Ever Heard of Foodie Thursday?

Well, now you have.

It’s been a busy autumn chez Sparks. No excuses: in the flurry, I flat-out forgot to put up my food post on Tuesday. Sigh. I didn’t stop being food-obsessed, just being on schedule. So here we go, better late than never. I would give you a big silly grin, but yeah, my mouth is full again. Photo: Blue Bouquet

What I meant to say on that long-ago-seeming-day-which-was-Tuesday, was that I do like this time of year in particular for its masses of officially sanctioned excuses for partying. There are of course the big national and international celebrations of things spanning from Halloween/All Saints/Dia de los Muertos to Thanksgiving, Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah, and the various New Years; in my family, five out of the six of us have winter birthdays as well. It’s not that my family and I are in any way averse to celebrating with a good meal, a party, or any other excuse for eating and drinking good stuff at the drop of a hat, but it’s extra nice when nobody else questions the need for such an occasion either.

My parents upped the ante this winter by both entering the glorious ranks of octogenarian excellence, so since my three sisters and I don’t all live close to them anymore, we’d long since all agreed it made sense to look toward next summer (2015) for a family get-together to mark their ascensions to this great new height. All the same, nobody in our clan has any respect for leaving an excuse for a party just lying there unused. So Sisters 1 and 3, who do live near Mom and Dad in Seattle, helped them plan a big party on Mom’s birthday weekend so that our parents could have their local siblings, nieces and nephews, and a few special friends together. I made up the digital invitations, since I could do that from my remote location, and because I’ve long done such design tidbits for family events as a way to be involved when I couldn’t otherwise be on hand to participate. But our Seattle sisters did the yeoman’s work on the whole thing.

We kids did up the ante a little, though. Sister 4 and her husband sent an email to the other three of us a couple of months ago, announcing that they had bought plane tickets to fly over from Norway for the November party and surprise Mom and Dad. We sisters were surprised, too! My husband, with three concerts and more rehearsals to conduct on either immediate side of the party date, couldn’t get away, but with a batch of saved air miles, I could, so I planned to fly up from Texas and join in the fun. Once all of our tickets were bought and the wheels set in motion, the real challenge was not only to see if there were any small things 4 and I could do from our bases of operation but to see if we and our partners could keep a secret for seven or eight weeks, a dubious probability at the best of times with our talkative bunch.Photo: Pink and Green Bouquet

We did. We let one of Mom’s sisters in on the secret so that she could help get our parents in the right place at the right time when the day arrived, and my spouse’s parents knew, because they were invited too, but despite a couple of close calls, nobody slipped up irrevocably. Part of the larger plan, once we’d decided to add in this surprise element, was that there would be an immediate-family-only lunch on Mom’s actual birthday at Sister 3’s house. Dad, Mom, Auntie and Uncle, and sisters 1 and 3 were to have a nice, low-key luncheon date to mark the day and wrap up any last-minute details for the bigger open house party the next day.

Sister 4 and her husband and I flew into Seattle on Thursday the 6th. It was wonderful to have a reunion of the four sisters, our first in at least a couple of years, and to convene a few other members of the immediate family—3’s husband and one son, with the other son flying in from college on Friday—that night and to laugh up our collective sleeves over our plot. In keeping with the family tradition of combining food with fun, this first evening was spent at 3’s house, slurping bowls of a beautiful, creamy winter sweet potato, kale, pasta, and sausage soup (based on Martha Stewart’s recipe) while taste-testing a couple of good single-malts the Norwegian contingent had picked up on a duty-free spree en route.

On the 7th, Mom’s birthday, we got lunch ready and in the oven and fridge and then spent a little while nervously skulking past curtained windows to escape any unexpectedly early arrivals’ discovery, and as the parental entourage at last approached, three of us ducked into the back bedroom, where we giggled like little kids and perched on the bed to avoid making the creaky hardwood floor give away our presence. Auntie got Mom settled into her favorite armchair so we wouldn’t have to explain her absence at the next day’s party as the result of an aneurism, and we finally strolled out to say Hello to our startled parents. Their faces remained in virtually the same blankly surprised expressions for a fairly lengthy, attenuated moment.Photo: Mom's 80th Birthday Lunch

Lunch broke that spell. We feasted on marvelously simple steak, lemon-dill oven-roasted salmon, salt-baked potatoes, green salad with a fresh blend of herbs and creamy lemony dressing, green beans, and buttered peasant bread. Classic, delicious, and with a handful of their kids on hand to help, an easy way to feed our parents well on a meaningful day. We worked a bit more on the details of Saturday’s open house event, but 1 and 3 had covered all bases so thoroughly that we were all able to make an early evening of it and rest up for the main event.

Sister 3 had found a wonderful venue, a community center run by the parks service in a beautifully renovated vintage power station right next door to the church where our dad had grown up. All five of Mom’s siblings and Dad’s only sib, his brother, and all of their partners, were on tap to come. So did some of the sibs’ kids, and even a handful of grandkids joined the gang; with the friends who came, we totaled just over fifty in attendance. We saw many relatives we’d not seen in years, many of them as surprised as our parents at seeing us there like long-distance apparitions. I think I can safely say that the party was everything Mom had wanted, that Dad was also happy, and that we all felt pretty chuffed at pulling off a great success, especially at not blowing the surprise.Photo: Birthday Buffet

But again, food was central to the grandness of the day, and once more, that was thanks to the wise planning and [literally] tasteful choices made by our Seattle sisters. The buffet spread’s main dish stars were ginger beef and sweet walnut prawns from our favorite local  Chinese restaurant, accompanied by a wide range of finger foods and sweets, many of them bought ready-made from various shops and stores. We had just about enough food on hand to feed 250 guests. So we kept up that family tradition, too. And we all left the tables full and fulfilled.

Who knows what we’ll get up to next summer. Only sure that it will include much eating and drinking. And probably lots of childish giggling and telling secrets, which I think are a mighty nice lagniappe for the whole meal, whatever it is.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I didn’t know if I should tell this secret, since it wasn’t entirely mine to tell, but now that I see she posted about it too, I can brag that I will have a fabulous family of new neighbors in just a few months! This is the second time I’ve gotten to meet blogging friends in the real world, and the second time it’s happened because they moved to the same town where I live, a double bonus in my experience. First, it was the estimable man and marvelous photographer/artist Ted Griffith who arrived with his lovely wife and landed in this place that’s turning into a tiny hotbed of blogging, apparently. I got to tell you about that happy crossing of paths earlier.

Now I’ve also had a fantastic visit from the fabulous Marie and her charming and delightful husband and granddaughter, who will move into this same town, just down the pike from us, along with another two members of the family and brighten the north Texas landscape yet further. What a superb and unexpected benefit of blogging. Life is so full of happy surprises!

I suggest you have a nice visit to both of their blogs, tout de suite—Ted’s very inspiring photography and photo-based artworks can be found at Ted Griffith’s Blog and Marie’s world of wonders resides at (for now, anyway) her own little corner of Rhode Island. I’m just guessing there may be a quick little change of blog title somewhere in Miss Marie’s future, if you know what I mean.

The more important purpose of my post today, of course, is to celebrate that serendipitous joy of worlds colliding in the happiest of ways. I have been the blessed and blissful beneficiary of many of the marvels of this ever-smaller world’s confluences and connections. There’s such joy to be found in the miraculous meetings of the wildly interconnected world, and it’s amazing how often the seemingly unrelated threads and paths of our existence meet. What’s not to like about finding the commonalities and happy relationships between us by having our separate and distinct journeys intersect in unpredicted and wonderful ways!

Digital illustration: Confetti

Let’s throw a little confetti and a ticker tape parade in honor of serendipitous connections, my friends!

Alive & Well

photoSing Now & Always

To celebrate at breaking of the dawn

Or close of evening, or the stroke of noon,

There is no sweeter pleasure than a tune

Well sung by everyone, an antiphon

To peace, to sorrow, or to happiness;

No matter what the poetry or text,

It truly matters most that what is next

Is choral concord to renew, redress,

Resound through all the unseen years ahead,

A clarion, an anthem or motet

Grander than any ear has heard as yet,

And run to distant history, a thread

Of melody and harmony so strong

That no one can resist joining in song

Sparkling Repartee

It’s my sister’s birthday again—not that she’s getting old at a ridiculous rate, but rather that I have three sisters, so their birthdays occur with a certain frequency, since we all have different birthdays despite people’s occasionally mistaking two or more of us for same-day siblings. While we are separated by gaps, there are enough commonalities in our selves and our looks, I suppose, that it’s not entirely shocking anyone might make such an assumption, but those who know us see the vast array of differences more sharply than the less informed might.

And that, my friends, that differentness, is a grand thing. I adore all three of my sisters and love that we have enough in common to be real friends as well as family to each other, but we are clearly the better for having our unique characteristics and points of view and experiences to further enrich our life in common. It’s those distinctions that keep us from being in any way interchangeable and certainly, from having nothing to talk about when we get the all-too-rare chance to visit. We’re all four fabulous, if you ask me!

Take Sister #3, for example, whose natal day we remember on this date (I’m second of the four). From when she was very small—and she was mighty tiny indeed—her fierce drive for perfection and her native and highly honed intellect awed me. She ‘gets’ things that I will never wrap my head around, things like mathematics and the myriad business-administrative powers that keep the machinery of life and work and family ticking along in ways that only happen to me by lucky accident. She is and was the athlete and outdoorswoman I could only dream of being, and her cookery and baking, frankly, kick my measly skills to the curb. And she’s beautiful, inside and out, even if as a typical sibling I didn’t always manage to remind her so as often as she deserves.

That’s all just for starters, but if I were to go on too far I’d sound like I was making her up out of fairy wings and dewdrops and cookie dough, so instead I shall just wish her a spectacular birthday and a year full of wonder and happiness, beginning to end and for many birthdays and years to come.
digital illustration from a photoSpirited Pleasure

Let us raise a crystal glass of Champagne Brut to toast the passing

Of the weeks and months, the years, to raise resounding shouts of “Cheers!”

We’ll ping the flutes “Salut! Cin Cin!“, tip up the stems and drink it in,

For nothing makes it taste so great as bubbly wine to celebrate

(Though if you care not for its pop, I recommend a Lemon Drop)!

Luminosity

To my beloved youngest sister on her birthday:

Taking life from the real to the magical and from drabness to brilliance, luminosity is the agent of glorious change. Little Sister is such an agent in many lives as well, bringing beauty and joy to us solely by existing, let alone having the sweetness and humor and wisdom that fill her with the warm inner light I so treasure. Simply, my world would be far smaller and more limited to the dull version of reality if it weren’t for the presence of her gracious illumination!

With that in mind, here is a series of illustrations of that progression of luminosity to celebrate the gifts of sisterly love.

graphite drawing

digital illustration

digital illustration

digital illustration

The Wearin’ o’ the Green

There is, of course, one overriding, excellent reason that Ireland should celebrate the remembrance of her patron saint with a vivid display of everything-green. Ireland is the Emerald Isle. I’m not Irish, but I suppose I can pretend to a certain level of affinity on the strength of two excellent reasons of my own, the first being that my Viking ancestors (if any of my Norse forebears were actually so intrepid and aggressive) had a pretty good chance of crossing paths somewhere along the line with their counterparts in the British Isles, Norwegians having gone on various exploratory and marauding forays in that direction. My patronymic (Wold), after all, sounds suspiciously more Anglo than Nordic to me, no matter how many in Norway do share the name.

The second and far kindlier tie I feel to Ireland is because I was born in the Emerald City (Seattle’s nickname) in the Evergreen State (Washington’s), surrounded by every known flavor of green and a few yet undiscovered, and I think it was anything but coincidental that on my one visit to Ireland thus far I felt remarkably at home even in the middle of the winter, when the chill and snow still couldn’t entirely subdue the exquisite greenness of the land. It may not have hurt this sense of connection that some of the locals on that trip asked me what part of Ireland I came from, given that my accent apparently wasn’t heard by them as being wildly different from some in the UK. In any event, as green and growing things resonate so deeply in my heart and soul, I can’t help but celebrate the beauty of Green while millions are wearing, spending, planting and drinking it, and otherwise rejoicing in the character seen as protector of the great green land of Eire on this most Irish of days.photoHere in this Emerald Land

Because there is no sapling in the earth

But that springs out when water wakes its seed

And sunlight calls it up in urgent need,

I think the rain and sun of equal worth–

Yet all the riches of a blooming world

No greater shine than that most humble weed

Whose leaf invites the passing deer to feed

Because its banners, sweetly green, unfurled–

No flower can surpass, exotic bloom

Outdo green’s living beauty or exceed

Its life-affirming sweetness when we heed

The subtler potency of its perfume–

And so I bow my head, ecstatic–sing

The joys of every green and living thing.photoMuch as I adore sunshine, I am willing, too, to be showered with the rain, for it slakes the thirsty earth and brings forth all of its green glories.

Mama’s Girl

Yeah, I’m a big baby.

I’m past the half-century mark, don’tcha know, and yet the older I get the more I realize how much growing up I have yet to do, not to mention how much I am shaped by my genes and my formative years. And unlike many people, I find I am heartened and grateful when I look in the mirror and see my mother. There may still be hope I’ll turn out well.

It’s not just that I’m pleased to start looking more like Mom, though that wouldn’t make me sad in the least; I think my mother’s beautiful. But since we’re a pretty close-knit family, I like to think that enough of her more objectively wonderful qualities will have rubbed off on me over the years that I have a chance of continuing to improve with age in many other ways as well. To grow into some semblance of her patience and compassion, her grace and gentleness and big-hearted love is certainly a gift to be fondly wished.

Meanwhile, however, it’s Mama’s birthday. It’s she who should be getting gifts. But then, given my mom’s character, having her children turn out well ought to be just the sort of pretty good present she’d like most, and if my seeing her in my mirror confirms that the best I can turn out is as a good imitation of her, why then I’ll keep working and hoping and trying what I can to head in that direction. Hmmm. Maybe I should bring her a box of candy or something just in case.

Happy Birthday, Mom!digital photo