There's been a fair amount of activity in our home these past few days.
My sister came with her three children. Of course I must sound partial as an auntie, but they are truly amazing kids. Incredibly smart, incredibly sweet, incredibly cute.
Way to go, Katrina.
Of the greatest blessings in life, one is surely the gift of children. If not your own, then someone else's...just the pleasure of their company, watching them grow, seeing the world through their eyes.
This one is named Jack and he melts my heart. He has always been a little shy around me but with this visit we became fast friends. He's only 2 1/2 yet speaks very clearly and has for the past year or so. One afternoon he came looking for me and when he found me I said, "What do you need, Jack?"
And he said, simply, "YOU."
Then he climbed on my lap and talked to me for about an hour until he fell asleep.
You cannot measure my happiness in having him around. That goes for all my nieces and nephews...and of course my own girls, too.
They each have such distinct personalities, yet I see in them some glimpse of my siblings--a strange, familiar connection to old memories, some distant, wild rumpus which came down from the northland and still echoes through the trees.
One morning Jack got up and went outside. When he came back in the house my husband asked, "Is it cold out there?"
His response: "Not the air I was breathing, but underneath my feet it was."
Thanksgiving Day was lovely. This is the first Thanksgiving I've hosted...well, that's not entirely true. This is the first American Thanksgiving I've hosted. Eighteen people, with the ratio of children to adults seeming to escalate as the night wore on.
Did it make me reconsider my religious abstinence of booze?
For one fleeting moment, perhaps. But don't worry. I'm pretty good at teetotaling and feeling the room spin anyway.
It turns out there's a few logistics to laying out a feast properly. It starts with realizing you're the mom and if you don't make it happen, no one else will. Holy cow. Will someone please help me uncurl from my fetal position??
That news came as a bit of a shock to my system.
But I nailed the trifecta, namely: a pretty table, an exotic dish no one but me, my sister, and sister-in-law enjoyed, and, of course, addictive gravy.
The table: an homage to the woodland creatures of my childhood. Who better to share one's feast with than some darling, feral varmints?
The exotic dish? Why, cranberry chutney, of course. A concoction requiring me to crush ten whole cloves with the flat of my blade (I believe they said knife, but I'm saying blade).
When I read that step in the recipe, I practically shouted eureka! I knew it was the dish for me.
But don't forget what I told you about cloves, dear reader. Don't think you can use them without them using you back. Don't think you can go to sleep at night and not expect a knock on the door, and that a lone clove won't be standing there with a baseball bat, calling in a favor.
Oh, and it's never a lone clove. There's always more in the bushes.
A word about my gravy. Some people deal habit forming drugs. I deal habit forming gravy. What can I tell you? I've been brewing it since I was three. It makes the wild caribou I bring down with my bare hands just that much more palatable.
My sister-in-law went to bed that night dreaming about my gravy. The next morning she texted me to ensure there was enough for leftovers and to provide her with a straw when she returned for lunch. For the next few days, everything she ate was drizzled in gravy, including the pie.
Last night, my brother called me in a panic, asking how to make gravy.
I was all: Tim, that's like me asking you how to perform surgery. I cannot distill in one moment wisdom which took me a lifetime to glean.
But then I distilled it because I remembered the wild look in Maddi's eyes.
Don't worry, Maddi. One of these days I'm going to build a factory and in it there will be a river which churns gravy. Piping hot, savory gravy of the perfect taste and consistency which goes to the very pleasure core of one's brain. And I will give you a super long straw so you don't have to lean over to drink because I've already reviewed the worst case scenario of that situation and trust me, it's not pretty.
The weekend wore on and there was a surprise appearance by my brother, Matt. This is the brother we rarely see because he's always off in India doing something much too brilliant for me to try and explain.
There was one darling girl and her many darling outfits.
There were easy moments of laying around, watching movies, visiting, and napping.
There was one essential run in the desert wherein nothing could have kept up with me or my thoughts.
There was a trip to a store my sister rarely has a chance to visit. It was filled with Christmasy things, with exotic candies and objects from around the world.
Cousins kept track of cousins, each thrilled with his/her part of the bargain.
And it went on like this: hanging around, enjoying one another's company, occasionally telling the kids not to put jelly beans in the hot tub, wondering if they'd smuggled an elephant upstairs.
Baking cookies just because Jack's eyes lit up when I suggested it, making me feel like the most brilliant auntie in the whole wide world.
Tell me you wouldn't make a zillion cookies for this face. I bet you're mixing the butter and sugar as we speak.
And this morning, suddenly, everyone is gone. The house is quiet, but in a way it still feels full. I haven't been out to survey the hot tub yet...would it surprise you to know I'll be disappointed if it's not a fine, Eastery egg shade of purple?
I don't mean to be so dramatic, dear reader. Life is busy, yes, but not unmanageable. At least not unmanageable by the competent among us.
Sometimes I wonder if I should flesh out more of the backstory here at Tollipop? Like, some of the less rosy anecdotes? You know the ones: those high blood pressure moments wherein you thought you had an understanding with your child, you looked each other in the eye and had an understanding, you had a verbal understanding, you even had a written one, and then 24 hours later what happened to the understanding??!
Listen, I try not to rattle those skeletons out of respect for privacy and of course my time limit here at this blog. Franchement, if I tried to give you all the grim details, the harrowing tales from the trenches, the moments when I search frantically for an eject button because there must be one around here somewhere, well, darling...(cue glittering, coloratura laughter)...that would simply take ages!!
Just please know it's not all captivating papercuts and dizzying passages on the violin around here, not all sweet little redheads reading Nancy Drew on their walks home from school and me bounding around in a cat hat, even though I do have a cat hat and admittedly bound around in it all the time.
I just hope you assume, when you look at these pretty pictures, that this of course is not the sum total of our lives. I hope, if you ever think of me, you don't picture a tranquil, zen being floating around with her pantry alphabetically ordered, but rather a wild-eyed rabbit being chased through the desert, plagued by the fear she's missed a carpool or forgotten American Thanksgiving by one measly week.
But guess what? I made these coconut cupcakes for Caroline's birthday party and they were so yummy they should be illegal. And I know exactly when American Thanksgiving is this year. And today my little sister and her three darling kids are coming to spend it with us. And my brother and his family, too. I've been at Trader Joes three times in the last 48 hours. I'm not messing this thing up, at least not a lot.
It's going to be awesome...skeletons and all. For sure, the skeletons.
You have to have them, dear reader. And be sort of grateful for them, too.
Otherwise your life is just some smooth, slick blog.
Dear reader, as the holidays approach and the temperature drops, there's only one place to find yourself and it's not Starbucks, even though I have nothing against a good cup of hot chocolate.
I'm talking about a noodle house, dear reader.
Ramen Sora will do nicely.
These friends make ideal noodle house companions, especially as one is Japanese and could discreetly steer me with such insider tips as: men may slurp their noodles like hogs, but women are expected to be a tad more...how do I say in Japanese? Discreet.
Too bad she told me that while I was channeling my inner hog! Oh well--one full body wipedown later and I was practically ready to perform a tea ceremony, franchement.
It's not that I can't be discreet, dear reader. I can. Granted, it's a bit more difficult when the food excites me, but Japanese culture has nothing on this Canadian farmgirl when it comes to reserve.
Just let me chain my inner wolf to a rock out in the middle of nowhere and it's game on.
A word about the broth. Typically I believe there are three options: miso, shio, and shoyu.
If I were you, I'd chose the miso. Not that I have anything against shio or shoyu, because I don't.
It's just that the miso is...how do I say in Japanese? Sensuous.
Can a broth be sensuous, dear reader? Can it make you blush, look down at the floor, and titter? Can it make the room spin, can it make you forget what you were talking about, can it hold you spellbound with its unmistakeable look of desire? Can it make you forget the time? Can it make you lose your breath? Can it make you speak Japanese??
That's miso ramen, dear reader. It doesn't come on strong, but trust me.
It comes on.
In case you're wondering whether Tollipop is sufficiently monolithic that businesses approach me for endorsement, I assure you it's just the two of us at this tea party, dear reader.
Just the two or three of us.
In other words, if I happen to recommend a product such as this darling address stamp from Paperwink, please know my only incentive is to coax more loveliness into the world.
Just whisper paperwink and the loveliness begins...it's the type of word that lets you end on a smile.
Moving along, Sophie wore three inch heels to school the other day. Let's see...she's 6"2. Can someone please help me with the math?
Caroline + matched socks = one slightly crestfallen mother
Finally, there is Izzy. The other night she was invited to perform with a symphony orchestra comprised mainly of professional and teaching musicians from the community...an experience which required hours of rehearsal and the opportunity to be on stage at the Smith Center--a stunning venue here in Las Vegas which hearkens back to the great opera houses of old.
Izzy + a full symphony orchestra + being on stage at the Smith Center = a girl happier than I have ever seen her to the power of ten
Can levitation be expressed in algebraic form?
Since I first came across this tiny seahorse several years ago, the feeling it evokes--the wonder and delight--has hovered at the forefront, meandered about, and eventually tucked itself away in the dark recesses of my mind.
But it's never gone away altogether.
So one day out of the blue, when I wasn't really thinking about anything in particular, I purchased it.
That's how I buy things: years of pent up longing, a weird, unguarded moment, and presto!
They're to be found in the shop of Aminyitray, in case you are like me and have a penchant for small curiosities, for natural oddities and uncommon things, for tiny, magical worlds.
Even better, I've found a new reason to wear the reading glasses I don't quite need yet, another purchase based on years of longing, which make me feel dizzy when I put them on but allow me to admire Mr. Percy on an intimate, molecular level.
I've always had an interest in writing music but alas, my hazy grasp on the space-time continuum insinuates itself into every possible scenario, including the one wherein music has the audacity to demand not only a penchant for melody but the ability to measure and divide notes in an orderly fashion.
Sorry--will someone please turn off the lights?--those last eight words just gave me a raging headache.
At any rate, over the years I've made up many melodies but when it came time to commit them to paper, I'd get so frustrated with the meter my ensuing fits made Beethoven look like an altar boy.
Enter Finale. It's a computer program many composers use to write music, which I purchased and figured out how to use all by myself.
Perhaps you're not as impressed with this claim as I clearly am. Would it help you to know in our marriage I'm the girl who can bring down a caribou using nothing but her bare hands, while my husband is the guy who knows how to program our house to talk? Yes, it's true. It's very much like medieval girl meets boy from the future around here, so anytime I demonstrate any degree of facility with anything more modern than a water pump, it actually shocks my husband to the point he's willing to accept the possiblity of witchcraft.
For my part, I never know if the house is going to let me in or not.
Back to Finale: it certainly doesn't do the work for the composer, but it helped me stay within the boundaries of the meter and see more readily how to fix problems as they occurred.
At any rate, here is the song. It's a first take recording (on my iPhone, franchement), completely unplugged, but I assure you the performance was very moving in person.
And yes, I'm still accepting applications for the choir. I would love for you to join! The only prerequisites are you must protest you have no idea how to sing, plus affirm your adoration of sticky buns.
psalm (click here for audio)
Redeem me, Lord, in thy mercy,
Do not forget the troubles of my heart,
For unto thee, I lift my spirit,
Please keep me close, I cannot bear to part.
Remember, Lord, thy tender loving kindness,
Distill it now as in the days of old,
Come back for me when from thy paths I wander,
Please find me, Lord, and bring me to thy fold.
Oh, leave me not to find my way alone, Lord,
The path is dark, and shadows linger still,
Hide not thy face, turn not away from me, Lord,
Wilt thou with hope, my lonely spirit fill?
Help me to see myself through thine eyes,
Hear thou my voice and answer when I call,
Strengthen my heart and keep me from temptation,
From thine esteem please never let me fall.
Protect me, Lord, and bind my troubled spirit,
Hold me close and soothe my weary soul,
May I find rest in thee for all my sorrows,
And may thy love restore and make me whole.
Redeem me, Lord, in thy mercy.
When we came home from church later that day, I paused to contemplate the languid suspension of these lemons (from our tree!) until my zen moment was interrupted by two girls fighting.
What was the fight about?
To this day I'm not sure, and if I tried to explain it to you the last three neurons holding my brain together would fizzle and burst.
But that didn't prevent my girls from vociferously (each, at the same time) laying out the details of the dispute: the intricacies of blame, the betrayals, the mean looks, the snippy comments...until finally I channeled my inner King Solomon and told them to stop or I'd solve matters Old Testament style.
As it was, I made them hug it out.
Of course they wanted nothing to do with each other.
But they took one look at the look on my face.
And did it.
Sophie gave me this papercut over the weekend and it took my breath away. It took my breath away because it is a tiny, magical world, filled with wonder, details, dimension, and light.
It took my breath away because, and she couldn't know this, it is similar to something I often imagine in my mind's eye.
It took my breath away because my daughter made it. She envisioned this scene and translated it into a tangible piece. Sophie has such a gift for coaxing ideas from her mind and letting them take shape, yet little time to do so. These past several years it seems her schedule has been dominated by volleyball, schoolwork, and sleep.
So I've been grateful for the end of her school volleyball season and the brief hiatus before club season begins...it's lovely to have a rested, creative Sophie around the house.
She's greatly inspired by the work of Elsita, an admiration we all share around here. Are you familiar with Elsita's work, dear reader? I sometimes think she wandered down from Mt. Olympus, her touch upon this world so evokes the divine.
The other day Sophie was cleaning her room and found this little drawing from when she was eight or nine years old. I love how you can see the underwater detail of the little twig paddle. It tells me something about her.
Oh, paper--the magic and possibility of a fresh, clean sheet! It's the place where scribbles, blobs, and stick figures grow into greater ideas. Where children learn to be quiet and alone with their thoughts, where words and images appear and take the observer a million miles away.
No matter how sophisticated we become, no matter how advanced, there is nothing like the weight and heft of paper. Nothing like its cool creaminess or buttery softness. Nothing like the experience of setting a pencil upon it, or watching color seep into it. There's nothing like trying to bend a line until it is just right. Or folding paper to create a shape. Or making a series of small, precise cuts to release an image which was always trapped therein.
With paper, the possibilities are infinite. I'm glad it's a part of Sophie's world.
What is it like having Izzy in the house? It feels like my soul has a friend. An old, dear friend who goes back with me further than I can remember, who is so familiar it seems there was never a time we didn't know each other, there was never a time I didn't love her.
She fills our home with music, with breathtaking waterfalls of sound cascading from her violin, with her lovely, haunting voice, with the strumming of her ukelele and more recently, her guitar. She is so connected to music, sometimes I think it's her first tongue. She learns quickly, she hears precisely, she feels deeply.
At night I often hear her voice floating down from her bedroom. No matter what I'm doing, my heart follows her melody. Sometimes she comes and perches herself on my bed when it is late and we are sleepy, and the gentle chords and her soft singing bring warmth and a glow.
Yesterday she auditioned to perform as a soloist with the Las Vegas Philharmonic.
We spent most of the day together, just the two of us. I think she may have felt the pressure, but for me it was a relaxing experience. I watch her with love and awe, always thinking back to my darling, ferocious baby and seeing how her passion has found such a beautiful outlet through music.
Everything is good when Izzy is around. And when it's not good, it gets better soon. She's the type of person with whom you wouldn't want to waste a single moment being anything other than the best of friends.
Last night my husband and I saw the new James Bond movie, Skyfall. I left the theatre feeling charged, invincible, as if I could blast a hole through a frozen Scottish loch, fall into the icy water while grappling with a henchman, and kill him with my own bare hands.
Just, like, for example.
At any rate, the theatre had been filled to capacity and there was a steady stream of moviegoers flowing down the aisle. As I walked down the steps, I passed an elderly woman with a cane, hunched over and trying to exit her row of seats. The momentum of the crowd whisked me away, but not before I registered her frailty and the very real possibility of her falling and being trampled to smithereens.
What could I do?
What would James Bond do??
Well, I'd just seen what he would do and let me tell you, he was all for taking care of little old ladies.
So I pivoted and surged back through the crowd, a risk not unlike that of leaping upon a speeding locomotive or dangling from the cables of an elevator headed for the zillionth floor. I mean, it's not totally like those risks but it's not totally unlike them, either.
I reached the little old lady and offered my assistance. Honestly, she was in a bit of distress and gratefully accepted. The crowd was young and boisterous--clearly hooligans, all--but that did not prevent me from using my body as a human shield and stopping them in their tracks. Really. I actually held out my arm and said the toughest thing I could think of, which was: I beg your pardon. Only it sounded much tougher than I beg your pardon. It sounded like I wasn't begging for anything, if you know what I'm saying.
Can you imagine that? Me?? The girl who thinks it would be neat to be a chameleon so no one could ever see her?
Listen, two hours of James Bond will do that to a person. Two hours of James Bond will turn an otherwise timorous gentlewoman into a cold-blooded wrecking machine.
And I know those people saw it in my eyes. I know they looked at me and thought: whoa, there's no telling what that dame could do.
I escorted the little old lady down the steps and delivered her to her husband, a just as elderly little man who winked at me in appreciation.
You can imagine how fantastic I felt. How intrepid. How powerful.
Yet before we left the theatre altogether, I asked my husband to wait while I used the restroom. Upon exiting the stalls I discovered, to my chagrin, that none of the automatic faucets appeared to be working. I waved my hands under each one, trying to trigger the sensor, but to no avail.
Then, who should appear at my side but my dear little evacuee?
She looked at me, smiled, and said: this is how you do it.
And passing her hands beneath the faucet, the water turned on.
Oh, franchement, dear reader. Must life always present such cruel twists of fate? Must I be stripped of my valor before the self-congratulations have dimmed and lost their glow?
Must the little old lady whom I legitimately rescued from harm's way then turn around and teach me how to wash my hands??
You know, I don't ask for much. I don't ask to be the real James Bond. I don't ask for a chiseled jaw and steel blue eyes, or to move through a casino like a moody jungle cat, liquefying the bones of anyone who presumes to stand in my way. But I wouldn't mind imagining it for five minutes, franchement, without the antediluvian amongst us bringing to my attention just how painfully so this is not the case.