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In which music brings us together…

Hope&Social, TIP, Knaresborough
image courtesy of Rachel Auty

One of the greatest things about the Tour of Infinite Possibility was that it brought together people from various walks of life.  No matter your age, your gender, or your nationality, there was room for you up on stage with Hope&Social and in the Band Anyone Can Join.  There was room for you to sing.  There was room for you to dance.  There was room for you to ring bells and play ukeleles or any other instrument that struck your fancy.  And there was most certainly room for you in the audience.  We were all united by the music Hope&Social created and shared with us.  We were all a part of “The Big Wide.”

All, except, for my daughters.

I’ll admit that as the mother of three young ones, it’s nice to have something in my life that’s just for and just about me.  Singing with the Northern Songbirds has been that in a way that many other things haven’t, and have filled a uniquely-shaped hole in my life.  I blogged about it just last week, in fact.  Singing was a way for me to find my voice again.

So I don’t really share much of it with my husband and children.  Sure, they know I sing in a choir.  They know I go to rehearsals and gigs.  They have a vague understanding of the fact that they might be able to see me on stage for half a second during a camera pan at the Tour de France Grand Depart Opening Ceremony.  But really, for my kids especially, my musical talent is a pretty abstract concept.

That was until the Tour of Infinite Possibility.

To be fair, the conversation that I had with my girls on the morning of the Knaresborough gig went something like this:

Me:  “Today you guys are going to get to come hear Mommy sing with Hope & Social.”

Chorus of Girls: “No.  Boring.  It’s too hot outside.  Who are they?  We don’t want to.  We’re not going.”

I might be paraphrasing (or not).  But the general idea is that the girls have no experience with gigs, certainly not one that I’m in, so they had no frame of reference for what this glorious pedal-powered stage and these amazing musicians would entail.  And they weren’t interested.

Of course, being the caring, kind-hearted parent that I am, I whined and complained about their whining and complaining, and my husband forced them into the car despite their protests (which you can still do when they’re relatively little).  Because that’s how we roll.

And the Tour of Infinite Possibility did what I really didn’t think it could do.  It brought my family together in this incredibly new and unique way.  The girls got to see me on stage, a big stage with a real band, singing.  They got to be a part of an engaged and excited audience at a concert, something they’ve never done before.  They got to pedal the bikes and power the stage.  They got free sweets from the amazing crew and event organizers.

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They loved every minute of it.

Some direct quotes from the girls after the concert:

“That was awesome!”

“I was singing along.”

“I loved it.”

“I could see you up there!”

I worried that when I sat down to write this blog post, I wouldn’t be able to write anything different than what I wrote about the Harrogate gig.  But the truth is, I’ve had this completely different, but equally amazing experience.  Because before, Hope&Social and the Tour of Infinite Possibility made me feel like I was a part of something special.  And now…now they’ve done it for my entire family.

There aren’t any words that I can find to say “thank you” for that.

So thank you.  Just, thank you.

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In which I hate making pancakes

Every time the girls ask me to make pancakes, I smile and point them towards Marcus.  “Daddy does the pancakes!”  It’s become so engrained in them now that they’ve started repeating my lines before I do, “Mommy can’t do pancakes!  Mommy burns pancakes.”  I’d smile if the truth wasn’t so very, very sad.

In fact, I know the way to make a perfect pancake.  I remember many, many a weekend morning at my grandparents’ house with pecan twirls in the freezer and my grandfather detailing the perfect way to make a pancake.  How wet the batter needed to be.  How hot the griddle should be when you flick the water on it.  How many seconds between bubble pops and flips.  The perfect pancake.

Every time I make a pancake, I think of my Poppy.  We lost him in 2012.  He didn’t die, though we’d spent the better part of a year worried that the leukemia would take him.  Instead, we found out that, after forty years with my Nanee, he wasn’t a very good man. And he’s gone now.  There’s so much to the story–but it isn’t mine to tell, and though fancy myself a storyteller, I wouldn’t tell it even if I could.  Or I couldn’t tell it even if I should.  I’m not sure.

But the point is, he’s gone.  And I’ve spent the better part of two years trying to figure out how to make peace with images of the man that taught me to make the perfect pancake and the man that he turned out to be.  And it makes me sad every time I think about it.  About him.

I shouldn’t feel sad.  It’s Father’s Day (well, it was when I started writing this and pondered whether or not I really wanted to put it all “out there”) and I’m blessed with a wonderful father.  I’ve got an amazing husband, who’s the perfect father to my three daughters.  I’ve got uncles and brothers-in-law and godfathers and my granddaddy in heaven watching over me.  My life is filled with blessings.

But maybe one day, I’ll be able to show the girls how to make the perfect pancake without feeling like I might cry.

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In which I meet the Queen…

Ha!  I wish!

But, I did see her while experiencing something I’d consider quintessentially British, the Royal Ascot.  My friend Carrie and I joined in with a bus full of other ladies in large hats and fancy dresses and made the trek from Harrogate to London.  We spent several hours at the gorgeous Henley-on-Thames before getting a good night’s sleep and gearing up for the big day (incidentally, Ladies Day).  

It was such fun!  The hats were a massive highlight, in addition to the Royal Procession.  We watched each of the 6 races from a different vantage point, including the grandstand and as close to the track as we could get!  I called my dad and we picked a horse to bet on in the Gold Cup (note: we lost).  I drank (responsibly!).  I laughed and smiled and watched and listened.

And I’ll definitely go back!  

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In which I find my voice…

Clearly, this is not a typical problem for me.  I would probably (and I definitely have) talked to myself if a set of ears isn’t available.  But in this instance, I’m not referring to my talking voice.  I’m talking about my singing voice.

Yes.  That’s right.  I sing.

When I was a little girl I loved to sing.  I loved singing (loudly) in my elementary and middle school choruses.  I always sang in the school talent shows (solos or duets).  I vividly remember begging for singing lessons for Christmas and my birthdays. While I never actually thought I’d be the next Madonna, I was pretty sure I sounded exactly like her when I was singing in the shower. 

Sadly, my dreams of dancing and singing on stage with a funnel-shaped bra never panned out.  I left singing far behind when I hit high school and never looked back.

When I arrived in Harrogate last summer, my friend Anne introduced me to her choir, the Northern Songbirds.  “Do you sing?”  she said earnestly.  I hemmed and hawed, my singing days almost two decades behind me.  “No.  I don’t sing.”

But suddenly, I found myself at choir rehearsals and singing at a friend’s 40th birthday party and accompanying a massively popular Yorkshire-based band. 

And my life hasn’t been the same since.  Not only am I surrounded by these amazingly talented women with incredible personalities and these huge hearts, but I get to be one of them.  And among them, with them, I’ve found my voice. I may not always hit every note, and maybe I need to practice reading music a little bit more, but I think I bring something to our little choir and the first sopranos.  It’s phenomenal.

So, that’s all the waxing poetic.  I started this blog post with one (of many) incredible choir experiences to recount.  Before I joined the Northern Songbirds in September, I got to see them perform with Hope & Social (the aforementioned massively popular Yorkshire-based band) during Knaresborough’s feva festival.  Little did I know that that performance would be the beginning of a continuing friendship, both personal and professional, between the Songbirds and H&S, and that I would get to be a part of it.  Lucky me!

Fast-forward to yesterday, where the Yorkshire Festival, in association with the Grassington Festival, brought Hope & Social to Harrogate as part of the Tour of Infinite Possibility.  Of course, the Songbirds were thrilled to be a part of it!  We weren’t the only ones involved–dozens of others came out to sing or play an instrument with the Band Anyone Can Join.  There were roller girls and ukeleles and other choirs and workshops and drinks and laughs and mistakes and smiles and friendships and…magic.  There was magic.

Last night’s performance was amazing.  Sure, I definitely “Bop-bop-bop”-ed at the wrong point, prompting James to laugh at me.  And I *may* have been told off by Simon for chatting between songs (yes–I’m the American…and yes, I only had one pint pre-show!).  But it was incredible.  Singing.  With an amazing band.  In front of a spectacular audience.  Surrounded by my closest friends and choir-mates. 

What more is there?

Just the Opening Ceremonies for the Tour de France Grand Depart, that’s what. 

That’s right.  Hope & Social will be performing “The Big Wide,” the Yorkshire Festival’s theme song, live at the event in the Leeds Arena, and it will be broadcast to 3 million people.  And they asked us, as part of their Band Anyone Can Join, to join them.

After over twenty years, I’ve found my (singing) voice again.  And it feels pretty incredible. 

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In which we travel

We were off traveling this past weekend, and while our usual goal is to see something new and have some time to relax together as a family, this time we (well, I) had a completely different goal in mind.  

I ran a half marathon in one of our favourite cities in the world, Edinburgh.

ImageIt was an absolutely amazing and exhilarating experience, and I came right home intent on finding another race for the autumn.  

Of course, there were family adventures, too.  We hiked up Arthur’s Seat again, something the girls really enjoyed on our last trip to Scotland.  

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In addition, we took a detour on the way home, stopping at HOGWARTS (or Alnwick Castle for you Muggles).  It was such a beautiful castle and adorable town–we can’t wait to go back when we have more time to explore!

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Our next adventure is set for August…unless I can convince Marcus that we need a weekend getaway sometime sooner.  I’ll certainly try!  

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In which we run for fun!

I’ve become a bit of a running addict since I first set foot out the door just over a year ago.  My goal (to get fit and to run a 5K) was soon in the dust and I moved on to bigger and better goals.  More 5Ks, a 10K, fun runs, charity runs, and now, on next week’s agenda, my first half-marathon.  It’ll be fun (maybe?), but the run I did today can’t be topped!

I did the Color Run in the National Harbor last year and had a blast, so I decided to try Color Me Rad at nearby Harewood House in Leeds this year!  It didn’t disappoint.  Of course, I ran it about 20 minutes slower than last year…why you ask?  Because the girls joined me, and we had so much fun getting colourful on this hilly route around the grounds!

Running is awesome.  Sharing it with my girls is awesome.  Color is awesome.

life is good!

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In which I waste time…

My husband has been joking that since my iPhone broke, the house has gotten a lot cleaner.  It’s been worth at least one chuckle a day (sometimes more)…but there’s a lot of truth in what he’s saying.

It’s not just the house, either.  I’ve started the new pattern I’ve put off designing.  I’ve blogged (twice).  I’ve knit more.  I’m back into the three books I’m reading (yes, three at once).  I’ve been more present when I’m having coffee with friends, spending the evening with Marcus, having dinner with my family, and watching my kids at their after school activities.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s clearly true–I’m addicted to my iPhone.  It’s instant gratification.  It’s constant connection.  It’s everything at my fingertips.  I can’t miss anything.

Don’t get me wrong–there are some things that I worry about missing.  What if the girls are sick at school or rushed to hospital with a broken arm and the school can’t reach me?  I know people weren’t reachable years ago, but now, that seems unnecessary.  For emergencies, I really do need (and want) my phone.

But do I need to worry about missing a text from a friend about a show I need to catch on telly tonight?  Or something funny a friend did?  Or what we’re all doing tonight?  So what if I miss a Facebook status update from a college friend who lives across a continent?  I don’t really need to instagram the pretty design the barista put on my coffee, do I?

There are problems with the age of constant connection.  Maybe not for everyone.  But for me.  I can’t separate it all out.  I’m all or nothing.

Or I was.

I’m glad I had this week without my iPhone.  It was revealing.  I felt like I was missing a limb.  A limb?  Without a phone?  How absurd do I sound? 

I waste time.  Some time is meant to be wasted in “worthless” pursuits–we can’t be all business, all the time.  But some time…some time is sacred.  And I don’t want to waste those precious minutes texting someone about a funny bumper sticker I saw.