Tell Me Not What Lies Ahead

digital illustration from a photoEven if I could I would rather not see the future. If it’s not to my liking, then I’ll despair and give up all attempts to improve upon it; if appealing, it will tempt me to live in constant yearning and not invest my heart and hands in my own present.

That doesn’t stop me from persistently trying to scry any hints of what’s to come in whatever handy crystal ball I can conjure. We’re curious creatures, we humans, and impatient at that. I wish and want and hope and dream, along with all of my fellow mortals, thinking that if I just knew what lay around the next bend of the road, surely I would be content, or at least if not content then prepared. But few who have access to dates and deadlines, foresight and certainties actually prepare in full, and once the approaching events are known they so often become the sole focus of the journey, not a point along the way, in fact distracting us from all of the possibly meaningful points that do exist en route.

I would rather not give myself any excuses for being even less attentive than I already am, and to be honest, I think it would take a fair measure of the charm out of discovering my life with a degree of surprise as it happens. Do I hope that what comes will be pleasurable and kind and fulfilling? Naturally. But whatever it is, I will let it keep its secrets for now; there is a lot to be seen and felt and done long before I get there, wherever there is and whatever it holds.

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

Money, Mayhem, Madness

Someday I will retire. Ah, but how does one retire when one hasn’t been employed for pay outside of one’s home for a longish time, eh? How, to be more to the point, does one retire when one hasn’t been productive or purposeful or a contributing member of society?graphite drawingThe very idea is preposterous. Crazy, really. But let’s be clear here: I wasn’t really that impressive and significant a member of the workforce when I was under contract to my various outside employers. Heck, some of them might conceivably have wished to put out a contract on me. But I digress. The thing is that this idea of retirement stems not entirely from my personal lack of a job-related work ethic (a.k.a. lazypantsitude) nor even, strictly speaking, from the retirement-contemplation infection I may or may not have caught from any of those near and dear to me, who may or may not include close friends and family members–it’s simply that Issue that so many people begin to contemplate with a bit of trepidation nowadays when the world of personal finance is so volatile and the future as unpredictable as it could possibly seem. It’s the persistent and slightly frightening specter of what will become of me, of any of us, when we opt out of the workaday world entirely and attempt to live a post-employment life. Retirement, as (or if) experienced nowadays, is a mighty scary mistress, sweet as sticky toffee pudding one minute and in the very next one, raving like a latecomer to the sale at Filene’s Basement.graphite drawingYou will not be the least bit surprised that, no matter how modest and unconventional my work life has been, I am enamored enough of non-work-related occupations to desire the life of a retiree if (and when) I can lay my hands on it. So I consider, now, what it will really require in the way of planning and saving and earning and arranging between now and that magical date, whenever it may be, and am plotting a course through the intervening period that I hope will set me and my beloved up as well as can be for that eventuality. If any billionaires should happen to be reading this and simply itching to offload some of their excess samoleans into my personal coffers, of course I am willing to shoulder that happy responsibility. If anyone should be looking for some fantastic artworks to purchase for home, office, gift or birdcage-liner, I have stacks of material available for the buying. But I suspect it will take some other, further, additional and/or different approaches to actually put me in a reasonable position to retire.graphite drawingDon’t mind me, in the meantime, wigging out just a mite over the whole process. It’s how I handle mysteries and challenges. And yes, I am very well aware that worry about such a thing as retirement is entirely a rich person’s problem and thus not exactly worthy of much sympathy.  Still, I do fuss over it a bit. Since I don’t have regular skills that have kept me gainfully employed (and even when I was employed, it was mostly in academia and selling art, so you can guess how gainful that all was), I shall just have to take my own tack, no matter how tangential it is to the norm. That is definitely how I tend to operate, and I can’t imagine that my life as a retiree will be any different in that regard.

 

Just a Little Thing

It doesn’t always require a huge investment of time, materials or effort to effect a notable improvement around the house. No matter how gifted I am at procrastinating when it comes to DIY and fix-it projects around the place, I’m always kind of amazed to rediscover how small a thing can have such large-scale impact. It doesn’t mean that I learn from my experiences enough to behave sensibly and just get the tasks done without resistance, but I seldom fail to be impressed after the fact all the same.photoTake front door painting, for example. There wasn’t anything especially unpleasant, let alone wrong, with the existing paint on our front door. It was, in fact, in good condition, and even a pretty nice color. I do like this trim color on the house in general. What was a bit unsatisfactory to me was that with such a dark color on it, the front door seemed to me to actively recede from view into the shadows of the porch rather than appearing to welcome visitors approaching on the front path.

So I decided to paint the door a sprightly and fresh color that might liven up the entry and seem a little more encouraging to anyone who might be coming to knock there. I chose an apple green that I knew would mimic the brightest greens in the plantings around our yard and complement both the existing deep green trim paint and the earthy mix of colors in our brickwork. I chose a semi-gloss paint to reflect light without glaring and make the door even more visible from the street and path.photoThen I waited. I put it off for weeks. It was only a couple days’ work to mask, prep and triple-coat the door, but I could find any number of excuses to do Other Things, even put up the also-evaded porch Christmas lights, as long as I could avoid repainting the front door. That’s how I [don’t] roll. Lazy People Unite!photoWell, I did finally get the task done. And it’s kind of impressive to me, yet again, how much this one little thing manages to change the look of the house. For the better, I think; in the name of fair play I must, of course, tell you that the manly member of the household is not yet convinced the change is for the better, but he doesn’t object so strenuously that I’m going to repaint it anytime soon. Besides, even if I do decide to repaint it, there’s no doubt it’ll take a good long while for the project to actually get done.photo

It’s that Time Again

photoIt’s a time of year when a whole lot of concerts and recitals are reawakened in the College of Music hereabouts, so tonight we headed out for the usual eight-in-the-evening music making. The sunset led us west to the concert hall–but just barely, as the evenings are shortening already by now–and the house was well crowded with people eagerly pressing in to hear their first of the orchestra’s season of performances. Arturo MárquezDanzón No. 2, Ludwig van BeethovenPiano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58, Béla Bartók – Concerto for Orchestrathe latter, a scintillating performance of the virtuosic, wonderfully evocative and cinematic piece to set the bar very high for the year.

It’s also time to get another day’s post up on the blog, if I’m to meet my ‘local midnight’ deadline. Time to gather up my thoughts for the day into whatever package has offered itself, arrange my neurons into a more restful, sleep-invoking mode than last night’s (not another wake-every-half-hour one, please! What was that all about?) and recharge my batteries for tomorrow. Time also to look ahead in the autumn and think of when we can invite friends for visits, what is next on my long list of projects and chores and art making events that fits with my current resources and mood.

In short, it’s That Time: life as usual. The good, the busy and the unpredictable continue to flood my days and nights with change and, as it’s said, the more things change the more they stay the same. I don’t know for certain what tomorrow will bring beyond the few enigmatic things noted on a fairly bland and unadorned seeming calendar, yet every hour that ticks by in my existence brings with it some new piece of knowledge, a surprise visitor, events not planned or expected, a whole array of shifting atoms that make each moment quite different and generally much larger than I feared or hoped it would be. And that is how, in a sort of cosmic conundrum, I manage to find mystery and adventure and the impossible all utterly normal and quite the logical thing to happen to me, time and again.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Once Cooked for Eight Equals Four Times Prepped for Two

photo

Roasted cauliflower and red capiscum, sautéed celery, steamed green beans–what do they have in common? A new ‘recipe’ for dinner’s vegetable dish, apparently . . .

The complication, if there is any, of having a household of two (or one) is that so many foods, dishes and meals are easier to prepare in larger quantities than are appropriate or even desirable for a single meal. It’s very easy, if planning isn’t finely tuned, to have things spoil and go to waste before we’ve plowed through them at our own pace. The upside of this very problem, though, is that if I do plan reasonably well (and have a little luck as a side dish) I can make several meals out of little more than one prep.

I do this, in part, via the method of complexification and conglomeration. The one or two elements remaining after one meal get combined with each other, with some new element or ingredient from the next meal’s intended menu, or both. Yes, it’s quite possible and even sometimes preferable to simply repeat a dish as-is, especially if it’s already its own elaborate concoction. But often, things seem a little less tired and tiresome if they appear in new guises each time so as to stimulate the palate, if not the imagination. So the small amounts of leftover vegetables from lunch and dinner the last couple of days may find themselves married in a new mixed-veg medley with a little sauce or seasoning that helps them play together as nicely as possible and suddenly, they’re not just two spoonfuls of This and a handful of That but an actual, sort of, recipe.

photo‘Mains’–the central or focal items on the meal’s menu–are seldom hard to incorporate into some new iteration of a main dish. Even when they have already been prepared with a hard-to-ignore or -disguise sauce or presentation, they can find new playmates on the plate next time they head to the table. Roasted chicken, for example, whether homemade or grabbed ready-roasted on a busy day as one flies through the grocery store, is a truly marvelous ingredient when it comes to flexibility. Once seasoned or sauced distinctively, it can pose a slightly more complicated puzzle for renewal, but even then, if the dish is well liked once it’s pretty likely to be popular on a second visit.

So the chicken, whether it was already dressed in the satay-like peanut sauce–I took a shortcut with a pre-made one this time–or not–we liked it well enough to use the same pre-made sauce at the second meal even though it was not already on the chicken–can be reincarnated as a different dinner altogether simply by changing its context. One day, it’s served with a very simple wedge salad dressed with citrusy vinaigrette and a tangle of Pad Thai style rice noodles seasoned lightly with rice vinegar, a squeeze of lime juice and a splash of soy sauce and sprinkled with black sesame seeds.

photoNext day’s ‘satay’ is served with butter-steamed green beans, fresh cold apple slices and fried rice made from–yes, you guessed it–the fridge stash of jasmine or Basmati rice previously cooked up in broth and now pan-toasted until almost crisping with Persian lime olive oil, soy sauce, a touch of raw honey and a handful of chopped sushi gari (pickled ginger, if you somehow haven’t yet noticed, is one of my favorite seasonings for practically everything!). A sprinkling of white sesame seeds, just for a little visual contrast with yesterday’s offering, and there’s Chicken Pseudo-Satay 2.0 ready to be eaten.

And while there’s certainly nothing that says dessert is a required part of every meal, some of us kind of think of it as a specific food group, so even for dessert it’s nice to have some fine ‘recyclable’ ingredients for whipping up something to finish the day’s eating nicely. One of the things that very regrettably can go to waste far too often in a small household is fresh produce, and when I’ve a beautiful batch of fresh fruit on hand I can’t bear to think it will spoil before we can reasonably eat it all. So a large ‘find’ of sweet fresh strawberries, though it was far too great a quantity for two people on the day it was at its peak, got cleaned, sliced and frozen until the other day when it beckoned to me, siren-like, and I blended it thoroughly with a little whole-milk yogurt, splashes of vanilla and rosewater, a tiny pinch of salt and a bit of honey, poured it into a flat sealable container and froze it until it became a brightly fruity semifreddo or granita of sorts for later consumption.

photoNo matter what the small tidbit, most leftovers that are not on the edge of spoiling really do beg for a kindly reinterpretation before we give up on them. Once I get fully in my Friendly Frankenstein mode and think hard about how to zap new life into worthwhile remaindered ingredients, it’s only a matter of letting the locals trade their pitchforks for dinner forks and we can all remain good friends without fear of monstrosities. Good eating!

 

Don’t Blame Monday

It’s true, I’m among the horde of cruel people who put the onus for all our Monday growling and grumpiness and grunge on the day itself. Many of us see Monday as the End of All Things Fun, coming as it does on the heels of any sort of weekend respite or recreation we might have enjoyed. I’ve long had that nasty habit of looking in the mirror on a Monday and seeing monstrous presence there, only thinly veiled by the black cloud of my ill-humor.P&II think perhaps it’s time to take a little responsibility for the ogrish attitudes myself and reclaim Monday as the Beginning of something fresh and new–by making it that, if need be, by force. The end of one thing is almost inevitably the beginning of another, and if the follower isn’t to my liking, then who’s to change that but me? Isn’t it just possible that in the open spaces between my crotchety complaints and snarky remarks, there could be room for the tiny wedge of reinvention to be driven in for a start? I think I should see what I can accomplish in this. No need to keep glowering at a meanie in the mirror morosely.P&IOne of the first things, I suppose, is to make sure that my Mondays hold something that I look forward to eagerly, something to start my week with a measure of pleasure. So I am taking that step in a small way already: Monday is my day for planning and for clearing the decks. As an inveterate list-maker and lister-of-lists, it’s my day to ‘walk the fences’–and since my Spread (no, dears, my Texas ranch, not my posterior measurements) consists of a house on a typical city-sized lot, it’s not too hard to accomplish that part, at least in temporal terms. But I must do so with eyes wide open for details that need attention so that I know of all the things that require mending, tending or improving. Those light switches that are going to be replaced. (The replacements have already been bought–check!–so it remains only to install them: Note!) The wood handles on the washtub need a preservative oiling. The seed starters are lined up as kits in the garage work area but need to be assembled now. And with the Must Do list is the ever-mutant list of how-abouts: would the window coverings in the reading/TV room be better insulation and easier to open and close if I redo them? Can I put a more comfortable seating angle on that chair by shimming the front legs? Do I have all of the supplies from my shopping list for finishing that little art project? Is the grocery list for Tuesday complete?

There is a surprising amount of satisfaction in not just being able to cross little things off those perpetual lists as Finished but being able, as well, to refine the remaining items so that they are more clear and purposeful and prioritized, and give shape to the rest of a busy week for me. It’s just the way I operate. It also makes me feel a little freer and lighter about what pleasurable things I can do while accomplishing my list-work, how I can distribute things in the short and long term, and when I can break up the flow of Projects with Fun–this latter being an essential thing and not, then, needing to feel like a disruption of the flow but rather a welcome island in the stream. Me, I like a wildly numerous and exotic archipelago of what others might admittedly think purposeless delights in my life’s flow.

So I am on a campaign of making Mondays a favorite day for me by turning my old attitude on its ear. I always had a fondness for forcing a change in point of view by whatever literalistic or foolish means necessary, after all: if I can’t see my artwork with enough objectivity to make intelligent editorial decisions about it, I need to shift how I look at it in order to adjust how I see it. Stand on my head. Come into a dark room and turn on the light on it suddenly. Imagine I’m a six- or ninety-six-year-old looking at it and how I’d describe it.

In the case of Mondays, I’m guessing many a 96-year-old with healthy feelings toward life would simply be delighted at being alive for another one. And six is an age when everything is still new every day, and electric with possibility. Why shouldn’t I adopt both of those attitudes?

P&IFor now, I intend to arrange at least one additional Fun Thing to be included in my Mondays on a regular basis, but perhaps a different kind of fun each time, so that I can’t get jaded and lackadaisical about it. Certainly it should have elements of silliness included, because that’s something that never does grow old with me, and perhaps is part of the reason I expect I shan’t grow old myself any too soon. Looking out my window, I see that the bare-branched trees of winter are suddenly covered with black lace, that the intermittent wind gusts have kicked up a ballet of curlicued oak leaves in the corner of the patio, and that the cardinals stopping by for a nibble of grain have somehow taken on a much deeper and brighter hue of red. Is it a change of seasons coming on? Perhaps it’s just that I’m letting the seasons change within me.