Monday, February 27, 2006

Feb 27

Feb 27, 2003 - I'll never ever forget that day. That was the day I had no choice but to grow up. I finally had to accept that things would never be the same again. I remember just collapsing in my despair, calling upon God to take the pain of sorrow away. I was completely weak, helpless, and powerless. I look back at that very moment 3 years ago and I see how it is a reflection of what growing up means to me now. Maturity doesn't mean becoming a stronger woman. Maturity means collapsing in complete weakness and depending on the strength of Christ alone to carry me through. It's amazing how sorrow and despair can be a beautiful blessing.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Conversations are funny. There are some people with whom I have no problem interacting with even if I don't know them all that well. The conversation can be smooth, no awkwardness whatsoever. I feel comfortable, they feel comfortable it's all cool - even if we don't have much in common. Then there are a handful of people with whom I interact and I don't know what it is, whether it's me or the other person, but the conversation always seems almost torturous. No matter how many times we interact or how many experiences we have shared together, there's complete awkwardness. Neither person knows what to say . . . we find ourselves stumbling for words or questions. . . . . responses are vague one word answers . . . the interaction is full of cliche phrases. . . . It's like there's an unwillingness to share who we really are or something. These conversations drive me crazy because I just don't get why we can't get below the surface and beyond the superficiality of initial interaction. I wonder if when the "awkward conversation people" in my life see me coming they want to avoid me like I want to avoid them. How does one break a conversation barrier that has become a habit? Maybe I'm just weird. Maybe I need to try harder. Maybe I need to flat out ask these people if they sense the awkwardness too. Maybe we need to get over ourselves.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Today I had a lesson with Elisabeth. It's been far too long since I've had a lesson with Diva Pomes :) She is definitely one of my favorite people. She is a true diva, not the horrid ego driven kind that are catty, demanding and ultimately insecure (the kind I tend to find so amusing :) No, Elisabeth is a real diva. A beautiful, strong, confident, yet humble woman - a woman who knows who she is and won't compromise that for anything or anyone. She's strong yet fully aware of her weaknesses. Not only have I learned a lot about singing from her, but she has been such an example and support system for me. It's funny how singers tend to bond with their teachers. Elisabeth has seen me at my very worst and at my very best. She knows me like noone else. She's seen my determination, my frustration, my vulnerability, my passion, my strengths and my weaknesses.
I feel so blessed to have Elisabeth in my life. She has always pushed me to my max, today being no exception. She's always been so honest about what she hears - we often laugh together at the horrid things I manage to do with my voice. The one thing she's always been is encouraging, even when I squawk and sound like a dying chicken. She has even encouraged me to move on and study with Steven and Darryl (both of whom have been great for different reasons). Elisabeth is different though in that she will always inspire me. We're what Anne of Green Gables would call "kindred spirits". For some reason Elisabeth gets me and all my craziness. After my lesson today, I know that I've got a ton of work to do for my upcoming auditions and performances, but I feel like I can now take on the world one aria at a time. Yaaaay Elisabeth!!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

tarte a la diva mcneil

I finally finished reading the biography on Dame Nellie Melba, one of the reputed Diva's of the early 20th century. I've always known that she's the reason we have thinly sliced dry toast otherwise known as melba toast but I didn't' realize that the dessert Peach Melba was named after her. Apparently she loved ice cream but could eat it only rarely, afraid that the chill would damage her vocal chords. A French chef guy created a sauce of raspberries, redcurrant syrup and sugar, which took off the initial chill, so the ice cream couldn't "shock" her vocal cords.

Me thinks I need a dessert named after me :) Something dramatically delicious yet meets a particular Diva need, like Nellie's "don't want to shock the vocal chords" excuse . I'm all about blood oranges lately, they are pretty dramatic with their crimson interiors. I had a blood orange tart the other day at a fancy schmancy restaurant downtown. It was sweet, rich, yet delightfully surprising and it looked pretty( much like myself :) Maybe I'll call up the chef at The Edward and ask if he'll consider changing the name to "tarte a la diva mcneil". One thing needs to be changed though to meet one of my Diva needs; the tarte needs to be topped with a caramelized sugar tiara, just in case a Diva was to traumatically forget her most important accessory at home.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Hill of Crosses

This hill of crosses in Lithuania is apparently well known. It has often been used as an illustration of how Christianity could not be conquered by communism. The tradition began in 1831 when several oppressed Christians in Lithuania planted wooden hand made crosses on the hill. The communists tried time and time again to destroy these symbols of faith and would guard the hill, they’d even put people in jail if they were caught trying to plant a cross there. Those determined Lithuanians still managed to secretly plant them there without the communists catching them. After communism fell and Lithuania gained its independence the crosses kept coming. There are supposedly over 50 thousand crosses there right now and the hill has become a tourist attraction.

I remember my grandfather telling me about the hill several times. He was a true Lithuanian patriot, very proud of his people and anything that they accomplished as a culture. At the local Lithuanian Cemetery in Mississauga there's a replica Hill of Crosses. Any time we'd go to the Lithuanian church, Tutty would ask if we wanted to go visit the hill. As a child, walking through the cemetery wasn't exactly how I wanted to spend my Sunday afternoon; thankfully my grandma knew how to directly tell him “no". We never went to see the hill.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the cemetery, and decided to go check out this replica Hill of Crosses that Tutty had talked about so many times. It was a bit of a hike away from where Tutty's grave is located, but I really wanted to see this sight. So I trudged through the snow. I must say it was pretty cool. There are over 100 crosses on this mini hill. There were some plain, some intricately designed in wood, some made of iron or copper, some gold, one was even encased in glass and had a little scene of the crucifixion in the centre.

I got to thinking about what the Hill of Crosses represents. Ever since I became a "Christian" in the evangelical sense of the word, I thought that the Hill of Crosses was indeed an awesome symbol of faith. A couple of years ago the Hill even came up in a Lenten devotional book that I was reading. (I've been trained to get excited whenever Lithuania is mentioned because really no one knows where it is or even that it exists as a country. So when it's mentioned it's a big deal.) I believe the tradition of the Hill of Crosses started as a message of persevering faith, but somehow it's become more of a shrine to freedom. I wonder how many people really put those crosses there as an act of genuine faith. Are the crosses more of a statement of freedom? Do those crosses really represent true faith in Christ or were they put there as a symbolic act of religious freedom?

Today at Church a man from Poland spoke about his ministry. Poland is very similar to Lithuania in that both countries are strongly routed in Roman Catholicism. There are a lot of people in Eastern Europe including Lithuanians who are "religious"; a lot of what they would call "faith" is based on symbolic religious acts - acts like publicly placing a cross on a hill.

At first glance the Hill is beautiful because it represents hope and the fact that the cross of Christ can never be conquered, but knowing a bit about the culture that it stems from, the Hill of Crosses may be more of an indication of the many lost “religious” people in countries like Lithuania. Do those 50 000 crosses in Lithuania and the 100 or so here in Mississauga represent the Christ I know and love? Or do they really represent the many Lithuanian people who lack a real understanding of salvation and what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Sadly I think it's the latter. Now the big question - what am I going to do about that?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company

Fay“I wish my son would come, I’m so lonesome. Who am I to talk to? I don’t hear from my son . . . I don’t see any of my family – it’s unbelievable. I just sit here.”

“At least I’m not bothering people. . . now I’m doing nothing and I should be doing something.”
Interviewer “what would you like to do here?”
Ida“Be with people. . . The last years are not good. It’s good that I can think back and see faces in my mind. If I didn’t have that I’d go crazy.”

Fay – “I wish I was dead.”

Ida“when you’re married to a man and you realize that you are his life, you don’t want anything else after that. . . After he died I saw a change in myself. My body changed, I changed – he was one wonderful guy. I was the luckiest woman and then he left me. God took him away. I don’t know how I did it. Where do the years go?”

Claire“My daughter never had time for me.”
(quotes from Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company)

Tori and I watched a documentary on TVO last night called Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company, an actuality drama by Alan King. It showed life in a Toronto nursing home and how some of the residents were coping with old age.

We sat for 2 hrs watching. I cried a lot of the time. My heart just broke for each of the “characters” as they shared their pain and lost their memories. I’ve always had a tender heart for the elderly. I remember visiting a nursing home when I was a Brownie and for weeks just crying at night because I felt so sad for those “old” people. Also when I was working at the tea room, I encountered a lot of elderly widows. I found myself very drawn to them, in that I wanted to help. Their loneliness was so apparent. As a result I have involved myself in Mrs. Chrisitie's widows ministry because there is a desperate need for some sort of community for those ladies, a lot of whom are not saved and seem to be grasping for hope.

That documentary last night really reiterated the loneliness in the elderly that has always been so apparent to me. As I was watching I felt an urge to head over to the nursing home down the street, sit down with a lonely elderly person and just listen to them in an effort to if only for a moment help them forget their loneliness. But as I walked in the door last night, I noticed my grandma’s cane and I suddenly remembered her desperate plea for me not to leave her .

How is it that it so often takes the voice of a complete stranger to make me realize what is beneath my nose (in this case a documentary)? Why doesn’t my heart break for my grandma as it did for Claire, Ida, Max and the others from that film? Why is it so easy for me to ignore her loneliness and frustration? Why am I constantly rolling my eyes when she claims that she wants to die, yet wept for the lady who said exactly that in the film last night?

The words of those people rang so true. My grandma is so similar – wanting to die, being lonely, changing so much after my grandpa died.

Who am I fooling? The loneliness of the elderly has not been apparent to me at all, and when it has been I’ve flat out ignored it. I don’t need to go down the street to listen to a person in the nursing home; I need to pay attention to the loneliness of a woman who lives under the same roof as me.

What was it that I heard a couple of months ago? Something like, service starts in your own home. I’ve been failing miserably, consumed by my own selfishness, deliberately ignoring the pain that comes from aging. Maybe I just don’t want to see my grandma that way. She was always such a vibrant, energetic, strong lady who wore her heart on her sleeve. Now she’s just miserable and I know it’s her loneliness. No matter how much time we spend with her she’ll never get over the loneliness of losing her husband, but sometimes I think by leaving her out of my life I make her feel more lonely.

Before I go anywhere she needs to understand that when I leave it won’t be an attack on her. What I so desperately need her to know is how much of a legacy she has left in my life. In many ways she has influenced who I am. She has always been a model of love, self sacrifice, and strength for me.

I think it’s time for me to start modeling some of the very things that she has taught me - not at the nursing home down the street, but here at home.

1 Tim 5:4
But if she (a widow) has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God very much.

My Grandma's Plea

A couple of weeks ago my 86 year old grandma came to me while I was in the kitchen making lunch. She was crying so hard that she could barely speak. She came, pulled my arm and looked at me and said, “Please don’t leave me, don’t go away, don’t move yet. I’ll be so lonely.” I guess my mom and dad have been sharing with her my plans to move in the near future.

On my way back to work that afternoon, I was upset. How could she do that to me - lay a guilt trip on me like that? I can’t live at home forever just because she’s lonely! She could have another 14 years left in her. I’m almost 28 years old! It's time for me to jet!
But there was such desperation in her voice . . . .

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day Greeting

Mike and I have decided to go into the business of writing Valentine's Day greeting cards.
Here's our first attempt:

I love you on Feb 13th and I love you on Feb 15th,
so what's the big deal about Feb 14?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Looking Roberto in the Eye

The other day when Virginia and I were downtown taking some artsy headshots for my upcoming auditions, we met a man named Roberto. Virginia was in the middle of giving me some sort of direction on how to pose in the snow, both of us were rather self absorbed, when out of nowhere a man appeared. He was a man in his late 30's, wearing glasses, dressed warmly in a hooded parka- he looked pretty normal. He stood for a minute trying to figure out what we were doing. Of course being 2 young women on a downtown side street, V and I were a little nervous and were really hoping that he would just go away.

Then he asked "I really hate to bother you ladies, and I know I'm probably creeping you out, but I'm in need of $2. The homeless shelter down the street is full and because it's so cold out I'd like to stay in a hostel for the night." I was kind of taken aback, not by him asking for money but by the fact that he was turned away from the shelter and had to resort to asking for money to stay elsewhere. I didn't have my wallet on me and I felt horrible that I couldn't give him anything. Virginia gave him a $5 bill. "Oh here's 3$ change, I really only need $2," He said. Imagine that, a homeless man providing change! Something inside prompted me to "risk" having a conversation with him. I looked him in the eye and asked him how he felt about having to resort to this. I just couldn't believe the situation he was in, nor could I imagine the frustration. It seemed ridiculous. For him it was old hat. He told me that this was what usually happened. As he began to walk away, I apologized for not being able to help him more. "But," I said in desperation, "I will be praying for you." He stopped, turned to looked at me, smiled and with such sincerity said "thank you, I'd really appreciate that, my name is Roberto." And off he walked. I'll probably never see that man again, but I have found myself thinking a lot about him this week.

All I really remember about Roberto were his eyes. How many times have I walked by a homeless person on the street without giving them a second look, or with every effort avoided looking at them so that they wouldn't harass me for money. As I looked Roberto in the eyes I saw that he was a man no different from me - just different circumstances. He was a man who had a soul, a man who had dreams, a man who had needs, a man who had struggles, a man who was frustrated. What I really saw was that Roberto was a man who needed a saviour more than anything - just like me. If only I could do more.

I have realized this week how often I avoid looking others in the eye , especially those who seem hard to understand and to love. You know the old saying, "the eyes are the window to the soul"? It's true. It's easier to avoid looking another in the eye because in many ways it forces us to see ourselves in them. I'd be a fool to think that that's all that's required in order to reach out to others, it's a first step though. How can we help those in need if we can't genuinely make an effort to see who they are and relate to them as fellow human beings. If we can't look them in their eyes how can we ever expect to see life through their eyes?

I imagine that all of the gospel stories of Jesus interacting with people, whether it be the poor, the outcasts, the disciples, the prostitutes, the tax collectors etc. Have one thing in common - the stories really begin with Jesus looking each of them in the eye in an effort to affirm that He knows them, understands them and unconditionally loves them.

My prayer for Roberto ~ That he will meet someone who will not be afraid to look him in the eye and as a result will see the same thing I saw in him - a bit of myself. I pray that this person will actually go beyond the first step and will somehow affirm for Roberto that Jesus Christ is the only One who will ever really know Him, understand Him and unconditionally love Him.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The computer geek performs surgery

How does a diva know for certain that she has fully entered into the world of Computer Geekism?

When she finds herself taking out a screw driver in order to open up the bottom of her laptop to see if she can diagnose the technological problem at hand.

Yes that was me tonight. I almost died when after a couple hours of failed uploads, downloads, diagnosis scans etc the Dell tech support lady prompted me to find a star headed screw driver so that I could open up the bottom of the computer. At that moment I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Really, as if a diva would have a star headed screw driver just lying around! As I was running around the house searching for a screw driver I was thinking ‘Is this lady nuts? Who am I becoming? If I open up the computer I’m gonna blow the house up.’

I ended up performing emergency surgery on my laptop tonight. When I was diligently saving up to buy a laptop for a year somehow I failed to picture myself having to open the darn thing up and be forced to see it’s geeky innards and organs, ick!! I think I may actually be traumatized by the whole procedure. I just might have reoccurring nightmares about all those nerdy technological guts and beep bops and doohickeys that I was forced to fiddle with inside my computer. What makes it worse is that the Surgery failed. Didn’t work. So now finally after months of issues with the darn thing it’s time to send the computer back to Dell for them to perform the needed surgery. And I find myself again having to save all of my files elsewhere so that they won’t be lost (this is the 3rd time - I’ve had the computer since November – grrrrrr!!)

I must say that there is a perk to this constant problem - I now have several fellow computer geek friends in India. Those Dell tech. support people are quite nice. There's Bhupinder, Roger, David, and Shanila and after spending up to 5 hrs on the phone at a time with them, we couldn’t help but form a bond. At least I know that I’m not alone and that this computer geek thing is global, united we stand . . . . . .

Waaaaaaa!!! I’ve become a computer geek against my own will, and I don’t wanna be one!!! What has this done to my Diva reputation? Stupid Dell!!!!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Lessons from Auntie Diva - the tiara philosophy

(Julia and Auntie Diva hang out while wearing their sparkly tiaras)
Diva Lesson #3
A true diva must master the art of wearing a tiara
Auntie Diva's tiara philosophy: The dreary things in life are made more bearable by the wearing of a tiara. The simple act of wearing a tiara can provide motivation to do the things that she rather wouldn't be doing such as: exercising at the gym, working at the fertility clinic, grocery shopping, doing house work (ick!) etc. Of course wearing a tiara while doing even the things she likes to do has it's definite perks. It doesn't have to be an expensive piece of jewelry as long as it sparkles and has lots of glitter (Auntie Diva's favourite tiara designer? Mr. Dolla Rama). Somehow the wearing of a tiara brings comfort to the Diva, she doesn't wear it to impress others, or remind them of her significance in the world. The diva wears a tiara because it makes her feel special, it reminds her of the princess that she really is deep inside.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

An Die Musik

An die Musik
Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden,
Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt!
Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf' entflossen,
Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir
Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen,
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür!

To Music
Oh sacred art, how oft in hours blighted,
While into life's untamed cycle hurled,
Hast thou my heart to warm love reignited
To transport me into a better world!
So often has a sigh from thy harp drifted,
A sweeter chord from thee, holy and full of bliss,
A glimpse of better times from heaven lifted
Thou sacred art, my thanks to thee for this.

3 hrs of sitting at the piano, going through the dreadfully slow process of learning new arias. As frustration began to settle in I noticed my Schubert Lieder book sitting off in the corner on the shelf. I haven't touched that book in years. I decided to flip through the book for fun and began to sing through some of the lieder that I had sung in my early singing days. I soon came across the very first art song that I ever learned, An die Musik. Singing through the piece brought back so many memories. I remember trying at the naive age of 15 to desperately learn the German, listening to my teacher speak the words on a tape and repeating after her over and over. And then there were the technical voice issues, always listening to myself and trying my hardest to sound "pretty". It was so important that I did justice to this song because it seemed like an opportunity to prove myself. The poetry was moving but expressing the true meaning behind it didn't concern me all that much.

12 years later as I sang through the piece last night, this time it was the poetry that caught my attention. The poetry used in the lied expresses in many ways how music has so often changed me. Music has really permeated my life to a degree where it has transformed me into the person that I am. How many times have I been shaped by not only the music I'm studying or performing but by the music I listen to - on the radio, on a Cd, at a concert, at church?
Music is indeed a "sacred" art - a gift given from God, and although An Die Musik poetically thanks "music" itself, I can do nothing but thank the One who created music. I thank the one who gave it to the world. I thank the One who has used music to abundantly bless my life. My God has used the language of music to speak to me; to teach me about Himself, myself and others; to lift me up when I am down; to show me my weaknesses; to challenge me; to ultimately provide a means of self expression. Who would I be if He hadn't used the art of music to profoundly change me? I just can't imagine my life without music, it is an incessant part of who I am.

Funny how singing through a simple Schubert lied about music can even cause change, somehow three hours of tedious note bashing doesn't seem as frustrating anymore.