A 20 YEAR STORY

There are some landmark days going on in our lives.  Among them is that Gina is turning 20 soon.  The echo of that fact in terms of my own story is that I am coming up on the 20th anniversary of being a hands on Mom.  This anniversary and all that the last month has held means my heart is full and my brain is churning.

20 years is a big marker.  I am thinking quite a bit about what was happening 20 years ago at this time.  I was more than 8 months pregnant.   I was a different person.  When I say that I am just trying to put into words that I had no idea what was about to unfold.   I couldn’t imagine what labor would be like, we didn’t know the sex of our child, I didn’t know how to use diapers, soothe gas pains or get stains out of laundry.  I had no idea if I would become a good mother and how Russell and I would do together.  It was a place of great unknowns and looking back I think it took alot of courage. 

This is us the morning we left the manse in Gainborough to head to Estevan hospital.  I was 13 days overdue, labor was induced later this day.  Gina was born at 2:19 the next morning.

In March Russell and I were in Victoria to attend a show at Gina’s school.  We saw a walking tour of Victoria advertised that included photos at iconic spots.  We signed up and asked Gina to join us.  We got some very excellent pictures out of it.   The similiarity between the 2002 picture above and the 2022 picture is striking.  Russ, Gina and I all in the same places, Gina squashed in both, clothing colors almost the same.

This more dignified pose is a good one too.  Notice the boots Gina is wearing.  They will make an appearance again in this post.

For sheer cuteness I am popping this picture in.  We could play a game like Uno or Crazy 8s at this point.  What color, or number or suit connects the pictures?  White shirts and jean/hat choices match this picture to the last ones.  We don’t always wear white shirts it just seems like it for the moment.  

I have been thinking alot about something, even right in the middle of recent performances of Shrek, I found myself thinking, “what led this girl to this place with these abilities?”  I am really excited and happy to think about the place that Gina has found herself in.  I want to write about it on the blog because quite simply its a big part of our story right now and I process things by “talking”, and sometimes I repeat myself, sorry if you are done with this topic before I am.     The thing is maybe there is a universal question at play here.  Looking at who we are, or who our kids are, or the dynamics of life that we find ourselves in we can ask the question “how did this come to be?”  In our families case, what is it that brings a girl from a small town of 1100 people to a very real comfort level with city life and the confidence to step out on a stage and share what she’s got? 

I can tell you what it wasn’t.   It wasn’t Russell or I pushing her down this path.  Just the opposite.  Gina often asks me, “Mom how did you not catch on that I was going to love this stuff?”  I just didn’t.  It didn’t cross my mind that I had a musical theatre loving kid in the making.  Ideally pictures like the one below might have tweaked my head in that direction, but that didn’t happen.

It also wasn’t a result of rich arts opportunities. We were mostly always on a tight budget and our life unfolded 8 miles from the small town in this picture.

So what happened to bring her to this point?

Maybe very partly this……

One of the things I observed sitting in the audience at Shrek was that Gina had the ability to use her speaking voice to communicate a wide range of feelings and meanings.  She went from the feisty red head we know well, to a tone of tenderness and caring very quickly and very effectively.  She had mastery of her voice and its impact.   So here is what I was thinking about sitting there…….besides the training at CCPA, is this partly about reading books together for years and years?  My method was a bit unusual. I got bored reading the same children’s books over and over again. There was variety in our library of course, but you know how kids like certain books and ask for them repeatedly?  The kissing Elmo goodnight book just about did me in.  So….to keep myself interested I just started experimenting with my voice, it was like I was asking myself “how can I phrase these words or sentences, how can I change volumes, how can I change tones so that different meanings or feelings come across?”  It was actually kind’ve fascinating for me, good research for the public speaking that I do. Gina was exposed to all these shenanigans from a very young age.   So I found myself sitting in the theatre wondering…..is this a reflection of book time?  Maybe.  Likely in some way.

And maybe this……

Gina started piano lessons in grade 2. She was not a natural but through the “Music for Young Children” program and the attention of her teachers Kari and Sharlene, she achieved a solid base of music theory and the beginning of performance skills. As dance took on a bigger role in Gina’s life piano receded however Gina recently told me how mindful she is of the theory she learned in those early days.

Then there is this…..Gina says she was in grade four when she started watching “Glee” the TV show.  She credits this show (which I have to say was a little edgy for her to be watching, parental misstep there…) as the thing that really woke up her desire to take music and performance farther in her life.

And then there was this……

Gina joined the cadet program when she was in grade 7.   This called her to stretch herself.  Her first weekend camp was terribly uncomfortable for her, only because she liked home.   The teamwork, discipline and endurance which are now part of her reputation were deeply nurtured at cadets.  The part she talks about though is her “cadet voice”.  She had a little bit of experience being parade leader at the point she decided to quit cadets (she was discerning that she just wanted to get dancing).   Those parade experiences made their mark.

Here she is center stage in “Shrek”, at one point she gets all these dancing rats in order by calling out “ten-hut”, she asked me after, “Mom! did you hear my cadet voice?”  Yes Gina, it was definitely there!
A breakthrough happened when Melita (a Manitoba town 80km from us) started a youth drama day camp.  Gina attended for three summers.  In this picture she had the role of Miss Hannigan in “Annie.”
Gina has always had fans. Family and friends have been great. Support and encouragement must play some part in the recipe for growth and success. Gina’s biggest fan was her Nana. Russ and I strive to live up to her example.

The obvious deciding factor in Gina’s journey was the opening of a dance school, 16 minutes from our driveway, when Gina was almost finished grade 9. Stephanie her teacher gave her a foundation in all forms of dance, a complete and total opportunity! This is proof positive of the difference one person can make in the life of another, simply by sharing our gifts. Gina was later asked to join the teaching team. I am certain this helped Gina root her own skills.

The Oxbow Dance teaching team in 2019.
After grade 10 Gina did something she had never done with any joy before. She went to a residential camp. She studied dance at the International Music Camp. She loved it.

Gina also had the benefit of singing lessons for one year in grade 11 and performed in our local music festival. Her passions and skill were getting kindled. The screenshot below is from Facebook. I included it because the captions for both pictures highlight the fans and are a bit funny.

When Gina was in grade 7 or so our local school started offering an annual one week intensive drama experience facilitated by Missoula Children’s Theater. She was in grade 11 and was Captain Hook in this picture. Looks like some “stage combat” could break out at any time!

The two pictures below were taken by Liz Griffin. Here are Gina’s boots in their natural habitat. We believe the close-up work with our herd, with the courage and conviction it requires, something that was a part of Gina’s life for so many years, is connected to Gina’s presence on stage.

A helpful part off Gina’s unfolding story is that it finally dawned on me how important all this was to Gina. It happened at the Carol Burnett show at the start of grade 11.

The picture above is Gina standing up in the Centre of the Arts in Regina.  In this picture she was talking to Carol Burnett.  She had sat through 30+ minutes of the show with her hand up waiting for Carol to see her and take her question (it was the format of much of the show, akin to her TV show).   When an usher pointed Gina out, (the shadows meant she was not easy for Carol to see) Carol received her question.  They had both played Miss Hannigan in Annie and they sang a chorus of “Little Girls” together.  After witnessing that hand up for that long I finally caught on…..my girl means business about this business.

Yes she meant business!  After two years of hard work and persistence, through milking the opportunity for all it was worth, Gina graduated from the Canadian College of Performing Arts on May 15th.  There she is on the left, graduating in her cowboy boots.  Russell and I feel so moved by these moments.

There are 3 very significant parts of this picture.  Most obviously, Gina had just been presented with “The Founders Award for Musical Theatre” it recognized outstanding achievement in musical theatre.   Gina says that after two years of questioning whether she belonged at CCPA, based on her limited experiences, the award has helped her know she did and does belong in the arts community. That’s major. The presenter is the founder of the college and happens to be Gina’s mentor, Jacques Lemay. He is the instructor who brought to life Gina’s love for stage combat. That is another big piece of this picture. And finally, Jacques is known in our family, through Gina’s stories, as a wise and kind gentleman. We all value that very much.

I am closing this blog with this picture on purpose. All these students are from Saskatchewan, except for one from rural Alberta. This group comprises most of the lead role actors from Shrek. (Shrek and his understudy (who did 3 of the shows as Shrek), Fiona, Donkey, and Dragon are all here. Saskatchewan sent students to CCPA they can be very proud of. This makes me think, while we perceive that not much happens in smaller places, in truth, looking at the big picture, anything is possible. When the schools, community organizations, music teachers, dance instructors, families and fans each do what they can, soil is made rich for dreams to sprout and grow. The lesson I am taking away from creating this blog is that all the pieces, even pieces that may seem small, they all add up. So it’s important to do the bits we are called and gifted to do, to nurture the soil of our shared lives, to keep possibilities possible for others.

Gina, thanks for listening to what was stirring within. Thanks for these first 20 years.

The Color Orange

Yesterday was a big day for many reasons. Our family observed Truth and Reconciliation Day in a way that was pretty special for us. It was also month end which meant farm business, music festival board business for me and a time to tally the stats for the Broken Bread Bakery. I have a series of captioned pictures to tell the tale.

Jill found this butterfly on the highway during the walk we took part in yesterday. It seems a good way to start this blog off. To me butterflies can symbolize transformation and they are so beautiful.
The last report from the Broken Bread Bakery was at the end of July since then I have pretty much met my goal of baking and sharing one batch of buns per week, on average.
This was a terrific day of baking, two batches in one afternoon happened when my neighbor Sheila came over. Baking bees like this will continue until I have seen to the baking of one bun for every child who died at residential school, some treated as entirely forgettable. This is a long term project. In August and September I was able to bake and share 362 buns. I had a couple of huge orders, 12 dozen for a trailride and six dozen to one individual. The flurry of baking for those allowed some weeks off from baking at other times.
The joy of working together at the counter was literally enriched by the generosity of folks who received the buns. The donations given for the healing fund in July and August totaled $375. This figure is lower than it might be because I donated 4.5 dozen buns to a bake sale. I counted those towards the remembering of children because honestly, with thousands of buns to make I need to stay focused on this unfolding memorial instead of for example baking cookies for the bake sale. I was mindful of those children as I baked. I tagged the buns as being from the Broken Bread Bakery and I said a little bit about the project. The entire project total so far is 644 buns baked and $1,020 raised for the Healing Fund of the United Church of Canada.
While in St. John’s we took in an afternoon at an amazing museum. There was a good display about residential schools within the museum. The thing that has struck me lately is how this school system impacted the parents and the grandparents. Children removed from ones life and all the everyday joys gone, in moments. It got me thinking about how much I loved bedtime routine with our kids with the book reading we shared. It was routine, the books well worn, one might say it was boring really and it was time consuming. But it was special and warm and good and essential. How would we have coped if all our routines had been taken from us?
It bothered me to read that a ship that shares my last name was used to transport children away to school.
I have this picture of a notebook Jill was creating in the summer, preparing for back to school. I looked at it and I said, “Jilly, even nature proclaims that every child matters.” I found the Liz Griffin pictures that she used, and a couple different ones, they are here with my interpretation of the parent child dynamic at play. The brown surroundings reflect the time of year, it was just before the spring burst of color. The cows look rough. They had just weathered winter and been thru the birthing time and they definitely needed a bit of time to reemerge in their beauty.
“I am your Mama and I need to wash your face.”
“We are together and so the world is at peace.”
“I WILL protect you. I will not let them near you.”
“Your aunties and I, we got you, stay near.” (This was a pen with three Moms who had birthed twins and were each successfully raising both calves.)
“My sense of smell is going to keep you well, just don’t you worry.”
“I love you”
All of the things percolating in us that you read above made it important for us to be a part of the walk that was hosted by Alameda United Church yesterday. A walk for truth and reconciliation. It was about a 4 mile journey up and down highway 9. Maybe people say, “why is that important, why are you slowing down traffic?” Maybe because nothing changes until it is seen for what it is. Maybe its okay to have to slow down and think, for us walkers and for the drivers too. Maybe that creates openings for the Spirit to be at work. Having said that I am tired and a bit overwhelmed by everything in the world. I was thinking about it later….the repetition of shaping buns and putting one step in front of the other is what I am capable of right now. I don’t have space in my head for deep learning. I will trust that God will take my steps and my buns and work with them.
It was awesome to have support from some folks driving by, like this flag bearing truck. The best were the semi truck drivers that blew their airhorns. We walked with friends on a beautiful fall day and perhaps made more concrete for ourselves who we want to be as individuals and as a family.
My friend ordered this flag and Russ and I took a turn walking with it for a while. That created a good chance for a picture but carrying my friends survivor sign for a while to give her a break, and bearing this flag both felt like sacred responsibilities.

The color orange is being transformed in our culture. In my world it was once the color I associated with halloween. Then as I got to know some bikers it became the color of Harley Davidson, then as we built our house it became a color of energy and we chose it for our kitchen. Now it is a color that speaks of honoring. Honoring and not silencing. Honoring and not shaming. Honoring through listening. Honoring difference and uniqueness. Honoring another even if it costs me a bit. It means living out what we say when we say that every child matters. It was the color of halloween, and I see maybe like a butterfly, the color orange is being transformed, can it become a color that when seen quickens the heart, sending out a signal that ingredients for hope and healing are not far away. May it be so.

Not a Dance Mom

On this Mother’s Day weekend things are unusual.  Gina is away at school, Jill is in quarantine and its my first Mother’s Day without my Mom.  I don’t have my girls.  At this point, I am doing okay.  In the space this opens up I have a chance to ponder and share some stuff about Gina.  She is the human who made me into a mother.  She is currently spending hours and hours every day dancing, learning the craft of acting and developing her singing talents.  She is having a great experience at the Canadian College of Performing Arts.  

What you may or may not know about Gina, is that she never had a single dance lesson until she was in grade 9.  The summer before grade 9 she started talking about wanting to study dance.  We wanted to support her interest but wondered how you start such a disciplined area of learning at that late age.   She would never fit in with her peers.  We found our way to a half hour weekly class in Estevan at Drewitz School of Dance, there she studied Musical Theatre.  I can pretty vividly remember the day we went to registration, I felt completely and totally disoriented and maybe a little foolish, who did we think we were coming there green to all things dance?!?  We were very kindly received by the owner of the school and Gina was encouraged, it felt good.  I also remember holding my breath that day as our payment card was processed for the purchase of shoes Gina needed.  We were never very flush with cash, but back to school time was the worst.  This really was a big deal to commit to.   The card went through.  And we were off…….

Gina loved it.  By the end of the year she had earned an award for most improved dancer in her class of 30, she was part of the grandest recital I had ever seen, it took my breath away and she wanted more.  That is almost exactly when Oxbow Dance opened its doors, a school much closer to home, this was a blessing that likely changed the course of Gina’s life.  In a fledgling school she had access to much one on one teaching, she thrived, she grew, and she fell more and more in love with dance as she spent hours in training every week.  Fast forward to post secondary education decisions………there was no decision to be made, she knew what she wanted.   She took charge of every single aspect of researching and applying to various schools where she could study musical theatre.   She was accepted at the school which was her first choice and made the move this past September.  She is now half way through the two year program and is loving it.  It is unbelievably hard work, she is always tired, she is learning such interesting and valuable things.

More than once over the last year Gina has asked me, “Mom, how could you have missed it?”  She is not accusing me of anything, it is more of a curious question.  As her Mom, how could I have not seen that performer inside of her?  It’s a good question.  I am not sure of the whole answer but I know these two things.  I was limited by my ideas of what is normal.  This part of my answer is kind of sad.  I am a big woman, I know nothing about doing hair and make up, and I don’t really care about it.  “People like me don’t belong in the world of dance” is part of what rolled around in my head.  It never crossed my mind to encourage any of my kids to pursue dance.  Yet, now Jill too is finding her most joy in dance.   My own sense of limits shaped the options I considered for my kids.   The other part of my answer is what I am proud of.  We have always listened to our kids, we have tried to honor how it felt to be them, we have tried to stretch them but also create safety for them, an interesting tension.  I think the best thing is that as we listened to them we taught them to listen to themselves.  Gina was doing lots of sifting and sorting in grade 8.  She was doing well in cadets at that time, but it seemed that she just got honest with herself and said something like this, “I need to be more free to be expressive.”  How would a grade 8 student put that?  Definitely not those words but that same idea.  This is the point where for no apparent reason she choreographed and performed for us a number based on music from the musical “CHICAGO”.   Then she asked for those first dance lessons.  

So here I sit, my first born is a long way away, she is finishing up classes and practicing for the year end musical offered in a few weeks.  In hours this week when I was weary and nostalgic I spent time looking at photos and videos.  There were some where indeed, you might say, “Kathy, how could you have missed that?”  I and we just did.  But Gina didn’t, and that is what makes all the difference.  So as her proud and nostalgic Mama I invite you to share in the moments that might have added up to me getting it, but they didn’t!!

To my untrained eye this looks like pretty good form.
Gina was six and a very big fan of the musical “Hairspray.” Just how many times did we watch it?
The desk was a desk but it was also a stage, was that a clue?
She had some good dance instincts at age 8.
Age 8, why talk when you can sing?
Age 7, the hay bales make a great stage too.
Age 11, posing for pictures in a very graceful way.
Almost 15, Gina’s official photo for Drewitz Dance School, the Musical Theatre class performed “Singing in the Rain,”
Four years later at her first show at CCPA, Gina opened the show coming on stage dancing to “Singing in the Rain”, that feels like a full circle! 
The song was part of a medley, here she meets a chimney sweep and the number merged into Mary Poppins.
The medley continues and now its become a song from Hamilton the Musical. It was a number probing how tap dance might be more fully utilized in modern musical theatre. It was choreographed by a fellow student, Josie Schmalz and it was called “I’d Tap That.”
Love that red hair flying!
I wish this photo wasn’t blurry, but you get the passion and life in those eyes peeking above her mask!
A funny moment lately…..I was talking to Gina on the phone, she said, “I gotta study for my sword fighting final”…..I was thinking, “Gina those are words that I never ever imagined would come from my kids’ mouth!!!” Gina sent me this picture, its travelled too many internet highways to be clear but it gives a sense of this.
Gina was selected to be one of two students in a stage combat mentorship. She was surprised by how much she loved the work of merging combat and dance. It left her wanting more.
Looking to the future Gina feels stage combat will be part of the picture.
Back to 2003…….my first Mothers Day, Gina and I have had a lot of fun over the years!

Some further credits: The pictures of the show from Gina’s school were taken by Andrew Barrett, a designated photographer. Gina is on stage with Mackenzie Langdon, Dustyn Forbes, and Jaren Guerreiro at the Canadian College of Performing Arts. The event was called “The TD Festival of New Works”.