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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Going to take some time to get used to writing a blog, but I am sure if I take just five minutes before bed and write something short, then I will get into the habit of doing it.

Well, since my last blog, Mum has returned home, and life has returned to normal (somewhat). The weather is changeable, sometimes below freezing, and sometimes in the twenties. A quick glance online, it tells me it is currently 14c. Not bad at all for the middle of February.

Thinking of online, has got me thinking of how Dependant we are in the world on technology today. And being far from home, I rely on it even more. Facebook, MSN messenger, Skype, Yahoo, Email, BBCiplayer, UTVplayer - all things that are so small and in this world... but without them... I would be lost. Mobile phone, visa card. Even the very benefits of online banking allows me instant access to my accounts at home. I even have an internet phone with a Belfast number so people can call me for free... and go a step further, it even diverts to my American cell phone, so if by chance I am not in the apartment, I don't miss the call. Even digital photographs mean that I can see instantly pictures from home, without them having to go in the mail!




But I think what recently fascinating is my Theory Pedagogy class. We have a private Facebook group which we post our readings, our thoughts, and even our homeworks on. Everyone comments collaboratively. Our teacher is available for chat via Skype should we need to discuss anything. We are also piloting a new program called Noteflight - an online music notation software, were we create examinations, and musical scores, and everyone can alter them accordingly. It really is wonderful.

School is going great right now. I am enjoying it even more than last semester. As I already mentioned, I am taking a wonderful theory class, where we discuss teaching methods. I also am taking an Advanced Choral Conducting, and this is wonderful. Organ literature this semester is looking at the historical implications on performance practice from Bach onwards (Mendelssohn, Brahms, etc) and I also have my organ lessons with John.

Chamber Singers is always fun. We have a concert on Tues that I am really looking forward to, and then on Thursday we begin to work on Carmina Burana. Our choir trip to Ireland is pretty much finalized, we are starting to look at music for that... including a wonderful arrangement of 'I'll Tell Me Ma' !

Church is exciting right now too. We have a Spring Concert coming up in March, which will feature the 'Mass for the Children' by John Rutter. Yesterday a new Bishop for the East Tennessee Diocese was elected, and his installation is taking place at the church on June 25th. I have never seen an American Bishop be installed before, and for it to happen at my home church is very exciting. I am sure that the choir will be performing something wonderful for the occasion.

I really am going to try and update this more often, I know I keep saying this... but one day I will!!

Finally, last week I attended a concert at Lee University, Cleveland. The Swingle Singers, from the U.K. gave a wonderful recital, and my friend's sister (from chamber singers) is in the group! Not only did I get to hear this wonderful amazing group, but I also got to meet them all, and get a my program signed.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Well, Mum has arrived. Shortly after yesterdays blog, my friend Robyn arrived, and we sat and watched television and chatted for a while, before heading back to the airport to pick her mum. We arrived just as mum came down the escalator, and her baggage arrived a mere thirty seconds later.

After picking up the car, and saying goodbye to Robyn, I prepared mum for the drive back to he apartment... a hair raising experience to say the least. Poor mum, after 24 hours without sleep, had to master the art of driving an automatic 'compact car' which in European terms is something similar to a Ford Mondeo. On top of that she had to deal with driving on the right hand side of the road in the dark, and sitting on the left hand side of the car.
A map showing the confusing roads and junctions near my apartment, indicated by the black square


It took us a good few minutes to gingerly reverse out of the parking space, and cautiously drive back along 6 lane interstate (motorway). Eventually we made it. We have discovered that mum will have to make her british 'hot' tea in the microwave, because I do not have a kettle! A quick snack and it was off to bed... we had an early start for church at 10am.

Church for today was Farragut Presbyterian, tastefully decorated with the theme for the service being 'Light'. The nativity display in the entrance hall, which I am told moves forward towards the sanctuary each week in anticipation of Christmas, featured large wooden carvings that would put most nativity displays to shame. The Christmas tree was decorated with beautiful cross-stitched ornaments, and the church had flowers all around.



A short trip to Walmart Supercenter for some grocery shopping, preceded by lunch at Wasabi's. This is my favourite restaurant in Knoxville, (After P.F.Changs), and true dining experience. The chef prepares the food infront of you, with a 'circus' display of egg spinning, throwing rice balls for each person to catch in their mouths, and even making 'volcanoes of fire and smoke' when cooking onions.

After lunch, we made a short trip to Jo-Anns, which equals 'heaven' to mum. A craft and fabric store, selling every kind of fabric you can imagine, mum already has made a purchase of some nice easter material.

We have now made it home. I am putting the groceries away, and mum is having a nap. I wonder what the evening will bring?

Interesting thought for the day from a sermon at church. Imagine yourself, a prisoner in a dark cell, released to the outside world, a world of brightness that is unrecognizable, since your eyes can not adjust to the shadows that you knew as 'reality'. You slowly adjust and see the light, but if you where to return to your prison cell, how strong would you be if you where involved in a fight? Since your eyesight must adjust to the darkness... anyone that might pick a fight with you will surely win as you are blinded by the darkness. You are unrecognizable and changed by the light, since those that have never been released from the darkness of prison or sin, have never experienced the light.

Therefore, put on the rmour of light... bearing the truth, for light shines in the darkness, and the darkness knows him not.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Resolution

Well, I decided, I really am going to have to keep up with this blogging malarky! So... this is the first blog, for New Year's Day. I will begin with exactly 00:00:01 on the 1st of January 2011 when I was woken in bed to 'the fireworks across the railway viaduct, coming from Market Square. They were not very exciting... and after thirty seconds I closed my window blind and went to bed. And I slept like a log. I woke today to discover that 1) I need to wash my clothes, 2) I need to get groceries, and 3) I need to prepare for the big arrival of mum. Apparently she has just landed at gate A10 at Philadelphia Airport, indeed I was able to track her flight as she made landfall over Newfoundland at 35,200 ft and 470 knts. Because she was delayed, she text my uncle, who posted on my facebook that she now be on the later flight at 9pm to Knoxville, so I do feel sorry for her having a 6 hour wait in the airport, after her 8 hour flight. The weather right now is miserable. 14c, but wet. I am grateful that with access to the internet, I can check the weather, know where mums plane is down to the very gate, and even communicate her delay with the outside world. What would we have done 40 years ago I wonder? How technology has changed the world...



After not having any water back home, I arrived in Knoxville to discover that my shower has a steady trickle of hot water... yet to be fixed by our landlord, but it was very welcome. I also discovered Santa Claus had forget to redirect his packages to Dundonald, so I discovered a bottle of Ribena, and a packet of Arabic Broad Beans from Egypt in the freezer. Santa knows that I have been trying very hard to find broad beans here, I can't even find them in a tin or in the freezer section... and I suspect from the packaging that Santa had to go somewhere special to find them... and they won't last long!

I confess it is nice to be home in Knoxville. I refer to home, because I guess it really is my home away from home. I absolutely adore my apartment to pieces. The journey this time was probably the hardest journey I have taken. I did not go to bed on Thursday night, because I was running around trying to find someone that would be mad enough to mind my dog... and luckily it worked out very well, a friend who seems to always come to the rescue recently, and definitely a friend that you cannot take for granted. I just hope that the little bladder problem Mollie (yes - Elizabeth... with an 'ie' ) doesn't get to bad!




So I packed in the small hours of the night, leaving my house at 330am for the 4am bus at the Europa. As we all waited in line for the bus, we suddenly noted the time was 410am, and so after waking the bus drived with a loud tap on the bus window...we got on route to Dublin Airport. Arriving just after 6am, I joined the already long queue, to check in. For those people that have never flow to America before from Dublin, it was certainly an experience... Firstly, to join the checkin line, you must present you passport which gets scanned on a portable laptop. The checkin lines are secure areas, so only those travelling are allowed in the line. After a 30 minute wait... I approached the desk, to be told my bad was 26kilos, 3 kilos above the free 23 kilo limit. I would have to pay either $200 or take 3 pairs of jeans out of my bag. As you can imagine, I had already crammed everything I could into my hand luggage. And so I had to open my luggage, and put a second jacket on to wear, and strap a coat and a pair of jeans to the top of my carry on sports bag.

As you can imagine, security was a nightmare. It took 4 trays for my belongings. Shoes, belt, laptop, 3 jackets, jeans, travel documents, - they all had to go through the xray machine. And then I held up the line as it took me at least 5 minutes to gather my stuff again.

Next I went to gate 306. A man checked my customs declaration form, and I went the stairs to the 'US Immigration and Border Control' where I joined a line and got interviewed on my purposes for travel, my visa verified, my fingers all digitally printed, and a photograph taken. The immigration office stamped my passport, and marked D/S which means I can stay for the Duration of Status of my visa, and I then entered gate 306 which had a sign saying 'Welcome to America' - now... that was very peculiar indeed.

Delta Airlines Boeing 767's at the gate in Atlanta

The flight, scheduled to leave at 850am, actually departed at 10am. The we had chicken potatoes and vegetables and fruit for breakfast. I was amused that the flight attendant I was 6ft woman with what appeared to be a wig, and man hair on her knuckles and arms. Most of the flight was uneventful, and we had plenty to drink and movies to watch. After pizza and ice-cream, landing came as a very very bumpy experience, but 20 minutes ahead of schedule! After slipping past immigration lines like VIP's I waited to collect my bag from customs. After what seemed like ages I spotted my bag... on a trolley, being wheeled towards the exit by a 30 year old man! I quickly approached the thief and verified my name on the baggage label!  Then I joined the customs line, which after I cleared, had to then place my bag on the 'connecting' flights carousel. I then took the underground train to Terminal E and made it just on time for my second flight, which had already began to board! That flight was uneventful, and an hour later I arrived in a rather wet Memphis Airport, where I sat at gate A27 for three whole hours.



 During those 3 hours, the only person I saw was a Muslim lady who had obviously wanted to find a quiet spot in the airport to pray. She had a beautiful green towel to stand and kneel on for her prayers. This was probably the moment when I realised that the lack of people meant I was probably at the wrong gate.  I was supposed to be at A20!! I logged onto my computer and watched live the London New Year Fireworks, and immediately after they finished, proceeded to board my last flight to Knoxville.



That was probably the worst flight. I was feeling tired, and I wanted a sugar rush badly. So as you can imagine I was annoyed that our small plane, which sat only feet off the ground was bobbing around in turbulence and lightning not experienced before, and our one flight attendant announced that the seatbelt sign would be on for the remainder of the flight... and there would be no trolley service! I was certainly glad when I got to Knoxville, made it back to the apartment, had a welcome shower, and went for a wonderful dinner at Regas Restaurant, which was closing down permanently at midnight.  Lemon Chicken was on the menu, and the atmosphere was wonderful, with a live pianist, who was occasionally joined by a drunk singer, and couples slowly dancing to light music on the stage, beautifully decorated with large presents and ornaments for the occasion. Sadly my camera was at the bottom of my bag.



Right now though, I must go and begin my washing and make final preparations for picking up mum at the airport around 11pm tonight. New Year Blessings to you all, Simon

P.S. Would you believe that I smuggled a Terry's Chocolate Orange in my hand luggage all the way, purely not realising! I thought that kind of thing was not allowed in you bag...