’t matter in the long run.

I was happy to have family and/or friends at both performances. I loved the opportunity to share this music and celebration with them. After the performance today in Greene, there was a lovely reception, which afforded us a chance to meet some of our audience members. This was the first time we had sung in Chenango County, so it was nice to have new community connections.

Madrigal Choir now has a bit of a break before our next set of rehearsals begins for an American Songbook concert in April. Stay tuned!
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/08/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-8th-2023/

Twelfth Night!

I will be performing with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton this weekend, my first time participating in their traditional Twelfth Night celebration.

If you are in or near Broome County, New York, please come join in the fun! Tickets are $20 in advance at www.madrigalchoir.com or at the door. There are also $5 student tickets available at the door only.

I’ll be in the second row, dressed like this:


Hope to see you there!
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/06/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-6th-2023/

a quiet Christmas

Spouse B, daughter T, and I were on our own this Christmas. While we had originally hoped that daughter E, son-in-law L, and granddaughters ABC and JG were going to be able to join us from London, UK, circumstances prevented that, probably a blessing in disguise given the travel disruptions caused by the extreme weather here in the US.

We here in Broome County, New York, were spared the worst of the storm. While it was cold and windy, we didn’t get a lot of snow and ice. Our hearts go out to places that suffered flooding or blizzard conditions. Erie County, about 200 miles to our west, has reported 25 deaths so far from the intense blizzard.

I did change my plan for when I went to church, in deference to the cold. I decided to attend the 4 PM vigil rather than the 10 PM. We had a prelude program from a wonderful brass quintet from Southern Tier Brass. I especially appreciated their rendition of “Lo, How a Rose” which was arranged from the Brahms organ chorale prelude that I learned when I was in college and which has always been a favorite of mine.

I also loved the introduction to the liturgy, which welcomed everyone whatever their state in life. It meant a lot to me to hear such an explicit statement of universality. The word catholic means universal but the Church has often strayed from that concept. I appreciated hearing this all-encompassing welcome at Christmas-time when people who aren’t members are often in attendance while visiting family or friends.

In the evening, B, T, and I watched Miracle on 34th Street, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. T had never seen it and it had been many years since B and I had watched it. It was a sweet way to spend Christmas Eve.

In the morning, we enjoyed cranberry and date nut bread so breakfast, made by B who does a lot of the cooking and baking, especially over the holidays. We opened stockings and gifts. I was especially pleased to receive a 10th generation iPad from B; our current one is 2nd generation, so definitely a step up!

We had a chance to video chat with our London family when it was mid-morning here and mid-afternoon there. The energy of a two- and a five-year-old was palpable, even five time zones away. B and I were also lucky to have phone conversations with our siblings.

When E and T were young, celebrating Christmas was a days-long endeavor. Christmas Day would be spent with my parents who lived nearby. In the following days, my sisters would arrive with their families for a couple of days and then we would travel to B’s parents’ home in Vermont, which usually involved a celebration with his extended family. Days and days of gifts, socializing, and eating.

With just the three of us, we scaled back on the extent of our traditional holiday fare. B did make lasagna for Christmas dinner, using Nana’s recipe. He also made fresh, artisanal bread and sauteed asparagus, followed by tiramisu for dessert. On Christmas Day, we used to have a variety of homemade Christmas cookies for dessert; we would make eight or so types, sometimes supplemented by homemade dried-fruit fruitcake and chocolate fudge. At the moment, we only have two kinds of cookies, pecan puffs from B’s family recipe and cranberry-pistachio biscotti.

Although our celebration was scaled down this year, it felt right, homey and comfortable and mostly low-stress.

I don’t know if we will ever return to a predictable pattern for Christmas celebrations. With all our elder generation now passed on, it’s unlikely that we will have big, extended family gatherings as we were accustomed. Last year, the first Christmas after Paco passed away, we went to London for three weeks over the holidays, just as the first wave of Omicron was cresting. It was complicated.

The pandemic has reinforced the lesson to expect the unexpected and to be open to change. It’s difficult because we often carve certainty and routine. The parlance you often hear is “return to normal.” For me, there is no way for that to happen – for holidays or for much of the rest of life.

So, this year I will be content with a quiet Christmas, having no idea what next year will bring but hoping I will have the grace and support to handle it.

moving toward Christmas

I’m managing to do more Christmas preparation than I have in the last several years.

I have over half my holiday cards sent.

Yesterday, B and I went to the tree farm to buy our Christmas tree and wreath. Today, along with daughter T, we decorated the tree.

I love our Christmas ornament collection. There are ornaments that belonged to our parents. Ones we have bought on our travels over the years. Ones we received as gifts. Home-made ones by my grandmother, B’s mom, B as a child, our children. Handcrafted ones made by artists on four continents, including my friend Yvonne Lucia. Ornaments made of cloth, yarn, wood, birch bark, wax, corn husks, glass, paper, teasels, metal, ceramic, plastic, even eggshell. The angel on top of the tree is one I made from a kit with the help of a friend shortly after B and I married. The latch-hooked tree skirt featuring candy canes was made by my mother.

If our home suffered a disaster and our ornament collection was lost, it would be impossible to re-create.

Still, during the years when I was caring for my parents and in the immediate aftermath of their passing, as much as I cherish these ornaments, I couldn’t being myself to unwrap them, touch them, place them on the tree. Even when others had done so, I could only manage a few glances at them.

Dealing with grief and loss is an individual and unpredictable endeavor. Last Christmas, our first since the death of my father, known here as Paco, we traveled to visit daughter E and her family in London, so we didn’t have our usual Christmas decorations. I really wasn’t sure how much of the usual Christmas routine I would be able to resume this year, so I am grateful that I felt up to participating in some decorating.

Granted, Christmas this year will be quieter than usual. It will be just B, T, and I celebrating at home. I will be going to church on my own. There will be stockings and some presents to open. (I admit my Christmas enthusiasm has not yet extended to shopping.) We will have a nice dinner and dessert although we haven’t settled on the menu yet. We have decided not to make our usual number of cookies, most years dozens of cookies in at least a half dozen varieties. It just doesn’t make sense for three people.

I think one of the factors in my feeling some Christmas spirit this year was singing Lessons and Carols with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton last weekend. Given that I spent so many years doing liturgy planning and music in Catholic churches, I’m not accustomed to singing Christmas music publicly during Advent, but I think this year doing so boosted my anticipation for Christmas and helped me to feel up to helping with decorating.

If I’m lucky, it will carry me through finishing the cards next week.

If not, I will try to remember to take the advice that I offer to others who are dealing with loss: Be gentle with yourself.

Maybe the fragrance of the Canaan fir, the rainbow-hued lights, the meaningful ornaments will help lift my spirit if it flags.

Christmas trees are beautiful, even through misty eyes.

SoCS: silent letters

Silent letters are one of the difficulties in learning written English.

There are a lot of them! (There are a lot of other weird features to spelling in English, too. I pity anyone having to learn it as a second, third, or fourth language.)

I realize other languages have them, too. I never studied French but occasionally have to sing in it. I’m always having to cross out letters that aren’t pronounced.

The first opportunity I had to study a second language was in high school. I chose Italian for a number of reasons. My mom’s grandparents spoke it, although in dialect which is not what you learn in school. Also, Italian is used extensively in music markings. In the US, Latin is sung using Italianate pronunciation and I often have call to sing in Latin.

Learning to spell and pronounce words in Italian is much more straightforward than in English. There are almost no silent letters. H is the letter that is sometimes silent and sometimes a signifier of a change to another consonant sound. Once you learn the pure vowel sounds and a few little rules, it is very easy to read a text in Italian. You might not know what you are saying, but it will sound beautiful!
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “a word with a silent letter.” We could write about it or about silent letters in general. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/09/09/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-10-2022/

SoCS: meetings

Earlier this year, I joined the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton and was somewhat shocked but definitely honored to be offered a seat on their board.

I’ve never been on a board before, although I’ve been on lots of committees. Even though I don’t think being on committees is my strong suit, I did accept.

I haven’t had enough time to figure out yet if it was a mistake.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas to contribute. It’s more the incredible stress of trying to get them out.

I’m an introvert who finds talking to more than two people at a time really stressful. So a board meeting where I know almost no one is daunting. Add in being thrown into the midst of discussions that had been ongoing and for which I have limited background and the stress level goes up exponentially.

I am, however, determined and dogged and faithful, so I will try to do my best to contribute and be a good board member.

At least, for now.

We are coming up on the one year anniversary of my father’s death. After the months of having to deal with all the paperwork and estate settling, I had been trying to re-prioritize my commitments. I thought that I would be doing mostly solitary activities, other than poetry workshopping. Well, and rehearsing with Madrigal Choir.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Besides Madrigal Choir Board, I’ve been involved with the Creation Care Team at my church, which has now also morphed into involvement with the diocesan creation care task force. Dealing with anything on the diocesan level is fraught for me for more complex reasons than I could possibly tackle in SoC.

For sanity’s sake, I know I should scale back, but will I?

Probably not.

Well, not at the moment, anyway…
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “board/bored.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/08/26/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-27-2022/

Much Ado in the Garden

Why, you may ask, is Joanne wearing a fetching Renaissance costume?

Because tomorrow, Sunday, July 17, 2022, I will be singing madrigals with The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton at the Much Ado in the Garden event, sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension-Broome County.

There will be music, dancing, garden tours, Shakespearean scenes, games, food, and more, so come to Cutler Botanic Garden and join us!

Madrigal Choir will be singing at 2:00. At 11:15 AM, I will also be participating in a mini-workshop and reading with the Binghamton Poetry Project, but not in costume.

I’m sure that you want to see my headpiece, so one more costume shot.

My 40th reunion at Smith

Last week, I attended my fortieth reunion at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. For those who may not be familiar, Smith is a women’s liberal arts college, chartered in 1871, one of the traditional Seven Sisters, five of whom remain as women’s colleges.

I came into town a day early in order to meet up with an alumna friend who lives in Northampton and graduated a year before me. Her sister was a member of my class and passed away in fall 2020. I was honored to be able to commemorate her at the Service of Remembrance during our reunion. My ’81 friend and I enjoyed hours of conversation on her front porch, followed by dinner on the porch at Mulino’s, an Italian restaurant that did not exist back in my student days.

I stayed at the historic Hotel Northampton, which has fun features like a mail slot near the elevators on each floor that connects to a large brass mailbox on the main floor for pick-up by the postal service every morning. I also got to do a bit of shopping at Thorne’s Marketplace, a collection of local shops and restaurants housed in a grand historic building. Thorne’s was a fairly new undertaking back in my undergrad days and I’m glad to see that it continues to thrive. I bought some cards and gifts and books and made two trips to Herrell’s ice cream shop. I got a sampler each time, so I got to enjoy eight – count ’em, eight! – of their delicious homemade flavors. This will surprise no one that knows me. I also got to have lunch at Fitzwilly’s, a restaurant/bar that was also relatively new during my student days. I had mac ‘n cheese that featured fresh asparagus from a farm in nearby Hadley. I love asparagus, which is one of the glories of spring in New England; it reminds me of going with my parents to harvest a patch near my father’s hydro station, a remnant of a garden from an old company-owned house that had been torn down.

On Thursday afternoon, I went up to campus for the duration of reunion. Because of the pandemic, everyone had to have proof of vaccination and boosting to register and many of the meals and events were held outdoors. Indoor events were masked, except while eating and drinking. I immediately met up with some of my ’82 friends and the celebration began!

One of the things about Smith reunions – and Smith alums in general – is that we somehow manage to have meaningful conversations with each other at the drop of a hat. Perhaps because of our shared liberal arts background, we are engaged with a broad range of topics across current affairs, public policy, arts and culture, and on and on. Of course, the deepest conversations happen with our close friends but there is a lot of sharing of ideas with acquaintances, too. In retrospect, I wish I had prepared a succinct answer to the question “What do you do?” Lacking a shorthand reply, like “I’m a lawyer, working for this government agency” or “I teach at such-and-such school”, I found myself stumbling to explain forty years of my life in any brief, comprehensible way.

Unlike the vast majority of my classmates, I’ve done little paid work in my life. I’ve devoted many years to being a caregiver of both elder and younger generations, with more than our share of medical issues. I’ve volunteered in church music and liturgical ministry and facilitated a spiritual book study group. During my daughters’ years in public school I served on curriculum committees and shared decision making teams and helped design the honors program at the high school. I joined NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, in 2000 to advocate for social justice. I was part of the anti-fracking movement in New York which finally achieved an administrative and later legislative ban in our state; this led to ongoing involvement in the fight for climate and environmental justice. There is my writing life, as a blogger and poet.

This does not condense into an easy answer to “What do you do?” but it does constitute the bulk of my adult life, which would not have been as rich and varied were it not for my Smith education. The ideal of a liberal arts education is that you “learn how to learn.” By studying across the spectrum of academic disciplines, one absorbs different approaches to real-life issues, enabling critically sound and creative solutions that promote well-being for ourselves and others and for our environment.

Maybe I should have replied, “Just forty years of being liberal-artsy.”

The other thing that I hadn’t quite prepared myself for was the flood of family memories. Because it was only an hour-ish drive to campus, my parents visited often for concerts and events. They were there for my recitals in Helen Hills Hills Chapel and John M. Greene Hall. They visited at Haven House where I lived all four of my years on campus. There were there, of course, at B and my wedding, a few weeks after commencement with the reception at the Alumnae House. This reunion was the first time since their deaths that I was back on campus and missing them added another layer to the strange mix of familiarity and difference that the passage of forty years brings. For example, I thought about my parents when we were attending the remembrance service, sitting in rows of chairs where the pews had once stood. The pews were removed years ago to allow for more flexible use of the space but their absence felt strangely current when I remembered B and my parents there in the front pews on either side for our wedding.

I also found myself missing my mother in particular among the spring flowers. We were blessed with unusually warm weather for mid-May and the flowers and trees were blooming simultaneously and profusely in response. The scent of the lilacs between the President’s House and the Quad, where we were staying, was so overwhelming I nearly choked. There were lily-of-the valley in bloom, which are Nana’s birth flower. What would have been her 90th birthday was the day after reunion and the third anniversary of her death is a few days from now.

I’m grateful to have been among friends who could support me with this grief aspect. Many of us have lost our parents now, with some still in the phase of dealing with their final years and indeterminate endpoint. As classmates, we were also dealing with the deaths of more of our ’82ers, adding to the list that, sadly, began during our senior year when we lost one classmate in a plane accident and a second to cancer. That’s why I and some friends always make a point to attend the service of remembrance during reunion. We want to honor our departed ones and their importance in our lives, even if they left us long ago. After the service, we visited the memorial tree planted beside the chapel in honor of our classmate Beth. We took a photo which we will send to her mother, who I know finds comfort that we remember her all these decades after her death.

While the central activity in reunion is visiting friends, there are plenty of other things to keep us busy. Some are long-standing traditions, such as Ivy Day when the alums, wearing white, parade between rows of the graduating seniors, also wearing white and carrying red roses, welcoming them into the community of alumnae. The night before commencement, the central campus is illuminated with Japanese lanterns. People stroll among them with live music in several locations.

There are also a number of lectures, receptions, and concerts. The President gave an update on the state of the college. Everyone is very excited that grants are replacing loans in financial aid packages at Smith, making an education possible without graduating in debt. Smith also highlights its accessibility for students who are the first generation in their family to attend college. That was my situation forty years ago but it was not recognized in the way it is today. I also attended two lectures of interest. One was how the Botanic Gardens are being re-imagined in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and best practices for preserving species in the face of climate change, all with an eye toward education and social/environmental justice. The other was about the transition of campus to ground-source heating and cooling, which will be a major contributor to Smith being carbon-neutral by 2030 without making extensive use of purchased off-sets. I was particularly interested in this because of the projects we have done at our home to reduce our carbon footprint and because my church is in the process of drawing up a strategic plan to reduce or eliminate our use of fossil fuels.

Besides college activities, we had a few opportunities just for our class. I alluded to one in this post – an open mic event to read something from our college years. I chose a passage from my adult psychology course journal about my experience coming from a tiny town to Smith. A few of us had brought something with us but we had time to do additional sharing which was fun. Our class theme for Reunion was “Writing Our Next Chapter” and I appreciated that our futures also came into that discussion.

We were also honored to have a preview screening of Where I Became, a documentary about South African students who came to Smith during apartheid. Our classmate Jane Dawson Shang is co-producer and shared some of her experiences making the film. When it becomes publicly available, I will surely share that information here at Top of JC’s Mind so everyone can see the remarkable story of these women.

Reunions at Smith are always exhilarating but exhausting. I had originally planned to attend commencement on Sunday morning but opted for quiet conversation with friends. Walking 17-20,ooo steps a day for three days straight in hot. humid weather proved to be a bit much for my feet and ankles, which swelled rather impressively.

It also meant that my reunion experience ended with what is always most important, sharing with friends in a place that was instrumental to our lives. I hope to see some of them and return to campus before our next reunion.

Five years seems too long to wait.

“A Ukrainian Prayer”

Celebrated British composer John Rutter, moved by the plight of the Ukrainian people, set a prayer in Ukrainian and made it available free of charge to choirs around the world, so that they can learn, record, and share it as widely as possible.

I was honored to join in this effort as a member of the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton. (You can find my post about my first concert with them here.) You can view our recording under the direction of Bruce Borton here: https://fb.watch/co_j5FwNUm/. Although the recording is hosted on the Facebook platform, it is available publicly; you do not need to have a Facebook account to access and share the recording.

At this point, there are a number of recordings of this moving piece available online. If you listen to several, you may notice that the rhythm differs. On March 28th, Rutter released a modified version of the score to better align with the Ukrainian language. The Madrigal Choir sang this modified version. Rutter also has provided a singing translation in English. I’ve yet to hear a recording using the English text, but you may run across one at some point. The Ukrainian text is brief and a translation appears at the beginning of our recording.

Whether or not one follows a personal spiritual tradition, this music is a powerful sign of support for the Ukrainian people. I also urge people to send financial support, if they are able. There are many organizations helping in relief efforts. One of my favorites is World Central Kitchen, which is on the ground in crisis situations around the world, including in Ukraine and surrounding countries that are welcoming refugees.

Rutter’s intent for this piece is that it will spread around the world to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people. If you are so moved, share this post, the link to the Madrigal Choir rendition, and/or another recording you may encounter. If you sing in a choir and would like to participate in this effort, you can find details and procedures for downloading the score here: https://johnrutter.com/news-features/prayer-for-ukraine.

Lord, protect Ukraine. Give us strength, faith, and hope, our Father. Amen.

%d bloggers like this: