Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Letter to our nephew, Evan, in SC from Flat Stanley

Dear Evan,
Thank you so much for sending me to visit Aunt Kathy and Uncle Larry in Rhode Island. I had such a great time. Their house is beautiful and it’s right on the beach! Their beach is rocky, not sandy like Myrtle Beach. I had fun with their two dogs, Jackson and Mattie Grace. I chased them around the yard, but once I tripped on the outdoor Christmas tree rope. I loved their light-up deer in the yard. The Christmas lights were so beautiful. We saw lots of festive Christmas lights, and I sat in a lot of Christmas trees. I felt like a Christmas angel!

First, we visited Newport. On the way, we stopped to see the sea marsh lands across from the Sakonnet River, which is the name of the part of the ocean that Aunt Kathy and Uncle Larry live on. It is in Narragansett Bay. Everywhere we go in Rhode Island means crossing bridges because it is surrounded by water.

Newport was founded in 1639. The settlement soon grew to be the largest of the four original towns of Rhode Island. Many of the first colonists in Newport quickly became Baptists, and in 1640 the second Baptist congregation in Rhode Island was formed under the leadership of John Clarke.”  It was cold the day we visited, so I needed a warm coat. I learned that Newport was a popular port for pirates in the late 17th and 18th centuries. We didn’t see any though. I was a little disappointed. “During the Colonial period, Newport was also the center of the slave trade in New England. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, wealthy southern planters seeking to escape the heat began to build summer cottages on Bellevue Avenue.”  We went to see “The Breakers” built by the Vanderbilt family. I think you went there too, didn’t you? Isn’t it huge? We also stopped at Salve Regina University on the way to The Breakers. It was way too cold to walk on the famous “Cliff Walk”, and Hurricane Sandy destroyed a big part of it anyway. This is a mostly paved path along the shoreline with a view of back yards of all the mansions. I wish we could have walked it. Maybe next visit.

Next, we went to Fort Adams in Newport. It “was established on July 4, 1799 as a First System coastal fortification. Its first commander was Captain John Henry who was later instrumental in starting the War of 1812. When the United States gained independence in 1783, the seacoast defense fortifications were in poor condition. Concerned by the outbreak of war in Europe in 1793, the Congress created a combined unit of artillerymen and engineers in 1794, appointed a committee to study coastal defense needs, and appropriated money to construct a number of fortifications that would become known as the First System”  I climbed up on one of the cannons, but I slipped and fell into the turret. Uncle Larry had to find something in the car to pull me out. It was dark down there with trash and I thought I saw something move in the corner. I was so afraid, but he saved me.  I was wet and cold after that adventure, so we went into town and got a hot chocolate at the Starbucks on America’s Cup Avenue.

Newport is one of the sites of the big America’s Cup sailing race. The race came back to Newport in July. “The America’s Cup is a trophy awarded to the winner of the America's Cup match races between two sailing yachts. It is the oldest active trophy in international sport.”  There were sailboats on the ocean that we could see in a couple of different places along the way. I thought how fun it would be to learn to sail. I like the idea of the wind in my hair and the salt air on my face. I could be a sailor, right?

Uncle Larry let me share his hot chocolate with whipped cream and his “bear claw”. They were delicious! I also got to warm up next to the wood stove. I love New England. It’s so cozy.   We went across the street to look at the marina and a giant sculpture of dolphins playing. It was beautiful. After we warmed up a bit, we drove down Ocean Drive to see more damage Hurricane Sandy caused. Waves broke parts of the sea wall and the road. It flooded all the way across the street. Work is still going on to repair the damage. I thought about the power of water and what God made. It made me feel humble. I sat on the sandbags that still line the road.

Next we went to Bristol. Along the way we found a topiary museum that was closed, but Uncle Larry let me ride on the reindeer while Aunt Kathy took a picture. Then we walked down to the beach where we saw Prudence Island across the water and I collected a scallop shell. We drove by Roger Williams University on the way to Bristol. That’s where Cousin Chris went to school.

When we got to Bristol, we found out they were going to have their tree lighting ceremony, so we went to a restaurant for dinner and to watch the sunset. We met Liz, our waitress. She was very nice. Once it was dark, we wandered up to Main Street where the giant tree was and people were starting to gather. Someone was playing Christmas music on a loud speaker. Next kids from different schools in town played drums and xylophones with the high school chorus singing Christmas caroles. Soon, Mother and Father Christmas came to light up the giant tree, but not before beautiful dancers from a local school performed a number just like the Rockettes in New York City. We all clapped and laughed. It was so magical. Aunt Kathy noticed that the beautiful woman playing piano for the chorus was the same person who plays for her chorus. We went to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Main Street on the way to the ceremony because that is where Aunt Kathy’s first Celtic Christmas concert with her chorus was sung. She took pictures of me with the luminarias on the church steps. And, we found flyers for her concert in festively decorated store windows. We don’t see window designs like this in South Carolina. A nice policeman was standing with workers who decorated the town Christmas tree, and agreed to take his picture with me. I had such fun!

Uncle Larry had a date with his old boss, Dr. John Kohl, and a friend and colleague, Professor Bill Parkinson, for their annual Christmas lunch at Legal Sea Foods in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Uncle Larry took me along and I got to have lunch with famous scientists! Yes, they really are “rocket scientists”! Wow. I couldn’t understand a lot of what they talked about, but it was very interesting all the same.

Next, Uncle Larry took me to Fenway Park! You went there too, right? Along the way, he passed the Boston Symphony building. It was really beautiful. He told me about the concerts he attended there. He and Aunt Kathy saw an Irish music group called “The Chieftains” there a couple of times. The accoustics are supposed to be wonderful. I wish I could hear a concert there sometime. After we left Boston, Uncle Larry noticed a red pickup truck in front of us with a license plate that read, “Evan1” on it. He took a picture, but I don’t think you can see it very well. Last but not least, he took me to Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. It was a huge stadium and we saw it at sunset. It was great. Then, he took a picture of me in front the jerseys of Tom Brady, the famous quarterback, and Wes Welker, the wide receiver. It was very exciting.
Last Friday night, we all drove to Providence. It was a sad day because that day a young, mentally disturbed man shot and killed a lot of little children, his mother and himself at an elementary school in Connecticut. We were all very sad that day and saw that the American Flag was flying at half mast at the State House. Providence is the capital of Rhode Island. The building is beautiful, and a nice guard let us inside so I could see the decorated tree. Uncle Larry said he could have lost his job because he didn’t make us go through the metal detector. I thanked him very much for his kindness and wished him a Merry Christmas. Governor Lincoln Chafee got in a lot of “hot water” recently because last Christmas he insisted on calling the state tree a “Holiday Tree” instead of a “Christmas Tree”. He got in so much trouble, he didn’t do the usual tree lighting ceremony for television this year to avoid more protests, so he lit it in secret instead. Some other people put up their own Christmas Tree for the state. I think grownups are silly sometimes.

We drove around the city and visited Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University. Did you know that Brown’s mascot is a huge brown bear? And, I found it interesting that they had a solar-powered  trash compactor outside right on campus grounds! I never saw that before. Aunt Kathy and I sat under a very cool sculpture of dancing people. They looked like they were made from aluminum foil! If they were, that would be a lot of foil. There was a huge tower on the Brown campus with a motto that read, “Love As Strong As Death”. I thought it was very powerful, so I asked Aunt Kathy to take a picture of it.
Lastly, we parked our car in the biggest shopping mall I’ve ever seen, Providence Place, and ate supper at P.F. Chang’s Restaurant before we went to “Waterfire”. Aunt Kathy fed me some delicious sushi made of tuna with vegetables on a very crisp chip. I loved it. And, the waitress recognized me! I felt famous. There were giant Chinese statues in the restaurant, so I wanted to have my picture taken next to one. It was very cool.

Waterfire”  is an arts project organized by a non-profit group for the City of Providence. The organizers light up over eighty braziers on the water that runs from Providence Place Mall, under several bridges along Waterplace Park to Memorial/South Main Street Park. The shores of the little river are lined with lit Christmas trees with colorfully lit boats shuttling revelers around all the fires. There is festive Christmas music playing on loud speakers, and we also saw gondoliers singing caroles under torch-holding people. It was very cool. One of the singers let me sing along! There was a place under one bridge where children painted tiles of peace and love that were cemented to the bridge walls and pillars. There were hundreds of tiles. They were really beautiful, and made me smile. People also sold their art work under this bridge and a nice woman gave me a signed metal ornament she made about the state Christmas Tree, which made fun of the governnor, but I’m bringing it home for you, Evan, just the same. It’s pretty nice, and she took a picture with me to show you. We also saw carolers dressed up in old Victorian clothes like they wore in England for that movie we like to watch, “A Christmas Carol”. Bah humbug! Not really. I sang with them too. I love singing. Did you know that?

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. At “Waterfire”, I sat on Santa’s lap! Instead of asking him for a present this Christmas, I thanked him for my gift of this trip to Rhode Island, and for all my blessings. I also thanked him for the good work he does for all the children. He liked that.
See you soon,
Your Friend, Flat Stanley                                                                                                                                                                      

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Realizing A Dream

St. John The Baptist Church, Westport, MA
I can't sleep. Celtic Christmas music is playing in my head. Actually, I'm still singing it in my head. I just completed singing in a three-day concert series with the Greater Tiverton Community Chorus in the Celtic Christmas Concert. I sang a little two-measure duet in the beautiful Welsh lullaby, Suo-Gan. As our music director, Beth, explained, this song was highlighted in the movie, Empire of The Sun. Each time I walked to the microphone, my throat was dry. Swallow, just find saliva and swallow, I thought. It came on demand, and I hit that first note. Once I accomplished that, the rest came easy. It was a very small part, but the positive and reassuring feedback I received from so many people, friends and strangers alike, felt incredible.

The weekend began with a full rehearsal on Thursday night. I sang so hard I strained my voice. I couldn't help myself. The music was so beautiful, I just had to belt it out! The next day, I had to stop talking, make ginger root tea with honey, and nurse my dry, scratchy throat for the first performance. I reviewed notes of the songs I was having the most trouble with silently.

The first performance in Bristol at St. Michael's Church was magical. I had never sung in this church before, as this was my first Christmas concert with the chorus. My husband came to all three performances, but two of my sisters with their significant others and a few friends from the gym came Friday night.

Trainers at my gym asked if I knew Phil from the chorus. There are almost eighty people in the group, so I am just beginning to meet them. I did not know Phil. But, as fate would have it, as we rehearsed in St. Michael's two of the taller male members stood in front of me and had changed position, so I and a woman behind me could not see Beth, our music director. I asked them to swap places with me and the woman to my right, and low and behold, I ended up standing next to Phil. He and I laughed when I told him the story of our trainers asking if I knew him, and his trainer sat in the front row at St. Michael's, thereby seeing for himself that we had indeed finally met. The high I got after this performance from positive feedback I received about my singing was marvelous.

The next night in Westport, MA at St. John the Baptist Church, my sister, Jeanne, and friend, Barbara (also my daughter-in-law's mother) attended. I was so excited to see them enter the church. They arrived early enough to hear my duet rehearsal and clapped happily, giving me a "thumbs up".  When, at the end of the performance, Beth invited attendees to come on stage to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus", Jeanne made her way through the crowd and joined me on my riser to sing. I was so happy to have her beside me. What a wonderful moment.

The last performance in Tiverton at St. Theresa's Church, was as packed as the previous two. Beth told us attendance at all three concerts far exceeded the history of the chorus. We were all thrilled to have such big and lively audiences. Friends from work and neighbors attended this last performance, and I was especially happy to see Lois, our wheelchair-bound friend sitting behind her daughter, Debi. I so wanted Lois to come. She doesn't get out much anymore and I knew the music would lift her spirits. She told me it absolutely did.

After we said our goodbye's, Larry and I headed to a choral member's house on the way to ours for the first-ever "after" party. We ate dinner with Beth and her husband, Stewart, and in so doing, were able to get to know them both a little better. We talked with a few people at the party, and it was nice to feel like we were making more new friends. This experience has allowed us both to meet people in the neighborhood, and set our respective roots down just a little deeper in this small Rhode Island town. Feeling a part of this community makes me happy to finally be ending our "gypsy" lifestyle.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year! Do something to make you happy this season, and take at least one baby step toward realizing whatever your dream is. Mine has always been singing. "Here I am!"