It’s a Gift

December has a lot going for it. There are loads of holidays jammed into this single month all around the world (not the least of which is my birthday), and depending on which of those locales is Home, the month is usually the time when peak summer or winter vacation time comes. Given all of the holidays, I tend to think there’s no excuse not to spend a bunch of December partying in one way or another. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by people, places and things that make every day feel like a party’s very possible, if not already in progress.

I mean, longhorns, people. I can drive in any direction from home, not even going very far, and have a great chance of seeing big, bold, beautiful longhorn cattle. Just seeing them makes my heart do a happy dance. Looking at longhorns brings a big grin to my face and a lightness to the day, and I’m pretty sure that on the day those cattle were invented there was some partying going on in heaven, too.

photo

Cue angel choirs…the cows will sing along…

Crawling & Leaping

photoDo or Die

I am not brave, not big and strong, and change gives me the creeps,

But when the moment comes along, my crawling turns to leaps,

Because my innate sense of time and self and hope, my drive,

My dreams and aspirations, climb and make me feel alive–photoSo much so that I can’t keep still, must jump right up, arise,

And spring to action, and I will push onward to the skies,

For all that lies ahead is unknown, hid, but what may be

Is great and magical and fun, is grand and wild and free–photoIf I don’t take that daring chance and forge ahead at speed,

How will I, short of happenstance, find anything I need,

Or grow, improve, achieve, emerge? How can my sorrows sleep?

I know I’d best just fight the urge to crawl, and rather, leap!digital illustration from a photo

Going Places without Getting Anywhere

Summer holidays allows some of us lucky folk to indulge our inner travel junkie. This summer was pretty much the lottery winner for the Sparks household in that regard, and it helped to scratch my perpetual go-somewhere itch more than a little. We went on a Road Trip. By that I mean a 6000+ mile loop from Texas to the west coast, north to Canada, and back again, over five weeks.

I won extra, since I got to make that trip with my favorite partner-in-crime, my husband. And he likes driving and I don’t much, so he did nearly all of it. I just got to watch the world go by, cities, states, countries, plains, hills, mountains, rivers, forests, and much more. I sat there mesmerized, my camera propped on my lap or–more often–shooting away virtually aimlessly as we buzzed by at 85 mph/137 kph (yes, there are some places where that’s the speed limit in the US) in hopes of catching some of the amazing, beautiful, weird, wonderful stuff we passed along the way. Thank goodness I didn’t have to try this kind of photography on the Autobahn.

Being dyslexic in so many helpful ways, I am the last person who should be navigator on any trip, but I was reminded that maps of any sort have their limitations anyway, and GPS only adds new layers of complexity and adventure, as when our perky GPS announcer lady (affectionately known as Peggy Sue) calmly informs us from time to time that we are in Undiscovered Country, or as she likes to put it, Not in a Recognized Area. The fun part of it is that the map on our GPS just goes blank at that point except for the little red arrow that is us, which thereupon floats through the air with the greatest of ease. That’s when I really call on my fantastic piloting skills, of course.

Mostly what I learn from maps of any sort is how far we are from where we intended to be and how many complications lie in the space between. But that, too, is part of the thrill and amusement of road-tripping or, for that matter, travel of any sort. The planned and well-known aspects are seldom as exciting and interesting as the things found by accident, the experiences had in passing and the ‘scenic route’ that is a fixable mistake. If we never made any U-turns or wrong guesses or took any side roads instead of the Main Drag, life and travel would be ever so much duller. And this trip was anything but dull. I’ll share some of the adventures with you when the dust settles!digital illustration

Shiny Objects & Flying Illusions

Beetling Brow

Inside my skull’s a fizzing insectarium

of mystic, magic, merry little things

so wildly pretty that my brain can’t carry ’em

without the power of all their tiny wings,

Abuzz with sparkling brilliance and their fleeting,

so speedy that they’ve utterly forgot

regard for gravity or need for beating,

become instead bright vestiges of thought.

Now, you may think I’m just a bugged-out entity

with not a thought for anything of sense,

but every person has his own bugs, hasn’t he,

and with their glittering gleam, the joy’s immense;

I never really cared that much for images

or what all others thought my problem was,

but just embraced my inner insects’ scrimmages,

and love the shiny ways they make me buzz.digital collage

A Concert with a Wedding Attached

Seventeen years ago today I got married. And as all of you who have visited this blog with any regularity know, when I got together with the man who became my husband, spouse, best friend, partner and daily companion, I gained a world of music. Of course, music was a big part of my life already and distinctly a contributing factor in our getting together in the first place; I worked in the university art building, right next door to the music building, and spent plenty of quality time there going to concerts, meeting with friends and all of that sort of happy thing, and when the nice Director of Choral Activities asked me if I’d be willing to help spiff up the aging auditorium for the annual Christmas concert festivities I gladly said yes. That was only the first time I made banners for an occasion of collaborative fun with that nice DCA man. Less than eight months later I was making bunches of banners to fill up a church nave for our wedding.scanNo surprise that, since under friendly pressure from them we gave up on the attractive idea of eloping and just having a party with our family and friends on our return, we decided that the best alternative was to have a celebration with lots of music and just party all the way through the event. Turned out it was easy to do so.scanAssembling our wedding’s participants was easy-peasy. Relatives and friends from work, home life and church lined up and pitched in as planners, greeters, acolytes, reception hosts and much more. Clergy? Well, as the daughter of a bishop I didn’t have far to go to hunt up someone to marry us. The church’s lead pastor presided and Dad officiated, and a dear sweet retired pastor friend served as lector. Witnesses? Having three sisters, I had no problem lining up a team; Richard’s backup was easy to arrange as well: his sole brother, our mutual beloved friend Jim, and Richard’s colleague and partner in choral crime, also named Richard (Nance). Musicians were easiest of all for us to arrange, unsurprisingly.scanWe had an outstanding pickup choir of students and members of Richard’s choirs, past and present, and friend-colleagues playing horn and singing the processional solo. Jim, getting in some exercise during the service, was organist as well as standing up for us. That, as well as having helped us plan the whole service and choose its music, and set one of my texts to music for our congregational hymn. Richard N, besides joining the altar party, pitched in (no pun intended) musically as well, conducting the choir for us in a lovely collection of pieces capped by the premiere of the exquisite anthem he composed for the occasion (now a best seller for Walton Music!).scanYes, this is a brag post. Happily, all true.photoHappy Anniversary, my Love.

DIY Weddings are Easy When . . .

. . . you have a world of friendly resources at your beck and call. So, technically, it’s not DIY at all of course but rather Così fan tutte. [Ed: roughly translated, ‘Everybody’s doing it’.] It’s not, even then, for the faint of heart, because let’s face it, unless you’re having the always admirable super short, informal adventure of standing in front of a Justice of the Peace or of surprising your immediate family in the middle of dessert one weekend with a five-minute ceremony, there are a host of details that might need to be given eventual consideration. Beyond simply making sure that the two people who are getting married actually show up at the same time in the same place, there are a handful of legal elements that generally should be taken care of before the event, if it’s to have any official standing. And from there, the possibilities expand exponentially. I suppose it’s not wholly shocking that the process might lead to the development of a few dysfunctional bumps and bruises among family, friends and support staff along the way.photoBut I hate confrontation and stress, and the very idea of becoming such a parody-inspiring Marriage Monster appalls me. And when we decided to marry, I don’t doubt it occurred to me that my intended, Richard, might equally abhor the idea of a painful process and wedding day. So we were both very happy to treat the whole thing something like an elaborate concert performance, perhaps a cheery semi-staged operetta, and to act as artistic directors and performers, yes, but also to let a great slew of friends, relatives and acquaintances carry out as much of the heavy lifting as possible along the way. After all, though we intended to have a good time and hoped everyone else would too, the real point of the occasion was that at the end of the day we would be more married than we were at the beginning of it.

Being a visual artist, I had no shortage of ideas about how I wanted various things to look, from invitations and service bulletins and guest books to the floral arrangements, wedding party dress and church decor, to the tables and food at the reception. And I had pretty extravagant ideas, at that. But I didn’t have a huge quantity of money to invest in it (nor did my parents) and I deeply dislike the idea of spending ghastly sums on a single event that, while important and hopefully happily memorable, is still only one actual day of life. What, I should spend my life savings on a single party?

That’s where one’s personal fortune in community has so much more than monetary value, though I’ll readily grant you that ours, in sharing their talents and efforts with us for the occasion, saved us a ton of money. We married in the church across the street from the university where we both worked, since not only were we members there but it was so handily located for so many of our friends, students and colleagues who were also part of the university community. I had a fairly easy time imagining how to use and decorate the church, since a few years previously, I’d served on the committee that oversaw a massive renovation of the space, taking part in all elements of the design from seating arrangement to finishes, and designing the new altar, font, pulpit, rail, crosses and incidental furnishings that were built for it.photoSo I opted to fill the space with a different kind of design, making a couple dozen banners to hang on walls, fly from the light boxes in the ceilings, display on stands in the narthex and chancel, and be carried in procession by fine young friends strolling in en route (to light candles) and out (to the reception hall) along with the wedding party. Already a banner maker for church and event commissions, I had lots of material and experience, so I sewed, painted and otherwise assembled the banners myself (from the flying ones at about 36 inches in length to the main chancel banner that was about 26 feet), and I got good help with putting together the stands and hanging mechanisms and installing them all at the last minute when we could get into the nave to do the work.photo montageThat’s a constant with weddings and parties in all sorts of venues other than Home: no access for prep and installation and other setup work until the last minute. So because I am a control freak, a design nut and also someone who really wanted to just have fun and enjoy my actual wedding day, I plotted and planned and prepped everything I could, along with my Intended and a slew of family, friends and other helpful conspirators. First, of course, it was essential to get all the actors on board and ‘synchronize our watches’, since it’s a busy crew and driven by a multitude of crazy calendar iterations. Once that was established, the work of service and reception planning commenced.

The earliest necessity, since I didn’t want predictable or expensive floral arrangements but love flowers, was to plant and tend flowers in Mom’s garden and that of our good friend Claudia, next door to her. By the time our July wedding rolled around, I had gathered the ribbon and wire and other essentials and been offered by the lovely Linda, a friend who was chief florist for the university’s official events, that if I handed over the materials she would provide us with her gorgeous bouquets and boutonnieres and corsages for all and sundry, so all I needed to do at the last minute was go a-gathering in their yards with my two beloved garden-gnome ladies and then give buckets full of fresh beauty to Linda on the day.

Meanwhile, much brainstorming and list-making was underway with the able assistance of others, so that everything essential would be pre-arranged too and not worrisome. All of the print materials derived from a combination of my photos of iris leaves, text typeset by one of my sisters in fonts I’d chosen, getting printing done by the local quick printers (with whom I’d done many work projects) on their green ink printing day of the week and then doing all of the black ink stuff on copiers and folding/collating things myself while I was calligraphing the invitation envelopes, closing them with an inexpensive gold seal and a swash of purply interference paint and a rubber stamp message noting that the music would begin a full half hour before the service. We did, after all, know that there would be lots of my fiance’s fellow musicians both participating and attending.

Clergy? That was about the easiest part to decide, since as a cleric’s daughter I could just tap Dad. So the church’s lead pastor presided, Dad officiated, and a sweet retired pastor friend served as lector. Since Dad was robing up for the pastoral gig, I decided to have one of my uncles sashay down the aisle with me, and he kindly acquiesced to my request for an escort. Our organist, our great friend Jim, was also standing up for us, so he did a bit of trotting up and down the aisle, but in great Jim style. As one of four sisters, I had the easiest time choosing three attendants, but it was simple for my groom to line up the perfect support team, too, between his one brother and Jim and another of our close friends who happened to be Richard’s choral conducting partner at the university as well. Friends from various places rounded out the team, serving as greeters, acolytes, and our wonderfully hospitable reception hosts. One of our brothers in law was chief photographer, taking a batch of group wedding party photos just before the church began to fill, and all of the rest of the pictures came from a combination of photos friends sent us and the box full of disposable cameras we’d distributed on the reception tables and collected for development at the end of the day. This proved a serendipity because it both gave us some fun candids from the kids’ point of view and kept some of the younger partiers entertained during the reception as well.

photo

I designed and made stoles for Dad and the presiding minister, too.

My sisters readily agreed to help pick out simple black dresses they’d actually have a hope of wanting to wear again later, and we managed to find a great deal on them and choose a design that, happily, was made of a very stretchy fabric, since it turned out that one sister was curvaceously pregnant by the time our wedding day rolled around (no pun intended). I sewed a violet voile shawl edged in emerald green for each of them, and a scarf of the same to tie back my hair rather than having a veil, something that would anyway have looked a bit odd since I didn’t want to wear a white gown. Besides that I tend to look a little too much like a corpse when wearing white, I too wanted to have a dress with reuse potential, especially if I was investing a couple hundred dollars in all of the fabrics, so I made my shawl from iridescent emerald voile, the same fabric that I lined with dark emerald taffeta for the body of my skirt and bodice. The bodice, made in a sort of weskit shape, I stitched with self-colored silk soutache. While I cut and serged all of the pieces of my layered fabric for the dress and made my underskirt, my mother generously did all of the finish sewing on the top and skirt. Designing and sewing just the soutache provided enough adventure for this semi-skilled seamstress. I did, however, go dress shopping with both of our moms, and we found one a perfect-condition consignment dress for a great price and the other, a clearance two piece dress/jacket combination for $10. The guys wore rented tuxes, mainly because the groom owned a white tie and tails conducting getup and nothing like a plain black suit, and I figured if I was going to have a wedding more formal than a zippy elopement, I still did want to get all spiffed up. Not averse to having fun, and all that jazz.

photo

photo

[Ed: No, we weren’t all pretending to be The Dread Pirate Roberts–I’m just providing a dash of privacy for family and friends.]

The fabrics and ribbons left over from manufacturing banners and dresses and shawls got trimmed and saved up for dressing the reception tables, along with a multitude of candlesticks from home that I loaded up and lit. To keep reception food fuss to a relative minimum, we opted to have the party in the fellowship hall at the church. That way, also, there was no monkeying around with additional travel, hall-finding and parking issues, party setup in a separate venue, or the time required for all of those add-ons. And we figured the social aspect was the primary reason for having a reception at all, not fussy edibles meant mostly to impress people, so we went to our favorite farmers’ market and bought a bunch of lovely fresh fruits to complement the array of nuts, chocolates and home-baked cookies that were the main bites. Friends and relatives gifted us with many of the cookies, and the baked centerpiece was a traditional Norwegian kransekake (more a stack of crisp-chewy almond meringue biscuit rings than cake) made by our Norwegian brother-in-law and my mother. As it turned out, yet another set of friends surprised us with a second lovely kransekake, so we were all in cookie heaven. A very fine place, indeed, and not only on a wedding day.photo

Amusement is No Respecter of Persons

For a universe where we’re all so hung up on our status, image and importance, the world as we know it is also the locus of a truly great leveler: fun. Very rare is the person, however high or low in the hierarchy of social or political or religious or educational import, who doesn’t relish laughter. Fun, and the love of it, are boundary-resistant. Childlike happiness should know no limits.

I know the little tale attributing to Queen Victoria the remark that ‘We are not amused’–a condition she can easily be forgiven for bemoaning, even if it was ostensibly because of someone else’s attempts to convince her of his own divergent sort of hilarity. Throughout history, contentment has been best enjoyed when it’s pushed to its jovial limits by gently encouraging frolic and humor, curiosity and amazement and amusement that can be shared. The current culture oughtn’t to hold anyone back from being pleased and entertained any more than these should be constrained by one’s politics, nationality, gender, tastes, age or any other facet of personal identity. Joy is joy, no matter what your nature or your preferred brand.

So I, for one, think it’s a good idea to cultivate smiles and laughter and playfulness as assiduously as I can. If I can share it with others, even better. If others can contribute some fun to the cause as well, we might be able among us to create a contagious stream of happiness that can expand further and further yet. Doesn’t that sound worthwhile, now, really?graphite drawing