My grandfather’s tree and some favorites

Good news everyone: my darling and I walked past my Grandfather’s maple tree (that’s how I’ve come to think of it) yesterday and it is still standing! I’m hoping this means that the arborist who was supposed to give a second opinion declared that the old fellow is well enough to be saved, because another very large, old, Silver Maple around the corner from my grandfather’s tree was cut down just a few days ago and Grandpa’s tree is still standing. At least when the city must take down such ancient, stately trees, they leave posters tacked to the trunk of the tree explaining why the tree had to be cut down and evidence of the tree’s illness so locals aren’t left wondering why their much loved trees have been felled. and at least if my Grandfather’s tree does end up being cut down in the near future, I was able to take a series of photos of it, of which I am happy to chare a few.

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The bottom of Old Orchard Avenue with my Grandfather’s tree on the right.
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A closeup of my Grandfather’s tree that give you an idea of just how wide its trunk is.

On another note, it has been ages since I’ve shared any of my favorites with you. I just haven’t felt up to it and haven’t had the time, but I have a few gems for you today, name this adorable counter vacuum which can be found at Zone stores here in Montreal.

Isn’t he just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen??? My brother and his wife had one just like him and I had been coveting one for at least a year but my Darling felt that ia counter vacuum was a useless gadget that would do nothing but take up valuable counter space. First of all, he clearly has no concept of how many little crumbs can be created while cooking and second of all, we have such a massive kitchen counter that we would need dozens of these little vacuums to fill it up. After my Darling was forced to go into the office for the second Saturday in a row last weeked I was feeling pretty down, so I detoured by Zone after buying some groceries and picked up my very own little mouse vacuum. He is quiet, efficient and elicited some grumbling from my Darling. I told him that if he really hadn’t wanted to end up with a kitchen counter vacuum, he simply should not have gotten himself called into work so that I would not have needed cheering up. I named my little mouse friend Brie and he has already made himself more than useful. If you’re like me and love cooking but hate having to sponge down your counter after spilling a bit of flour or other miscellaneous kitchen crumbs on it every time you cook, you should really look into getting one of these little guys. They also come in ladybug format and are about the size of a standard computer mouse.

Another one of my current favorites is a wonderful classical music album which is perfect for chasing away the Winter Blues: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons recomposed by Max Richter.

 

Richter takes the much-loved favourite and tweaks it just enough to give it a contemporary feel but best of all, there are long recordings of bees, blowing wind, bubbling brooks and birdsong so that you can very easily imagine yourself in the middle of a beautiful, lush, green field surrounded by early Spring wildlfowers. Absolute, pure bliss when you are in the dead of Winter and I find that it is an even more effective pick-me-up in February when I begin to feel that Spring is getting close but is still annoyingly out of reach.

And finally, if you are looking for a nice, light read that will have you giggling out loud, I just started reading the absolutely delightful ‘A Night In with Audrey Hepburn’ by Lucy Holliday.

The link above will send you to the Chapters/Indigo Books website for my Canadian readers,  but the book can be found at any bookshop and is so worth it if you are looking for some very easy laughs, but be aware that you will laugh out loud while reading this book. I kept having to relate the funny bits to my Darling yesterday while we were reading on the couch together, so be prepared to explain your fits of giggles to anyone you are reading around!

On living in the neighborhood your family has been in for four generations

OMG you guys, I am so sorry for being such an absentee blogger over the past few weeks, but I was hit with a nasty bug at the end of December which left me completely wiped out. I only started getting back to normal last Friday. The moral of this story is: if your house is way too dry (below 30% humidity), any chest and throat infection you contract will potentially be way worse than it normally would. I kept getting worse until we went out and invested in a good quality humidifier and got our numbers back over 40%. Yup, old houses dry out fast in winter!

Now, on a more cheerful note, I am, as I have mentioned before, seriously in love with the neighborhood we live in. My Darling and I have been in and out of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce all our lives and from the time I was in my late teens, I knew without a doubt that the day I got my own place, it was going to be in N.D.G. What I did not know until far more recently was just how deeply rooted in this part of Montreal my family’s history was. That sort of family history is not the kind of thing a kid is typically interested in. All I really cared about when I came into this neck of the woods for dinner with my paternal grandparents when I was little was how many sweets my grandmother was going to slip me when my mom wasn’t looking, the bouquet of flowers my grandfather would give me from his flower pots in the Summer and the huge (to my brother and I) hill we would drive down in Montreal West on our way home. Since I have moved out here though, my grandmother has loved telling me stories about what the neighborhood was like when she and my grandfather grew up here, because it turns out that out of her 84 years, my grandmother spent 79 of them living in NDG and my grandfather spent 84 of his 89 years here. They moved out to the suburbs to be closer to my aunt a few years ago and while my grandfather was perfectly happy with the change, my grandmother felt completely uprooted and it took her over a year to get used to her new neighborhood.

To put things into perspective, my grandparents remember what NDG looked like before a chunk of it was torn down to make room for the Décarie Expressway. They remember where the old streetcar routes ran (there have been no streetcars in Montreal since 1959) and they saw the Basilica of St-Joseph’s Oratory be built and its dome rise into the skyline of the neighborhood in 1937. My grandmother’s parents arrived here as immigrants from Slovakia in the 1920s and my great-grandfather delivered coal in the neighborhood. My grandfather’s parents were the first owners of a house down on the corner of Old Orchard Avenue and Côte-Saint-Antoine. They moved in in 1932 when my grandfather was six years old and the family kept the house for nearly 50 years.

I love the feeling of living in a neighborhood where my family has so much history. I love knowing that I am walking the same streets that my great-grandparents, grandparents and father walked. I love being able to talk to my grandmother about how little the area has changed since her childhood. She actually grew up in the same ten block radius  that I have called home since 2008. However, having so much history in the neighborhood can also be very bittersweet, like when a venerable old tree reaches the end of its life:

Montreal plans to fell 165-year-old tree in N.D.G. | Montreal Gazette

You know a tree is old and much-loved when news of its upcoming demise makes the news in all the English outlets in town. Everyone who lives in my area knows this tree and I spent well over a half-hour talking about it with my grandmother earlier today when she called to ask me if I had read the story I linked to above. The tree is right across the street from the house my grandfather grew up in and he couldn’t bare to talk about the tree being cut down when my aunt gave him the news earlier this week. I know the tree well, because I can barely stay on the sidewalk when I jog by it and I give it pat and say hello to it every time I go by. A tree this old merits some form of deference when you cross its path. The tree means so much to locals that the borough is bringing in a second team of experts to make sure that nothing can be done to save it before making a final decision about its fate, but it is fairly certain the poor old fella will have to come down since the entire center section of his trunk is rotten. I am planning on walking down to visit him, say goodbye and take some pictures of him in the next few days…and hopefully he won’t fall on me if he really is in as bad a way as they say he is. I will probably cry. This tree has been in the neighborhood long enough to see it grow from a tiny farming community to one of Montreal’s first suburbs and four generations of my family have walked past it, watched it grow and admired it. How can I not be touched by its demise when I think of that?

If you would like to learn more about the history Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, you can check out this site.

 

Happy New Year!

Gosh, I can’t believe how quickly the Holidays flew by! What a whirlwind! I’ve spent the past two weeks going from party to party. Everything went so well, I can’t think why I was so stressed out before it all got started, but that’s the Holidays for you, a huge load of hype and preparation and then they’re done in the blink of an eye!

My Darling headed back to the office today looking much more cheerful than he did a few weeks ago, so that was nice to see. He really needed a change of pace and a bit of a rest and he got that. As for me, I’m happy that I made so many people happy over the Holidays and I’m also happy that I had an easier time with them than I’ve had in years. I didn’t shed a tear on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day. I didn’t cry at all until we put my Grandmother on a train to Toronto on the 27th and that was because I was so sad to see her go! I don’t know if it’s because I had a proper meltdown days before Christmas or because my grandmother’s visit kept me so busy, but whatever the reason for my lack of Christmas doldrums this year, I’ll take it and hope they will stay away in the future!

I also must say that I am looking forward to 2016 with more hope and optimism than I have had in quite a few years. 2015 was a year of healing for me and I hope that 2016 will be a year of happiness, celebration and health for my Darling and I and our families. I know that every year has its ups and downs, but I’m hoping for another year that will have more positives than negatives.

So here’s to 2016 and I hope it brings you and those you love plenty of health, happiness, love and dreams come true!

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In which I admit to having an up-and-down relationship with Christmas

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My first Christmas

When I was little, I was crazy about Christmas. What kid wouldn’t be when they were fortunate enough to grow up in a stable, loving family environment with two parents who were crazy about each other, four adoring grandparents who spoiled them silly in every sense of the word (all the hugs and kisses you could want and sweets and toys galore), aunts, uncles and cousins to goof around with and nothing in the world to worry them. I remember that the two weeks I had off from school at Christmas every year were so completely different from the rest of the year, they were so filled with love and fun and magic that by the time I went back to school, I felt like I had been out of my routine for a solid year.

Things changed early in my teenage years though. My maternal grandparents, who had been central to my upbringing and had showered me with more affection than words can express, moved to California when my grandfather got his last transfer before he retired (yes, I had very young grandparents, they were all in their early to mid 50s when I was born). I was fourteen at the time and I cried for weeks after they left and after that, Christmas was never the same. They split their holidays between my family in Montreal and my aunt’s family in Toronto, so one year they would spend Christmas with us and do New Year’s in Toronto and the following year it would be the other way around. It was a huge change for me and that is when I started feeling lonely at Christmas. It got far worse when my parents split up about five years after my grandparents moved away. I decided to live with my mother, but my brother moved in with my father when he eventually got his own place and family tiffs would begin months in advance over who was going to celebrate Christmas when and with whom on the years when my maternal grandparents were in town. Unfortunately my brother and I were not in a situation where where big collective family Christmases were an option. I often ended up in tears and I would even get snappish with my grandmothers when they would start talking about the Holiday arrangements at the end of Summer.

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My brother and I, Christmas 1990 or 1991

I was hoping that things would get better once I moved out on my own, but they only got worse. I would end up alone on Christmas Eve every other year and wouldn’t see any family at all until Christmas Day and would then be alone again until New Year’s Day. I very rarely had anyone to celebrate with on New Year’s Eve. I tried going out for walks in Mount Royal Park or to the movies in town to break the monotony of it all, but I would return home feeling more depressed than ever because all I would see everywhere were families celebrating the Holidays together. Let me tell you this: being alone at the Holidays is the worst kind of solitude you can feel. It gets to the point where you just was to lock yourself away in your home with nary a Christmas decoration in sight until the whole thing is over because everywhere you are, you are hit in the face with images of what you do not have: someone to share it with. Even when I worked through Christmas Eve I would feel unbearable lonely the minute my shift was over at 2:00 A.M. because most of my colleagues were heading straight off to join their family celebrations and I was getting on the bus home back to my apartment, which was empty except for my cats. I would get home, curl up with my cats and cry.

Then the worst thing of all happened: my father died. He was so unwell on Christmas Day in 2012 that he wasn’t able to join us at my aunt and uncle’s place. We decided to have a second Christmas celebration for him on Epiphany (January 6th) and he barely made it to that. He passed away about three weeks later.

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My father at Christmas a few years before he passed away.

At this point, I had had it with Christmas and when it came time to chose my vacation dates for 2013-2014 I decided to not take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. I couldn’t have guessed that by the time Christmas rolled around, I would have had a burn out and quit my full-time job and also that my Darling would finally have decided that he was willing to put me through the introduction process into his very traditional Polish family, but I am so infinitely grateful that he did, because I don’t know how I would have made it through my first Christmas without my father otherwise.

I am slowly beginning to reconcile myself with Christmas, but it has not been easy. I have yet to wake up on Christmas Eve without crying and even though my in-laws, especially my mother in-law, do their best to make me feel welcome at their Christmas Eve celebration and my nieces and nephew fill the evening with cheer, they are not my traditions and I feel slightly out of place and oh-so nostalgic for the Christmas Eves of my childhood. The ones where my maternal grandparents would bring my brother and I to Midnight mass ahead of our parents so that my parents could help Santa lay out our gifts. I miss sitting around the tree with my family, I miss singing carols at church with them. I miss the later traditions as well, the ones we barely got used to, like my father handing out the gifts at my aunt and uncle’s place. I miss seeing his handwriting on his gift labels and reading the Christmas card he would send me. I inherited all of his Christmas ornaments though, all the ones I grew up with. Now that my Darling has moved in with me, we have gotten a natural Christmas tree two years in a row (no way could I have gotten one of them into my home by myself!) . It has done wonders for me to be able to have a real tree like I did when I was little and to hang so many of the ornaments I remember from my childhood in it along with my own.

Along with his ornaments, I inherited my father’s collection of CDs, including his Christmas albums and I created a huge, hours long playlist with his Christmas music and mine last year. Among them are pieces from a recording of a concert we attended together at Notre-Dame Basilica featuring Bruno Pelletier accompanied by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in 2003.

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I have also started writing and sending out my own Christmas cards and I always, always bring Christmas wreaths to my father and grandfather at the cemetery and ask my father to help me be happy and my grandfather to help my grandmother.

I know that compared to others I am very fortunate. I have happy memories of Christmas from my childhood and have always had someone to celebrate with on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Some people have never even had that or have had it very rarely. That’s what makes the holidays so bittersweet though, having had so much happiness and then losing it and trying to get it back. What I am coming to terms with is that Christmas will never be as it was when I was little. The best I can do is to take those wonderful memories, cherish them and use them to create my own happy Christmases. I am striving to do that. It doesn’t mean that I can’t be sad or miss my loved ones, it wouldn’t be normal if I didn’t miss them, but I can also show them what I am doing to keep sharing Christmas with them even though they are no longer here or, for my aunts and uncles and cousins, that I am thinking of them even though we spend the holidays far apart. It may not be easy, but it is a start and I’m hoping to smile a bit more and cry a bit less every year.

St.Joseph’s Oratory

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to, you just can’t write and that’s what has been going on with me lately, largely because of the events in Paris last week. I had a pretty strong post coming along in my head, but after the attacks, it just seemed so trivial. I’m normally a very happy, positive, fun-loving person and I strive to reflect that here on my blog, so I suppose that’s why I got writers block. I just wasn’t feeling like myself, but I think I’ve started to work that out of my system. That and after a visit to St.Joseph’s Oratory on Monday, I knew that the Oratory was just what I needed to write about. I have always had a thing for churches and although I have visited many stunning churches in Europe, the United States and at home here in Canada, the Oratory is still my favorite. It may not be a jaw dropper in terms of its interior, but in my mind that only adds to its charm. Also, its impressive size and the number of steps there are from street level up to the Basilica on the top floor makes the competition look silly ”You’re flamboyant neo-gothic? Well, I have 283 steps up to my front porch, so there!”. And fear not, if stairs are not your thing, there’s a shuttle bus to replace the first 99 stairs. It gets you to the main entrance level and then there are escalators and elevators inside, or more staircases. They just want to make sure there’s something for everyone, you know?

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St. Joseph’s Oratory seen from street level in early Spring.

So, how did we end up with this beautiful shrine in Montreal? It all started with this fella, Brother André.

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This bronze statue of St. Brother André can be found beside what is left of the original Oratory.

He came to Montreal in 1870 to join the Catholic order of Holy Cross brothers, whose novitiate was housed in Notre-Dame-Du-Sacré-Coeur College (that’s a private high school, we call them colleges here in Québec), just across the street from where the Oratory is now.

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A partial view of Notre-Dame-Du-Sacré-Coeur college all decked out for Christmas. The school has existed on its present site since 1869.

The brothers almost didn’t keep Brother André past his novitiate because of his frail health, but the bishop of Montreal at the time, Mgr. Bourget, intervened on his behalf after being impressed by André’s piousness and his strong desire to remain with the order and he took his perpetual vows in 1874. Lucky for the Order that the Bishop intervened, because Brother André turned out to be more than just your average Brother! His health was delicate (he was born with an undiagnosed stomach ailment that stayed with him throughout his life and prevented him from eating normally) and he didn’t have the necesary education to teach like the other brothers, so he was made the porter of the school and its Jack-of-all-trades. His tasks included helping out in the infirmary and one day a rumor started going around that a seriously ill student had been inexplicably and suddenly cured after Brother André had sat with him and they had prayed to St. Joseph together. St.Joseph, that’s a statue of him in the picture below, is a Saint of the Catholic church who is known for curing the sick and infirm, among other things.

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The Statue of St-Joseph that stands in the Oratory’s Votive chapel. The chapel holds 10 000 votive lamps and this stand alone contains 3500. Each candle that is lit in the chapel represents the prayer of a pilgrim.

Now, St.Joseph is a pretty popular guy and yes, that’s the same Joseph as the one made famous for marrying the virgin Mary and raising Jesus, so when word started getting around that Brother André seemed to have some sort of a direct line to him, people started showing up at Notre-Dame College asking for him. When he was at his doorkeeper’s post that wasn’t too much of a problem, especially at first when there weren’t too many pilgrims (people who travel somewhere specifically for prayer), but French Canadians in the late 19th Century were a pretty pious lot and soon the parents of the boys living at the school began complaining to Brother André’s superiors about the pilgrims who were taking the liberty of wandering around the school in order to look for Brother André when he was not in his porter’s cell. The issue was that a lot of these people were suffering from, or had been in close contact with people who were suffering from infectious diseases which were very difficult to treat at the time, such as influenza, diphtheria, scarlet fever, polio and tuberculosis and there was legitimate fear of the boys who boarded at the school being contaminated by germs. The Holy Cross order and Brother André knew that turning Pilgrims away not an option, so the order eventually gave Brother André permission to build a small oratory in honor of St.Joseph on a piece of land they owned across the street from Notre-Dame College. And voilà! we have the beginning of what was one day to become the largest shrine in the world dedicated to St.Joseph!

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The 1904 (behind the steeple) and 1910 (from the steeple frontwards) sections of the original oratory.

Cute, isn’t it? There was a problem though, Brother André only had 200$, which us equivalent to about 5o00$ nowadays, with which to build his Oratory. He put every last penny he had saved giving 5 cent haircuts at the College over a 34 year period to get the chapel built and it was too small. The oratory opened its doors for the first time on October 19th of 1904 and by Winter the pilgrims were showing up to see Brother at Notre-Dame again because there was only room for 8 people at a time in the chapel and even if they could get inside the building, it was unheated. Brother André and a few of his most loyal friends began collecting donations and in under six years they were able to not only install a wood burning stove but also to enlarge the Oratory twice, first to seat 50 people and then 200. The building was still prone to chronic overcrowding however, so Brother André and his friends continued to raise funds and in 1914, work began on the Crypt-Church, which opened in 1917 and could seat 750 people. To this day, it is the busiest church on the site and the busiest Catholic church I know of anywhere in Canada. There are 7 to 8 masses a day said at the Oratory and all of them except for two on Sundays are said in the Crypt-Church.

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The choir section of the Crypt-Church seen during a concert. The Crypt-Church gets its name from the fact that the Basilica was originally planned to be built directly on top of it, so it has a low ceiling supported by flattened steel arches.

Brother André knew that the Crypt-Church wouldn’t be able to hold all the masses of Pilgrims flocking to the shrine to pray St-Joseph for long though, so in 1924 work began on the Basilica, a huge church that could originally, before seats were put in and crowd regulation laws were put into place, hold 10 000 pilgrims. The Basilica took 43 years to complete because, as with the rest of the enlargements to the original shrine, it was built with donations and it was first a victim of the Great Depression and then of shifting values. It was opened for its first service in 1955 and Brother André, who passed away in 1937 at the age of 91, never got to see it completed. The interior of the Basilica was completed in 1967 in a Medieval inspired Art Deco style.

Nowadays, the Basilica seats 1 750 pilgrims on a regular Sunday, or 1 870 when chairs are added in for special occasions. Mass is said in the Basilica on Sunday mornings at 11:00 A.M. with music provided by its impressive 5811 pipe, 78 stop Beckerath organ and its boys’ choir the Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal and again at 12:30 P.M. It is also used for major feast days such as Christmas, Easter and St-Joseph’s feast day on March 19th. Otherwise, seeing as regular weekday masses are attended by anywhere between 50 to 200 pilgrims at a time, the Crypt-Church is used.

All this talk of overflow may make the Oratory sound like a very busy place, it is actually very, very peaceful and there is a beautiful energy that surrounds it as soon as you set foot inside the grounds. I’m very, very fortunate to have such a beautiful place in my neighborhood and I have been to it many, many times when I was in need of comfort and peace. If ever you are in Montreal, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to visit the Oratory, even though it is a bit off the beaten tourist trail. It is quite easy to reach by public transit since two bus lines stop right in front of it (the 51 and 166) and a very major bus line stops just one corner away (the 165-435 line, the second number is the express number for rush hour). Don’t pass up a chance to visit this unique place, because believe me, you will be sorry! And yes, as with the rest of the city, it is beautiful year-round!

Now, a note about the photos in this post: you will have noticed that they are watermarked with my real name. The reason for this is that I have put some of my photos up for sale on a decorative print producer’s site that is local to Quebec photographers, but ships all over the world. When doing this, I was strongly encouraged to create a photography website, which I did. Please, feel free to visit it here and follow it! Having to watermark my photos twice was such a major hassle that I decided to bite the bullet and put my name on here. I refrained from doing this before because while I don’t care if my family knows that I have a photography blog, there are a very, very few members of my family who have been quite nasty to me on social media before, so nasty that I blocked them from my Facebook account. I don’t need that sort of grief on here when it comes to my writing and opinions. If it’s from some random reader I won’t ever have to meet face to face, I don’t care, but nastiness from family is a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you occasionally have to sit down at the same dinner table as them, hence the pseudonym. I’m keeping it on my Gravatar account and have a seperate Gravatar and e-mail address for the photography blog, so I should be good, but I just wanted to clarify the change with you folks!

 

Evensong at the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge

King's College and its famous chapel seen from across the River Cam
King’s College and its famous chapel seen from across the River Cam

Okay, so if I wasn’t conscious of the fact that long titles are a drag, this post would be entitled ‘The Day I (Finally) Heard the Choir of King’s College in Person and Was Pretty Sure I Had Died and Gone to Heaven’, or something like that, because oh my gosh this choir…words cannot describe how incredibly talented this group of boys, sixteen of them, aged between 8 and 13 and young men, fourteen undergraduate students at King’s College, typically aged between 18 and 22, are.The choir has existed since the foundation of King’s College by King Henry VI in 1441 and to this day their main task is to sing during the daily services held in the college chapel. If you want to read more about the choir, you can visit their site here which is also a good place to listen to recordings of the choir.

How did I hear about these boys and become so entranced by them you may be wondering? It happened while I was working at the Classical department of the HMV store on Ste.Catherine Street in Downtown Montreal when I was in University, which was honest to goodness one of the best jobs I ever had, I think I actually enjoyed it more than being a tour guide, because while I love my job, I’ve been obsessed with Classical music ever since I can remember. My parents didn’t force me into it, I just remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom one day when I was little, fiddling with the dial and landing on CBC Radio 2, which was all Classical at the time and I got hooked. My mom used to brag about it, like ‘Hey, my kid sits there for hours listening to Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, what does yours do?’. I’ve been passionate about music ever since then, so naturally, when I was job hunting during my first year in university and HMV had seasonal openings I dropped off my CV and wrote down on the application form that I wanted to work in the Classical department. Not many people asked to work up there, except for people who mistakenly thought that ‘Classical’ meant Elvis and the Beatles, so I got the job in the blink of an eye and with that, the free run of the department and employee pricing on every single album and DVD in the entire store. Ask me how I ended up with hundreds of CDs in my house and I will tell you no lies. It was while working in the department that I picked up my first recording of the choir’s, ‘Heavenly Voices’ and I thought they were pretty darn good, so I then bought their 2000 recording of ‘Carols form King’s’ on DVD and boom, I was hooked and then some. Hearing the choir on a compilation CD was one thing, but to hear and see one single formation (the choir changes a bit every year when new boys and men enter and leave) is absolutely divine and of course, the chapel itself is drop dead gorgeous, especially when the boys sing by candlelight.

Stephen Cleobury giving the choir some pointers.
The choir singing below the magnificent fan vaulting of the chapel of King’s College.

From the time I watched that DVD making it to Cambridge to see the choir sing in person was on my bucket list, so when booked a ticket to London in the first week of December last year, I made darn sure that the choir would be singing during my time in the UK so I could go over to Cambridge and hear them because there was no way I was flying back across the Atlantic without having seen them. My Darling who, funnily enough, was part of Montreal’s most famous boys’ choir, Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal for their full eight year program, barely knew about the choir and was less than keen to hop on a train for a day trip outside of London when he was only going to be there for four days since he was coming to join me after visiting family in Poland. I insisted that he would regret it his entire life if he didn’t come with me to Cambridge though and he skeptically agreed and I bought us two tickets. We spent the day visiting the town on our own and then with a tour guide and Cambridge was everything I had imagined it would be and more.

The Christmas Market in Cambridge's town square.
The Christmas Market in Cambridge’s town square.
Vines growing in the courtyard of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
Vines growing in the courtyard of Corpus Christi College.
Tourists punting on the River Cam.
Tourists punting on the River Cam.
A bicycle waiting for its owner in the portico of Trinity College.
A bicycle waiting for its owner in the portico of Trinity College.
The statue of Henry VIII above the portico of Trinity College.
The statue of Henry VIII above the Great Gate of Trinity College.

After our guided tour, my Darling and I popped into a cafe our guide had recommended to us, Fitzbillies, which is famous for its Chelsea buns. They were unfortunately out of them by the time we got there, but their amazing ganache based hot chocolate and warm, moist scones more than made up for that!

After our snack, it was finally time to head over the King’s College for Evensong.

The chapel of King's College seen from King's Parade road.
The chapel of King’s College seen from King’s Parade road.

I was worried there might be a massive lineup, but it was a quiet day and one of the locals reassured me that there was room for the entire town in the chapel. I was skeptical, but when I got inside, I saw that he was right, although about half the townspeople would have been on the rear side of the choir screen and would not have been able to the choir. The sight of the chapel on the inside is absolutely breathtaking. It is much larger than what I had imagined from the photos and videos I had seen of it, especially in terms of its height and the fan vaulting on the ceiling is absolutely amazing. Finally, the choir filed it and as soon as they began to sing, I got goosebumps and teared up and promptly looked up at the ceiling to keep myself from crying like an idiot. As for my darling, I looked over at him and saw that he was listening to the boys sing with his eyes closed, a very good sign indeed. After the service ended, as my Darling and I were walking to the train station to head back to London, he thanked me for convincing him to come along on our day trip and he has since become just as much of a King’s groupie as I am. We left the town with the most recent ‘Carols from King’s’ DVD, which is of the choir’s 2013 Nine Lessons and Carols service as well as the Choir’s recording of Fauré’s Requiem. The CD has been in our CD player ever since. Don’t worry, we don’t listen to it on a loop, it’s a five disk changer! One thing is for sure though, when my Darling needs help relaxing after a particularly stressful day at work, he puts on his headphones and listens to it.

If you’re interested in discovering the Choir of King’s College, I highly recommend that you start out by listening to their ‘Favorite Carols from King’s album and if you enjoy it, you should move on to Evensong Live 2015, which is a pretty good sampling of sacred choral music throughout history. I also highly, highly recommend that you watch the documentary below about the choir and all the preparations that surround their annual BBC broadcast of Carols from King’s since it gives a very good glimpse into the daily lives of the choristers and the history of the choir and finally, I’m also including a clip of the choir singing one of my favorite contemporary carols of theirs, The Shepherd’s Carol, which was composed for the choir by a former chorister, Bob Chilcott.

Taking Stock No.2

Lac des Bouleaux in Mont Saint-Bruno Provincial Parc
Lac des Bouleaux in Mont Saint-Bruno Provincial Parc

Welcome to my second Taking Stock post! Taking Stock is a practice I began after reading Ashley’s Taking Stock posts over on her (ridiculously beaitufl and addictive) blog Sed Bona. If you feel like joining in on the Taking Stock fun, you can do your own post and share it with Ashley and she will link you post up to hers.

Enjoying: the incredibly mild week we’re having here in Montreal, like I drove home with the sunroof and windows open today!
Listening: to Radio Classique Montréal, Montreal’s classical radio station, give them a Google and you can stream them live online!
Wearing: My favorite warm and fluffy house socks, they totally eliminate the need for slippers!
Making: a lovely red cashmere scarf for myself.
Cooking: as many of the soups in the Soup for Syria cookbook as I can
Drinking: Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas Tea.
Feeling: wonderfully energized and bubbly thanks to yesterday’s 10k run
Reading: The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
Looking: through every Christmas photo I have ever taken for the perfect one for this year’s Christmas card
Wishing: I was heading back to London and Cambridge in December
Liking: still being able to run outside without layering up like and onion
Waiting: for my Christmas Cactus to flower
Snacking: on roast pumpkin and cardamom soup
Coveting: more Jo Malone Cologne. I got pretty good sample haul when I bought at bottle of my favorite orange blossom scent in Atlanta, but the selection of cologne here in Montreal is not what it is in the States!
Hearing: Magique getting up to no good in the kitchen…
Learning: to read music, slowly and steadily
Loving: being able to air the house out a little today, it’s warm enough to have the windows open!
Watching: season six of Downton Abbey (Hola Unblocker, how I love you!)
Admiring: all the lovely Christmas ad campaigns that are starting
Getting: excited for dinner with my Darling and some friends at Shambala Tibetan restaurant (website is French only)
Wondering: when I’ll get back to the UK, I miss it so much!
Playing: Cards Against Humanity, the most politically incorrect party game ever
Noticing: a huge difference in my hair since I’ve been using Aveda’s Smooth Infusion Styling Creme religiously every time I wash my hair
Giggling: over how close to disaster my Darling and I came the other night when we mistook a skunk for a cat
Bookmarking: the Listen to the Choir section of the choir of King’s College website
Deciding: on photos for my Grandfather’s memory box which will be put by the door to his room at his retirement home
Hoping: we have a milder Winter than our last two
Contemplating: purchasing new Winter boots
Wanting: to have more days where I feel amazing
Thinking: I’m going to be late if I don’t wrap this up soon lol
Knowing: I am doing everything I can to feel my best
Opening: a new tin of tea can make all your worries seem less pressing
Feeling: excited for my next weekend away with my Darling
Marveling: at how quickly this year has flown by

Ramblings about life in general