The Only Magical World

Digital illustration from a photo: Mythic MirrorThere’s only one plane of existence that is guaranteed to seem perfect and right to you at all times, and that’s the one in your dreaming heart. But the place in the real world that will come closest to that kind of mythic perfection is the one where you can dwell in the center of real, constant and generous love. On the third of August, every year of my life, I get to celebrate such a love because it’s the anniversary of my parents’ marriage.

Their love for each other has withstood many tests and trials over time, but because it was genuine and down-to-earth love from the beginning, the tests and trials have tended to be more externally made and less harsh, perhaps, than they might otherwise have been. And in its best and least challenged days, it shines the brighter because it feeds and is fed by a larger love—for life, for those articles of faith and those people they hold dear—and I, as one of their offspring, get to share in that care and affection, friendship, respect and kind generosity.

This is the sort of beauty and distinction that transcends fairytale happiness and is, instead, steady and sure. Better than supposed Magic and miracles, it is so dependable that even when the sun isn’t shining quite right or the cogs of the world aren’t turning exactly as one might wish they would, it’s possible and natural to have assurance that what needs to be will return; goodness will prevail, and we will all get back to the constant and comforting business of loving and being loved by one another. It’s a potent blend of companionship and  concern and hope that aren’t dependent on spells and manipulations but reside in the everyday promise, and every third of August I get to celebrate it anew because my parents taught me what this kind of love can be.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Unexpected

To my beloved husband with great love and affection on our eighteenth anniversary: you continue to surprise me, all of these years after your initial unexpected appearance as the love of my life!

Digital illustration from a photo: The Base of the WallSnowing Amethysts

At evening, summertime holds breathless sway

When even crickets wait before they’ll sing,

And birds to roost go silent; everything

Takes pause because the lengthy heat of day

Has drawn a shawl of stillness down to lawn

And flowerbed and hedges, ’til a breath—

So shallow it could scarcely ward off death—

Is difficult to breathe ’til the break’s gone,

Until the night resumes its stealthy crawl,

Exhaling with a stirring wind that flies

Up, stirring blossoms upward to the skies,

Their petals dropping, ash-like, down the wall,

Crape-myrtle petals drifting down below

In waves of amethyst, a summer snow.Digital illustration from a photo: Amethyst Snow

Foodie Tuesday: Been There, Eaten That

Travel: good. Travel while eating delicious foods along the way: fabulous. Puerto Rico last week: a joy.

We went there for a specific reason, to attend the wedding of loved friends. But if one, well, has to go to an island paradise for any reason, one might as well enjoy as many other  aspects of said island as possible during the visit. So we did that, too. Good excuse to try out a few of the classic traditional foods of the place, enjoy a few modern additions, and relish the marvelous atmosphere that makes it all taste so wonderful.

Photo: Bacalaítos

Bacalaítos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacala%C3%ADto) are a delicious small bite, fried seasoned salt cod that is often served with a dipping sauce to complement it—for example, here, a buttery garlic sauce; elsewhere, a sweet-bright guava sauce. When beautifully made, as tender and light as the most fabulous fish cakes or fish-and-chips cod anywhere.

Photo: Kitty Cat Fried Eggs

While we did sample our way through the trip, we couldn’t manage to eat *everything* on offer. I was left wondering what precisely this menu item was, if not eggs produced and cooked by felines, but it amused me to ponder on it all the same.

Photo: In Lieu of Ginger Ale

If what’s requested isn’t available, sometimes what you get might be even more fitting for the occasion. No ginger ale? Coconut soda suits a casual meal of Puerto Rican treats just fine!

Photo: Fried Pork Luncheon

A delicious lunch of fried pork, beans and rice, and tostones goes down ever so nicely and makes perfect fuel for a busy afternoon of exploration in San Juan Viejo, especially when eaten with a massive side order of mofongo.

Photo: The Apotheosis of Limeade

The current crisis of the Mexican lime crop notwithstanding, the fabulously refreshing limeade at Cueva del Mar is jammed with both limes and flavor.

Photo: Egg-Battered Shrimp

Seafood reigns supreme in island culture, and with good reason. The egg-battered prawns my spouse ordered were fresh and sweet and tender. Better yet, they were plentiful enough he was willing to share some with me. Hurray for seafood!

Photo: Conch Empanadillas

I, meanwhile, opted to get my first taste of conch. Also tender and flavorful! Diced up and seasoned as they were, they reminded me a little of something about halfway between ham and clams. And all the way delicious.

Photo: Yummy Little Fried Pies

I started with shrimp and mahi-mahi empanadillas, because despite the server’s assurance that my initial choices of conch and crab were her two favorite varieties, the kitchen was entirely out of them at the moment. Turns out they were *all* tasty little fried hand pies.

Photo: Mamposteao

One of the clear favorites in the dish derby of our trip was Mamposteao, the glorious beans-and-rice concoction originating as leftover bean stew mixed with rice and cooked in a hot pan until it develops a crisp crust around its tender and succulent insides. (https://www.google.com/search?q=mamposteao&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=z16BU7r7GdWVqAakwYLgBQ&ved=0CEEQsAQ&biw=1328&bih=763). We ordered it more than once, and I think I could eat it more than once a *week* if given the chance.

Photo: Madame St. Germain

A lovely drink, the Madame St. Germain; simply add a splash of St. Germain (elderflower) liqueur to a flute of Prosecco, and splish-splash, you have a sparkling glass of sunlight at any time of day or evening.

Photo: Chocolate Grilled Cheese

As it happens, the Madame St. Germain goes beautifully with the chocolate grilled cheese sandwiches at the magical Casa Cortés ChocoBar, made of brioche, cheddar and cocoa-blended butter and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar just in case you didn’t feel delightedly decadent enough already.

Photo: Swiss Pastries

Even with my seemingly boundless appetite, sometimes there were actual items I couldn’t quite manage to eat. It didn’t stop my wandering, food-lustful eyes from enjoying every bit, though, as in the Swiss bakery where we went with our friends to pick up a birthday cake. Because having a big wedding celebration for his sister and the opening of his new brewpub wasn’t quite enough celebrating for one fantastic man.

Photo: the Wedding Cake

There *was* a glamorous and deliciously moist wedding cake, should you wonder, and I assume it came from that same phantasmagorical bakery. So beautiful, so happily massacred by the hungry after-wedding crowd.

Photo: Pork, and All the Trimmings

But first there was the buffet of roasted pork with all of the trimmings: an unfussy and freshly crisp salad, more delicious rice and beans, what I believe were pasteles (a sort of tamale cousin—http://www.theawl.com/2012/11/puerto-rican-pasteles) and, oh yes, more pork.

Photo: The Pig in All Its Glory

All of the wedding feast was magnificent, but the star is and was, as it should be, the roasted pig in all its shiny, juicy, crackling-skinned glory.

What, you want more? Of course there was more, and plenty of it, beginning with a scrumptious party at the bride’s brother’s brewery (try saying that trifecta after a couple of glasses of his spectacularly creamy Scotch Porter style beer, infused with just a touch of Puerto Rican rum!) with all kinds of pizza made on the spot, my favorite of which was bacon and sweet plantains. We succeeded in eating more than was necessary, but not more than was enjoyable, on every single day of our visit, not counting having to get up at 4:30 on the last one to get to the airport on time. And I will certainly get right on board, fork in hand, with the opportunity to revisit the island and all of its culinary kindnesses any time I get the chance. You probably should, too.

No Man is an Island, and Sometimes Going to an Island is a Good Reminder

photoWe had this adventure, my man and I. Went to an island. A lovely one called Puerto Rico. We spent a week on that beautiful piece of Caribbean land and enjoyed the break from our everyday Real Life, the immersion in nature and its marvelous native birds and insects and flora and the wash of its rolling waves on luxuriant green shores.

The quiet was exceedingly welcome.

But our reason for the trip wasn’t isolation and retreat. We went for the wedding of dear friends. And the wedding of a Puerto Rican woman with a big, loving family and a lot of friends to a North American man bringing his own contingent of supporters from Canada and the US is not a place to go and lie low with the covers pulled up over one’s head.

As if it weren’t already too warm and humid to be curled up under a duvet.

So we had the fantastic experience of being drawn into this jolly, joyous gathering and treated like more members of the extended family, and along with our enjoyment of being on that wonderful island, we had the perfect reminder of what’s so great about being surrounded by dear and tremendous people and how the pleasures of the place, the travel, the newness and beauties not previously experienced, all are enhanced so richly by the good company.

It’s why I spend so much time in the good company of my blogging and blog-reading companions, of course, but as always, it takes a change of scenery to remind me of what I should already know. It’s good to be home, and all the more so when I’ve been away. Here, I am once again awash in a sea of friends and loved ones, and I am doubly glad.

Brilliance Then and Now and Yet to Come

digital illustrationIris, in her long-legged elegance, has been for many years, a queenly inspiration among the flowers for me. Iris played a starring role in both the print materials and the floral arrangements gracing our wedding, being a great favorite of both my partner’s and mine. Not surprisingly, we cultivated irises in our own garden; my mother and a good friend living on my parents’ street also had many lovely varieties of iris growing at home. Our choice to use flowers only from those three gardens for the day of our nuptials meant we could still embrace our love of these tall violet beauties and their gracefully graphic long leaves as much as we liked.

Part of my desire for my physical leftovers to be cremated after my death is, admittedly, driven too by this love, since I know that iris plants often enjoy a little taste of ash to amend their beds. If it turns out that human ashes aren’t the kind they like, please refrain from filling me in on that and I’ll just let my survivors figure out where to surreptitiously and inoffensively dump mine and meanwhile go forth to my death happy in the thought that I’ll enhance some floral glory in my own little way.

I’d like to live a meaningful and purposeful life before dying anyway, to be sure. I’d be happy to know that my time on this plane is a good thing for more than just my own pleasure, but since I am not endowed with any mythic powers I know that my impact, for good or ill, will be modest. And that’s quite all right; it’s the path of nearly all mortals’ lives, and we who make up the chorus are necessary support for the brilliance of the marquee stars, the soloists, those few who make their mark with art or invention or discovery or any of those kinds of shining accomplishments. But I live in hope, too, that even if my shining moment doesn’t come in my years on earth, it might be achieved when I am back in the earth. So look kindly, when you see them, upon irises, for one day I hope to be smiling back at you from in their midst.

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

The Way It Ought to Be

graphite drawing + textI’m not what you might think of as a big traditionalist in the ways of romance–at least, if you think of those things packaged in the way that American commercial enterprise would have us think the norm or the appropriate mode. It may be that I’m a little too tomboy at heart and in physique to wear either the girly or the sexy look with any credible panache. There’s more than a small chance that I’m too lazy and cheap to buy cards and flowers for my nearest and dearest with any regularity. Chocolates, yes, but you know that I’m going to expect to share in their consumption. I’m far from selfless enough to be a true romantic either, I guess. Otherwise, around our place the romantic expressions are more often found in filling an empty gas tank, caulking the shower door, making lunch, washing socks. All of that sort of glamorous stuff.

I’m so unromantic in the popular sense, in fact, that despite being both shy and kind of prudish, I moved in with my intended life partner before I married him–yes, before I even warned him of my intent to marry him. Or to stick to him like glue for the rest of my life if he was shy of the whole getting-married thing, having done that before. Despite my love of pomp and circumstance and ritual, I was prepared to forgo the whole dress-up extravaganza and either commit to the partnership in heart and hand only or just keep the legal transactions simple and stand in front of a Justice of the Peace somewhere and then party later with family and friends. (Because, let’s face it, any excuse for a good and love-filled party is not entirely to be passed by, wishes for simplicity aside.)

As it turned out, we had a pretty spectacular wedding day, but it was really icing on the proverbial cake. One of the central beauties of that day was an anthem composed for us by our dear friend, with a text my intended chose from the enigmatic and marvelous Song of Songs that includes the phrase ‘love is as strong as death’–this accompanied by other close friends playing organ and horn and a superb choir of yet more friends (also conducted by the composer). Hard to get more romantic than that. But that was all well after I’d realized that a big spectacle wasn’t necessary to validate the spectacular thing that had already happened within.

All of this because at some point pretty early in our relationship, I knew with complete and unshakeable conviction that when I was with this person I was where I ought to be. It was so clearly and plainly the place and state in which I was meant to exist that I felt it in my bones. I was at home in his house the first time I stopped by for a visit–even though you all know full well that I reinvented that physical space from Day One around the two of us. The music that I heard was not just the glorious sound of his choirs welling up around me but was also a new rhythm in my heartbeat that was more confident, more joyful, and more purely contented than it had ever felt before, in those days before I even knew it could feel this lovely new way. A new sense of the world skewing into proper perspective that suffused my brain.

And that, to me, is how true romance ought to be. Genuinely loving and playful and silly and passionate and supportive and all of that, yes, but most of all, merely having the recognizable quality of a homecoming, every single time we come together. Flowers and candy and frills and thrills are all very welcome in their own right, but they have nothing on a sense of wholeness that only grows with time and no matter how it evolves and changes iterations over the years, will not go away. It is both transcendent and, when it’s so well ingrained and incorporated in the truest sense, also wonderfully, perfectly ordinary.

Today, on my beloved‘s birthday, I have another reason to remember all of the reasons why I am grateful for him and his place in my life and my love–and I in his.

Beloved Mysterious

Beloved Mysterious, if you could see

The blood-dark river hid inside of me

With longing deep as chasms unexplored

Through which, from which, in which that love is poured

In endless flood of hope and of desire

As hot and wild and dangerous as fire

Then you would know the depth, the liquid breath

That carries love for you beyond my death.