Saturday, January 28, 2017

Week One

It's been quite a week.
  • The immediate ban on refugees from seven Muslim countries
  • Bannon on National Security Council, Chairman of Joint Chiefs out
  • The gag order for the EPA, USDA, National Park Service
  • The ban on funding for international health programs that offer abortion
  • Pulling out of the Pacific Trade partnership
  • Building the wall
  • Restarting DAPL
  • Gutting "Obamacare"/ACA
  • Government hiring freeze
  • Deleting the LGBT page and climate change page from
  • Going after the NEA/NEH, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Also the Endangered Species Act
  • Obsession with size of his inaugural crowds and voter fraud
  • Ignoring the Women's March
  • Not divesting from his companies
  • Not releasing his taxes
  • "Alternative facts"
And those are just the ones I'm coming up with right off the top.

I know that dear old Mr. Rogers said, in times of emergency, to look to the helpers.  Here are just a few:

  • Dan Rather's News and Guts
  • The 2.9 million people at various Women's Marches in the U.S. (and on all seven continents!), including numerous people I know
  • Plans for marches by scientists, LGBT pride, and more.
  • The alt nps twitter feed
  • New Yorkers rushing to JFK to help detained Muslim travelers
  • #cuteanimaltweetoff
And so, the first week is over.  I wonder if all of his announcements and executive orders are a strategy to overwhelm and exhaust democrats, liberals, the opposition.   And I am overwhelmed and exhausted by the election and the new presidency.

And I haven't yet figured what to do exactly, besides petitions and phone calls and donations.  But I'm still paying attention.

And I won't be silent.

Stay woke, as they say, people.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Sing Out, Louise!"

Loved the clouds and mist--and this was the non-foggy day!

What an amazing weekend at Kripalu!!  So much to tell you about my singing workshop and the weekend itself.

Way back in fifth grade, as we prepared to enter sixth, I considered joining the junior high school choir because I loved to sing.  But a friend warned me off, saying you had to sing alone in front of the whole choir.  That did it; I signed up for art and spent months drawing a single bottle with a pencil.  Blah.  I tried singing again in Chicago in the all-women Artemis Singers but didn't stay with it too long because I was too self-conscious.  (And practices were far away.)  And so, as an adult, I've fulfilled my love of singing at home with the family casually, in the car to the radio, at church for 2-3 hymns a week, and as a Girl Scout leader.  I'm a great group singer--I just follow along, with more enthusiasm than talent.  I'm terrible with lyrics but very good at inventing them.

And I sing to my hospice patients.  Once patients pass a certain point on their dying journey, they don't really respond to conversation anymore.  But they like to feel a visitor's presence and so I sing.  I try to sing soft things--"Amazing Grace," if they are religious (there are sometimes rosaries or prayer cards and the like on the nightstand), or familiar songs like "Simple Gifts" and "Love Me Tender."  I carry the lyrics around in case I forget.  Sometimes I sing for 30 minutes or more, moving into lullabies, folk songs, and various simple chants.  And I repeat.

When I saw that Kripalu offered The Natural Singer workshop, I decided to take it--to boost my confidence and to acquire some singing techniques, skills, warm ups that would stand me in good stead.  And it did all that and more.

Of course, when I signed up way back when, I had no idea there would be a Woman's March (much less not a woman president.)  Sigh.  Marching isn't my thing, physically, so I didn't cancel the class.

The Workshop
Saw lots of fun patterns for Zentangle
There were 30 people in our group, ranging from little singing ability to professional (albeit ones who desired improvement); only three were men.  I was definitely one of the youngest, with maybe two or three others--the rest were in their 50s and 60s.  Almost all white.  (So, very much like Kripalu itself--middle aged, white, female.)

Our teacher was Claude Stein, an industry professional who has worked as a vocal coach, producer, and now, in addition, teaches these workshops to encourage non- and budding professionals.  He says he tried his hand at writing but found he could make a career out of vocal coaching.  His ear and his skill with impromptu piano playing were impressive!

I don't want to say too much about the class itself, knowing that he offers it several times a year and earns his livelihood from it, in part.  Besides, I'm not really qualified to accurately describe the theories and practices.

So, the class was organized around warm ups and exercises AND personal vocal coaching.  For the first two of ten hours, we learned ways to improve our voice, our instrument.  Mainly, we focused on lowering the voice box, checking pitch, loosening our jaws, etc., through "nyawn," "MMMmmmm," "bum bum bum," "eh-gah-eh," lip thrills, etc.  We also did a lot of call and response, repeat-after-me singing.  And we even paired up with another person and sang directly to them.

Together, we sang alleluia, "We Shall Overcome," "This Little Light of Mine," "How Could Anyone?," and, one of my new favorites, "It's in Every One of Us."  Yes, lots of relatively liberal, feel-good songs that we sing at my Unitarian Universalist church, too--perfect for the day of the inauguration and the day of the Women's March.

We started each session with some exercises and some group singing.  And then we had vocal coaching.  I sang "Mama Loves Me," by Deidre McCalla, the lullaby about two mothers and their rainbow-color kids.  I know it backwards and forwards and thought I could sing it without panicking. I'd considered "Water is Wide" and "Summertime" but wasn't confident of the lyrics under pressure.

Oh, the pressure.  I was so nervous.  And it actually got worse as I sang, so that my voice shook.  And I got teared up.  It wasn't just singing in front of people, or singing the song from the kiddos' babyhood; it was also having discussed my hospice work beforehand.  "So," he asked, "yours is probably the last song they hear?" or something to that effect.  Yeah, I hadn't quite considered it that way.  But yes, I have sung in several cases the last music patients have heard, to the best of my knowledge (I'm rarely there at the very end.)  He said more than once that I did good, important work.  And immediately, a few of my class started tearing up (especially when I did, but several of us were cryers.)

Oddly, really oddly, I sang so much higher than I usually do.  I don't know if I started off to high or if it was the physiology of it--he suggested it was the energy of the moment, when I asked--but he said "the fragile thing" worked for my voice and needs.  Can't usually belt or jam out in a hospice setting, it's true.  And so I practiced gentleness, smoothness, tenderness.  He applauded that I sang right through the emotion, that I just kept going even when it made my voice unreliable.  He tried to get me to dispel my fears with some call-and-response, first loud (even with stomping my foot and belting) and then softly ("I have the voice of an angel.  I bring love.  I bring peace.")  It was all very emotional.  (Three people came up to me afterwards, two with hospice stories, and one with a bisexual daughter.  It meant a lot to me to talk to them.)

It was easier to listen to, learn from, and clap for everyone else once I was done!  He met each person where she or he was (we had let him know what we wanted--I wanted more confidence and skill to sing to my hospice patients), from beginner all the way to pro.  And he was always encouraging, even when he was fierce or funny or had us say "fuck!"  I learned so much just listening--and there was some great music and new songs and touching breakthroughs.

On Saturday night, many of the group met informally for karaoke.  We sang a lot of women's empowerment music--"I Will Survive," "Natural Woman," "These Boots were Made for Walking," etc.  I sang both "Cottonfields" and "Summertime" a cappella, just because I didn't want to have to chase the karaoke accompaniment.  And this time my voice was more like my regular singing voice, lower.  But with more resonance--all those low voice box and jaw exercises.  I liked it.  And these women were fun--we laughed and sang and cheered together for two hours.

I can already tell that I have more confidence in my singing, not because I'm that much better, but because I know I enjoy it and that there really isn't anything to be embarrassed about--even if I go higher than I'm used to, forget the lyrics, bottom out on the low notes, get off key, or forget the tune.  It's more about my passion and emotional expression.  And that is a priceless gift from this weekend.

Even better:  I signed up for weekly online exercises, particularly because I know I'll forget aspects of the ones we tried.  I've already practiced today!  (Don't laugh, but I think there have been two unexpected benefits:  singing exercises my core AND the jaw and throat exercises seem to have helped the ear pressure which contributed to my hearing loss issues!!!)  I've also made a Kripalu play list with some of the songs people sang this weekend, many of which were new to me--"How Can I Keep From Singing?," "Give Yourself to Love," "Moonshadow."  I love learning new songs.

We ended the weekend with a sing along, finishing with Kate Wolf's "Give Yourself to Love," which really encapsulated the weekend.

Kind friends all gathered 'round, there's something I would say:
That what brings us together here has blessed us all today.
Love has made a circle that holds us all inside.
Where strangers are as family, loneliness can't hide.
You must give yourself to love if love is what you're after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.
I've walked these mountains in the rain and learned to love the wind;
I've been up before the sunrise to watch the day begin.
I've always knew I'd find you, though I never did know how;
Like sunshine on a cloudy day stand before me now.
So give yourself to love if love is what you're after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.
Love is born in fire; it's planted like a seed.
Love can't give you everything, but it gives you what you need.
And love comes when you're ready, love comes when you're afraid;
It'll be your greatest teacher, the best friend you have made.
So give yourself to love if love is what you're after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.
Give yourself to love if love is what you're after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love

And you know I love many aspects of Kripalu--the food, the labyrinth, the amazing mountain scenery, the gift shop!  Yeah, it's a little hard for me to be around all those extremely fit bodies in extremely revealing Lycra yoga clothes.  At least it was winter and they were more covered up--no mid-drifts or obvious camel-toes because of the long shirts.  If I didn't have body issues, being at Kripalu would probably give me some--though, no one treated me any differently.

Some of the food:

  • breakfast:  masala soy chai, steel cut oatmeal, quinoa or millet "cream," egg bakes with turkey bacon or kale and the like, buckwheat blueberry muffins, Kripalu granola, roasted potatoes.
  • lunch and dinner:  mixed greens with House Dressing, macaroni and cheese, squash "mac", pad thai, Sesame Tofu, chipotle chicken, sauteed kale, roasted roots, curried egg salad, vegan spread, chicken with green peppercorn sauce, white fish with fennel and onion, and others I can't recall now . . . 
  • Iced Moroccan Mint tea, vanilla cake, banana bread with whipped cream
And, for the first time, I did Yoga Dance (with teacher Michelle Dalbec.)  I'm not sure how to explain it.  It's more interpretive dance than yoga, in that there are no poses or choreography.  You respond to prompts--make a pattern with your feet or your arms, use your left side or your right mainly, dance to the rhythm, dance the spirit of forgiveness . . . I can't think of all the prompts.  She quoted Jewel Mathieson's poem about high-powered dance, referred to the 5Rhythms work of Gabrielle Roth, even quoted Stravinsky ("I haven't understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.")  All these women dancing their dance to the music.  I found it all very freeing, especially a spoken word performance by John De Kadt called "I am" ("I am not healed.  I am not broken.  I am not my story.  I am not my pain. etc"  And I danced and danced.  And with all that arm waving and foot tapping, it was a bit of a workout, too.

Why dance? 
This dance floor, my canvass, my playground
my therapist, my lover, my meditation, my church
The keys to the kingdom are rattling in my chest
the breath, lifeline to the divine
I come here for the caress of holy spirit thru my body
to feel the beloved in my blood, for a transfusion of light
I come here for the higher powered dance
To feel God's love blazing in my body
salvation from my small self
this body, kindling for this fire, this rhythm refuge
every beat and rest of one heart
this is my tribal church, my communion
this monastery of mind
this holy place in my heart
this pagoda in my palm alms
this sanctuary in my spine a sacrifice
this temple in my torso testifying
this shrine in chakra number three freeing
this higher powered dance
this, this is why I'm here
this is why we're here
for THIS dance
Jewel Mathieson

I also attended an evening Yoga Nidra, or sleepy yoga, session.  I'd done a bit of yoga nidra at another retreat.  You pretty much fall asleep for a short nap, complete with a warm blanket (and, this time, and eye cover) to the gentle voice of the teacher doing a guided meditation in a room with lots of other people.  They say you don't actually fall asleep--something about theta waves or whatever.  But some people were snoring and I definitely checked out awhile.  It is extremely relaxing, so that you have this heavy calmness afterwards.  I got a CD for Mama to use when she can't sleep (though, it didn't work on Bud last night!) I went to sleep not long afterwards.  

And the labyrinth--I walked it twice!  Even with the overcast, drippy but not actually chilly (until the last day) weather (besides, I like looking at lots of gray cloud layers.)  I just love walking labyrinths.  And this is a good one, with neat, even paths and nice shrubs; no wildflowers this time of year.  Nor did I see the mama bear and cub that apparently hibernate on the property (and who have been seen recently.)  On my first walk, I introduced a woman to labyrinths who was walking for the first time--she was confusing it with a maze and was afraid she would get lost.  I told her she wouldn't and that there were only two real guidelines--step out of the way if you pass someone and walk in quiet if not silence (yeah, she was chatting with me a lot, but we were the only two there so I helped.)  Otherwise, I told her it could be seen as a metaphor for life and that she just had to walk her own path.  I forgot to tell her about leaving an offering/trinket in the middle, but I know she stood and stared at the collection.  I had an art rock for each visit.  After she left, I sang my metta meditation chant as I walked:
May all beings be happy,
all beings be at peace.
May all beings be happy,
all beings be at peace.
All free from suffering,
all free from suffering.
All beings be happy,
all beings be at peace.
(Kristopher Lindquist)

My second walk was with Mama, who joined me on Monday for lunch and a few hours on site before driving home.   We always walk separately, but I still love sharing labyrinths with her.  She liked it and the food and the view.  I know she'd never take the singing workshop, but maybe we can go to Kripalu together sometime.

And I know there will be lots of singing before that.


Thai Sesame Tofu--approximation of Kripalu recipe
l package firm tofu
6 TBS each of: tamari, brown rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup water
1-2 TBS white wine
2 TBS chopped ginger
2 TBS chopped garlic
1 1/2-2 TBS honey
Toasted sesame seeds
Canola or other flavorless oil for greasing the pan                      

Dice the tofu into approximately 1″ squares. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the tofu and marinate for 30-60 minutes. Drain tofu and place the cubes on lightly oiled baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

(Alternative:  1/2-1 cup extra firm tofu in 1/2" cubes,  marinated in 1 tsp soy sauce for approx. ten minutes.   Bake at 350 degrees for 45 min)

Kripalu House Dressing
Makes about 2 cups

1 cup sunflower oil or grape seed oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
¼ cup tamari (natural soy sauce)
¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup sesame tahini
2 cloves garlic
½ tablespoon dry mustard powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon chili powder
pinch cayenne
½ cup water

Combine all ingredients and blend using a standard blender or immersion blender.

Kripalu Moroccan Mint Tea
Makes 6 cups

6½ cups water
½ cup fresh mint (stems and all), washed
2 tablespoons or 6 tea bags green tea
1 to 2 tablespoons sweetener of choice (organic sugar, agave, or honey)

Bring water to a boil. Turn off heat, add mint, and allow to steep for five minutes. Return to a boil, turn off heat, and add tea. Allow tea to steep no more than three minutes. (Green tea becomes bitter when steeped too long.) Remove tea and mint; sweeten to taste. Serve hot, or make iced tea by refrigerating until cold, or pouring cooled tea over ice.

Masala Chai
Makes about 4 cups.

2 tablespoons whole cardamom
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 whole stars of anise
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon slice fresh ginger
4 black tea bags
2 cups milk (or substitute soy milk)
2 cups water
1 to 3 tablespoons sweetener of choice

Combine all spices and tie them in a cheesecloth. Using a rolling pin or other heavy utensil, lightly pound the spices to crush them slightly. Place milk, water, and spices in the cheesecloth in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Bring water back to a boil, turn off, and add black tea. Let steep for 5 minutes, then strain. Add sweetener of choice and stir to dissolve. Serve warm, or chill over ice for a cooling afternoon treat.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Anger and Depression

I'm still mourning the presidential election.

I've definitely worked through some of the so-called (and debated) stages--denial, anger, depression.  I'm stuck there; I doubt I'll ever get to acceptance.  At least not acceptance in a positive way.  I accept that he has been elected president and that no electoral college or even impeachment will change that.  

In fact, I am extremely cynical.  I see all these calls for petition signatures and phone calls to elected officials to object to his cabinet nominees, his lack of divestiture of his holdings, his probable treason in cooperating with Russia, and I admit to laughing at the naiveté.  Seriously, if the liberal, democratic population mobilized for months to elect Clinton--and managed to win the popular vote by 3 million--and yet he is still being sworn in even while admittedly breaking ethics laws, supported by a spineless GOP who didn't like him during the election but is doing nothing to oppose him now (because winning trumps everything, right?), and appointing people with little experience or even understanding of their positions who also already break ethics laws and seem on their way to confirmation,  while firing immediately many of the people who have kept the government moving (embassies, etc.), what do we really think a few petitions--even a giant march on Saturday--will do??

And yet.

And yet, I acknowledge that silence isn't the answer--I've read about the "good" Germans who didn't object to Hitler.  So I know my cynicism cannot be a long-term plan.    I just haven't found what I think will work.  But I do know that I am against racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, and discrimination based on sex, gender, religion, race, creed, ability.  All those phrases floating around now--Black lives matter.  Water is life.  Women's rights are human rights.  Love is love.  Science is real.  No human is illegal.  Kindness is my religion.--I believe those.  Even if the new president and his incoming officials don't.

Oh, I'm going to miss Obama and his family and the society he and his officials tried to create.  The change he brought.  The hope he stood for.  I remember watching his first election night speech and his first and second inauguration with the kiddos. Seriously, how do you explain to kids that the class bully is now in charge?  That they have to follow rules and be kind but the president won't?

Tomorrow, I'll be in mourning.  I won't watch the inauguration.  Perhaps I'll even wear black.

Actually, I'll be on retreat all weekend, away from the news, resting and rejuvenating.

Peace.  Hope.  And then change.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Warming Up

My Zentangle practice is warming up in these winter months. I've been working my way through the Zentangle Primer as part of my morning practice.   I'll be teaching more classes this winter and spring, and attending another Zentangle retreat with my mom.  And I might even be giving an interview about Zentangle for a local online news site, which is exciting.  For me, Zentangle is still about the practice, the process, the mindfulness, the meditation, over and above the finished product.  I know that many of the Zentangle artworks that people see on Pinterest and the like is beautifully polished and seemingly unachievable.  I'm intimidated by those examples myself, so I try to see them as sources of ideas and inspirations.  My own lines waver, my spatial consistency varies; I leave smudges sometimes.  But I learn from each one.  And I value the time spent on them.

Go, Speed Racer!

Even after a full day of watching speedskaters at Sis's first competition, I still can't get over how the skaters tilt so far to one side that they put their hands on the ice and still manage to crossover their feet!  Sis isn't quite at that level--she can crossover but isn't low or titled enough to touch the ice--but she still won a gold in her novice division for girls.  We were all exhausted but proud.

While Sis was racing around the track--three laps in just about a minute for one event!--and cheering on her teammates, Mama and I were volunteering to help the competition go smoothly.  I was in hospitality, helping with feeding about 35 officials and volunteers; Mama worked with the official race steward tallying times and points.    We had breakfast foods, sandwiches, salad, desserts, plus six or seven slow cookers going--soups, chili, stew, and a very popular Slow Cooker Chocolate Souffle--and blew the fuses more than a couple of times.  And lots of coffee!  Because the rink was very cold.  At least the hospitality room was warm.

A few things we learned about skating:

  • the Zamboni cleaning is called an "ice cut";
  • there is usually a heat box, where you wait--it's good to show up a few heats before your own;
  • a cap gun signals the start of the race but a whistle midday signals a stop (in case there is a major injury or false start); a whistle at the end means everyone finished the laps;
  • races tend to fall in 111, 333, 555, 777, or 1500 meters--I can't recall the different names for rounds of races of the same length (set, I think, or maybe event);
  • results are posted by time, adjusted for any penalties, but awards are given based on points over the whole day;
  • the novice category is for any skater who doesn't have a recorded time, including Sis (she stays a novice this season, I believe, but moves up next year);
  • while skaters compete by gender for standings and places, they often race in mixed groups (there were more boys than girls, at least 3:1);
  • skaters are docked for "impeding" if they get within 1/4" of another skater (I think);
  • if skaters are sitting or lying down on the ice for more than 4 secs because of a fall, they are disqualified (not that they'd ever catch up);
  • if a skater hits his or her head, they are removed from the rest of the meet as part of the concussion protocol.
Thankfully, there were very few falls and no real injuries.

Sis also picked up some tips from the other skaters--staying warm between races (they essentially where body length swimsuits, which aren't warm, so they wear Uniqlo or Under Armor underneath and wear jackets and blankets around them), staying hydrated between races, wearing goggles to avoid ice spray and chips at the starting line, eating fruit to keep up energy and avoid cramping.  She also showed great sportsmanship when a skater in her race fell and got back up; she checked with him after the end.  She was usually in the back of the pack, sometimes last, sometimes lapped, but she stuck with it, did her best, and left her heart out on the ice.

She had a marvelous time and is jazzed to compete later this season in another competition.  Mama and I are pretty excited, too.

Slow Cooker Chocolate Souffle

1 box  triple chocolate fudge cake mix
1 1/4cups milk
1/2cup vegetable oil 

1box (4-serving size) instant chocolate pudding and pie filling mix
2 cups milk1bag (12 oz) 
milk chocolate chips (2 cups)

Spray 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. In large bowl, beat Cake ingredients with electric mixer as directed on cake mix box. Pour into slow cooker.
In medium bowl, beat pudding mix and 2 cups milk with whisk as directed on box. Pour into slow cooker over cake batter. Do not mix. Sprinkle chocolate chips over top.

Cover; cook on Low heat setting 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours or until cake is set and pudding is beginning to bubble out of cake.

adapted from Betty Crocker

Slow Cooker Lava Cake
This one is much sweeter than the one above; I first had it at a friend's party.

1 box triple chocolate fudge cake mix
1 1/2cups water 
1/2cup butter, melted 
1tablespoon vanilla
1box (4-serving size) chocolate instant pudding and pie filling mix
1container whipped milk chocolate frosting
Vanilla ice cream, as desired

Spray 4 1/2-quart slow cooker with baking spray with flour.
In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, melted butter, eggs, vanilla and pudding mix with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Pour batter into slow cooker.
Fold frosting into batter in slow cooker with spoon, leaving ribbons of frosting running through batter.
Cover; cook on High heat setting 2 to 3 hours or until cake is set in center. To serve, spoon hot cake from slow cooker, and top with scoops of ice cream.

Adapted from Betty Crocker and Pampered Chef

Monday, January 9, 2017

Viva la Vie Boheme!

Opera!  We went to the opera!

And we took the kiddos.

It was marvelous.

Mama loves La Boheme (and yes, I know, accents, but I'm not going to figure that out now.)  She has been listening to it for years now, and particularly likes right when Rudolfo meets Mimi, "Non sono in vena" and "Si, mi chiamano Mimi."

And so we decided to go.  And to take the kids. You know, another great cultural experience.  The Met Opera puts the opera on most years; it's one of the classic ABCs--Aida, Boheme, and Carmen.  And they still show the Franco Zefferelli production, which is the same one I saw about twenty-five years ago.  It hasn't aged at all.  Mama hadn't ever seen it.  In fact, we've only been to the opera a couple of times--once in Chicago we saw part of Tosca, with free tickets from a docent, but left after the first act because we were ready to leave.  And we saw Die Fledermaus back in 1994/95.  I remember it mainly because I love the music and Dom Deluise had a role in it that night.

I had gone through my opera phase back in my grad school days.  I think it started with Moonstruck, that wonderful NYC film with Cher and Olympia Dukakis.  I think I got a lot of ideas about NYC from the film long before I moved there.  Including the magnificence of the Met.  I remember seeing the spread for the opera season in The New York Times, with all these different ticket sets--Italian trios, German trios, classic trios.  And for about $20, I could get a Family Circle seat; I bought a set each semester, as I recall, going to the box office itself to book my seats (the olden days!)   I loved it.  La Boheme.  Die Fledermaus.  The Barber of Seville.  Tosca.  The Marriage of Figaro.  Carmen.  I would swear I saw Jessye Norman in Carmen, but I can't find proof that she performed that role in the early 90s when I was going.  I thought it was marvelous.  I have also seen Aida, but in Rome, in the Baths of Caracalla.  I loved it, too, especially outdoors in that setting on a gorgeous Roman summer night.

I was thrilled to go to the opera with Mama and the kids, to share the experience I had enjoyed so well.  The architecture of Lincoln Center, inspired by the Capitoline Hill (yep, in Rome.)  The fountain.  The huge paintings by Marc Chagall.  The glorious crystal chandeliers.  The red velvet.  The men in tuxedoes and women in fashionable gowns.  The old, elaborate costumes on exhibit. The balcony where you can go during the two intermissions.  The little shop (it was a subway-level shop, with a tiny one near the box office; now there's only a big one near the box office.) The xylophone gong.  The restaurant with meals served during intermissions.  The proscenium sculpture.  The caption screens in front of each seat.  The way the chandeliers dim and rise before curtain.  The huge curtains.  That deep stage.  Oh, and the operas themselves--sets, costumes, over-the-top stories, and all that singing without microphones.

 there it was, La Boheme, as wonderful as I recall.  Mama loved it.  I loved it.  We both cried.  And the kids liked it, which is pretty good for a three-hour show sung in Italian, with lots of romance and kissing.  They had my little birding binoculars and monocular, which helped entertain them.  I enjoyed it without them.  The garret set, with the chimneys of Paris in the back.  The stove lit by a play.  Mimi's costume.  The amazing cafe set, with its two levels and dozens of extras.  Love those extras (including a children's chorus), in rich period clothes, doing what we termed "operatic mannequin challenge" during Musetta's song.  The donkey and horse who are part of the first act.  All that snow and fuzzy light of the third act.  And back to the garret again.  I wondered if Mimi's muff ever accidentally rolled off her hand and off the roof of the garret!  I'm sure somewhere in its 100+-year production history, it's happened.

We talked over the opera in our room at the Empire Hotel across the street and the next morning at Smith's for brunch (mmmm, lemony pancakes with whipped ricotta!!)  We had hoped to stay and do town, but all that wonderful aforementioned snow was already falling and with totals upped to around 7", we headed home.

Listening to Maria Callas as Mimi . . . .

We Got It!

Yep, we got the snow!  On Friday, there was beautiful fairy-tale snow and then on Saturday we got about 5" of super-fine snow.  Beautiful.

And now it is very, very cold.  Single-digit cold.

So the beautiful white snow will be around for awhile longer.

Though, I hear we're in for above-average temperatures and rain later this week.

Such is winter in New England.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fingers Crossed

It's colder today than yesterday, and cloudy.

And now an Accu-Weather alert has come out saying we might get some snow tonight into tomorrow.  Woo-hoo!  I hope we get some, even enough to delay school.  It would just be fun.  We haven't gotten much snow this year; one little storm with about 4-6".  The kids would like some.  Me, too.  Especially because we're planning on teaching them to shovel well enough to clear the sidewalks and driveway.

But I don't want a big storm because we're going to the opera tomorrow night.  It's a Christmas present for Mama--her favorite, La Boheme.   I've seen it before, my first year in NYC.  I had dreamed of the opera since seeing Moonstruck, where that opera and Lincoln Center figure prominently.  And it is lovely.  So, we're going.  And we're taking the kids.  Sure it's three hours, four acts, in Italian, of a story they don't know.  But opera is glorious and magnificient and BIG.  And there are caption machines in the seats.  So at the very least it will be interesting.

Wish us luck on both counts!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Catch Up

I'm pretty behind and so this will be sketches, vignettes of our holiday celebrations.

  • GS Progressive Dinner:  For the GS Junior badge in New Cuisines, the girls planned a progressive dinner in mid-December.  My house was the final stop--desserts!  And we opted to make Paula Deen's Pumpkin Gingergread Trifle, but with homemade gingerbread from King Arthur Flour.  The girls whipped cream from scratch (with brown sugar!), combined the pumpkin puree (with cinnamon and cardamom), and then combined it all with the gingerbread in 8 oz ball jars that they'd decorated.  They were so proud of their efforts and delighted in presenting the jars to each guest when it was our turn.  They also made crockpot hot chocolate and Zinger Punch.  The other stops were just as tasty; it was a fun way to celebrate the holidays and earn a badge!
  • Sis's Slumber Party:  A few nights later, Sis hosted a slumber party for two school friends, with more food (mac and cheese) and a homemade birthday cake for one of her friends.
  • Cookie Party:  Then just a few days after that, we hosted our annual cookie-decorating party, with some friends from GS and from the slumber party!  And, for once, they decorated cookies in a ways that they could actually eat them instead of piling on the frosting and the sprinkles.  
  • Gommie and Pop's Visit: Gommie and Pop arrived the day before school let out for the holidays, which made the kids going to school the next morning pretty tough.  That gave us time to prep and wrap, though.  The next few days were filled with musical performances (piano, violin, and cello--the kids even gave my folks little lessons!), games, swimming (at their hotel), and an extra speedskating practice to prep for January competition.  One down side--Mama had a nasty cold along with vertigo, which kept her pretty much bedridden for most of the holidays.  She did rally a bit for Christmas itself but paid for it in the following days.  

  • Christmas:  It was a larger affair than usual, with both families here for Christmas--us, my parents, and Mama's brother and parents.  Fortunately, we did the gifts in shifts!  The kids were up early, of course--it's so sweet to hear them gather early to wake us up--and were soon met by my parents.  We ate Sis's bacon bites and opened lots of presents.  Not long after, Ma and Gong and Goo showed up and we opened even more presents.  Soon after, we all ate baked brie, gumbo, muffalettas, various delicious pies (Mama brought them for Gommie and Pop to sample), Christmas cookies, and the gingerbread bundt cake I made.  Everybody helped work on a Snowy Owl puzzle Gommie had brought; most of us tried our hands at a cup stacking game that Bud received from Gommie.  
  • Presents:  There were some themes this year:  Sis got a lot of horse-themed items, including a jacket from the farm where she rides.  Bud got a jacket from the kung fu national team, as well as various Zelda-themed items.  There were lots of videogames for different platforms, some books in their favorite series (Warriors for Sis, Wings of Fire for both, Magisterium for Bud.)  I received what I call "smelly goods," or nicely scented candles and soaps, plus lots of Snowy Owl-themed gifts and bird books.  Mama was in on the videogame haul.  Plus the present I was most excited to give her--a c.1870 plaster cast of John Rogers's Parting Promise. Rogers created sculptural groups to mass produce, often depicting touching genre scenes of middle-class white Victorian America.  This one shows a man putting a ring on his young love's finger before leaving, suitcase nearby.  I like the detail and the scene, though our cast seems to have been painted a beige color and is flaking in places; I think it gives it character.  Interestingly, we had just seen a set of Rogers's groups in Vermont (at the first Vermont Country Store, I think, in the rafters), so I was excited to find one at a local antique mall.  I also picked up a silver card case, c. 1850, for an anniversary gift for Mama.  Yes, it was an antique Christmas.  (But we do both love history.)  Gommie and Pop got a lot of history and bird books, plus some fancy hiking socks.  Ma got her usual Hallmark ornaments and singing snowman, while we gave Goo, among other things, a gift card to King Arthur Flour.

New Year's Celebrations:  We didn't do much for New Year's besides letting the kiddos stay up late. Most of the day, we watched our new family show, "Once Upon a Time" (Disney-fied fairytales with a modern twist) and played games (I crocheted on a blanket for my hospice patient.)  Sis made a delicious batch of oatmeal scotchies.  Later, we all watched some of New Year's Rocking Eve and saw the Mariah Carey meltdown/technical difficulties; Mama, who did some sound work in Chicago, couldn't believe it would go so badly without the professionals fixing it (though, Carey didn't seem to be trying very hard.)  We ate pizza for a late lunch and then had various snacks throughout the evening, including mozzarella, basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and breadsticks.  The kids stayed up til 2 or 3 a.m., but Mama and I barely made it to midnight.  The next morning, we repeated most of the same.

And so now it's Tuesday and everyone is back where they usually are (though I'm at home nursing a cold.)  We liked having the day after New Year's off, to cushion the fact that we stayed up late.  It was hard to get going this morning.  There are a lot of great activities coming up this winter and spring, so we're looking forward to what 2017 holds.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle with Homemade Gingerbread

Easy Gingerbread

  • 2 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
    1/4 cup granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon each cloves and nutmeg
    1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
    3/4 cup molasses
    1/4 cup water
    1 large egg
    1 cup buttermilk
    1/2 cup diced crystallized ginger (optional)

    Grease and flour a 9" square pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. 

  • Melt the butter in a heatproof measuring cup. Add the molasses to the cup, and pour into the dry ingredients in the bowl, mixing to moisten.
  • Add the water, stirring until everything is moistened. Whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Stir into the batter until it's evenly combined. Stir in the crystallized ginger.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake just begins to pull away from the edge of the pan.
  • Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 15 minutes before slicing; gingerbread is best served warm with whipped cream or ice cream. 
  • King Arthur Flour

Gingerbread Bundt Cake
2 1/2 cups KAF flour
2 tablespoons gingerbread spice; or 2 1/2 teaspoons ginger, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup water

1/3 cup rum or water
1/2 teaspoon gingerbread spice or 1/4 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10- to 12-cup bundt-style pan.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, gingerbread spice, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the molasses.
Add the flour mixture in three additions alternately with the water, starting and ending with the flour. Mix just until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.
Bake the cake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the glaze by stirring together the water spice and sugar. Set aside.
Remove the cake from the oven, cool it in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack. 

King Arthur Flour
Brush the cake with the glaze, and allow it to cool completely before serving.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Welcome to 2017!

It's the new year, and, as the song goes, we have 525,600 minutes ahead (yes, yes, if we're lucky.)

And so I've been thinking, at this time of resolutions, how do I want to spend the year?  I've never been one for keeping resolutions, though I've made many of the usual ones.  Diet, exercise, be kind, be mindful--always focusing on flaws and weaknesses, ways I could be better.  What a crappy way to start the year.   I don't turn to Mama or the kids and tell them how I'd like them to be better this year (well, except my cleaning tirade this morning, but I stepped on a video game box!), so why do I do it to myself?

Instead, I got to thinking about things I did last year that I want to continue into 2017.  This was a more do-able list, mainly because I'm already doing them.  It includes but is not limited to:

  • hiking 
  • birding
  • volunteering (hospice, Girl Scouts, lay ministry, historic house)
  • making things to give away (crochet or Zentangle)
  • Zentangle (esp. teach Zentangle classes)
  • personal retreats (I have two coming up in the next few months)
  • family getaways (or longer vacations)
  • attend concerts/musicals (opera on Friday, Sunset Boulevard in February)
  • playing piano
  • hosting social events/meet up with friends
  • cooking with the kids and/or Mama
  • purging unused books and items (I unloaded a ton of books and things last year)

Now, I'm not one of those people who believe things change magically with the new calendar.  There have been lots of FB memes about 2016 taking our 80s childhoods and hoping 2017 will be kinder.  And it has been a year of loss for celebrities that I have "known" for a long time--Carrie Fisher, George Michael, "Mrs. Brady" Florence Henderson, Prince, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, to name a very few.  As I wrote to Lambeth earlier this week, I was especially saddened by the deaths of Carrie Fisher and George Michael.  As a teen, I had loved the music of Wham! and George Michael and had even seen him in concert twice.  I hadn't listened much recently, nor followed his brushes with the law for public sex and drugs, but I was sad to hear that he had died.  Even more so Carrie Fisher, whom I adored as Princess Leia since I was six years old.  Now I had seen her other films and read some of her books, liked her sharp wit and public pronouncements.  And I had been so glad to see her in the new Star Wars movie.  I'm sad that she's dead, especially because she had a 24-year-old daughter.

So I've been reflecting on why we're sad about the deaths of people we've never met.  I think, in the case of celebrities/authors/artists/musicians, I have been grateful for the entertainment and pleasure they've brought me and so wish them well in life.  When their lives are over, especially young, I am sad that they didn't live longer (or suffered disease etc at the end), that I won't have the pleasure of their art anymore.  I suppose it's also why, when they're alive, people seek autographs etc.--to have connection with those who make us happy, to feel special by connecting with people we think are special (I'm not much of an autograph or photo seeker, though I do have a supposedly-signed pic of Carrie Fisher from when I wrote to her as a child.)  Like when we had the kids' picture taken with Alex Kingston, whom they adored in Doctor Who.  I did look up to Fisher as a role model, both in the character of Leia and in her outspokenness and advocacy later on.  

With her in mind--"the new hope" from Star Wars--the word I've been focusing on the last few weeks has been "hope."  In hospice, we learn that sometimes we have to adjust what we are hoping for, i.e. no longer hoping for a cure but hoping for meaningful visits with loved ones.  I can't hope that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named will not be president; it's going to happen, despite all the past talk of the Hamilton Electors and present talk of early impeachment.  What I can hope for is that he continues to be unskillful at keeping his promises and that many diverse groups can band together to oppose him regularly.  I can hope that a chastened majority, including myself, and news media will be vigilant.  And I can hope for sensibility and calm and patience and understanding.

Because we're going to need all the hope we can get for 525,600 minutes multiplied by four.