Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thoughts and happenings

I had a voice lesson last Wednesday. I've been feeling really good about my lessons lately, like things are really starting to come together and my muscles are starting to internalize how they're supposed to move and behave when I'm singing. But Wednesday for whatever reason, probably a combination of tiredness and pollution, it took about half the lesson of different exercises to get my voice behaving correctly. But once it started sounding right, I was able to hold it there and sing through the numbers I've been working on and they sounded pretty good. Linda, my teacher, approved, and although she is an upbeat, constructive person, she won't hand out compliments when they aren't due.

We had a Chinese New Year party at my house on Friday, complete with a full-fledged Mongolian barbecue in the living room, manned by Dennis the jack-of-all-trades. The house smelled like a Chinese restaurant all day Saturday until Sarah decided enough was enough and opened the doors wide. The house aired out nicely, but it was like a fridge inside.

I went to hear the Utah Symphony on Saturday. I love the symphony. Why don't I go more often? It's such a fun reason to get dressed up and it's so easy to feel sophisticated when you're sitting in the elegant auditorium of Abravenal Hall.

They played Smetana's Ma Vlast in its entirety, all six movements. I had only heard three of them before. The whole symphony is so lyrical and poetic, although my favorite was The Moldau, without a doubt. This may be in part because I played the second flute part in high school, but it's also because The Moldau is simply a beautiful piece of music. I know of few program pieces that tell their story with such clarity and colorful illustration. The Moldau is a river in what was Czechoslovakia, Smetana's homeland ("Ma Vlast" means "My Country" in Czech, and each of the six movements is about a different region or a different story in Czechoslovakia). Listening to The Moldau is a journey of following the river from its source- little rivulets that are represented by two flutes- down as they become larger and merge and become a full-blown river. The river goes past a hunting party in the forest, a wedding party in the meadows, an old, abandoned castle by moonlight, and fairy sprites come out to play on its surface. It hits some rapids and waterfalls and then flows off into the distance. I love it because I've pictured the story that goes with it a hundred times in my head and I know every turn of the music and where it will take me on my journey down the river.

Someday I'll go see the Moldau river, and when I do, that music will be playing over and over in my head.

On a final note, patience has paid off and the first of the three amaryllis bulbs I planted in the living room planter is now gorgeous:

Snowy vacation = lots of time indoors

This is John (and me):


John is one of my youngest cousins. He lives in Minneapolis not too far away from my grandparents, and since he is a very affectionate lad, it was very fun to spend a little time with him when I wasn't doing biography work. He also has quite a fanciful imagination. I should have written down more of the stories he told me, because they were quite humorous.

Since the high was about 29 while I was there, the only time I spent outdoors for more than a few minutes was when John coaxed me to go sledding the the front yard. The next thing I knew, he was an Olympic sledder:
video

Very, very exciting. We also had a lot of fun going out to lunch with Grandma, Grandpa, and a handful of their friends who they meet for lunch at a buffet every Monday. I think the average age is about 82. We were all getting seated a a long table when I looked over and realized that John was sitting at a booth by himself. Hum. "John," I called, "Are you just going to sit there by yourself?"

"Well," he responded, "I was thinking that maybe you would come sit by me."

How can you resist that? I left my grandpa describing a dietary supplement and went to sit by John in his booth. He loaded up his plate with chicken nuggets and pizza. Excellent use of a buffet. Later his dessert concoction would be enough to make most people's arteries curdle by just looking at the layers of gummy bears, ice cream, cookies, and whipped cream. The whole time, he gave me a running commentary on the adventures of his cat, Midnight, who he once accidentally swallowed in the middle of the night, and about Ghost Hunters, his favorite TV show, and different ways that he could break his leg to get out of school. He didn't believe me when I told him that breaking a leg would only get him out of a day or two of school and then he'd have to go to school and he'd have crutches.

Even more than John's stories, though, I enjoyed the stories my grandma told me- and I was much more inclined to believe that these ones were true, although they may have been tinged by the fuzziness of many years' passage. I love her sense of humor and her gentle patience with life. She is one of my best friends and I'm a little sobered to realize that she thinks very highly of me, too- it's something to live up to, to be sure. She paid me a massive compliment by telling me that if she were young again, she would want to be like me, which makes me smile, since I want to be like her when I'm old.

Writing this book has been a wonderful experience. I'm not done, but it's been just like going on a treasure hunt, unearthing wonderful stories and experiences about my grandma's life. And hopefully the people who read it will get the same sort of experience. That's my hope.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vacationing in the Great White North

Tomorrow I'm heading to Minneapolis, the first of a slew of trips during the next four months or so- some for business, some for pleasure. This one is pleasure with a side of business, but not corporate business. It is my great hope to finish my grandmother's biography over the next few months (between trips) and this visit to see my grandparents is going to be a big part of that.

The goal was to have the book drafted in some form before I left. I can technically say that's true; I have a draft of every chapter that I have enough information to write on done. But there are still four or five chapters I'd like to include that I don't have nearly enough material for. So I'm crossing my fingers that between my grandma and my grandpa and my grandma's friends and my uncles and a few cousins, I'll be able to get what I need. We'll see.

I've been thinking tonight- I flew out to Minneapolis almost exactly four years ago. I remember the date because I remember watching Olympic ice skating in the basement with Grandpa while I was there. I was there to interview for grad school at the University of Minnesota, and between that and the terrible car accident that Grandma was in shortly before I arrived, it was a rather emotional and stressful visit. I anticipate this one will be much more relaxed. Also, the thought that I was interviewing for grad school four years ago suddenly makes me feel rather old. But there's nothing like hearing my grandma's stories about growing up in the Great Depression to make me feel young again, so hooray! This will be a fun trip.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Contemplation

I can never satisfactorily decide if I am an invert or an extrovert. It's Sunday night and we had ward prayer at our house, and after about forty-five minutes of mingling and talking, here I am ensconced in my room, listening to the happy chatter of voices in the living room but content to not be among them.

Sometimes when I'm feeling worn down and tired the best thing in the world is to go out and talk to people and be lighthearted and listen to their stories and share a laugh or a tear. And sometimes it's so much better to come away and not associate with anyone but myself and Heavenly Father.

Hm. I may never come up with a conclusive answer. But I do know that after a contemplative Sunday, being frivolous is not a savory feeling. So I come away and spend time with my books and my journal and my thoughts. And my blog, I suppose. And I ponder on how to draw the best line for spending time with others and spending time alone. I've felt the importance lately of following the admonition of an excellent song- "Take time to be holy, the world rushes on. Spend much time in private with Jesus alone. By looking to Jesus, more like Him you'll be. Thy friends in they conduct His likeness will see." I don't think in any way that this means to become a hermit and close myself off from the world, but I do think it means that if there's a choice between frivolous socialization and private meditation and character review, right now at least I need to choose the latter.

Of course, it's even better when the deep meditation and contemplation and the socialization cross each other. I was very fortunate this weekend to be able to meet up with two exceptional friends- one on Friday night and one on Saturday night; the kind of people that I know I can talk about the peaceable things of the kingdom with, the good, deep, solid things that make life really worthwhile and full of substance, that leave me feeling content and sustained. And it makes me wish that there were maybe ten people at most in my living room right now instead of twenty or so, and that they were the kind of people that I knew well enough I knew had the depth to converse with like that.

But I'm glad that they're here and that they're having fun and unwinding after a long week. And I'm also glad that I have a space of my own where I can come when I want to seek solace and privacy. Time to contemplate.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Abundant Life

There are times in my life where everything seems to line up. It's not that everything is perfect or that I'm always happy or even content, but it's that almost every aspect of my life feels fulfilling and stretching. I can still see the imperfections, but I also can see how I can fix them, and I realize that I can't fix them all at once, that it's a journey. These are times that are filled with good people and good activities, that don't allow me to float by effortlessly but create and provide constructive means for development. And a large part of that, I think, comes from inside of me, but a lot of it is also the result of external blessings that I'm given for different seasons in my life.

I think that now is one of those times. I get up in the morning and have a great conversation with Heavenly Father and listen to a little NPR (something about NPR always make me feel productive). I'm rather fond of cream of wheat right now, so after my morning bowl, I scratch together a lunch (bonus points if it involves yummy leftovers) and enjoy my ten-minute commute and the fact that I encounter minimal traffic.

I get to work and am immediately faced by situations and research projects that require me to actively think things through and study things out. I run tests and procedures that, indirectly, impact the lives of lots of people. I learn fascinating things about molecular biology. When I go to lunch, I enjoy the company of great friends whose company I enjoy.

In the evenings, depending on the day, I may go to my excellent Institute class and learn more about the most recent teachings of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency, or attend an endowment session in the temple to take a step back from life and ponder things of a greater nature, or attend a voice lesson, or go to a choir rehearsal, or work on my grandmother's biography, or, on rare nights, kick back and read for a while. In between times, my roommates and I participate in all kinds of adventures. They are currently making a late-night dinner in our kitchen right now, to be followed by watching Beauty and the Beast (we'll see how much of that I stay up for . . .)

Or other adventures take place. Last Friday night we went hot springing outside of Ogden under the full moon. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are common. There's always something going on and it's always enjoyable.

On Saturday, I got to meet my newest nephew, Henry. He was born on Wednesday and he and his parents were nicely situated back at home when I came down to Orem. It was wonderful to meet the tiny boy. It's been a while since I've held such a new-born baby, and it was a wonderful reminder of how precious life is.

Seasons like this are a gift, and I hope that I am using it wisely to stretch and grow and serve. It's so good, and I am at peace, and happy.