Friday, August 26, 2011

I Hate Myself (For Loving You).

I am a little bit wonky and battered today. It was the first week back at school/activities for my kids, and trying to get a new schedule on track has been a challenge. Between arranging homework time and music class and fencing practice (And my own music class! And actual work that needs to be done! And dinner to be made!) I am knackered. Sometimes I feel as if I am nothing more than my children's social secretary. Add to that the fact that I have decided they should probably eat breakfast (and not just a to-go cup of cereal and milk in the car) and not eat school lunches this year (awfully unhealthy, and anyway the money I am saving by not buying them will probably pay for a cruise at the end of the year.) The end result is that I am actually making three meals a day and a healthy snack before the aforementioned classes. It's my fault for exposing them to real food early on. They request things like yogurt parfaits and chicken caesar salad wraps ("Please, mom, with the homemade dressing! The one in the bottle tastes gross!") Why can't they just eat fish fingers and Doritos like other kids?

Oh, that's right. Because I love to cook. And bake. And ply teachers, administrators, random passerby, friends, Romans and countrymen with goodies. I admit. Food is love! Behold the raspberry-rose macaroons that I crafted. Lovely, aren't they? Just a bit. And delicious, too. (Admission: I am patting myself on the back because nobody else does. Feel free to weep for me. Ah, to be taken for granted!)

I've always been obsessed with food: eating it, preparing it, watching others grow it successfully (I have a black thumb.) I own over 300 cookbooks (and use them!) plus stacks of magazines, foreign and not. I base vacations around restaurants and food stalls and visits to local grocery stores and markets. I have mad crushes on Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. 

At university, my Shakespeare's Major Plays class required a final group project to successfully complete the course. We all sat through a couple of days of fairly boring presentations (this was before PowerPoint - although, looking back, that was probably a blessing.) Even the group that enacted the death scene from Hamlet didn't do that well. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Gertrude and Hamlet were played by the same guy...but anyway. I'd like to think that our motley crew blasted through the curve. Our project, thanks to my stalwart leadership (I'm a Leo!) was, of course, food-related. Every one of us prepared a dish inspired by Shakespeare's time. One member actually was a hunter and had a frozen pheasant on hand! The other items were really not that authentic but incorporated things like dried fruits and spices that were becoming popular in Elizabethan England. The professor was a bit skeptical, and didn't believe that the bird was pheasant and not turkey until he bit down on a mouthful of buckshot. Thankfully, that didn't prevent us from getting high marks. Undergrads.

My girls not only love to eat, but love to help in the kitchen as well, which makes meal preparation take about five times longer than it should. No matter. The end result, other than their increasingly sophisticated palates, is also a growing appreciation for other cultures and the unrivaled bounty we are blessed to enjoy. It's homework we don't mind doing at all.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I Got Soul (But I'm Not a Soldier).

I have not been able to remove myself from the hazy funk that I have been in and come up with a sunny post just yet, so, in lieu of that, I will tell you a story. It kind of ties in with my last post, strings and all.

I went to church today. I dropped the kids off at their school, run by Methodists, and drove down the street to St. Matthew's, spiritual home of the Catholics in that neighborhood. Yes, I know it's Ramadan, yes, I know I am neither Methodist nor Catholic, but I was feeling weary and worried and sad and burdened and just wanted a place to sit a spell and say, "Hey, God! What's up?" I don't think God cares much where we visit with Him. Just that we do.

 St. Matthew's is great for that. It is a simple church with a very sunny sanctuary, and off to the side is a smallish chapel anchored by a very large portrait of the Virgin Mary bordered in velvet. Tiny metal charms (milagros, or miracles) are pinned to the velvet, signs of devotion and gratitude glowing in the soft candlelight. Pictures of people are tucked into the frame: soldiers, babies, old women in resplendent beehives, couples young and ancient. I imagine all the prayers sent out in their names, and feel a bit sad. There was one other person in the chapel with me, a kind-looking much older man who had a small pamphlet with him that looked like a kind of Saint's Directory - an illustration of a saint on one page, with a prayer on the next.

I almost set this church on fire, once. I had come to light a candle for the wife of a dear friend. She had been sick, and was going for a battery of scans and tests and blood work to try and pinpoint what was making her so dizzy and weak. I noticed there were no matches by the candles. "That's odd," I thought to myself. "What am I supposed to do?" I looked around: there was no one to ask. Ever resourceful, I dug into my purse and found a pencil, and breaching all sorts of religious etiquette, stuck it into a lit candle, intending to use the flame to light one for my own devotions. The pencil caught fire pretty quickly. I almost dropped the thing, but managed to quash the flame out with some energetic blowing. Later, I found out from a Good Catholic that churches no longer have the matches out - you have to donate money to get one! I think that's ridiculous. Collection boxes used to be next to the candles, and you would give if you felt like it. Like God really cares. Out of annoyance, I bring my own matches now. (Ssshhhh!!) Oh, and the wife turned out to be ok. Health-wise, anyway.

But I digress. I was feeling lonely, and low, and had the foresight to bring with me a small wad of tissues (because, as you recall, I am a crier.) I tried not to cry. I sat quietly, meditating a bit on life, but all the pictures of bald babies next to St. Jude's statue made me even more melancholy, and soon I was sobbing, sobbing so hard I couldn't stop. I had rested my head on the back of the pew in front of me. I wanted to pray, but just didn't know for what. I felt utterly empty.

Suddenly I felt someone next to me. It was the silver-haired man with the prayer book. He flung his arms around me, and pressing me tight, stroking the top of my head, he said in Spanish, "Don't worry, daughter. God has given you a great sorrow, but you must have faith that He will take it away. It's ok to cry, don't feel embarrassed. There, there." I just held on to him and couldn't let go. He took a handkerchief (new and pressed and embroidered with a nice, solid H, that is it in the photo) from his pocket and gave it to me, refusing my refusals. After thanking him profusely, I got up to leave, but he held my arm. "Wash up first. Go freshen up, you'll feel better." Everything about the man was gentle: his soft, wavy hair, his voice, his deep brown eyes. He showed me the way to the restroom, gave me another hug, told me to take care, that I was still young, and shouldn't worry so much, and that I would be ok. 

I felt better after that, as though a tiny bit of my burden had been lifted. In Islam, we don't believe in praying to saints (although, I admit, I do call on St. Anthony when I misplace my iPod - and he doesn't seem to mind, because I always find it!). We prefer no intercession and just call on God directly. We do believe in angels though - and I think I may have just met one today.

Thank you, Mr. H.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Ties That Bind (or, Of Gods and Men).

"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break." -Chinese proverb

After my last post, I thought to myself: "Self! You should write about something happy and carefree! Maybe post some photos of kittens, or puppies...babies, perhaps. Things that make you happy!" Then this week was suddenly upon me, with nary a furry creature or cherubic bundle in sight (except for the rather mischievous beady-eyed squirrel that gleefully munches on tomatoes from my backyard plant.)

Instead, I was faced with a sudden proliferation of ghosts, real (the kind that made me flee Facebook suddenly and without much regret) and imagined (the inner demons of a tortured soul, made weaker by nerve-shredding preteen girls.) The happy post will then have to wait, in favor of the pensive. (Admission: Babies don't make me particularly happy, unless they belong to other people and I can give them back quickly once they start fussing. I am actually quite frightened of them.)

I have been thinking a lot about the ways we are all interconnected, through communities and language and common interests and a thousand other things. What is it that brings us together, binds us close to some people and not others? It's funny, isn't it. Even though every person is unique, how many people around the planet overlap that uniqueness? If I said, "Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?" how many of you would scratch your heads, and how many of you would light up and laugh, because a specific memory was stirred up? (And if there is nary a one of you that knows that of which I speak, well then, run away! Run away!)

The metaphor of strings is powerful. The ancient Greeks were particularly fond of stories involving thread: Penelope waiting for Odysseus, weaving her endless tapestry; Ariadne gifting Theseus with a ball of string to help him find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth; Arachne getting into an ill-advised weaving competition with Athena. We can be high-strung, or strung along (or, strung out.) I came across the above proverb here at StoryCorps, in a story about adoption. StoryCorps, if you are unfamiliar with it, is an oral history project, and anyone can participate. It's unbelievably interesting to listen to stories about people's lives: their troubles, accomplishments, hopes. Something about it makes you feel a little less adrift in the world.

I love things that make me feel connected to a greater whole. There is another site, The Speech Accent Archive, that is absolutely fascinating. People from all over the world, with different native tongues, read the same fairly nonsensical English passage. Each language has several examples, with male and female speakers from different regions repeating the same handful of words. It's wonderful to compare a native Kirghiz (from Kyrgyzstan! Who knew?) speaker to myself, or to a native Bosnian or Icelandic speaker. I love it when the big, wide world feels just a bit more cozy.

What do you think about connection? Not just romantic - all kinds. Why do we meet who we meet? And when that connection is strong, does it really last forever, even when it may seem to be broken apart? Where does all that energy go?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cat Scratch Fever.

Look! Look! Thanks be to Suze, aka Girl Wizard for this wonderful accolade. She is, as probably ALL of you know, one of the most intelligent, sweet, and erudite people out there, not only in the blogoshpere, but in the real world.

I am supposed to pass on this award to five worthy bloggers, but as I am new to this whole thing, and think nobody is as worthy as I am, I refuse. Not really. The truth is, I need a bit more time, since most everyone I follow has a. won the award already or b. has too many followers to qualify. I will have to revisit this then at a later time, but am basking in a glow of gratefulness.

I have rarely won anything in my life. This is not to say my life has been marked by loss (although when that HAS happened, it's always been a doozy). Once, though, I did win a paid vacation for two to Las Vegas through a drawing sponsored by a local radio station. It included airfare, two nights at the Hard Rock Hotel, and two tickets to see...Ted Nugent. I was about 22 years old at the time, unmarried, without boyfriend or partner, and unfamiliar with anything regarding Ted except for his love of guns. I took my then 19 year-old brother with me, who was too young to gamble or do anything remotely Vegas-esque. We gave the tickets away to some long-haired rockers in the lobby and managed to have a great time, although at one point we found ourselves in a seedy strip mall on the wrong side of The Strip. The rest of THAT story, dear friends, is best left to the mists of time. (I assure you though, regardless of how I phrased it, the excursion did not include stripping or strip clubs or anything of the sort.) Even today, we laugh about the adventure and the fun we had, and still plan to revisit The Hard Rock Hotel's tasty diner, Mr. Lucky's 24/7. Good times, good times.

That was pretty cool, but it was also very random. This award is not - I was CHOSEN!! And somebody loves me for my mind! - so again, thank you!

And for your pleasure, THIS.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Senza di te (languisce il cor).

I was going to write a thoughtful and moving post about Ramadan, but, as it goes on for a whole month, I should have another opportunity. I don't feel quite in the right frame of mind. Although I knew it was coming, Ramadan still has taken me a bit by surprise, and it feels as if I have been pulled over for a busted headlight only to find out there is a warrant out for unpaid tickets. In any case, blessings to all - practicing or not.

Speaking of practice, albeit of another kind altogether, I have recently been taking voice lessons. It started out as a whim. I sing in the shower (AMAZING acoustics!), in the car, any time there is karaoke. I can carry a tune (this was later confirmed by a rather surprised professional.) I am enjoying it quite a bit, except that my assignments seem to be veering toward the exceptionally morose. As I have discussed previously, I do kind of like morose...but this is all a bit too much.

I am working out of "Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century (For Medium High Voice)". I'm a mezzo-soprano! Or something. This era was apparently a good one for, well, SONGS and ARIAS about heartbreak, love lost, love gained (and lost again), and flowers. Shepherds, gay maidens, ravishings (not of the previous parties, I must add), despair, meadows, and stars all make their due appearances. That was back in the day of no Twitter or Facebook, so there was no other way to update your relationship status, I suppose.

If you are not suffering from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or on your deathbead thanks to having been cruelly discarded by your lover (for he/she has found another! Or has died! Or has gone back to her baby-daddy!) then you surely will feel as if you have been. Or, at the very least, everything will take on a dramatic air, and even the wait for the Sears repairperson to come fix the problem with the soap dispenser of your high-efficiency washer will seem worthy of plaintive weeping and gentle, trembling song. (It has been two weeks since I made the service appointment, and I am tired of waiting! It's helping me get into character, though.)

Case in point: Caro Mio Ben. I am working on this one, and it is lovely (when sung properly.)

Caro mio ben,
Credimi almen,
Senza di te languisce il cor.
Il tuo fedel
Sospira ognor.
Cessa, crudel,
Tanto rigor!

My dear beloved,
believe me at least,
without you my heart languishes.
Your faithful one
always sighs;
cease, cruel one,
so much punishment!

There is a silver lining in all of this. One, I get to feel kind of cultured and renaissance-womanesque (or is that renaissance-esque woman...) because I am singing in a romantic foreign language. Two, when I close my eyes I am able to imagine that I am kicking something off my bucket list (dressing in a toga and singing in a chorus of some locally-produced opera.) Three, another excuse to cry! Of course.