Rain. It’s been quite plentiful in North Texas this last year or so, which isn’t historically common. Certainly feels like a different place, whether the weather is on a truly new cycle or it’s merely a blip in the cosmic scheme of things, and my traveling-companion and I marvel every time we’re out and about at how strangely, beautifully green the region is for this time of year. It helps to take the edge off of the heat, as well, and I can’t help but smell that magical eau-de-vie perfume exhaled by the world when it’s rainy and feel renewed, myself. What a calming effect it has.
I know that many parts of the world are being treated less kindly by the rains and getting swamped in floods, and hope that mother earth will find a balance that harms none, helps all to flourish, but can’t help being grateful for our gentler and more nourishing version of the weather thus far. Our road trip to Santa Fe and back in late July/early August not only provided further evidence in its proliferation of green and growing things along our route but treated us to the beauties of stormy summer skies and perfumed earthy air quite a few times, as well. While storms do bring their troubles with them, those that do kindly leave us unharmed are a magnificent show of power and spectacle and beauty beyond human invention and remind me to show my respect and appreciation for nature more often.
The scent is all; this haunting
fragrance takes, in perfect synchrony,
my breath away and gives it back again,
back in electric rush as though
I’d leapt from ocean’s-depths
straight into air again—
This moment, this aching, longing,
of miniature infinity, this marks the time
when I find myself renewed, reborn—
The atomized eternity
that I breathe in, that I
pull in through every singing, sharp
electron of my frame, makes me go racing
back into the origins of time—still
fleeting, pass through iron gates
to death, and just as suddenly,
burst forth and know the spangled joys
of present life again
Santa Fe Afternoon
(A Breaking Storm’s Baptism)
Ochre and indigo, shadows and fire,
and in the far-off pines, a chanting bird
insinuating secret things is heard,
then joined by other birds, whose hearts’ desire
Is that the fulsome, clouded, darkling sky
should soon release a feathered shaft its own:
the lightning, thunder echoing with groan
and shout, to rout the perching birds to fly,
For they all wait, as we, gravity-bound,
wait under porches’ purple-gloaming eaves
for when the rain shakes us out of the leaves
to chase again the richness of this ground,
For water always wakens us once more,
Resuscitating all with petrichor.
With this little photo-essay and pair of poems, I’m reflecting on those joys, but also giving you a little preview: my books #2 and 3 should be published in good time for winter gift shopping, whether you’re interested in giving something to someone else or treating yourself! One of the books is a second volume sharing additional adventures in Miss Kitty’s Fabulous Emporium of Magical Thinking (or, MiKiFEMT-1), and the other will be a more grownup book of my poetry and visual images. Both in full color, this time. Not to worry, you can still get copies of that first book of nonsensical delights shipped directly to you any time you like, just by visiting good old Amazon online. You should have plenty of reading material handy in case the rain comes to visit again…
I will likely publish some of this stuff in my upcoming books. The only published book so far, Miss Kitty’s Fabulous Emporium of Magical Thinking: Drawings & Other Artworks, Tall Tales and Weird Creatures (Volume 1), is up for your perusal as well—just grab a copy through Amazon.
[May I suggest that you use Amazon Smile—smile.amazon.com—where you can get Amazon to make a small charitable donation of your choice from their profits]).
This post is not an endorsement of Amazon, paid or otherwise, though I happily use the behemoth’s services extensively myself. Including as my book publisher, since I am far too “unmarketable”—thank you, gallerists, publishers, and agents of the past who classify anything non-repetitive, unprecedented, or wildly varied as impossible to package and sell. This post is not meant to be a whining snark-fest, either, since I am genuinely grateful that said business persons were honest enough with themselves to recognize their limitations in promoting unusual or unclassifiable works, and honest enough, in turn, with me to help me recognize that my vocation isn’t in making a living out of my arts but in making a life with and through them.
Meanwhile, I still love to join forces with other creatives, no matter what our project or theme, when the muse brings us together. I have collaborated with other artists to create numerous visual, written, and performed artworks over the years and am always delighted with the learning, bonding, challenges, inspiration, and joy that come from such interplay. If you find anything in here that sparks (no pun intended) your imagination, I welcome you to my playground. If you’re just here to read and—hopefully—enjoy, you are most welcome as well. I’m happy for the company.
To read any of the dozens of sets of poems and texts, grouped loosely by theme or topic or mood, just click here or on the freshly minted Poems & Lyric Texts link at the top of my homepage.
Just a little treat for a friend on the anniversary of her birth. And, since she shares her natal day with my dear brother-in-law, separated at birth by mere decades, I send a virtual cake to him, too, despite the separation of mere thousands of miles. Happy birthday to both!
Malted Buttermilk Cakes with Strawberry-Peach Buttercream
Servings: 24 cupcakes, or [as I made] a dozen + a small sheet cake. Preheat your oven to 350°F/177°C.
Dry goods: Whisk together in a big mixing bowl: 2-3/4 cups all-purpose [optional: GF] flour, 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and baking soda, 1-2 teaspoons cardamom, and 2 cups sugar (I used about 1 1/2 cups cane sugar plus 1/2 cup coconut sugar, to deepen the flavor).
Mix 2-3 Tablespoons of malted milk powder into a cup of buttermilk. And if there’s really such a thing as “low fat” buttermilk, please tell me how it can parade around under the first name of Butter. Just get the real deal and cinch up your waistband a little if you have to, okay?
Now, in a fresh mixing bowl or your trusty 1-gallon plastic measuring pitcher, mix the wet ingredients: a good slug of quality vanilla extract, and a splash of butter emulsion if you like, the cup of malted buttermilk you mixed earlier, and four large eggs. When those have been well whisked together, pour them into the dry ingredients, along with 2 sticks (1/2 pound) of your best butter, softened—don’t forget that I’m a believer in well-salted sweets, so I use salted butter (sorry, baking purists. But not really sorry). Whisk just until it’s smooth. This makes a thick batter, but not so thick that it’s the least bit difficult to whisk entirely by hand.
Bake the batter in muffin tins or cake tins that have been well greased (coconut oil is nice) and, if you like a little crunch for added pizzazz, dusted with either almond meal or cornmeal, for about 20-25 minutes. Cool for another 15 minutes or so, gently remove the cakes from their pans (unless, as I am, you’re going to take the cake tin right along to your friend’s house), and let it finish cooling before getting all frosty on ’em.
The Icing on this here Cake:
Pop a batch of freeze-dried peach (about 2 oz) and strawberry slices (about 1 oz), along with a cup or so of granulated or icing sugar, a tiny pinch of salt, and a teaspoon of cardamom into your food processor. If you don’t have such a beast in your kitchen, you can crush these little fruity beauties with a rolling pin or bottle, a full tin of beans, a rock, or your hands, depending on your mood and tool availability, but boy howdy, the processor makes quick and thorough work of it! I don’t recommend inhaling deeply as you open the processor or bag you pulverize this mixture in, or you’ll be sneezing fruit for a week, and that can put a damper on your next brunch with the queen. No, I didn’t realize I could buy freeze-dried fruit already powdered. Once the dust has settled sufficiently, however, home crushed works fine; blend this gloriousness into another half pound of butter, along with about a quarter cup of whole-milk plain yogurt. The ingredients of the frosting are all very much to-taste and adjustable in quantity in order to reach the creamy texture and proportions of deep sweetness and fruitiness you prefer. This is best spread or piped at room temperature or slightly cooled onto equally cool cake surfaces.
Whether you choose to refrigerate and serve the finished cakes cold or serve them at room temperature is up to you. Me, I’ll just see if I can wait long enough for either to happen. I went so far as to snip the corner of the plastic zipper bag I’d put the frosting into, making a wildly erratic star tip, but waiting for or fussing over anything fancier is not my strong suit, as you all know.
I 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Interesting, isn’t it, that the same word we use in English to describe those mythical creatures who are said to entice and draw us inexorably to our doom with their alluring song is the name we give to the sound warning us of danger. A Siren’s song is meant to lull me into unsuspecting complacency and reckless desire, yet the alarming noise made to wake me out of complacency and make me alert, focused, and cautious is also a siren. Methinks some wordsmiths enjoy causing such bits of merry mayhem in the pursuit of misdirection and disinformation.
For behold! What’s this? I am suddenly thinking of the vast fields of fact and fancy where the same words that mean truth and beauty to one are terms of terror and falsehood to another. Much depends upon intent; much, too, upon interpretation.
The most skilled and experienced among diplomats, politicians, and philosophers, linguists and liars—not to mention among advertisers and marketing directors, who can of course be at the top of any or all of these fields—know this and use it to advantage. The rallying cry of one group of people warns off another. Invitation from one insults and assaults the next. Even the terrible sound of war’s sirens, the blaring horns shouting at me to take shelter from a bombing raid, a fusillade, or a marauding invasion, these might be a compelling or inviting Siren call to those who invade and attack, the assurance that their glorious reward lies just ahead of them, yes, right where I am hiding in fear. But is it equally true that I rejoice in others’ defeat and destruction when it makes me feel safer, or even merely richer? That I hear hymns of happiness in the dirges of others?
I hope that the island of rock toward which I paddle and swim for its sense of safety from the tormenting skies, the rough seas, and their swarming contingents of deadly monsters isn’t the very promontory on which I will meet my doom, drawn there by the false promises of Sirens. I know from experience that some of their art lies in convincing me to sing their songs in my own voice, even in my own head, making it easier for me to find the stories palatable and believable, and teaching me to hear other people’s voices automatically as contrastingly suspicious sounds. I hope that I am old and wise enough to recognize that different tunes are sometimes only music that I haven’t yet learned. I hope I’ll never willingly (or even unwittingly) sink the hopes and dreams of others simply because the song of my life, of my truth, differs from theirs.
Is that sound we hear a chorus of idyllic oracles inviting us to ultimate sanctuary, or is it only the illusory music of rolling, sounding waves meant to draw us inexorably toward hidden rocks that will shatter us, will jettison the jetsam into a bottomless vortex of ignorance and ignominy? Only those around for the grand finale will know which song comes last.
I am happy to let others do all the work. Not only is the proverbial grass greener on the other side of the fence, it’s greenest of all when another party has sown, grown, and mown it. And if it’s metaphorical grass in the form of food (I’m usually not a ruminant), it’s downright perfection if they’ve done all of the prep, cookery, and serving, too. I’ll fix myself those fluffy little items like a protein-added eggnog or lemony egg mousse for a quick meal and I might even go so far as to grow my own veg if I find it a suitable garden beautifier worth the effort, but in my lazy heart of hearts I am best pleased if some dedicated master does all of the heavy lifting.
I experimented recently with growing my own sprouts, something I’d not done since the post-hippie happiness of the ’70s, and was instantly reminded of why I’d not done it since those long-ago days: lots of fiddling for little payoff. I suppose if I ate sprouts with every meal I’d reconsider the attempt, but honestly, eating them with every meal would bore me just as much as fiddling with growing them. I am very happy to support the economy of whichever generous farmer provides me with the occasional sprouts and sends them to the grocery store for my delectation. Thank you, all you dedicated growers, raisers, fixers, cookers, bakers, and servers who make my life so delicious!
Just thinking about the labor of all this makes me want to sit down with a good cold glass of water to rest up from the exertion of cogitating so deeply. Maybe I’d go so far as to whip up a nice eggnog. Better yet, maybe I’ll drift over toward some corner coffee shop and let the barista fix me something nice to soothe my exhausted frame.
There are so many ways that we crave and try to wield power, we mortal beings. We think we’re in charge of our own lives, if nothing else. We are wrong.
Our short trip to Portland from Thursday through this morning provided me with a fine refresher course in this form of necessary humility. While our house is in utter disarray during our move to an apartment and our lives in mild chaos during a busy fall season of school, concerts, travel, and conferences, I am about as far from in control of my own little existence as I am from running the world. I did my very worst job of packing, for Portland, that I think I’ve done since somewhere around the age of four. If my parents were dumb enough to let me help pack my luggage then.
So I arrived in Oregon without several of my simplest toiletries, one pair of socks short of the full trip’s worth, and sans laptop power cord. Hence, my first series of several days without daily blog posts in nearly four and a half years. And I must tell you that I was plenty irritated with myself, and mightily disappointed to break the string of consecutive posts so unwittingly, if not witlessly. But you know, the earth did not cease to rotate on its axis. The rain and sun still did their little minuets, people still talked to me as if they genuinely liked doing so, and music still sounded magnificent and more than a little miraculous.
Because it’s not my power cord that connects me to the universe, and it’s most certainly not my power that connects the rest of the universe together. I can’t fix what’s wrong in the world, not by a million miles, but I am not the source of any of its strengths or its life force, let alone its myriad joys. I’m just the lucky participant and recipient, who (when the power is plugged in) gets to report on my view of it all. I’m happy to be back online, but I am reminded that the very best of what I enjoy in my remarkably blessed existence is not born of my own merit or power, and not even remotely connected to whether I’m plugged in or not, figuratively or literally. I’m just plain glad to be here.
It’s said that if life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade. That’s a charmingly cheery, sunshiny idea, and one that seems plenty valuable to me, if perhaps occasionally a bit difficult to realize. Even life’s complications can have complications.
That’s why your best bet is to have the finest lemonade-makers handily available to you throughout your life.
I’ve always done well in this department. I was, in fact, born to one of the premier practitioners of both literal and figurative lemonade artistry. Having just chatted with her on this, her birthday, I can confirm that she is still as gifted at it as she is a gift. Mom, whatever the lemon crop at hand, makes the finest sunshiny lemonade out of it. The day may be rainy, as it has been up there today, but I could sense the warmth and light as soon as I heard her voice. It’s a grand thing to feel as though I’ve just sipped that most summery citrus drink when I hear my mother’s voice. It makes me glad that she is having an appropriate day of good cheer and pleasantness for celebrating her birthday. And it makes me glad that I have the blessed privilege of having a mom who retains her skills for day-brightening as the birthdays pass. Who knows but what I might master the recipe for lemonade myself, if I stick by her side and learn from the best.
Happy birthday, Mom! May there be many more, each filled with the most refreshing and renewing joys that, if they’re not already as much a treat as you desire, can be converted with a bit of your special knowledge and skill into the most wonderful lemonade. Cheers!