I Post: Therefore, I Am

Photo: One November in PortlandI took a month off from blogging. Many of you will not have noticed at all, but it was a big deal to me. I hadn’t taken a full day off of blogging in the four and a half years since I’d started. I wasn’t even really planning this hiatus, but I think it was destined. And necessary.

Since I last posted here, much has happened. The vast majority of it was at least semi-planned, and generally was wonderfully welcome, too. But it would take more time than it did to live it if I were to try to fully document it here, and that might take a little of the luster from the memory, something I would surely begrudge rather than delighting in the telling. So I shall give you a relatively brief recap and call it good.

You know from my last posts—if you were picking up on the heavy hints—that after our return from Portland (Oregon) where he was conducting one of his choirs at a wonderful conference and we were happily reunited with a number of dear friends and colleagues, my husbandly partner and I had a brief breath-catching, laundry-attacking, household-packing few days at home before jetting off again, the next time for Sweden. That trip, too, was for both work and play purposes. The original excuse for the trip to our beloved home-from-home turf in Stockholm was my husband’s invitation to be interviewed for a radio broadcast celebrating the history and future of Swedish choral music in general and the Swedish Radio Choir (Radiokören, or RK) in specific, as part of RK’s gala celebrations of its 90th birthday. After a literal false start to the trip, when bad weather in Chicago made our flight connection there impossible on the scheduled day and forced us to take a next-day pair of flights bringing us to Stockholm hours instead of a whole day ahead of the onstage interview, we tumbled happily into place at “our” fabulous accustomed apartment in the heart of the city and made a running start at the planned activities.

In all, there were three concerts, the radio interview, another radio interview for him with a second broadcaster on a different program, walks all over town, a day-trip out to Uppsala, and meetings and meals with dear, wonderful, longtime friends at pretty much every lunch and dinnertime throughout our stay. We even enjoyed a full-on, all-American Thanksgiving dinner on the official day, made by a beloved Swedish friend who lives much of the time in the US, served in her Swedish love’s warm and beautiful apartment, and shared with another pair of dear friends—an American expat conductor who is my spouse’s brother-from-another-mother, and his brainy and beautiful wife. And of course we still failed to see everyone (you’re not off the hook forever, Anna!) and do everything we wanted to do before we had to head back to Texas. Real life, and all that jazz.

Plenty of excitement in real life, too, for that matter. We got to bed just after 2 a.m. on the 28th of November after our journey back from Stockholm, and at 8 the same morning, the movers arrived to pack us up for our home relocation across town. Thank goodness it was just across town. Tight timing and a few hiccups in schedule-coordination along the way meant that although we had sold our house for one of the three solid offers within 48 hours of putting it on the market—and less than three weeks after seeing an apartment ad that convinced us we could be comfortable in a place half the size of the house—moving so immediately on our return from the second trip in a row was dicey at best.

Photo: Meanwhile, back in Texas

Meanwhile, back in Texas, there was a walk around the lake on Christmas day in shirtsleeves, supervised by our friendly local pair of vultures, Heckle and Jeckle.

But it all went smoothly enough, in the end. We’d hired a previously-used great company for the move itself, the friend who had been our realtor when we bought the house to re-sell it for us, and a terrific lady who managed a complete living-estate sale to reduce our belongings enough to fit us into the apartment. A scant couple of weeks after all of that, I am sitting in a very comfortable living space in a well-managed rental with nice, quiet neighbors, and I know that we did the right thing. Lighter housekeeping has its appeal, and it’s simply fun to reinvent the nest once in a while as well. Something so refreshing lies in the revised view of myself that comes from sorting through the tangible stuff of my life and deciding what to change, what to keep, what to eliminate, and what to add. We are still in the same town, barely a few miles from where we lived, but with a change of view in many ways after 6 and 1/2 years here.

Including, as it happens, that since the location of the apartment doesn’t offer any views other than of rather grungy local roads, parking areas, and a cement plant, the artificial views I’m making at the windows by having my scenic photos printed on curtains that let light through without making us look at the dullness outside. Never let it be said that I lack a rich fantasy world, no matter how excellent my real world happens to be. I’ve loved the rather fantastical life that our travel and change-of-venue adventures afford me, but I can find much to delight me in the everyday, too.Photo: Skillet Cornbread, Again

To make myself feel right at home when we returned to our current place of actual residence, I whipped up some good old skillet cornbread for tonight’s chili dinner at a friend’s house. This batch of cornbread was seasoned with salt and white pepper, smoked paprika, roasted coriander, mace, and powdered dried orange peel, and to confirm my devotion to Texan treats, I brought a ridiculously tasty spread to slather on it: about half butter and half sorghum-molasses, whipped together with a hefty splash of Texas bourbon and a sprinkling of coarse salt. I may not be a native Texan myself, but I can walk the walk.

Photo: Boozy Butter

Boozy butter, anyone?

Now that I’m back to the blog, I cannot say that I feel the need to post every single day again, as I go forward. I expect I’ll post often, most likely several times a week, but it’ll be when I have the time and the gumption and the wherewithal to create posts. Blogging is, after all, only my avocation. I don’t make a penny from it, and it takes a remarkably large quantity of my time and efforts and brain-power just to develop sufficient content for the images and words I post, never mind to keep up with the expansive correspondence shared with my readers and fellow bloggers and friends. I enjoy this blog greatly and am enriched by being the sort of diarist I am in this place, but it’s not the center of my life.

So I will see you, often I hope, and when I am not fully occupied with other things. I will, in a literal sense, keep you posted. And I salute you for your kind visitations and the warm and wonderful companionship you’ve shared with me along the way! May the year ahead be a grand one, kind and generous to us all and filled with the wonder that brings me here to visit with you in the first place. Happy 2016, everyone!

We Come in Pieces

You have probably noticed, as I have, that western fiction containing aliens often plays with the old “We come in peace” subterfuge. False because, of course, we all know from the beginning that the invaders will be horrible, nasty, creatures bent on enslaving (and/or eating, interior decorating with, organ harvesting from, farming for pelts, eradicating, experimenting upon) the human species. Aliens bad; earthlings good. It’s simple and obvious.

Except for that little part where we also all know from the beginning that humans are flawed, damaged, and often horrible and nasty, even to each other. There’s a little earworm that plays a constant repeating loop of the first line of that song I Fall to Pieceswith a cheerily cruel ironic tone when I think about how people tend to interact with each other, especially when we become obsessed with our differences and forget we’re related.

I’m more than a little suspicious that if aliens ever do show up openly on our planetary doorstep, we’ll be far too busy tripping over ourselves and each other, and mucking up our own existence, to be bothered with figuring out whether the extraterrestrials are in fact here to harm or help us. Might as well be the latter, or they’re better off sitting back on their alien haunches with snacks and watching from the comfort of their spaceship windows while we bicker like fools and self-destruct without any help from them. I, of course, will be hiding in a closet with my wallet and most prized electronics clutched to my chest to protect them through the invasion for use in my privileged position after the overthrow of the world rightfully makes me the aliens’ designated deity.Digital illo: We Come in Pieces

Next Thing I Know…

I have never lived for any great length of time without wondering what would happen the next year, the next day, or the next hour in my life. It’s a deeply inherent part of my existence, and I suspect, of most other people’s as well. But I’m experienced and grown-up enough by now to recognize that I should jolly well limit my mulling over that mystery enough to spend the majority of my energies on getting the most out of the present—and putting the most that I can into it.

Call it whatever you please, devotion to making myself better in the here and now seems to me far more useful, meaningful, and simply enjoyable than mooning and swooning over what might be, may be, could be, or should be. I try, and I hope to try better. I mean to try better.

But really—what is coming? I can’t quite let that alone, either. Too tantalizing….

Meanwhile, in the here and now, I am tremendously grateful for many wonderful things. I am rich with love and friendship, with food and shelter and opportunity. And I have one of the greatest treasures of all, the knowledge and experience of peace. It may be a slightly rare commodity in the unknown, unplanned chaos of everyday life, never mind in the wider world’s daily struggles. But I have known peace and am gifted with times of deep and comforting peace through those riches I have just enumerated for you. And through no deserts of mine—I am glad beyond imagining that whatever lies ahead, I expect to keep looking for, and finding, Peace.

Happy Thanksgiving, and I wish all of you the opportunities to experience peace, and to share it with all of those whose life paths your own intersects. Peace among us all.Photo: Thankful for Peace

Let Me be So Attuned

For those of you who would like to Tune In suitably, the concert that was being prepared when I wrote today’s post will be performed tonight by the University of North Texas A Cappella Choir, conducted by my esteemed spouse Richard Sparks. Click on this link, and it’ll take you to the live-streamed concert at 8 pm Central Standard Time. Or, if you can, come on over to UNT’s Murchison Performing Arts Center and enjoy the concert (with me and a host of other fans) in the lovely Winspear hall.

Digital illo from a photo: A Cappella HarmonyI am listening to a superb vocal sextet as the singers demonstrate the purity of tone and the achingly clear, clean dissonances and harmonies that their conductor has just been coaching the listening university choir to attempt. When they two sets of singers all join forces and achieve this without putting undue stress on their breathing and without letting anyone’s vibrato widen far enough to fall off its assigned note, the whole room, no matter how large or small, dry or reverberant, empty or crowded, becomes electric. The power of even the faintest pianissimo, when perfectly tuned to the chord of the moment, scintillates in such perfect proportion, one note to another, that involuntary shivers of pleasure run up and down my spine.

The conductor admonishes the singers to embrace the more tender expressive qualities of the passage they’re singing; instead of attack-and-cutoff beginnings and endings to notes and phrases, they attempt to let the notes open and close naturally with the breath. Attack becomes the almost imperceptible awakening sensation of even, steady onset, and cutoff loses its hard artifice in favor of the easeful grace of release. I think that this, too, makes a fine representation of what it should be to live in tune with my fellow beings, to breathe in consonance with them whether we are making pretty and perhaps predictably agreeable chords or exact and shivering dissonances.

This is the gorgeous, staggeringly intense experience of listening to genuinely sensitive music-making, of powerfully accurate tuning. A wonderfully skilled musician will no doubt say that the experience is even deeper for the singers themselves, as the physical sensation can only be intensified when one is physically part of the sounding instrument in this fundamental way. But I have been in those rooms, at times, where the perfectly timed phrasing of notes and passages and the confluence of vibrations are so perfectly aligned that I feel I am no longer a solid object, distinct from all other things, but have become an integrated element of the glittering cosmos. This, I think, is what it means to gain true harmony.Digital illo from a photo: Score

World War Whatever-it-is

"*The* World War." Would that it were so. So many dead that if there's room in the cemetery for an individual marker, it might have only initials, if any identification at all. And more bones on the pile every day, in every corner of the world.

“*The* World War.” Would that it were so. So many dead that if there’s room in the cemetery for an individual marker, it might have only initials, if any identification at all. And more bones on the pile every day, in every corner of the world.

My meanderings in old cemeteries offer frequent reminders that poverty and hunger, natural dangers, and lack of medical advances or resources were far from the only causes of early and numerous deaths among our forebears. Chief among the causes is—and I fear, will always be—ignorance. All one has to do is spy a few headstones marking the graves of persons killed in The War, the World War, or even the so-called Great War to realize that despite terrible, lengthy, massive battles and wars in ages past, our more recent ancestors still believed that one war would ‘end all wars’ and that it was an anomaly. We should be so astute and peace-loving. Instead, we always find new ways to mistreat and murder our fellow beings, and the rate of discovery for cures and self-improvements never quite keeps up with the pace of our ills, let alone outruns them.

Photo: "World War"

“World War.” The End. If only.

The Emperor’s Newest Costume

An Empire never gave good reason why

It ought to rule instead of native sons

And daughters, who, if they survive the guns

And carpet-bombing, still might long to die,

For terrible and bitter is the rule

Of anyone who dares to steal the throne

Of any land or country not his own,

Who often trades a despot for a fool,

Or worse, fool for a despot, and the land

And all its people suffer at the change,

No better, oft enough, and ever strange,

Without the hope and strength to countermand

The awful miseries imposed by those

Who choose to rule as wolves in ovine clothes.

Photo: Flag-waving

Let this be a lesson to us all. Seems to me that flags are better planted in our own hearts and front gardens than on others’ turf.

Foodie Tuesday: A Little Bit of This and a Little Bit of That

A light lunch is often just the refresher needed to get me through the afternoon. Nothing heavy to dull me terribly and make me too somnolent to get anything useful done after 1 pm, and enough protein and pizzazz to fuel me without being boring. Bits and bites. Snack-sized items. A good mix of the five tastes, whenever possible, and I’m good to go.

 

Photo: Lunch Bunch with Crunch

A lunch bunch with crunch: homemade sausage patties sauced with spicy balsamic-tomato dressing, bacon chips, apple-almond truffles, bacon chips, and cardamom-maple yogurt.

Having a couple of friends over for said lunch is a fine time to practice this method, not only because it allows for a variety of preferences to be served but also because I know that many of my friends have the same wish to stay awake and productive in the afternoon but without losing out on a quick collation of varied treats.

Photo: Blackberry Chia Pudding

Blackberry chia pudding is a terrific happy-flavored dish for any meal of the day. Doesn’t need much more than pureed fresh berries, water, honey, a pinch of salt, and chia seeds to make my mouth cheer right up for the afternoon.

Today, it was a combination of savory quinoa cakes, warm and served with butter and honey and, for salad, one from my ever-lengthening list of sprightly green-and-crunchy ‘nottawaldorf’ salads, this time, cucumber and apple, fresh mint and celery, snap peas and candied ginger all chopped, tossed with a pinch of salt, and dressed with lime juice and ginger syrup. Some sliced Jarlsberg cheese and smoked wild salmon to nibble along with the quinoa cakes, and sparkling water to wash it all down with the equally sparkling presence of my friends.

Photo: Tuna Salad & Co.

Tuna salad is an old stand-by favorite in our household, and it doesn’t have to be sandwiched to please: here, with nut-and-seed crackers, cheese crispies (nothing but slow-melted and cooled flat cheese pieces), a fresh salad, an apple…fun and done.

And for dessert, another happy variant: chia pudding, this one a very slightly thickened slurry of nothing but ripe, sweet strawberries and coconut milk with the tiniest pinch of salt, sweetened with elderflower syrup and pureed thoroughly before stirring in a handful of chia seeds to chill together overnight. Bright, intensely strawberry-fruity, and just the thing to jazz up a super simple lunch. That was already pretty jazzy, thanks to the good company, that is.

Photo: Strawberries and More Strawberries

Really, can there be many things more luscious than perfectly ripe seasonal fruit in an uncomplicated preparation to cleanse the palate and lighten the heart?

Speeding Along

Here I am, moving along at speed again. Feels kind of like we’ve all been sucked into the vortex of time and will get spat out who-knows-when and who-knows-where, and in the meantime it’s one heck of a wild ride. But you know, it isn’t boring! I’m just glad I have such good company for the journey among my friends and loved ones. If you do happen to know where I’m headed, please just give me a little nudge in the right direction so my lack of a compass doesn’t get me in too much trouble. Thanks!

Photo: Life Rushes Onward

Life rushes onward. Am I on the bus or in front of it?