Monday, January 12, 2009

They came from the north, bearing gifts

[Disclaimer: Eep, this appears to be a particularly long blog entry. You may want to make popcorn or a sandwich or something.]

Happy New Year! I am catching up on my blogging after a fun and crazy Christmas. Lots to tell, including some recap from the previous term now that I finally have the pictures to prove it (some of it you wouldn’t believe me otherwise!)

I made it through my first term! The last six weeks or so were especially demanding. I think the term seemed particularly long because it started on the 18th of August (with a three-hour exam, no less!) which is a good two weeks earlier than I’m used to, and ended at the normal time. Plus, there was getting here before that. Suffice it to say I was ready for a break. I got a bit of breathing space at the end of classes before Christmas came. Time to reflect on the term and watch the marks come in, ha ha. No complaints on the final outcome of this term’s classes – I made it through and am proud of how I did!

Christmas Eve was shaping up to be a little lonely as we anticipated our parents’ arrival. I’m used to a house full of people at 14 Hambly, with my Mom’s tortière and Auntie Ginny’s turkey pie being important centerpieces. And on a really good year, Michael Brett serenading me with “People, Look East.” But I digress. I felt a little less thrilled about the idea of spending the afternoon and evening until late at First Pres, with David home alone. Not the most festive Christmas. However, I have been lucky to have such a great Christmas Eve tradition all my life, that Dad could (mostly) also be a part of; Mary-Jane and Ken have been spending Dec. 24 in the halls of the church for about thirty years. (Note that there is absolutely nowhere in downtown Dallas to have dinner, a drink or even a coffee on Christmas Eve.) Not to mention the fact that I was pretty certain Santa Claus would never be able to find us all the way down here.

In the end, it was a really nice evening. I was participating in the main 7pm service by conducting the Chancel Choir and Youth Choir combined to sing Eleanor Daley’s arrangement of “Huron Carol” (CanCon!) Many people (or maybe it was a few people many times) told me that they really loved preparing the piece, which was nice. I was really excited to get to conduct the big group and be a part of the service this way. The sanctuary was not totally back to normal after Amahl; the flat stage was still down instead of the usual graduated seating in the chancel. This was actually a good thing for the large number of singers, clergy, wind, string, percussion and brass instruments (!) participating in the service. However, the funny thing was when I got up in front of everybody to conduct Eleanor’s piece (for the first time in the space), I realized only the front row out of five could really see me, since we were all on one level! I ended up conducting the piece with my hands way up above my head; Dr. Elrod would not approve. It went beautifully though (if I do say so!) and a few people were kind enough to complement me. One lady I know told me it looks like I’ve taken “ballet for my hands.” Aw.

After a short wait and quick rehearsal, I participated in the 11pm late service in the chapel. It was a beautiful and contemplative service. I really admire the main pastor, Joe Clifford. His preaching is awesome – he really speaks well and always challenges the congregation with something, which is not what I might have expected in my previous assumptions about the church. He’s going on my list of ministers I’d be interested in working with in life (a list which is now up to...... six. Dang.)

Ken and Mary-Jane gave me a lift home after that (after joking with me; “oh you want a ride? I was all set to leave you downtown at midnight on Christmas Eve... har har...”) And what do you know – Santa found us after all.

The next day we got an enormous Christmas surprise. We had a nice slow morning opening our downsized gifts from Santa (who was on a $5 limit, pending our trip to California about which more shortly). For example, David got a package of dark chocolate M&Ms; I got a pencil bent in the shape of the state of Texas. We had spoken to my parents, and they were having the same kind of morning, and going to have dinner with Wym and Serena from Trafalgar (it was their first Christmas in Canada after coming from South Africa). They were eventually going to get around to packing for their flight to come see us the next day. About an hour after that, Susan phoned and hit us with this bombshell – “How would you like us to come today?”

Well, it seems Air Canada had cancelled their flight for early the next morning, and were planning on telling them... never? Luckily the Kopuli were on the ball. After an hour on hold to the airline and five minutes on the phone with my parents for consultation (“yes, now, you have to decide now”) they decided to take a flight later that same day. So much for Wym and Serena’s authentic Canadian Christmas! Our parents sent them packing with the raw chicken, dinner ingredients and leftovers from the night before, and were out the door four hours later. David and I started frantically running around the apartment, tidying up and knocking things over, until we realized they weren’t arriving until around midnight and there really wasn’t anything we had to do.

I cooked my first Christmas dinner – pork tenderloin and roasted vegetables. It’s kind of hard to do for two; next holidays I think I’m going to have to conscript some extras. Then, David and I had a really nice walk in the above-freezing weather down the SMU boulevard to look at the really beautiful Christmas lights on the central building and trees.

After some trials and tribulations with the rental car (rental tank), our parents arrived to pick up the key to the Thornburgs (the wonderful Thornburgs, whose house we invaded in their absence), doled out some sleepy hugs, and went “home” for the night.

The next day, Boxing Day (which I can say to you Canadians and you’ll know what I’m talking about!) we had Christmas all over again, with presents under the tree at the Thornburgs’. We had a wonderful time chatting and catching up. I was extra excited because with our parents had come my beautiful brand-new laptop computer, after two months of being a library nomad with a USB key. This is my first blog entry on the new lappy, in fact! We cooked dinner all together and reconnected. It was so great to see them for the first time since August!

The next day, Saturday, we got out bright and early and “did Dallas.” We started with the Sixth Floor Museum and Dealey Plaza, which was again a haunting experience and great to show our parents. Next, we drove back to campus and did a walking tour. All the buildings were closed, but I showed everyone around and we traced “a day in the life of Hilary.” It was so exciting to get to show off where I’ve been hanging out. And, an extra fun (read: nerdy) thing I had been looking forward to was to bring everyone to the entryway of the fitness complex, the Dedman Centre. To show off the gleaming, state-of-the-art facility? No; to sing! There is a domed entryway that (by accident, I’m pretty sure) is acoustically amazing and has this ringing, cathedral-like sound. You’re coming up the stairs and it’s normal and then you go under the dome and it’s like you hit the reverb. We sang “We Walk His Way.” It sounded like there were twenty of us! Ahhhhhhh.

Next, David and Dad went back to base to talk shop (stay tuned for Andrew Donaldson: The Website) and George bravely brought me and my moms to the North Park Mall. This mall is ginormous, with multiple equally ginormous ground-level parking lots and five levels of parking garage. We couldn’t find a spot anywhere. Finally, on almost the very top level (great view from up there) we snagged one, but at that point I was unsure we wanted to shop with that many other people! Lucky for us, the mall really is huge and swallows up crowds, so while it was busy it was not packed. We poked around for boxing day sales – I got a new pair of flats, which my female readership will appreciate knowing. ;)

On Sunday came the real adventure; my whole family came to First Pres and sang in the choir. It was the “low” Sunday immediately following Christmas, so I do not exaggerate in telling you that, in essence, they *were* the choir. I had sent the music up north and they dutifully brought it down south, and we had a practice in the Thornburgs’ living room the night before. When it came to it, I seriously think my parents, David’s parents and David were half the choir. It was great. Poor George was the only bass (after I *promised* him there would be at least one other! Not so.) It was so fun for me to have my family there, especially when it was my first chance to lead the music for the whole service at First Pres. Go me!

After the service, we got to have lunch with Chelsea and some of her family! We met her mom (and compared notes, as she lived for a year in Toronto last year on business), step-dad, and step-sister. It was so great to introduce everybody.

On Monday, we hopped in the behemoth rental car and headed for Austin! On the way, we stopped in a cute little place called Salado, which is where Chelsea and Chris got married. It’s kind of like a Texas version of Elora, with shops and beautiful inns and other touristy things. It’s very pretty, and we had lunch and poked around for a while.

Then, it was on to the state capital. Austin is a great city! For starters – get this – it has sidewalks. We explored downtown a little bit in the evening and had a nice dinner. We all agreed it was pretty amazing to all be together, down in the deep south.

The next day, we set out to really explore. We went to the Capitol Building and had a good look around. It’s a totally beautiful space. We saw the legislature and a press conference room, as well as a sort of sitting-room for hosting dignitaries. There's also a tiny little chapel (yes; we sang in it.) The guards wear cream-coloured cowboy hats as part of their uniform!

My family!

Then, it worked out that we split up into couples for some more looking around. David and I walked down to the river and walked along, followed by lunch at the first-ever Whole Foods Market. Then, we wandered up into some residential areas and got a feel for the city. I think it’s a place I’d like to live, if I decided to move to Texas.
It's a good thing we don't have one of these within walking distance in Dallas... mmmm...

Later on we all had dinner at the beautiful and historic Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. Oh, but not before checking out the hilarious and kitschy “Wild About Music” store, where I bought a neat bracelet made of guitar picks strung together. We finished off with a tour of the zany Christmas lights on this one residential street – not the professionally-done megalights of the rich neighbourhood around SMU, but rather fun personal and often quirky lights. There were baseball-themed houses, Obama-themed houses, Jack Daniels-themed houses... the motto of the city is “Keep Austin Weird,” and these people are doing their part.

Note the Christmas-light dog driving the truck. Santa's village. In an oven.

The next morning we piled back into the oil rig and made it back to Dallas in time for me to show off another important part of my life right now – the SMU libraries! We toured around Bridwell (Perkins library), Hamon (Meadows music school library) and Fondren (“the big one”). My Dad was apparently very excited to see my “spaces.” We also spent some time in the beautiful Perkins Chapel, which was unlocked by a stroke of luck. My mom had been especially looking forward to seeing it from the inside. ;) We had a mini choir practice in there, too. What?

We got to spend New Year’s Eve with Dr. Hawn and his wife Collyn. They kindly had us all over, only hours after their children and grandchildren left after a week staying with them. Luckily my parents avoided telling Dr. Hawn how proud they are of me and Dr. Hawn refrained from having a parent-teacher conference with them. Whew.

The next day we said our goodbyes to our family and they headed off for the airport. Unfortunately, their travels were apparently cursed and their plane wouldn’t turn on (don’t worry; on the ground). Something was wrong with the power. So, they ended up having to stay over another night at a Holiday Inn near the airport, armed only with $12 each in Air Canada meal vouchers, not valid anywhere in the United States.

I forsee pressure to do Christmas in Toronto next year.

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