Monday, March 30, 2009

The Circle of Life?

Last Wednesday night (the 25th) my grandma was admitted to hospital with ‘failure to thrive’. She was very weak and just didn’t have enough energy left to carry on, on her own. The next morning my good friend was admitted to hospital at 34 weeks pregnant with a condition that threatened to necessitate the immediate delivery of her twin babies. I found out about both situations early on Thursday morning and what a weird day it was.

On one hand, I was very weepy about my grandma. It was definitely not a shock that she was failing as she her health had been on the downhill for a couple of years. She had been so tiny and weak - we weren’t sure what was keeping her going – but she kept telling my mom she wasn’t ready. She was a stubborn woman and I always knew that as soon as she decided she was ready to go, she would, and hopefully quietly in her sleep. She had only told my mom last week that she thought maybe it was time; that she was starting to feel ready, so no, it wasn’t a surprise. But still, it is my grandma and more painfully for me, my mom’s mom. I went through this only last year as my dad lost his mother and it’s the same feeling; just thinking about my own parents losing their parents. This time around, it was my last grandparent and to top it all off I feel so far away. Many things like this have happened since we moved to Newfoundland; deaths, seizures, strokes... and it is so hard to be away from family when you know that back home, things are busy, changing and emotional.

On the other hand, while my grandma tried to leave the world, my two teeny tiny new friends were trying to enter it... but much too soon! It did turn out that they had to be delivered on Friday and thank the Lord, and even at 6 weeks early the babies were incredibly perfect. While I knew my mother sat bedside in a hospital watching her mother give way to the end of life, I sat bedside in a hospital holding these perfect, brand new babies and pondering the long life and exciting times ahead of them. I am so very blessed to be allowed to spend so much time with them! (I try not to go twice a day and it’s hard.) They are so very tiny (5-10 and 4-11 before in-hospital weight loss) but I’ve been able to feed them and change them and have amazing, tiny baby cuddles.

Yesterday my grandmother passed away, she was almost 94! My mom and aunt were able to make it for the end and mom said it was incredibly peaceful and painless. I am very thankful that it didn’t drag for weeks and weeks and become a case of suffering, but I am so sad that my mom and her siblings no longer have parents and I really wish I could be with them now.
I am not sure how I feel about death, but I seem to be encountering it a lot lately. I am not certain on what I think it is, was or should be. I am not sure what happens afterwards or if any of the perfect scenes I was taught as a child are actually what I believe to be true. I have lots to think about at a time like this and have been challenged to think more on it by friends with ideas different than my own. I do know that as I watch the beginning of one cycle and the end of another, I cannot change it, stop it or wish it away (and no, I won’t start singing Elton John for you...)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Few Thoughts and Moments From My Day

Today was a disgusting day and I felt as good as it looked out the window. We woke up to a snow storm and the wind howled though the cracks and crevices of the house all day. Our morning of school was broken up quite a bit with play breaks and Mattie breaks and, while I usually like to be done by lunch, we found ourselves still working afterwards. After lunch we played for awhile and once Mattea was sleeping we set back to it. We needed to complete a few things in their seats but we then found ourselves needing to do some reading. We are working through a comprehension course for The Chronicles of Narnia and are currently doing Prince Caspian. It was time to read another chapter and since Mattea was still sleeping we left the table and curled up on the couch to read together. Nikolai asked if he could sit in my lap and they both snuggled in close. With the weather outside so frightful, it was a nice cozy spot to be. Quiet moments like that are few and far between and I knew better than to break it. We ended up reading an extra chapter and finished just as the nap ended.

You could research until the cows come home the many different ways to homeschool. There are approaches after theories on all different topics ranging from strict curriculum-following, to the throw-out-all-the-workbooks-unschoolers. I fall somewhere in between, feeling the workbook approach necessary in certain areas (maybe only to make me feel like I'm 'doing' something) and life skills sufficient in others. I have definitely realized, and did so quickly, how much learning comes outside of what we call 'seat work'. Our lives in general seem to provide ample opportunity to learn and grow. It's in times like this when I wonder why I put in the effort to sit the boys down and force work, when left to their defences they seem to teach themselves and each other (and me!)

Prime examples are the times they will sit for very long periods reading through their science magazines (we seem to have acquired subscriptions to "Yes" "Know" Owl" "Kayak" and "Kids Geographic." All very useful!)quizzing each on what they're learning and relentlessly informing me of the new ideas and information ("Mom! Did you know...?" "Mom, did you know...?" "Hey! Mom, did you know...?") These facts, even if it's exactly the same as in a textbook, will most definitely stay put in their spongy brains as they have 'chosen' to read it and enjoy it. Had I read it to them that very morning, they'd quite possibly have remembered nothing.

Two nights ago was a perfect case in point. How many times did I have to ask them to leave the computer and go to bed? Too many to count. But, they're 'surfing' through Google Earth and it's hard to make them stop when you yourself are as keen to look stuff up. We viewed famous spots in Moscow, followed the rivers of Venice and explored Mt Everest all in one shot. Not to mention Disneyworld, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. What does Antarctica look like from space and can you find a lion on the African Plains?

Tonight was another. During dinner the kids were discussing their heights as Nikolai is determined to be able to ride The Hulk next January in Disney and Riley just wants to be taller than I am. (She's 3.5" away!) When dinner was finished they pulled out the measuring tape and measured each other. Bridger and Nikolai have been obsessed with Yao Ming lately, who even by NBA standards towers at 7ft 6", and so it seemed a natural question to ask how much taller Ming is than they are. To figure this out of course, Bridger had to convert, divide with remainders and subtract. (he hadn't figured out yet that the feet are marked in red on the tape so he was dividing by 12... I wasn't going to tell him!).

This turned into a game of sorts for the boys all evening. They were measuring everything in the house, figuring out how tall, long and wide all sorts of objects were. (Our ceilings are 8'3" just so you know...)Then they decided that they would set the measuring tape at 2 feet and see how many things were exactly that length. They would look at something, guess and then measure.

This is ALL stuff they have in their textbooks, in fact I know that Bridger was estimating just this morning. You could argue that maybe they wouldn't have thought to 'play that game' if they hadn't previously been asked to estimate in math, but if you know kids and their imaginations you might say otherwise. Kids seem to always find stuff like this to do.

So, instead of spending money of math books, maybe I should have just told them to get out their hockey cards and make graphs, compare size, ratios and who knows what else you could glean from the information on those things?

The Thiessens Turn Ten!

I'm a little slow on the go with this update... but about a month ago (on February 19th) we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary! We always have a bit of a giggle when we think what we would have said if someone had told us that day that, in one decade we would be living in Newfoundland, with 4 kids and that Barton would still be in school. We would have laughed it off with a "yeah right!" Which brings me to the thought that if someone knocked on my door today and said "in 10 years you'll be..." I wonder what craziness they would tell me?

That being said, what a 10 years it has been! Hmmm, how many kids, degrees, moves and changes have we experienced? Too many to count! I know on our 7th anniversary I said that I hoped the next 7 would be less eventful than the previous... ha! Ah well, what would life be without change and disruption? We are definitely on a slower path than before and nearing the end of grade 25 for Barton. We've had a baby at each university site we've lived at - so I've told him NO MORE SCHOOL!

To celebrate our milestone we did a photo session with the wonderful and talented Charro Benteau of Atlantic Horizon Imaging. My parents were visiting at the time so we got them in on a few. Our family portraits have changed considerably over the years! My plan was to send out these photos and an update letter since I did a fairly shoddy job at our Christmas card/letter/picture. However, sadly this has not happened. Maybe I will eventually get this done. You can enjoy the photos through the slide show at the top right of this page (click on it for a larger set). And these blog updates will have to do as update letters...

On the 20th we had a party at home, because who can make it 10 years without the support of friends? We've been here in Newfoundland almost half of our married years so it seemed natural to share some time with those close to us. We enjoyed a delectable cake from Pam Hynes and an evening of wonderful food and conversation.

Our plan is to continue celebrating later this year and take a trip together this summer. With Barton's schooling the way it is right now, he's in no shape to enjoy a holiday, but once he's done we'll have lots to celebrate. His parents will be visiting midsummer so we will take advantage of that and steal away for a bit. It's always a hard decision though, where to go? We love to travel with the kids so choosing not to take them will be hard. Every time we come up with a possible location we have this, "oh, but we'd love to take the kids there..." moment. We'll figure it out or maybe do something big as a family, which would be just as much a celebration.
So, here's to 10 more! (well, hopefully more than that, but you know...)

PS - Our scanner doesn't want to work, maybe I can eventually get some wedding photos posted ;)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Two Weeks and Counting!

Today it is officially two weeks until the first stage of Barton's exams when he will write two, 3-hour exams in the afternoons of April 6 and 7. His days are pretty packed with study time right now but luckily he has a good friend with whom he is able to get a lot of work done. They have a strict study schedule all set up and are working systematically through old exams. They meet every weekday at 6am and study until 8am before they go to work. Then on Saturdays they meet in the mornings and on Sundays in the afternoon. Usually evenings will find Barton reading or practising exams, or listening to lectures while he does the dishes. I think they will take the week before the exams off of work and continue a regular work day of studying.

I think at this point they are ready to just get it over with, plus I think they are all more concerned with spending their time preparing for the oral exam in Ottawa in May. In a couple of weeks, with the written out of the way, they will be able to concentrate on that.

There isn’t a lot of “fun time” for Barton these days and I know that he’s looking forward to being able to do things he enjoys without the guilt of knowing that he should be studying instead. Hopefully we can fill this summer with fun and frivolous activities!

Understandably, everything else is on hold until this nonsense gets finished! The kids have been really great, and for the most part, patient. We almost went on a holiday without him, when they all vetoed that idea, wishing instead to wait for him, so hopefully in April we’ll be able to steal away for a bit before he settles back into the grind for exam #2. That exam will be sometime between May 27 and 30 in Ottawa. Once that is done, they just have a bit of resident work time before being let go into the real world.

As far we know things are in place for us to stay an extra year here in St John’s. We still haven’t figured out what we want to do when we grow up, and generally change our minds daily about where and how we want to live, so we’ll hang here and reap its benefits until we know; though many friends have offered to make these decisions for us. Come to think of it, it might be a lot easier to have someone tell us what to do!! Though I guess that’s been the case for the past decade for us... time to make our own decisions.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Date Night!

I actually wrote this on Sunday, March 15th but didn't hit 'post' until today. You may see why...

I think I am safe to say that Barton and I have been frequent concert-goers and over the years have seen many, many performances. It’s funny though, because as we enjoyed our concert-date-night-out last night, we were trying to figure out the last time we had actually been to a concert TOGETHER. It seems as though we don't remember attending a concert with each other since we drove down to Portland to see The Tragically Hip play in a tiny theatre. Apparently that was so long ago that we can't even remember if we were married yet at the time! (Vic... Mike... help with that answer?) For whatever reason (hmmm, kids?) we have been attending solo for many a year.

It was in early December that I bought our tickets as a Christmas present for two well-seasoned bands; Spirit of the West, 26 years old and one of Barton's favourites, who were opening for Great Big Sea, whom we both enjoy, still playing together at the ripe age of 16. At the time it seemed like AGES away and once the gift was given, it just kind of floated in and out of our thoughts. A few weeks ago we realized that it was coming up soon and were re-excited because we just don't get out that often!! However, over the course of the past 4 days or so it slipped my mind again.

The tragedy off our coast is known, I'm sure, to most by now and the effect it has had on our community and province has been quite staggering. Though we didn’t know any of the passengers personally, so many people around us did. It seems as though every person we know from here knew someone on-board or has been affected very heavily through family and friends. A few good friends of ours are grieving the losses of friends, co-workers and other family members. A great tragedy involving 18 people from a relatively small province has a web of affect that spreads so far; hundreds upon hundreds of people are instantly involved. This morning I read that two of the people on board were from BC and close to my hometown, so now a whole new community and group of people have been brought in.

We are not Newfoundlanders and never will be. In fact, we have been told that even if we stay forever, our grandkids may not even be considered Newfoundlanders! ;) However, we have been a part of this community now for almost 5 years and it didn't take long to learn why it is that way. This province is very tightly knit; families are large and close. When one needs, another provides. When one hurts, they all hurt and neighbours will stop and do anything for another if the need arises. Before Barton and I left to come to Newfoundland for interviews, someone asked us if we had a place to stay. When we said we hadn't yet, they told us just to knock on someone's door and ask. At the time, that seemed like a kind of joke... I now realize it totally wasn't. We were welcomed, helped, befriended and quite literally when we knocked on someone's door, we got a BBQ and a beer! This community and province now surround us.

When a community of people like this is rocked by a horrific incident, there is a deep sense of sadness no matter where you go. And yet, there's a survival mode that kicks in, a sense of support and uplifting within the entire province. Plus, the support that has come in from around globe has been quite incredible.

The idea of a happy and exciting event such as a concert seemed hardly realistic. Who would think to do something so fun? How could something like that still carry on? (In fact, it almost didn't considering none of their gear made it across the ferry!)

A stadium seems like a cocoon at the best of times - a little bubble of people gathered for a mutual interest within a larger, bustling world. Last night it seemed like we were in this weird, joyful cocoon, separated, but still within, a tree of sorrow. As we drove there, we both wondered how either band would handle this situation. With the helicopter crash being only two days previous and there was new, painful news being reported that day we knew they would definitely address it somehow, especially considering Great Big Sea are locals.

We enjoyed the concert over a sea of green - only in this province do we actually celebrate "St Paddy's Day Weekend". It's like a 5 day party! We haven't quite learned to remember that yet, but luckily each of us had inadvertently worn green (see? maybe it's starting to sink in?)

Spirit of the West was on first and Barton was really excited, even though he’s seen them umpteen times. What a great break from the constant studying and exam pressure he’s had! (His own cocoon!) I’ve never seen Spirit of the West perform but they're fantastic live. Lead singer John Mann reminisced that the first time they ever played in St John's was in 1989 and they were welcomed to Bannerman Park "from Canada!" Mid-way through their performance they expressed their condolences for a province they love and dedicated a song in the honour and memory of those lost that week.

"I found my coat
Had trouble with the sleeves
We lifted your box
And bent at the knees
Know what tears the most?
It's the disregard for your holy ghost
You left the world, the world kept going..."

(Rights of Man)

Unfortunately, as is the wont of opening bands, they seemed to be over quite quickly (though of course not without a crowd-rousing "Home For a Rest") and Barton was true to form by scurrying his way through the crowd on the floor to secure himself a set list to add to his collection.

The short break after SOTW ended with the lights going down - which of course brings on the screams – and Great Big Sea came on-stage and Sean McCann took the mic...

"For 500 years we Newfoundlanders have been taking from the sea. Two days ago, She took back..."

They sang "England" in dedication. Immediately following the song the lights went out and they left the stage. After a moment of darkness, they returned and the concert began. It was extremely tactful. It was a lovely way to separate the two events and it almost gave permission for everyone to enjoy themselves from there on. Considering how many of their songs are about death, the ocean or the two combined it seemed a necessary and respectful line to draw. How else could you later sing about “The night that Paddy Murphy Died” and still have fun?

"Should we find Fortune's Favour
And be spared from the gale
We will live off honest labour
With our hearts as big as sails
But if I should die don't bury me
Or leave me to the sea
Please send my bones back to my home
Where my spirit can be free"


I don't think I will ever hear this song the same again.

As always (my third time seeing them) Great Big Sea didn't disappoint. They are crazy talented and even if you're a so-so fan, the concerts will always be worth it. I always marvel at their ability to swap around instruments, or sing harmony a cappella in a place like that and still sound good. The stadium is small enough that no matter where you sit, your seats are great and the back 1/4 of the floor space was left open, which lent itself nicely to a group of boys who spent most of the concert jigging and forming their own little 7-boy mosh-pit. A few couples had a dance and a few drunkies staggered through. I love Newfoundlanders because they can have such a good time without being idiots, except for the "F*$^ British Columbia" buddies cursing Spirit of the West behind us, but they didn't last long! It was one of those nice evenings where sometimes you just sit back and watch the scene, and sometimes you just have to get up and dance. We missed the kids because they would have loved it. Riley had been to see GBS before and had a great time; the boys would have been very inspired! Maybe next time... 'cause you know they'll be back!

Just when we thought it wouldn't happen - though we hoped it would! - GBS welcomed SOTW back on stage to join them in Old Black Rum. It was a quite a group! Unfortunately SOTW didn't know the lyrics but they somehow held their own on their instruments and what John lacked in lyric, he definitely made up for in dance and energy!

So, that was our date night, a juxtaposition of emotions. It made me realize two things - I miss going to concerts regularly and it's always okay to take a break from real life.

(Oh! And just as I fell asleep last night I thought of Aerosmith... yes, I could crack a joke about that but I will refrain... We had the tickets a few years ago, we were in Montreal and as is the habit of Aerosmith in Canada – they cancelled. So we were very close to seeing a concert within the past 10 years together!)

A long time ago, we did a story on GBS and Charro got great photos – check it out here:

Great Big Sea at the Arts and Culture Centre