Monday, May 19, 2008

"Not Quite a Lady," by Loretta Chase

The Chick: Lady Charlotte Hayward - the 27-year-old daughter of a wealthy marquess who is perfectly perfect in every way. So why has she spent the last ten years being perfectly perfect while subtly deflecting any possible suitor?
Shady Past: Ten years ago, a heartless rake knocked her up, than died. Her new stepmother helped her hide her pregnancy from society (and her father) and give the baby to a good home, but Charlotte's terrified that if she marries, she'll have to base their marriage on a lie or be found out to be a "soiled dove," which would bring shame on her beloved father as well as reveal his beloved wife's deception as well.

The Dude:
Mr. Darius Carsington - fifth son of the earl of Hargate. Clings to logic, reason and science with a grip that would make a Vulcan proud - and takes on and abandons lovers with the same amount of scientific detachment. His exasperated father has given him an ultimatum - fix up a dilapidated property (situated next to Marquess Hayward's, convenience) within a year, or marry into money immediately.
Shady Past: Well, he is a rake - but he never seduces the innocent. And his family is rather annoyed with him - but still supportive.

The Plot:
Charlotte's Dad: Hey Charlotte, need help finding a husband?

Charlotte: NO THANK YOU! *flees*

Darius' Dad: Fix up this crappy house - or get married!

Darius: PROPERTY, THANK YOU! *flees*

Charlotte and Darius: *romantic collision!*

Charlotte: Get your hands off! Hysterical-guilty-horny-irrational-woman-super-saiyan-ATTACK!

Darius: *walloped* I am in love! But it is not rational! Logic! WHY HAVE YOU FAILED ME?!

Child-who-looks-suspiciously-like-Charlotte: Hey, I'm here to help fix the crappy house!

Charlotte: I'm your mum! Er, just kidding!

Darius: What was that?

Charlotte and Darius: *sex as distraction!*

Charlotte: I have to confess....I'm not a virgin.

Darius: Well, duh.

Charlotte: That child is my son.

Darius: Duh, the sequel.

Charlotte: Can we keep him? He literally followed us home.

Inconvenient-Suitor-Morrell-Who-Also-Knows-Charlotte's-Secret: Too late, I packed him off to Ireland! Marry me?

Charlotte: WHAT?

Child: No he didn't!

Darius and Charlotte: Hooray!

Romantic Convention Checklist:
1 Secret Baby
1 Inconvenient But Still Surprisingly Decent Romantic Rival
1 Relationship-Aiding Pet
4 Supportive Relatives
1 Drunken Coachman
2 Uses of Hero as Punching Bag
1 Accidental Groin Injury

The Word:
Wonderful. This was a lovely book. I was so looking forward to reading it (not least of which because Julia Quinn called Chase one of the greatest romance authors of all time and because the gals at Dear Author raved over it) and it pretty much met all expectations. Excellent characterization, great writing, sex scenes that were hot as well as relevant (there's nothing that annoys me more than sex scenes that are written in that don't advance the plot at all).

The characterization was what got me most of all, especially Charlotte. Everything from her motivations for avoiding marriage to giving in to her feelings for Darius was realistic, well-explained, and beautifully written. I especially like that her first mistake, ten years ago, that resulted in a child was also motivated. Her stepmother is a brilliant, warm woman - both Charlotte and her father seriously lucked out in that area. Before Charlotte really got to know her stepmother, though, she just saw her as the woman only nine years older than herself that her father married less than a year after her mother died. Angry that her father was forgetting her mother so quickly, she made a terrible mistake that resulted in ten years of guilt.

Now of course, she's made a life for herself being the perfect daughter - the book goes on at length about how she's so nice that "even other women like her," instead of being jealous that every man within a fifty-mile radius thinks she would make top-notch wife material. Of course, her father, who is a very loving and supportive one, is insisting that she get married - he doesn't recognize that she's been knowingly showing her suitors to other, more suitable women and he genuinely thinks she should be married in order to live her life and experience true happiness. What Charlotte sees is a huge mess - if she gets married, she's certain it will be hugely obvious that she's not a virgin and will bring ruin to her family. In her mind, she's brought enough ruin to a family that has had nothing but love for her and she will do anything to avoid it.

And then there's Darius. He's a bit silly at the outset with his incredibly tenacious insistence on logic, nature, and rationality when it comes to relationships - he believes in sex (oh boy, does he ever), but love is a fairy tale. There is no example of it in the animal kingdom (which he studies and writes papers on extensively) so he doesn't believe it could really exist. He's immediately attracted to Charlotte but knows he can't do anything because he believes she's a virgin and any move he makes will only see him frog-marched to the altar on the point of a sword. However...

Reading the Smart Bitch review of it, one of the Bitches complained that it was unrealistic that Charlotte, whose life was ruined when she had unprotected sex with a rake, would engage with it with Darius. Couldn't that, in theory, just repeat her entire mistake? I have to say I disagree. Chase, with beautiful prose, expertly maintains Charlotte's inner monologue - the way she purposely denied herself happiness for ten years, her loneliness, her discovery of a mad old woman's letters decrying not having the courage to live one's life, and also the significant ways in which her relationship with Darius is nearly the complete opposite of her dalliance with the Dead Rake all served to show that her decision to connect with Darius was one founded on completely different reasons than her hook-up ten years ago. Other reviews also complained about the fantasy aspect, like how her son shows up due to luck. I dunno - maybe as a fantasy reader as well as a romance reader, I can tolerate magical coincidences more than the next person, but I wasn't at all bothered by it, and I thought it made an interesting addition to the narrative.

Another aspect of the novel that I loved was the Villain - who wasn't really a villain. In fact, I wouldn't be completely surprised if Colonel Morrell got a part in his own romance novel. An admirer of Charlotte and a long-time friend, he's actually noticed how she's been intentionally side-stepping matrimony over the years and, through ingenuity and his unscrupulous manservant, he eventually discovers her secret and still wants to marry her. At the same time, though, Chase, without actually "telling" us, "shows" us in marvelous detail just how he could never be a good match for her - and yet, he wasn't a bad person in the least. He didn't try to blackmail her (although she took it that way), he didn't plot against Darius, he didn't lie or cheat or even steal or kick puppies. He was just the wrong man for her. I loved this aspect - reading romance, I've come across a lot of exes or romantic rivals who are so obviously wrong to the point of them being assholes, that it was refreshing to come across one who was a genuinely good person, just a bad match.

I have another one of her books on my TBR shelf - Lord of Scoundrels, and I'm definitely looking forward to reading that, but I have a few other things to take care of first. Anyway, this book was definitely a A.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tour Post, 2008

I'm back from Tour, and as per usual, I took a couple of days to relax and check FaceBook for photos before I decided to do a blog post on it. A lot of cool stuff happened, and I'm glad to say that thanks to my packing a towel, Aerius, and my sleeping bag IN my suitcase, as well as a year's worth of improvement in social skills, this tour went even better than the last one.

Day 1: Pajama Day! And MyCity to Lacombe

Today was Pajama Day, and I wore my new black PJs with purple stars on them. We had a Red Bus and a Gold Bus this Tour, and I ended up on the Gold Bus, which was named the SexyBus, whereas the Red Bus was named the Diva Bus. Turns out the SexyBus' DVD player and microphone didn't work, but since most of the bus rides on this tour were destined to be short it wasn't a huge loss. I only got a granola bar for lunch because I forgot to bring my bagged lunch when we left the house. In Lacombe, we had a long sound check because we needed to get back up to snuff on all the songs we hadn't practiced in a couple of weeks. It turned out to be the hometown of our Ex-President, so his mom helped to organize our supper which was GREAT - juicy pullapart beef on a bun and ice cream for dessert! I socialized by playing Spoons with my fellow Choir members, before getting changed for the Concert.

It was a Group Sleep in Lacombe, so we all settled down in Ex-Prez's old high school gym. It was MUCH easier getting my sleeping bag in and out of a suitcase instead of its tiny old sausage casing. Anyway, I decided to shower in the evening that day - I decided (and rightly!) that showering at night is a million times more convenient than doing it in the morning on tour, ESPECIALLY on Group Sleeps when the mornings are really crowded. I spent a lot of time managing all my stuff in the bathroom (I brought a LOT of stuff - toiletries, hair accessories, slippers, hair dryer, and somehow insisted on bringing it all with me), and so it was lights out by time I got out so I had to tip-toe around to find my sleeping bag without stepping on anybody.

Sleeping in Lacombe - well, even though we got gym mats as well as sleeping bags, I kept waking up and checking the clock on my phone and practically crying when it always said 1:00 am, 2:14 am, 3:56 am...waaaah....I woke up early at 6:45 (15 minutes before lights came on again), said to hell with it, and used my cell phone to find my morning stuff and get myself ready.

Day 2: Lacombe to Coaldale

Breakfast was coffee and muffins, provided by Ex-Prez's mom and her helpers. I got my first Secret Pal Clue and Present (a rubber chicken I named Egon and proceeded to annoy everyone with), and I gave the person I was a Secret Pal to his first task (which he did not complete), and packed a lunch which consisted of the previous night's roast beef (yum!). We then did a luggage train to pack up the bus, did the hora and went on to Coaldale.

On the drive to Coaldale, our Current Prez was given a problem to solve by his Secret Pal (something about twelve marbles, and one of them weighs either more or less than the others, and you can only do measurements on a scale three times...) that not only could he NOT solve, but no one on the SexyBus could solve either!

The drive from Lacombe to Coaldale was also the longest drive of Tour (about four hours - a big difference from the eight-hour trips last year when we went to the Yukon), so we had a half-hour stop in a tiny little town whose name I forget, but which had an EXCELLENT specialty candy store that sold just about every candy ever made, including a few things that were discontinued. I ended not really liking most of the stuff I got, so I just gave it away.

We unpacked at St Joseph's school in Coaldale, which was nice except that it smelled like cowpats (there was a farm right next door) whenever the wind blew a certain way, which it did often. We had another sound check and rehearsal, at which I found out that not everyone could get billeted in town, so I checked with my billet partner (who's pretty easy going) and requested to be one of those who didn't get billeted. I'm uncomfortable with billeting and most of my billeting experiences on Tour tended to prove my instincts correct. I played with my rubber chicken until the Tour Librarian, in a rage, body-checked me against some lockers. Ahem, I am a helpless, defenseless girl and HE, a 180-something pound, 6-foot MAN ASSAULTED ME. Please feel free to assemble an angry mob at his house whenever you wish.

Supper was spaghetti and meat sauce and this type of Indian chicken and a weird ice cream-cookie thing for dessert. People got up and did their Secret Pal tasks - most of which involved doing interpretive dances or singing (one had to do it in Spanish). A BUNCH of people all grouped together to try and solve the President's 12-marble problem. Today was the day when I also learned how to play Mafia -it's a great game of strategy and lies and scandal. I love it. Anyway, I found out from my tour manager that there weren't enough billets in Coaldale for everyone so some people would be sleeping in the gym (including the Tour Managers - they're always the last to be billeted). My billet partner is really easy-going, and I prefer group sleeps to billeting about 100%, so we volunteered to be one of the partnerships that doesn't get billeted. We then had our concert, and I gave my Secret Pal a task (a whistle which he had to blow whenever someone said the word "tired" - a task he performed with utmost reluctance) because he hadn't finished his first one which was to collect sheriff stars from among the choir.

Then came billeting and sleep - the first of which I didn't have to do. The helpful folks at the school in Coaldale gave us cots and mattresses, so I got a great night's sleep.

Day 3: Hawaiian Day! Coaldale to Medicine Hat

Today we had breakfast at the school, which they provided - pancakes and sausages and juice and coffee. I took mine with lots of sugar. Today was Hawaiian day, but also the day of a school concert, so I kept my Hawaiian clothes under my Tour School Concert clothes. We had a pretty good school concert, and the school favoured us with a group blessing (it was a Catholic school). What was funny was that as part of our concert, we had a Barbershop Quartet that got up to sing, composed of two choristers, our Accompanist, and our Assistant Conductor. They sang "Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby" and also a song about baby-loving - all about how they loved their girl because she looked like a baby ("baby hair, baby eyes, baby face" etc.) and how they wanted to "rock her in their cradle of love". I thought it was particularly hilarious that they were singing a song about that type of thing in front of KINDERGARTENERS. Needless to say, at other school concerts, they only sang "Coney Island Baby" and then the handbell quartet took over. Then everyone got into their Hawaiian gear and started packing up the bus. My billet-partner, I think, had the best costume, but she ended up not winning the prize.

We arrived in Medicine Hat, and practiced in a church with GORGEOUS stained glass windows that were, delightfully enough, very reminiscent of the windows used in "Beauty and the Beast," whose song medley we were singing. After that came free time. My friends and I wandered around Medicine hat, looking in odd stores, when we came to the weirdest place. It was as if the couple who owned it had inherited a lot of money and decided to use it to open a store.

"What should we sell?" one would ask.

"Our favourite things!" one would reply, which to them, would mean only two things.


I kid you not. It was a lingerie and ice cream store! With a bunch of aquamassage booths in the back. How completely random! At the front was the convenience/ice cream store, and in the back was sexy, frilly, naughty lingerie. It seemed a little impractical to me - what with the increased risk of soiling delicate undergarments with food now that food and delicate undergarments were sold in the SAME BUILDING. Also, the saleslady working there was TERRIFYING - she had brittle, frizzy bleached blond hair and a particularly abhorrent style of makeup which requires one to slather eyelids, lips, and pretty much all visible facial skin with the exact same shade of unnatural peach cosmetics. She also had inch-long, neon-orange fingernails. I got out of there as quick as I could.

The supper at the church was delicious - the volunteers provided a nice buffet of lasagna, meat balls, potato salad, meatballs, coleslaw, and meatballs. And a cake. None of the deserts were guaranteed nut-free so I had a sugary cup of coffee instead. Then a quick game of Mafia (quick because I was killed early on and I'm a sore loser), and the concert.

Then came billeting - my partner and I weren't escaping this one. We ended up with a nice music teacher and her Lutheran paster husband. I wish my experience there could have been a pleasant one.

Day 4: Celebrity Day! Medicine Hat to Brooks

I didn't get much sleep, and then when I ate their breakfast I had an allergic reaction. They hadn't given me anything with nuts, they were aware of my allergy, but they'd given me a cinnamon bun that had been in a bag in which they had previously stored cinnamon buns with walnuts. So yeah - I took a bunch of Benedryl, and spent 20 terrified minutes doing the Rosary on my fingers and hoping I wouldn't have to use my EpiPen or go to the hospital or miss tour. I didn't swell up or anything, but I threw out the lunch they gave me and had a huge, pulsing tension headache for the rest of the day which required me to miss out on singing at the concert at Brooks.

Anyway, I still had the presence of mind to dress up in my Celebrity Costume (the costume I'd put the most effort into), and before we left for Brooks, we were given a tour of Medicine Hat's new Esplanade, a really high-tech acoustically innovative concert hall they have. I couldn't enjoy it too much because of my terrible headache. Then the busride to Brooks.

I didn't have lunch, but I figured there would be time to go and buy some, but there really wasn't. I felt horrible and hungry and head-achy, but then one of the choristers who wasn't singing that night either because she lost her voice took me to the new Safeway in Brooks. There and back, we passed a Catholic church that had a tombstone on its front lawn that read: "For All Unborn Children" on it. Wow, I thought, that's ballsy.

Dinner was chili, and another cup of sweet hot coffee for me because the desserts weren't guaranteed nut-free and there was no way that today I would be taking a chance and having anything. I didn't sing, but I sat in the back and listened. There was a weird smell in the air that I thought was because someone had passed wind, but I found out where it came from the next day, but more on that later.

Today, my Billet Partner and I were billeted with a single mom who had an excitable little dog to whom she spoke whenever she wasn't speaking to us, which made it weird to tell to whom she was speaking. It was a good bed, though, and I slept through the night and woke up feeling better.

Day 5: Brooks to Drumheller

Breakfast was a modest affair - I just had cereal, and the lunches were iffy. Our billet was pretty last-minute and she didn't know if she had the supplies to provide us with lunches, so I took whatever was offered and traded it in for one of my Tour Manager's Back-Up Lunches (some of the other last-minute billets hadn't been able to scrounge up lunch, either). Our billet drove us to the school (her precious dog rode shotgun, on my billet partner's lap) and we got out. There was that smell, in the air, everywhere. Turns out there's a meat packing plant really close to Brooks. Well, that explains it.

We had another school concert in one of the elementary schools of Brooks. It was kind of disturbing, because everywhere we went there was this pervasive theme of yellow smiley faces, including a GIANT SMILEY FACE right behind us as we set up in the gym. It was really weird, I didn't even notice the giant smiley face glaring at us until about halfway through rehearsal. Also, in the gym at the school in Brooks, there was a light switch that had about half a dozen "FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, DON'T TOUCH THIS SWITCH!" warnings written around it, so many that one of the choristers suspected that if we flipped it, the evil smiley face of DOOM behind us would open up and unleash the hounds of hell to devour our souls. Noooo! Smiley faces! The smiley face officially became the Symbol of Terror for the rest of Tour.

After that, we had our Hora and had to do our secret pal tasks - some of which (including mine) had to be somewhat...curtailed because it was recess and a bunch of kids were watching our Hora with avid interest. That meant our President couldn't do his task (which he interpreted to mean reading a speech that had the word "penis" in it several times), and I had to change the lyrics to a song I had to write. My task was this - I had to utter a password to find five objects (all crayons that turned out to be penis-shaped...classy) then use them to draw a superhero version of me and write a theme song. I did, and it involved my skills at drawing with phallic-themed writing utensils, but I couldn't put that in.

Then on the bus to Drumheller! There were giant dinosaurs EVERYWHERE, but the church we were singing in was so small it took two hours for the moving crew to maneuver everything inside.

Drumheller was also Hotel Night, and we were served a barbeque burger dinner at the Hotel and had some free time. I bought a souvenir for my secret pal and some booze for Hotel Night (Bacardi Breezers because they're supposed to be so sweet you can't taste the alcohol). We had our concert, then we returned to the Hotel, only to find out that the closest bar (a Bo'Diddly's), which was right next to the hotel, which was, ahem, separated from the rest of Drumheller by a bridge and lots of traffic, and CLOSED EARLY ON ACCOUNT OF US. Our Tour Manager, thoughtfully, had gone to them beforehand to warn them that 80 plus choir people would be converging on their place of business with good hard-earned money, and the cowardly Bo'Diddly's folk screamed in terror and closed their bar three hours early. The nearest bar after THAT was apparently about a half an hour's walk away.

The liquor store next to the hotel was still open, so most of Hotel Night was in our hotel (or, more accurate, motel) rooms. Three of our members were shotgunning beers off a balcony within five minutes, a bunch of people lit up stogies on a picnic table nearby (classy gents!), and people moved in clots from room to room. The main party room had to be evacuated as we learned that not one, but TWO families with small children had just arrived and checked into the rooms directly below. After that, people starting wandering. I had one Bacardi Breezer and a sip of a Porn Star for the entire night, but I liked following people around. I walked with a group over to a giant dinosaur statue, when one of our number (delighted to learn she had passed her nurse's exam, and celebrating with liquid refreshment) nearly walked out into a busy street, then walked into a fountain, then several other things. Some funny pictures were taken on the Dinosaur - one person apparently peed on it (then whined about how he'd had "to cut it short because everyone was taking pictures"). Then people wandered back to the Hotel.

I'd been having fun, and I ended up in a room with a couple of the Tour Managers and some of the senior members of the choir where things were little more responsible. I was having a lot of fun, and didn't need to chug anything, and around 1:30 in the morning decided to head back to my room. It was a fun Hotel Night, and I'd actually gone out and DONE something instead of just staying in my room like a limp blanket like I did last year.

Day 6: Be Your Billet Partner Day! Drumheller to Three Hills

Waking up after Hotel Night is almost as much fun as Hotel Night itself. I woke up at six, and found out my billet partner had never returned to her hotel room. The Tour Managers had made it pretty clear that while people could go from room to room, they HAD to be back in their Hotel Rooms to sleep, just so that they could keep track of everyone. I, rather panicked I guess, called the Tour Managers at 6:30 to tell them, and my billet parter was found, woken up, and sent back to her room. She'd fallen asleep in another room by accident, and I felt kinda lame, but noone really blamed me - my billet partner especially.

Since I was up early, I had an early shower, which was incredibly lucky - an hour and a half later, when everyone else started (for some, struggled) to wake up, and pretty much simultaneously threw themselves into the shower, it only took about ten minutes for ALL the Hotel's hot water to run out and their well to overdraw so later people didn't even have DRINKING WATER much less hot showers.

Today was Be Your Billet Partner Day, so my billet parter outfitted me in a dress that did NOT fit - it wasn't too tight or anything, but the cut made me look like a sausage, and the pigtails I tied to look like my billet partner were not that flattering on me.

Once everyone was up and packed, we headed for the Smitty's for post-Hotel Night brunch. Yum. Pancakes and fried potatoes and bacon and coffee! After that, we all piled back into the bus and drove to the nearby, beautiful Horseshoe Canyon to take group pictures. After that, we went to Three Hills, a tiny, gorgeous small town that was our Choir Director's hometown!

While in reality it's more like Two Hills and a Bump, and it doesn't have a bookstore or a movie theatre (instead, it has a basement under a costume shop with beanbag chairs where everyone watches the newest rental releases), I kinda fell in love with the town. It's surrounded by flat, open land and gorgeous fields of grain, and it's incredibly religious (11 churches in a town of 3000 people!). I think I would really love to live there and write my books.

Supper was lasagna and garlic bread, and during free time, everyone was getting started on writing the programs - it's kind of like a yearbook thing, where everyone gets a Tour Program and everyone signs it and leaves a message in it. We had our concert at the high school, and not only that, we found a yearbook that showed our Choir Director, at age SEVENTEEN! He's, uh, "thirty-two" now, so it was amazing to see a picture of him when he was so young! I forgot my binder at this concert, so I borrowed an extra one, which I didn't really need because I knew all the songs by heart, anyway.

After the concert, we had a group sleep in a church - which we quickly divided into a "quiet room" (with all the sleeping bags) and a "talking room." A bunch of people in choir were very sick (for some it's an unwanted tradition) and needed their rest. I went to the "talking room" and signed programs. A bunch of people were going to practice their skits, and I found out my two friends on tour (one of whom is my billet parter) were concocting a Broadway medley skit without me. I love showtunes, so I felt really hurt, and then I started feeling depressed. It's harder for me to make friends than most people, so when I walk into a room and everyone's in a group but me, I feel like I'm being the odd one out again, which I know isn't always the case, but I've been so used to being alone that I always feel like I'm reverting to my friendless self if I'm not endlessly socializing. I went back to my sleeping bag and spent a few minutes feeling incredibly, self-indulgently sorry for my self, blew my nose on a kleenex, and went to sleep.

Day 7: Three Hills to Stettler

Today was an interesting day. We woke up to a delicious pancakes and sausage breakfast, went away with a great lunch donated by the local convenience store (pop and candy and a great sandwich!) and packed ourselves into the bus. I missed Three Hills almost immediately - it's such a beautiful town. I kinda wish I wanted to move there. Anyway, at this point of the Tour I was nervous, and not for a Tour reason.

I'd applied for a job the week before, with the University Library. It was the PERFECT job - nine-to-five, no evenings or weekends, and the University was never one to screw around with hours or benefits. It was a contract job that would last a year, so I wouldn't have to quit to go to VFS. It was a job I'd never had before, which was why I was worried. I wanted that job so badly I didn't want to apply for other jobs, they just didn't seem worth it in comparison, so I was equally worried that if I didn't get the job I was fucking screwed. I didn't have to start until May 5th, because the trainer was on vacation, and they said they would call everyone who applied, even the ones who didn't get it, so I told them to call my mum because I would be on tour - similarly, I was waiting for Mum to phone me and tell me I got the job (or didn't). By this time, it was Friday, the job supposedly started on Monday, and no call. I called Mum several times, worried, and then I called Sharon Marshall several times (voicemail, thank God), but no luck. Mum told me not to think about it, there was nothing I could do at this point, and it wouldn't do to ruin my tour with helpless worrying, but still I worried.

The day was far more interesting than that, however - we arrived in Stettler for our final school concert. And boy, was it ever a ... "special" concert. Things went mostly well, at first, but then our Choir Director came forward to "introduce" the handbells to the kids in the audience. He'd talk about the smallest bell, and one of the ringers would ring it, and then he talked about the huge, 22-pound F2 bell, and then our Ex-Prez got up, gave it a swing, and SNAP! The ENORMOUS, 22-POUND BELL snapped RIGHT OFF, flew about a foot, and LANDED on the ground with a thunk!


The concert was kind of downhill from there. Most of the school-concert pranks we do that are tradition fell flat after the bell, and Ex-Prez was afraid to ring the other large bells with any force because he didn't want them to break either. He also said later that he screwed up the piano playing too because his hands were shaking so badly. We were lucky that bell hadn't hit a child. Or the littlest-bell ringer, directly in FRONT of Ex-Prez.

After the school concert, all the engineers in choir examined the bell and the handle. The bell, miraculously, had survived without either a scratch or a dent, and the cause of the break was determined to be "inner fatigue" - all the stress happened on the inner material of the handle so no stress showed on the outside of it.

Supper was at the church - it was delicious salads and roastbeef sandwiches and the kitchen is a NUT FREE kitchen so I could have the desserts! YEAH! I also "quit" my secret pal because he had steadfastly refused to do any of my tasks on time. I told him so in a note, and decided to keep all of his prizes for myself, which was fun - I bought a ribbon stick which turned out to be absurdly entertaining.

I like to think that partially because of that terrible performance at the school, our adult concert in a Stettler Lutheran church was one of the best we ever had - one of the women in the front row was crying. The sound check for our Stettler concert was also full of jokes and energy, which I think is the choir's way of coping with a series of tragic events. It was a great concert, and then it was time for the last billet.

Turns out I lucked out on the last billet - we got taken to a huge house with several beds and huge rooms, and the people insisted on feeding us after the concert. Actually, all of my billets had tried to feed us after the concert. Usually I tended to decline because I'm usually full from dinner, but there were several other choristers billeting with us, too, so we had chips and popcorn and pop - and a great shower.

Sleeping was not such a nice matter - my billet partner got a single bed, so took the basement couch double with another person's billet partner, and someone I knew from elementary school. She was sick with a cold that day, and when she's sick with a cold - she SNORES. While she's AWAKE, and asleep. A damn deathrattle. I spent the night listening to Disney songs on my iPod trying to drown it out and thinking very evil thoughts about what I wanted to do to them once it was morning. Of course, once it's morning and everyone else is awake and cheery I never actually have the stones to do anything, so nothing happened except for frustration.

Day 8: Stettler to Forestburg

Woke up, our billets treated us to a great breakfast of juice, coffee, pancakes and strawberries. I was still pretty groggy from having, like, zero sleep, but I made it out. It was Pirates vs. Vikings day, but I just didn't have the energy to dress up. We were all driven back to the church, where we had our Hora and packed into the bus to go to Forestburg, which was the hometown of at least two prominent people in choir so it was a big deal.

It was a teeny-tiny, little town, and we had our soundcheck, and THEN we had about five hours of free time! Most people spent it practicing their skits, but since I wasn't in any (and decided to cancel my reading of my short story as it turned out it was take 15 minutes), I didn't have much to do. For a joke, the members of the Luggage Train had arranged all the sleeping bags and luggage in rainbow order. I went with a couple of friends to the local liquor and grocery stores to purchase supplies for Skit Night, which was tonight. For me, that meant getting portable pornstar shots (to mix with sprite - because there was no way I was paying $40 for a full-size bottle of raspberry Sourpuss and a full-size bottle of blue curecao, which was all they had), chips, and twizzlers.

We came back to have a GREAT supper - I'm talking delicious slabs of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and gravy - a seriously awesome meal from the folks at Forestburg. We were eating it in the community centre, I think, in which we would perform and have skit night. There, we learned that the new wooden flooring in the centre of the room wasn't finished so NO LIQUIDS at all were allowed on it. At first choristers were worried because liquid refreshment (in reasonable doses) is tradition on skitnight, but the wood floor was only in the centre of the room, surrounded by a wide margin of carpet and linoleum so it wouldn't be that bad. That's also when I learned that our concert was also part of a benefit to rebuild a brick wall that had fallen down - so THAT was what that huge pile of broken brick by the community centre was!

We all got dressed for concert, and I took a lot of time to talk to M - she was in choir for NINE YEARS and has been my friend throughout, but she finally decided to leave this year, so this would be her final performance. You're allowed to stay in choir for as long as you want, really, after you graduate, but it's uncommon for most people to stay past the ten-year mark. We had our concert, which went really well, and when we all filed outside afterwards some were crying - me especially. It wasn't a huge cryfest like last year (when about seven or eight of the choir's old guard left), but there still was a lot of crying. This year, I was teary because I always have trouble making friends, and nearly all of my best friends are in choir, so I didn't really know what the hell I would be doing without Choir.

THEN, it was time to prepare for Skit Night! Out came the sleeping bags, and most of us changed into our pajamas and brought out our snacks, and a table was set up at the end of the room where people who still hadn't signed all the programs could continue signing them. Some of them NEVER got to sign all of the programs, which was really sad (the Social Convener didn't have time to sign mine, for instance). Anyway - skits! First, there was the Bell Skit, and then the Counter-Bell Skit, which I ended up being in (a wordless role with instructions written on a sheet of paper). And then there were loads of other skits. I was in another one too - "Beast Idol." Last year, because of the HUGE line of girls auditioning for the Ariel solo for our "Little Mermaid" medley last year, we had "Mermaid Idol," where terrible people would audition for the solo and our Ex-Prez and Assistant Conductor would be Simon and Paula, respectively.

This year, it was "Beast Idol," and my bit was to sing "Something There," only with the words to "Part of Your World" - which had everyone laughing because they all got it (I had the solo on tour last year). My friends had their Broadway Babies medley, then the Barbershop Quartet got up and sang hilarious songs ("The Night We Got Grandma Plastered," "Skullcrusher Mountain," and the Arrogant Worms' "My Voice is Changing"). There were also speeches in between, including ones made by the Prez and the Social Convener in which they said NEXT year would be their last year with choir - same as mine.

I didn't actually get to drink that much on Skit Night - the room was INCREDIBLY warm, and everytime I drank anything alcoholic I'd feel that much warmer, so I stopped that soon enough.

Skit night lasted WAY longer than last year - probably because we had more free time to come up with skits and rehearse them. Skit night last year ended at about, oh, two a.m. This year it stretched all the way to 4:30 in the morning! And we had to wake up at NINE to pack up to go home! There was a lot of crying at the end of skit night, though, by everyone this time. Choir is such an interesting experience - the first two or three days are a blast, and then you reach the hump and think "we have HOW MANY more days of this?" and you're exhausted and miss regular sleep patterns and homecooked food, but then suddenly it's the end of skit night and you don't want Tour to end and you even feel guilty that you were ever tired of it.

Day 9: Forestburg to Home

We woke up in the morning, found out the breakfast muffins the Lunchmothers had packed had gone all moldy (we'd never had to use them because everyone in all the towns we'd been at had been unbelievably generous) - but the folks at Forestburg left us the leftovers of dinner. So my breakfast was Twizzlers and roast beef. Yum!

We cleaned up, packed up, had our last Hora, took a bunch of pictures, and got on the bus. We'd had a great tour, and on the way back to Home one of the choristers who'd made a list of Memorable Quotes on Tour read them out loud, and I got a few laughs for my quotation "Dinosaurs and Rainbows and Jesus! Oh My!" when we passed the Creation Museum on the way out of Three Hills.

We got out and were unpacked surprisingly quickly - this year, we apparently had a much bigger and more cooperative Moving Crew than last year, when there were only a few, so we had everything packed up pretty quickly. The programs were given out, and also, the Execs named the #1 ChoirBoy and #1 ChoirGirl - extra prizes they'd given to people who weren't exec but had participated in everything on tour. My FRIEND (who was in the Broadway sketch but wasn't my billet partner) wow #1 Choirgirl and burst out crying! How awesome is that (the winning, not the crying)?

And then my sister showed up to bitch at me for sending her to the wrong parking lot, and it was time to go. Tour was over.

Next year is going to my own last year of Choir (I'm going to Vancouver after that), so I'm going to go to every length to enjoy every minute of it - not just Tour.