Building Dreams

Dollhouses were for other girls. I preferred to design my fantasy floor plans and build them out of cardboard and found objects in the built-in bookshelves in the upstairs bedroom. I built them for dolls if those happened to be handy, but since I wasn’t ever a huge fan of dolls except as handy models for my model homes or as fashion models for my clothing and costume designs, my time and energy were more happily spent on the architectural fantasies and the drawings that led to them.

There was never any hope of building the real-world, full-scale versions of any of these, since I started as a young squirt whose whole bankroll comprised a few allowance installments, then grew up (a little) into an arty type, yet another iteration of the sort never meant to have large hunks of cash lying around. I never stopped loving buildings and the magnificent, marvelous pleasures of dreaming up all of the different ways to make interior and exterior spaces work beautifully for all of the different people and purposes I imagine in them. As I grew, my methods leaned less toward bookshelf usurpation and more toward drawings and particularly, toward inner design: one of the ways to soothe myself to sleep when my brain is too hyper for relaxation is to choose a specific kind of building, close my eyes, and try to work out every tiny detail of it in my mind. Eventually, that usually leads to the perfect combination of dozing off and waking up with some new inspirations, often enough ones that can be applied to other things than mere mental building construction.

Just because I’m realist enough to know how unlikely it is that I’ll ever afford to build a dream house in reality doesn’t mean that there’s nothing purposeful in my fantasizing. I’ve invented all sorts of dandy details that would make the constructions more ecologically sound, longer lasting, easier to change and update over time, simpler to construct, more affordable, energy-efficient, attractive in a number of styles, and flexible for multiple users’ needs. All in my head, with the exception of a few on paper and a few in the old bookshelves in Mt. Prospect.

Anybody who has a pile of money just sitting around all unloved and unused and wants to contribute to the construction of my living-&-arts community complex should feel free to give me a jingle. Barring that, I will happily continue sharpening my mental prowess as a developer of mental real estate. Come on inside, if you can figure out how to join me here.photo

Remind Me/Rewind Me

For a person who considers herself happily immature relative to her age, I am sometimes caught off guard when I realize how little of my youthful pleasures I’ve continued to pursue with appropriate enthusiasm into the present. Why on earth would I forego standing on a big plank swing, grasping the chains that hold it and me up, and pumping my legs until I feel like I could fly right on over the top steel bar of the swing set with the greatest of ease? Why not kick off my shoes and socks, abandon them in the dirt, and plunge into the cold river’s slippery, rock-strewn flow without regard for getting the legs of my pants all soaking wet? Is there any law that says a 52-year-old is no longer allowed to slurp her fruit punch noisily through a straw just because it’s so wonderfully refreshing and sugary?

Why, indeed, is the common phrase seemingly always about youthful enthusiasm, yet we tacitly agree to let only actual youths embrace it?

Remind me how being childlike and impulsively happy is so dangerous.photo

Despite being of an age where my childhood version of the high swing was of rock-hard rubber on a steel pipe frame and underlaid with gravel-strewn dirt, I am—well—still alive at this age. I never broke a single bone or chipped a tooth, and my only stitches derived from an indoor activity, a school game of floor hockey. Though I wandered recklessly through many a stream and ocean’s shallows, without regard for my pants or my tender soles, and even drank from the occasional icy mountain brook, the worst that ever came of it was a cut from beach glass, soon enough cleansed with stinging but healing salt water. No clothes were ruined, and I got bit by nothing bigger than a sand- or horse-fly or two. I failed to contract Giardia or E. coli from those wild rivulets I sipped. Even the vast quantities of evil cyclamates in my childhood fruit drink binges failed to kill me off.

So how is it that I lost my ability to plunge ahead without caution to where I seemed, nearly always, to find joyful things? Remind me how always being responsible and mature and playing it safe is better for me.

But write it in a note and slip it under my door. I feel the need to go out and look for a little happy trouble.

It’s All in the Mustache…Beard…Eyebrows…Toupee…

I’m neutral about facial hair. Well, on males, at least (sorry, Tante Anna!). My spouse had a short goatee when we got together, and while I thought it handsome on him I not only didn’t mourn its demise when he shaved it but realized afterward that it was light-colored enough that some people were apparently not only unaware he’d removed his beard but that he’d had one in the first place. Guess he didn’t go around kissing and nuzzling just anybody.digital illustrationI’m now so used to his being clean-shaven that I imagine it’d seem outright weird to readjust if he opted to grow a beard again, or a mustache. On the other hand, it is intriguing to see the major resurgence of popularity that all sorts of hair-raising acts are undergoing these days. It’s a great time, in my opinion, that it’s not only quite common to see people in the same place dressed in pants or skirts of all different lengths and heels of widely varying heights but also hairstyles ranging right from shaved heads (men’s and women’s) to dreads or super-’fros (black, white and brown people’s). Curly or straight, short or not, natural-colored or wildly dyed, it can be anything that suits the heart or the head of the wearer. I like that.

digital illustrationWhat’s probably the most entertaining aspect of all this to me is seeing so many guys of a twenty-ish vintage looking so distinctly like those photos that can be unearthed of my great-great grandfathers and their brethren. I suppose that shouldn’t be entirely shocking in an era where baby names have also trended back to that generation’s. Can the bustle (you’ll pardon the pun) be far behind? Not to worry…I probably won’t be able to see what anyone’s wearing through the thicket of beards by then, anyway.

 

Foodie Tuesday: Texas Tapas

photoA more accurate name for this food would probably be something about snacking-as-dinner or Gustatorial Grazing, but it doesn’t have quite the same, erm, kick to it. The concept simply goes back to my perpetual preference for offering a wide assortment of things to nibble and letting everyone at table—or wandering around, as is the usual case when we have a houseful—choose his or her own combination of things to eat. Saves any tough decisions on my part and eliminates the complexity of trying to accommodate each person’s allergies and dislikes individually, as long as I don’t have any tiny persons of no discretion on hand and able to lay hands on everything.

I’m particularly fond of the ease of this approach when, as aforementioned, I have a big gathering of friends or family, but it’s also a convenient method for getting up a meal in a heartbeat when last-minute plans evolve. I found out the other day that we had a chance to see an old friend from Washington who was in town for one mere day; thankfully, he was here to consult with a good local friend, so the two of them wrangled their schedules to make it possible to take a dinner break with the two of us. Instant party!

I know that our visitor, while we’d not seen him here, has been to Texas before, but I didn’t know how much he’d had the typical local foods. As the weather was warmer and sunnier than expected, it seemed fortuitously apropos to put together something that had a hint of picnic, a touch of barbecue, a dash of Southern-ism, and a little Tex-Mex character, all in simple forms that could be served at room temperature and combined into whatever ad hoc plates-full we chose, and we could be as casual as we liked with our good friends.

I started with a quick cheat: pre-assembled jalapeño poppers I’d bought at the grocery, seeded jalapeño halves filled with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon. I roasted them in a cast iron skillet in the oven, knowing that this would also preheat the oven for much of the rest of the meal’s roasting.

I bought an array of vegetables, cleaned them and cut them into rough chunks, steamed the hard root vegetables partway ahead of time, assembled all of the prepared parts in a couple of big baking dishes, and loaded them up with butter and a bit of salt before they all went into the oven to roast together. Russet and sweet potatoes, carrots and beets all got the pre-roasting spa treatment of the steaming, and went into the ovens nestled with fat asparagus, whole ears of sweet corn, small bell peppers and chunks of lemon.

While all of those were roasting, I cut some skirt steak into fajita-sized pieces, seasoned them with cumin, smoked paprika, smoked salt and a little granulated garlic, and seared them before a nice braise in a bottle’s bath of Shiner Bock (a good Texas beer), cooking it all in until it candied into glaze at the last. Those went into a bowl to stay warm, and I took the skillet that was still filled with spicy bacon fat from the poppers and lightly cooked up the beet greens in that. When they were not quite cooked, I just took them off the cooker and let them steam in their own heat, covered. Meanwhile, the first dish of the meal was the last to be prepared: pimiento cheese. There would be salsa and crema on the table for dipping or saucing any and everything, but pimiento cheese seemed like a perfectly good addition to this melange of a meal.

Those who know the southern tradition of pimiento cheese know that the classic White Trash version of it is likely to be a combination of shredded Velveeta (something that is called cheese but bears little resemblance to it, in my book) and diced canned red bell peppers in a lot of mayonnaise, possibly with a little bit of cayenne and salt to season it. Like many regional staples, though, every household is likely to have its own variant, and many of the modern ones use cheddar cheese, the most meaningful improvement in the recipe I can imagine. I kept my own version simple but used lots of cheddar, a largish jar of canned pimientos, and a mixture of about half mayonnaise and half whole milk yogurt. I seasoned it all with only a touch of salt, a good dash of cayenne, and a teaspoon or so of dill. Not bad, if you ask me, on crackers or crisps or tortilla chips or, dare I say it, probably even in the great white trash loveliness of making it a sandwich on slices of squishy super-processed white bread. Y’all, let’s eat.photo

An Extremely High Note

I’m like that guy who can very nearly hit his high B-flat.digital illustration

I’m reasonably useful in my little bitty part of the world, but my imperfections are both ever-present and well known to me. I have learned, long since, that as in real (physical/aural) life, in the metaphorical sense I am far better used as a chorister than as a soloist. My ego is neither too big nor too fragile for me to know that I make much better Filler in either setting than I do star material. Anybody with any sense knows that it takes a whole bunch of us to sing backup for the marquee artists, to act as support staff and cheering section and general-dogsbodies for the persons who are better designed for leadership roles. There are rare occasions when I’m the most experienced or skilled in the necessary ways for the task at hand, but as that’s mostly by default and by dint of the odds, I take no cue that it should become the norm.

I’d much rather stick contentedly to my supporting roles, humming along quietly as best I can, and perform no unintentional solos. If I ever get up that high B-flat, I’ll let you know; until then, I’d appreciate if those of you with the proper pipes carry on, and you can count on me for that low undercurrent of pretty-fair tones to fill in around your excellence. I’m excellent enough at my own, non-flashy, kind of stuff.

The Longed-for Sound

digital illustrationAwakening

Whose is the voice that speaks my name, Aloud or silently, the same,

In gentle speech or radiant song, Unspoken care, forgiving wrong?

Whose is the loving, laughing voice That makes my waiting heart rejoice,

That wakes my hope and lights the sky With stars, to which my sole reply

Is humble gratitude, delight That such a voice breaks through the night

To search me out, my heart in two, And make it whole?

Your voice. Yes, you.

One Egg, Over Medium

Ah, the elegance of simplicity. There’s little I find more beautiful than very simple things, excellently performed, made, or executed. Even the commonest thing, in a rather average way, can be fabulous in its simplicity if it’s perfect in its common averageness. Odd, but true. Let me give you an example.

I love eggs. They are delicious to eat, and fairly easy to prepare in a wide number of lovely ways. They are pretty. Their extremely uncomplicated ovals come in a relatively narrow range of colors and textures by nature, each of them marvelous and precious in its own way. They make an outstanding subject for artworks, for this very reason.

As the sole or central subject of any number of artworks in any medium, or as the medium in itself by virtue of being decorated or carved or sculpted upon, an egg is delightfully fine. But even as a supporting player in a larger cast, the humble egg in its unfettered simplicity always pleases my mind as well as my eyes.

If it sneaks into some of my artworks where it really doesn’t have any particular purpose, can I really be blamed? I think not. You may try, but you might well be left with egg on your face. If you know what I mean.digital illustration