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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 5: Dance

I’ve saved Dance for last in my 5-Day Artist Challenge, because my relationship with dance is both of utmost importance to me, and hardest to describe. (So hard, in fact, that apparently I had to wait for ages, forget that I still had never finished the post, and pick it up with renewed fervour.) You may have forgotten, in all this time,  about the Café Bakery of the Artist Challenge, but it’s official. Writing is sourdough, Drama is French toast, Visual Art is sandwiches, and Music is cookies. Therefore: in thinking hard about what the Bread of Dance would be, I’ve decided that it’s flatbread.

Seems counter-intuitive, maybe, but this is how anciently foundational I know dance to be. Flatbread has existed for thousands of years. It is essential to cultures all over the world. It is as sacred as communion wafer, and as celebratory as focaccia pizza. Flatbread is important whether you have everything, or almost nothing. It can be crisp or soft or stretchy, or basically whatever you need it to be. It’s tortilla, it’s naan, it’s lavash, it’s chapati, it’s matzo, it’s pita, it’s roti, and so on. And any of those types can be consumed in simplicity, or filled with all kinds of delicious details.

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Communion bread via tvo.com
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Focaccia pizza via gratednutmeg.com

And another thing: flatbread is very often round, like the dances in so many cultures. A circular creation that underpins and supports many aspects of culture. I make this point because for me, dance is not just a joy, but a necessity. It is not just a practice, but a basis for community.

It always makes me sad to know there are those who believe they can’t or shouldn’t dance. I’m lucky to have been encouraged in dance ever since early childhood. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have that instinct squelched. The urge to manifest a rhythm or melody, to let yourself be literally moved by the music, especially for young kids, is a powerful one.

The Groove movement, made known to me by my amazing Dance co-facilitator at OELC iArts, insists that we can ALL dance. That if we think we can’t, all we need are few building blocks to help us find our own style. That, and a safe space to move. Dancing is for everyone. It counts whether you’re dancing with thousands at a rock concert, or by yourself in your bedroom. We all need that whole-body thrill of letting the music become part of us.

My dance journey has been through many phases:

  • Dancing as a preschooler, wearing whatever dancey costume I could get my hands on, in our living room with my sisters – mostly to dances by Brahms or Dvorák;
  • Taking my first ballet classes, realizing I would not wear an actual tutu or pointe shoes for many years, but still adoring how sublime I felt doing it;
  • Taking up figure skating as well and loving the transfer of dance onto ice;
  • Going through puberty and suddenly being less-good at both these forms of dance (where being petite – not to mention short-waisted – is a huge natural advantage);
  • Attending Wilfrid Laurier University and taking ALL the dance classes offered (i.e. ballet, jazz, hip-hop, modern, swing, jive, and Latin);
  • Attending the University of Toronto and joining the Only Human Dance Collective, which gave me more experience in everything, plus Irish and African and – finally – bellydance.

The meet-cute between bellydance and me occurred while I was working on my Masters in Toronto. The hip-hop class I wanted to sign up for was full. I thought, Hm, I’ve never tried this! I was hooked the first time I saw my teacher do a maya. I couldn’t wait to learn how to do that.

Once I began learning, I fell straightaway in love. It was all so fascinatingly beautiful. And finally my body had found a home. Finally it could be itself – long waist, large ribcage, prominent butt, funny-shaped feet and everything. Finally I was teaching it to do things that felt natural.

Since then, I have discovered that bellydance, in Ontario at least, is not just a hobby but a community – one full of diversity, creativity, and caring.

This past November, the dance troupe I belong to presented its biennial professional show called Mosaic. In this show, bellydance techniques are fused with all kinds of other dance techniques to create wonderful, unique choreography. There are a dozen of us who form the main troupe, and we worked really hard to bring the visions of our choreographers to life.

There is no way to adequately describe the rush you feel when combining the satisfaction of a job well done, the joy of movement, the exhilaration of performing in front of an audience, and the bond of a loving community working their tails off together. I am incredibly grateful to be part of it.

Here is a piece we did in November. It took the most work of any of our pieces, because it required the most intricate synergy. It is chock-full of empowerment symbolism. No performance is perfect, but we are proud of this one.

Here is another piece that we did at the previous Mosaic two years ago. This is a favourite piece of the troupe in general because it’s so much fun. I adore it because it makes me feel like a kid: whooping and hollering, being unabashedly noisy with an instrument, animating a big swishy skirt, and especially dancing the big circle at the end where we skip and gallop – just pure candid joy.

Now my daughter is taking creative dance classes, and she loves them. Her excitement when she emerges from the studio is a sign that she is getting the joy I wish for her. And both my kids, when we put on music at home and just boogie down, have fun and smile more afterwards. It’s a shot of happiness to the body and soul.

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life

animal vegetable miracle barbara kingsolver
READ ME

Author: Barbara Kingsolver, with Stephen L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

Other works: (by Barbara) The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer, Small Wonder, The Lacuna, The Bean Trees, etc.

Recommended by: Book Club! I also find that Kingsolver’s work recommends more of itself to be read.

Genre: Non-fiction/Cooking/Poetry (because honestly, everything she writes is full of poetic gorgeousness)

Main Characters: Her family – she, her husband, and two daughters – and the FOOD.

Opinions: I adored this book, as I expected to. I had read a bunch of her fiction, as well as non-fiction essays; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has the added practical advice, recipes, and lots of horticulture that make it useful and educational, as well as just beautiful. I don’t remember all the opinions from the Book Club meeting, but it gets 4/5 on Goodreads.

A quotation I liked: “Human manners are wildly inconsistent; plenty of people have said so. But this one takes the cake: the manner in which we’re allowed to steal from future generations, while commanding them not to do that to us, and rolling our eyes at anyone who is tediously PC enough to point that out. The conspicious consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spirtual error, or even bad manners.”

What sticks with me: This book is not preachy, but it says a lot about sustainability and the realities of our food culture, especially in North America. It makes me think all the more often about where my food has come from, and whether I want to support the way it’s grown or exported. I also really really want to have dinner with the author.

Recommended to: Farmers, Gardeners, Foodies, Environmentalists, Poets, and people who don’t cook but want to start.

To sum up: Inspiring. Sometimes depressing, but mostly uplifting. Barbara’s writing is always full of compassion for humanity, and this book makes you feel like a friend in her warm kitchen.

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24 Thoughts on Disney’s “Moana”

Our family went to see Moana the day after I saw Fantastic Beasts, so it was a fully magical weekend for me, cinema-wise.

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Some thoughts on Disney’s latest epic:

  1. It’s a musical! I’d only seen trailer dialogue, so I didn’t realize this (even though I should have) until I was already watching it. Songs make me all happy.
  2. The music is co-written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (who got famous for Hamilton only after signing on). It had me teary-eyed from the first song. It’s powerful, full of drums and lavish harmonies.
  3. The music is also apparently well-done in terms of authenticity, since Foa’i is a distinguished Samoan musician and he would know. (Also the whole team of composers immersed themselves in a Pacific music festival in New Zealand as part of the preparations.)
  4. Related to that, and predictably, I also loved the dancing. Not just the exuberant “choreography” for the musical numbers, but the lilting, traditional Polynesian movements that seem to come right from the ocean, performed by certain characters seemingly by instinct. The dance isn’t a topic in the movie, it’s just part of the fabric of the life portrayed. As it should be.
  5. The animation is just… indescribably beautiful. The scene at the beginning with baby Moana picking up shells… I could hardly bear it, with the shining colours and the living water and the perfectly-rendered toddler-walk. SO. TOTALLY. GORGEOUS.
  6. I cried a few times. Maybe several. Mostly due to beauty.
  7. Moana is a tough cookie. I liked her a lot. Described by producer Osnat Shurer as “kick-ass, feisty, [and] interesting.”
  8. She is also NOT a princess, as she explains with meta-Disney-humour. (She is, however, already being lumped into the “Disney Princess” club by social media.)
  9. I am grateful for her status in the Disney canon; that is to say, that she is one of an ever-expanding line of female heroines I’m glad for my daughter (and my son, for that matter) to emulate. I love that she’s going to succeed her father as chief, and no one makes any kind of deal about her being a female chief. (Sorry, I just spoiled it by getting excited about it being no big deal.)
  10. I’m also grateful that she’s not white. Much as I appreciate the multidimensionality and strength of character in recent white heroines like Rapunzel, Merida, Elsa, Anna, and Riley (and even Judy Hopps, since even though she’s a rabbit, she’s got a distinctly Caucasian vibe going on), we’re a global society at this point. Time to represent – and properly.
  11. As I watched, I did wonder often how the (non-white) peoples represented in the film would feel about it. I get that as a white viewer, I could potentially be enthralled by something someone else would find offensive. It made me happy to read afterwards that reception of this movie has been mostly really positive among Pacific Islanders, including those involved in the production, as well as other Indigenous people and other people of colour. Disney is gradually turning things around regarding cultural appropriation.
  12. Moana, the character, is ridiculously beautiful, of course. But no more so than Auli’i Cravalho, who voiced her.
  13. And that gal can sing!! Holy smokes. I think she nailed the whole part, actually, despite being the youngest Disney “princess” voice ever (did the work at age 14, movie released on her 16th birthday).
  14. I couldn’t help adoring Grandma Tala’s character. The deep matriarchy in this film is so satisfying – especially when you compare it with all those movies where Mom dies (Bambi, Finding Nemo, Frozen) or is already somehow dead or gone when the movie starts (Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, Lilo & Stitch, The Rescuers, Big Hero 6).
  15. It also seemed significant to me that the animal sidekick Moana ends up bringing on the voyage is not the adorable tiny pig she has as a pet, but the bizarre-looking dumb-as-a-post chicken. Just another way to mix things up.
  16. That chicken is voiced by Alan Tudyk (also known as Wash, as well as the Duke of Weaselton and a number of other Disney bit-part voices). We did not guess it was him.
  17. Maui, the demigod, is well-played by (half-Samoan) Dwayne Johnson. More complex than he first appears, of course, with quirky moves that will apparently be familiar to fans of The Rock.
  18. Dwayne can sing too! What! He was great. We were fully impressed.
  19. The animation for Maui’s tattoos is hand-drawn, unlike most of the movie, which is CGI. And they are beautiful. That’s part of what makes the movie stunning: the Pacific-Island art. It’s woven throughout the movie’s imagery.
  20. Sean and I enjoyed hearing Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame) voicing Tamatoa, the giant sparkly coconut crab/thief. Jemaine is great at weird+funny+sinister. (Did you know his mom is Maori?)
  21. There were a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in the film, both for us and the kids. Some of them even overlapped.
    1. 21 b) I sure am glad I’m raising kids in the days where kids’ films are made with the parents in mind too. It’s very easy to watch them over and over. If I didn’t have kids, I’m sure I’d still watch them, and laugh and cry and feel my heart squeeze.
  22. Speaking of the kids’ reactions, there were some scary moments. Four-year-old AB quailed a bit watching the lava monster, Te Ka. She held onto my arm, but she never wanted to hide her eyes and never opted for my lap. And there were no nightmares or anything. So – scary but not regrettable.
  23. Although I’d say the main theme is the Belonging vs. Identity Quest thing (as it often is), to me the Sustainability message was also big. The unhappiness of Te Fiti (Mother Earth goddess with stolen heart) is a powerful message, but even more so is the “we only have this one island that provides for us and if it is ruined we are screwed” message. All of us have only got this one rock in space to live on (for now, at least) and we need to enact some healing before we kill ourselves off.
  24. I only figured out what was going on at the end a few seconds before Moana did – didn’t see it coming at all. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll just say that the dénouement was totally goose-bumpy and amazing… and yep, I shed tears.

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To sum up: highly recommend to all humans, goddesses, demigods, chickens, piglets, and Oceans.

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17 Thoughts on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

As with the books… it’s been a while since I reviewed a movie too, huh? Might be rusty. Hence, the numbered list/crutch. Here goes! (No spoilers, I promise.)

J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them… Newt Scamander, young magizoologist, comes to New York City from England, sometime in the 1920s, just as a strange black shadow has been ripping apart NYC neighbourhoods… And what ensues? The hi-est kinds of jinks.

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  1. It’s just THRILLING to see a new movie from the wizarding world! (I’m sure there are those cynics saying “ahem, money grab,” but those of us who are fans have just been wishing in our hearts for more… and here it is!!)
  2. I went to see it without worrying that it would suck, because Skye (fellow Level 5 fan) had already seen it, and came back with one of those grins that tells you it was not just good, but great.
  3. It’s basically one happy nerd-treat after another, for folks who know their lore. Having read the books to my kids so recently, I had all the details in my mind of the significance of the Murtlap, Bowtruckles, Erumpent, etc.
  4. Eddie Redmayne, as Newt, is great at being awkcute.
  5. The movie is worth the ticket for the Niffler alone. Hilarious and adorable. HOW do they animate such attitude into a squat little animal with a duck bill? He could have his own movie: Fantastic Trinkets and Where I Found Them.
  6. The Ministry in the states is called MACUSA – the Magical Congress of the United States of America. (I was picturing it “MACOUSA.”)
  7. Katherine Waterston, who plays Tina, the MACUSA employee who kind of first befriends Newt, is great. I’d never seen her in anything but I enjoyed her acting.
  8. She’s apparently British. I couldn’t tell.
  9. Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, is a fun character. A lot more multi-dimensional than he first appears.
  10. I think they told Alison Sudol, who plays Tina’s sister Queenie, “Just channel Marilyn Monroe, witch version.”
  11. The fantastic beasts are truly fantastic. When you meet them, it’s like going on this mesmerizing journey of imaginative glee with the creators.
  12. There seems to me, at this moment in history, to be nothing CGI can’t accomplish.
  13. It was cool, but slightly saddening as well, to hear the characters calling Seraphina Picquery “Madam President.” Sigh.
  14. I think it’s possible that they let Eddie Redmayne improvise some bits where he’s communing with certain beasts. They were strange and wonderful, if a bit oddly-paced at times.
  15. I did not find the plot predictable, which is always good – and it’s fun to watch a wizarding movie for which I have not read the book multiple times (or at all).
  16. Skye and I nudged each other at the end, noting Newt’s yellow-and-black scarf: “He’s a Hufflepuff!” We keep an eye out for our peeps. (Because despite my identity crisis, I was a Hufflepuff first.)
  17. Apparently, we can look forward to 4 more Fantastic Beasts movies! They sure set up the audience for more at the end. Needless to say, I AM IN FAVOUR.

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 4: Music

In my bakery-café of the 5-Day (plus an intervening month) Artist Challenge, how to metaphorize music? How can I possibly convey, bread-wise, what music means to me? The truth is, I can’t. But I’m going to use some more it’s-my-blog leeway and say: it’s COOKIES.

Some cookies need lots of practice and training to make. Some cookies you can just whip up on instinct. Some are stunningly intricate, some are satisfyingly simple. Some you’ll make over and over again, and they never fail to comfort. Some cookies are so sublime, you have to drop what you’re doing and close your eyes to enjoy them properly.

Mozart cookie: lovely and mathematically precise.

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Classic Viennese cookies via andrewingredients.co.uk.

Debussy cookie: sophisticated, with deceptive lightness.

Colorful macaroons
French macarons via bonepi.com.

Miles Davis cookie: smooth, sweet-salty, and ultra-cool.

Double-Chocolate-Peanut-Butter-Salted-Swirl-Ice-Cream-Sandwiches-glitterinc.com_
Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwich cookie via glitterinc.com.

Gordon Lightfoot cookie: deliciously chewy and sturdy, with lots of traditional ingredients.

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Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin cookie via recipeshubs.com.

Rage Against the Machine cookie: hard-core, with principles.

badass cookie music
Vegan Power cookie via chicvegan.com.

Justin Bieber cookie.

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Golden Oreos via thecolorless.net.

Now that you’d rather be eating cookies, let’s get back to Music. At this juncture, I’ll admit that cookies still don’t fully express what I want them to, because I could FAR more easily live without cookies than live without music.

In utero, I was already learning to depend on melody and harmony; as my mom sang with her Renaissance choir, I frolicked along.

During my childhood, we listened to music in our house all the time – from Sandra Beech and Raffi to Sleeping Beauty and Mary Poppins to Brahms and Prokofiev to Bruce Cockburn and John Fahey to the Beatles and Jethro Tull. We often attended the symphony and the opera as a family in those days, too. We would take turns staring at the performers from the second balcony, using binoculars.

Music was always full of images and emotion for me, even when I was quite little. We often listened to music to fall asleep, and certain pieces moved me so much, I felt bereft when they ended. I can remember a long pre-teen afternoon spent nerding out with my little sister, writing interpretive poems based on Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring; it was so beautiful it had to be poemed.

As for my musical training, it’s been a bit spotty. I sang a lot, from toddlerhood on (we have audio footage of my Raffi covers). I cheated through about three years of piano lessons from my mom; I could play well enough by ear that I didn’t need to read the music – until it got too hard, and by then I was rather behind in my music-reading abilities. After that, I mostly contented myself with making up pieces to play, so that I could forego the reading of music. (Well, not completely – I did also learn the soprano recorder.)

In high school music class, I learned to read music for flute and piccolo, and eventually alto saxophone. I love love loved being in the Concert and Jazz bands, playing in big, thrilling ensembles. Making awesome music with a large group of humanity… it’s a rush I wish everyone could experience.

In my teen years, I began making mix tapes (back when they were actually tapes) that would later by replaced by playlists, collecting songs I loved and cherishing them like shiny shells. I also fell in love with a whole bunch of musicals. The significance music takes on when you’re a teenager in the midst of your identity quest (plus lots of hormones)… it’s just EPIC.

First live rock concert, just for reference, was the Grapes of Wrath at the Hamilton Tivoli in 1992, with my best childhood friend Natalie. We were 14.

Since high school, I’ve fit music-making into my life here and there – choir and concert band at the University of Toronto, a women’s choir for a few years here at home, and in recent years, my ukulele, and Massed Choir for one week a year at OELC. When I have a compelling enough reason, I open up GarageBand or a score-writer and make a record of music that’s been in my head, waiting to get out.

I still use music constantly. It’s therapy, energy boost, relaxer, comfort, distraction, focus aid, pick-me-up… you name it. Music helps me celebrate when there’s joy, and process and heal when there’s pain. I do not know how I’d live without it.

Furthermore, I think we all need it, on a fundamental level. Like, as a species. Why else would we have vocalized and pounded out rhythms together, since forever, in all the corners of the world we occupy? In this way, music is almost more like water than bread, transcending political boundaries, flowing through us, connecting us, keeping our souls quenched. You know??

Yep. That’s what music does. Makes me wax friggin’ lyrical.

What music keeps you alive?

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 3: Visual Art

It’s Visual Art for Day 3 of the Artist Challenge!

I’m going to bend the art-as-bread metaphor a bit, and say that visual art… is a sandwich. Because it has to be. You take your deliciously blank bread/canvas/hunk of rock, add your ideas and effort, colour and texture, and make it something totally new that’s your own. It might be savoury or sweet, hot or cold, crunchy or sloppy, humble or huge, traditional or bizarre. It might be multimedia. The result might cause observers to say, “Ooh! Yum!” or perhaps “WTF is that??”

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Artistic Vegetarian Sandwich via amuse-your-bouche.com.

I love visual art. (You might be thinking: Um, Dilovely, you also said you loved the first two strands of art. Are you ever gonna spice things up and NOT love one? The answer is no. Nope, I love them all. I’m allowed to be wholeheartedly predictable if I want.) Especially since university, when I got a wee bit obsessed with Impressionists – as many French majors do – I have loved to contemplate art. I visited all the museums I could while in Europe – and Barcelona blew my mind. I love letting a painting or sculpture sink into my eyes and take over my brain.

I also love, when possible, watching people make art. Since we’re talking about art AND sandwiches, I’m going to confess that a person with knee-jerk shyness (such as me) might, instead of choosing to have lunch with any famous person in history, want to go back in time and just watch Monet or Seurat paint.

I am in awe of visual artists, including the many I know personally and/or am related to. I’m amazed by the ability to shed reality, see things in new ways, envision things that never were, grab your tools and just… make new beauty. This is how I know I am not a true visual artist: I’m not enough of a risk-taker. Or a reality-shedder.

Here’s my art sandwich:

peanut butter and jam sandwich whole wheat 5-day artist challenge
Conventional PB&J via livestrong.com.

It might be decently executed, it’s appealing enough, but it’s entirely unoriginal.

When I was a kid, I drew lots of pictures. Usually ladies in pretty dresses. Other kids often said I was a “good draw-er.” (I was also the queen of colouring contests.) I figured this was normal. My mom was such a good draw-er that she could just whip up a drawing for me to colour, upon request. (Mostly ballerinas.) My dad could create graphic-art fonts by hand as if he’d trained his whole life. I just assumed all grown-ups could do art.

I enjoyed art class in Grade 9, and was proud of some of what I came up with, especially my big still-life project. However, I was beginning to understand that I didn’t have the innovative soul of a true visual artist, and I took instrumental music instead, thereafter.

Around the time I graduated from university, I took up drawing again for a bit, having remembered what I’m good at, namely: copying. I can draw from a photograph pretty accurately.

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Here’s Marilyn, with only a slightly wonky nose.
anne frank drawing 5-day artist challenge visual art
Here’s Anne Frank, with whom I was also obsessed for several years.
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Here’s a woman from a Midol ad. I related to her posture at the time I drew her.

This was my most in-depth drawing, rendered from a photo I found in the book The Family of Man (from the MOMA). I was happy I’d managed to retain that which moved me about the original – the tenderness, the light. But the real beauty, the real art, was in the photo itself.

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For a brief moment as I prepared to leave for France, I imagined reinventing myself on a foreign continent as An Artist. But it didn’t last, because I knew I didn’t have the true artist’s soul. I wasn’t risky or imaginative or experimental. I liked to be safe. Even as a kid, I didn’t take paint and just go “Sploosh!” to see what happened. I didn’t try new things much, or let art take shape on its own. I wanted things to be just so. That’s why I so loved my coloured pencils: the colour went only exactly where I put it. Even now, paint scares me in its uncontrollableness.

Most of the drawing I do nowadays is on the blackboard (or whiteboard) at school. The kids love it when I draw things to illustrate a point, especially when they turn out terrible. They still sometimes tell me I’m a good draw-er, which makes me smile. And I enjoy watching my own children do art, with their natural creativity.

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These are a few of E’s homemade Pokémon. He makes up their names and powers.
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And here is a mixed-media piece AB made with, paper, wood, glitter, stickers, re-directed mail, plastic packaging, and utmost confidence.

For those readers with the visual art gift: could I come watch you make art sometime?

***

P.S. If you noticed that Day 3 didn’t occur on the third day, here’s an oh-so-artistic meme I created to represent my feelings just prior to midnight last night:

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Such Outrageous (Good) Fortune

I mentioned I’ve been absent from school twice within the last two months, for a week at a time. There are only good reasons for this, and this is what I wrote (and didn’t manage to post) when I came back from the first one – a rare and wonderful reunion of my dad’s side of the family in the U.S.

I’m feeling really grateful, for so many things.

  • Being given permission to attend a family reunion in North Carolina for a week, even though teachers are really never supposed to do vacation time outside scheduled breaks.
  • Our spacious new minivan that made the trip possible. (Toyota Sienna.)
  • My kids being, overall, very well-behaved and good sports about the 12-hour drive (plus stops and a teeny bit of getting lost).
  • My dear sisters, Auntie Em and Auntie Beth, who were part of the minivan crew and made the long driving time totally do-able. (In fact, when the kids look back on those long drives, they insist that they were fun… And they actually kind of were.)
  • The gift of hand-me-down Bakugan toys, from a thoughtful friend, that made both car rides way more cool.

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  • The advice of my friend at bearandlionmama.com, who has a lot of great tips about road trips that were helpful (especially the cookie trays!).
  • Sean being an excellent driver, such that we arrived safely and I didn’t have a nervous breakdown, despite my unexpected and uncharacteristic bout of anxiety during my own driving stint in the West Virginia mountains. (Tunnels through mountains = not great for claustrophobes.)
  • The fact that my two aunts somehow managed to buy houses that aren’t just in the same town – they’re RIGHT NEXT DOOR to each other.
  • The beautiful Smoky Mountains.

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  • Tromping around in the mountain woods.
  • Gorgeous weather, like a sweet slice of summer. (While we were still having intermittent snow back home.)
  • The best screened-in balcony-porch you’ve ever seen.

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  • Being given a bed to sleep on that’s actually more comfortable than our own bed; on our second night there, I had the best sleep I’ve had in… probably more than seven years.
  • A whole crew of family I don’t just like, or even just love – rather, family I am totally inspired by and adore to pieces. Including every one of the relatively new additions.
  • Finally cuddling my birthday buddy!! And getting a lovely baby-fix – without craving another of my own. Well, hardly at all.

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  • Getting to hug and kiss my sweet grandma every day, hear her voice, and know that at 97-and-a-half she’s still a good listener and inclined to make sassy comments on a regular basis.

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  • Fascinating, wide-ranging intergenerational conversations, especially leisurely ones over breakfast while we ogled the baby and drank amazing coffee (one of the cousins does coffee for a living, and we all reaped the benefits).
  • The interactions between the four smaller people – ages almost-one, three-and-a-half, almost-seven, and almost-eleven. They were all so good to each other and had so much fun, age gaps notwithstanding.

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  • Delicious homemade meals every night, made by different folks so no-one had to do too much.
  • Having time to play two whole games of Cities and Knights of Catan, plus lots of Anomia, Dutch Blitz, Exploding Kittens, and one grand game of Taboo. Lots of laughing-till-we-couldn’t-breathe.
  • The opportunity to visit the Cherokee village and walk around the grounds (which seemed mysteriously open even though the village itself was closed even though its website said it was open) and then visit the nearby Museum, so as to have an idea of the real history of the area.

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  • Seeing horribly grainy video footage of our clan talent show from New Year’s Eve 1995, to remember how young and big- and long-haired – and talented, of course – we all were.
  • Watching my children playing with their grown-up relatives, who seemed happy to get down on the floor to play, or participate in endless rounds of bounce-catch. (Thank you!!)
  • Both of my dog-scared kids getting to know little Tucker, who helped them loosen up.

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  • Getting to see arty Asheville, including the coffee bus and Woolworth Walk and the used bookstore and Real Buskers!

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  • The fact that my kids have aunts and great-aunts who do real art, super-fun full-on art, of a type that I never accomplish with them at home.

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  • My Hubbibi being willing to put the kids to bed basically every night, so that I could spend more time with my relatives.
  • Being reminded of what it feels like to be at loose ends… having whole days with no set plans, to just loll around and chat and listen to birds and have drinks and hammock and strum and sing and look at old photos. What a crazy feeling.

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  • Getting to celebrate the baby’s first Passover on our last evening in NC, with real matzo ball soup and extra-hot horseradish, and the short version of the sermon with genuine Hebrew singing.
  • Spending a whole week immersed in beauty and clan-love. It really doesn’t get any better.
  • That lady at McDonald’s during breakfast on our trip home who kindly got AB a separate plate when she was starting to melt down because of a syrup incident, and then also got us a lot of napkins when she spilled her milk. And smiled at us and seemed not at all perturbed by the perturbations.
  • Being so fortunate in our home that, even though we missed everyone, coming back across the border was a joy, and coming into our house was comforting. Even E, who had cried about leaving, said, “It’s nice to be home.”

Dear clan – thank you so much, for your hospitality, your generosity, your wonderfulness in general. We miss you and love you lots and lots, and are already looking forward to the next visit. Even two weeks after we got home, E still said that whenever he mentioned North Carolina, he felt sad that we left – but I know both kids had the time of their lives. And me too.

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