31 October 2009

Music for an Autumn Day

It is the stretched soul that makes music. . . .
~ Eric Hoffer

It is raining and gray outside. The kettle is whistling and the tea leaves are swirling in a dance of calm joy. It is the perfect autumn day and I have the perfect music to go with it. Because yesterday I struck music gold twice!

On my regular Starbucks morning stop before heading to the office, I was getting ready to pay for my Earl Grey Latte, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw Glen Hansard. Well, not the real Glen Hansard, but his picture on an album. You may remember him and his singing partner, Marketa Irglova from the hit indie flick, Once [if you haven't seen it, get thee to Netflix right now and add it to your queue ~ you will buy the soundtrack soon after!]

Glen and Marketa have collaborated on a new album: Strict Joy. I immediately snatched it up and took it along with my latte to my desk and spent the rest of the day listening to it over and over while I typed up minutes and proofread and edited reports. None of the tracks have quite the haunting and mesmerizing quality of Falling Slowly or If You Want Me, but the album overall seems a well-thought out effort and both Hansard and Irglova's composing abilities still blow me away.

For instance, Fantasy Man contains the stark and beautiful The story of two lovers / Who danced both edges of the knife ~ a lyric that makes me shiver and wish I had written it! Another favorite is In These Arms with lines like You were restless / I was somewhere less secure. Back Broke is another favorite, with a great melody that weaves in and out, surging in just the right places and pulling you in: I came on your command / Don't give me false hope. Last but possibly the track I played as much Back Broke, is I Have Loved You Wrong for its sheer beauty and the longing ache of a lover who let her beloved go.

Later in the evening, wrapping myself in soft, fuzzy blankets and drinking vanilla chamomile tea mixed with a rather large shot of Maker's Mark to stave off any autumnal virus that might be lurking around, I pulled up my Netflix account and watched Cowboys and Angels which reviewers said was a nice, albeit cheesy, "chick flick". What can I say? I am a romantic and a push over for a good love story.

So there were definitely scenes that had enough cheese to make a pizza. But overall, I loved it! It was well done and the shots of the countryside in Utah were breathtaking. And the love story was beautiful ~ and amazingly for Hollywood ~ clean and closer to reality. But being a musicophile, I was struck most by the soundtrack. I searched everywhere, but could not find one.

However, another fan posted somewhere that he had bought Sasha Lazard's The Myth of Red as the song Angeli is feature in the film. What a voice! Myth is a great album along the lines of Mario Frangoulis or Amici Forever: classical opera mixed with pop ~ a genre I am particularly fond of.

So download these albums, make a cup of tea and relax with Glen, Marketa, and Sasha. It is the perfect day for it.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

24 October 2009

The Taste of Autumn

The autumn leaves
Drift by my window;
The autumn leaves
Of red and gold.
~ Autumn Leaves

woke up Saturday with rain a pounding a steady bluesy rhythm on the shingles. I sighed as I made a pot of Gingerbread Spice tea. Normally I enjoy a good rain. it enhances the coziness of being at home. But this Saturday I had plans to drive out to Delaplane with friends to pick pumpkins and revel in the fiery and golden mountainsides. Now we would have to come up with another way to get our autumn fix. I do not mind walking the fields in a light mist, but a relentless downpour is quite another!

My friends and I decided to spend the morning and early afternoon catching up on errands and what not and then convene at my place around five-thirty for dinner and pumpkin carving. The only requirement was that everyone had to buy their own pumpkins from the store [sigh] and bring a knife. [Mwhahahaha!]

The pumpkin is king of the fall vegetable garden. Its myriad shades of orange and gold and plump, meaty flesh fit right in with the textures and scents of the season: knobbly sweaters and fuzzy blankets; velvety cups of spiked apple cider and steaming bowls of soup. Being versatile vegetable , however, it is not afraid of starring in a custard as well as pie; a soup as well as a fresh-baked loaf of bread. It is a comfortable vegetable.

And one of my favorite comfort foods when evening temperatures suddenly drop is chili. It is economical to make, it is filling and it invites a crowd. And although I usually connect chili with snowy winter days , I recently discovered a recipe that included pumpkins and turkey. Now that combination screams autumn!

To prepare for our pumpkin massacre that evening, I shopped at the Falls Church Farmers' Market and picked up a Fairytale Sugar Pumpkin [they have such an interesting shape and colour!], a few green chilis, and some large, juicy tomatoes. Then I headed to the nearby grocery store to pick up ground turkey and fresh cilantro. Once I arrived back home, I picked the last of our green peppers and set about chopping vegetables and put them in a bowl while the turkey browned.

You will notice that the recipe does not call for juice of any kind: no tomato juice or apple juice or liquid of any kind. I was wondering how this was going to turn out to be chili without it but my fears were unfounded. The ripe, diced tomatoes plus the pureed pumpkin create their own "soup" base. With several dashes of curry and ginger added, and a bowl of sour cream and a plate of freshly grated cheddar on the table, a simple but hearty dinner was ready by the time my friends arrived, pumpkin victims in tow.

Now all that's left to do is dry out the pumpkin seeds and roast them!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

19 October 2009


Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity.
~ Plato

Whether feng shui is real or not, one thing is certain: once I re-arranged my boudoir last weekend, my mood immediately lightened, my soul was inspired and my writing vastly improved. The upside to living with a houseful of women is the opportunity for authentic community and deep friendships. The downside is limited space.

Ideally, one's boudoir should be a sanctuary free of the trappings of the digital age: no phones, no computer. Nothing that whirs, wheezes, beeps or generally makes obnoxious "machiney" noises. However, when space is at a premium and one is an event planner, poet, composer, avid reader, and general social butterfly, the tools necessary for such talents and pastimes must be accommodated. So into my cranberry-coloured sanctuary, I crammed a writing desk, dressing table [where I actually do my correspondence], dresser, stereo, computer, several bookshelves stuffed with the likes of Austen, Lewis, Tolkien, Kreeft and the like and a full size bed. I know, I know ~ I hear designers fainting in horror all over the place. But my dears ~ what else can I do?! Throw out a housemate and take over her room?

It is fascinating how an intimate space can reflect the inhabitants personality or current state of mind. One housemate keeps her room super organized and tidy. No frills and just what she needs in it ~ nothing more, nothing less. It reflects a side of her personality to a tee: pragmatic and efficient and always looking to improve her life and live as simply as possible. Yet, a cozy chair in one corner invites confidences and an attentive ear always ready to listen to the latest tale of woe and heartbreak. Another housemate always seems to have paperwork all over her room and sure enough, she is constantly looking to learn more about herself and life in general and an eagerness to share what she has learned along the journey.

And my room? Ah ~ at once very sanguine and melancholic: definitely a mirror of its bohemian occupant. Perhaps one would deduce a penchant for the romantic and slightly breathless and scattered from the various piles of clothes in different corners [Oh? So you don't try something on and it not fit your mood? I only have so much time in the morning to face the world with grace and awesomeness!] But amidst the ordered chaos I think you can also discern warmth, comfort and an overall invitation to relax and be at peace. A place where beauty and function co-exist. A harbor from which to sail on to the next great adventure. And isn't that what one's room should be after all? Sanctuary.

What does your room say about you?

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

18 October 2009

Ad Libbing Beauty

When the faithful gather to celebrate the work of our Redemption, the language of their prayer - free from doctrinal ambiguity and ideological influence - should foster the dignity and beauty of the celebration itself, while faithfully expressing the Church's faith and unity.
~ John Paul II

Sigh. I just do not understand it. I forewent my usual attendance at St. John's Tridentine Mass [my first mistake] today and instead attended a Novus Ordo Mass at a local parish. When the organ began playing What Wondrous Love Is This for the Processional, I thought I was safe and could relax.

But then Father started off the Mass by rambling something that no one knew how to respond to. So we stumbled and hemmed and hawed and finally responded "And also with you?" with a question in our voices. Granted this priest was somewhere in his early to mid-sixities, so perhaps he was stuck in a liturigcal time vortex where the Mass is a form of entertainment and ad libbing and improv is encouraged to "engage" audience "participation." But this invariably turns out awful to the ear and painful to the soul. Half-way through the homily ~ which had some good points, but they were lost in the thicket of rambling ad-libbing ~ I wanted to pull my mantilla off and run groaning out of the church. This was obviously not an option, so I tried praying a prayer of thanksgiving that I was able to attend Mass at all, rambling or not.

And reminding myself to not forego St. John the Beloved again.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

15 October 2009

Love Is Kind

Don’t flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become.
~ Oliver Wendall Holmes

ommon courtesy is not so common anymore. The little polite phrases most of us were taught as children have all but disappeared from our daily conversations and interactions. Why have we stopped being polite to one another? I have addressed this topic before ~ focusing more on courtesy to strangers; now I wish to bring it a little closer to home and discuss proper behaviour towards loved ones.

One would think that such a discussion would not be needed; treating loved ones well seems so obvious. Sadly, such is not the case. Recently, this was brought home to me as I was the recipient on two separate occasions of very wounding and outright rude comments made to me by people I trusted. And while being on this side of the curtain now, I am sure that being a fallen human being, I have likewise said rude and hurtful things to friends and loved ones in the past as well.

Why do we do this? Now, one could posit that I was hurt because the words were spoken by those whose affection and good opinion I desire ~ the heart feels safe in the presence of loved ones and so does not protect itself as it does with strangers. While there is truth to that, in both these cases, the hurtful words I experienced no lady or gentleman would ever speak to anyone, let alone a dear friend or potential girlfriend. They are things that just are not said in polite company. Again, why do we do this? Does familiarity truly breed contempt?

Or perhaps, as Oliver Wendall Holmes points out, we somehow feel justified in “speaking our minds.” Things may be topsy-turvy these days, but I am pretty sure imprudent speech is still a vice and not a virtue. It is one thing to take a loved one aside and caution them about some potentially dangerous behavior [and even then, such ‘fraternal correction’ should be done with love, humility, tact and kindness]. It is quite another to make rude comments about their person, appearance, character and otherwise treat them as a comfortable old shoe. And old shoe you step on and throw into the corner after a long day. We should never be that comfortable with a loved one. If we would never think of saying X to a stranger lest we give offense, how much more careful should we be with the vulnerability of our loved ones, who have trusted us and let us in where no other may enter, save perhaps God.

Society today so abhors formality ~ but formality and courtesy are not the same thing. One can be exceedingly formal and still ride roughshod over everyone’s feelings. A friend once remarked that he was fine with throwing out archaic rules of etiquette as long as new ones were created in their place. Our society did one without doing the other and culture has suffered as a consequence. Courtesy oils the wheels of daily life. It is difficult enough as it is ~ we go about our day battered by bosses, co-workers, and obliviously rude strangers on the train. At the very least, we should expect a little more kindness and warmth from our loved ones.

So the next time you feel the need to “speak honestly” to someone in a way that would be hurtful and pointless, don't.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

08 October 2009

Stopping to Smell the Earl Grey

The atmosphere of home beats almost any other place.
~ Alexandra Stoddard

Sometimes you just need a slow morning. I needed one today. This morning, I woke up in plenty of time to catch the bus downtown, but all of a sudden I did not feel so well. So I called in and told them I would be in later. Then I promptly crawled back beneath the counterpane and snoozed for another solid forty-five minutes. I woke up refreshed and feeling a little better, made myself a cup of Earl Grey with local honey and fresh squeezed lemon juice. It was glorious.

Even better, I was able to indulge in the slower pace without guilt. There was nothing pressing at the office ~ everyone who usually needs me is away at a conference. I brought my little plaid tea cup upstairs to my cozy boudoir with its warm and cheery cranberry walls [don't let anyone tell you you can't paint your bedroom red ~ it is fabulous!], lit a deliciously scented candle and sat down to catch up on my personal coorespondance. When I was ready to head in, I felt better not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well. And it showed as I smiled more readily and greeted strangers I met in the bus, the train and on the street.

Granted not every morning can be spent in such a leisurely fashion. Or can it? Is it possible to excuse oneself from the insanity that passes for living these days? How does one deal with the million and one duties that claim our attention and make a slower lifestyle seem like an unattainable dream? Becuase you and I may be forced by current economics to live somewhere other than a bucolic small town, but that does not mean we cannot live like we do. For the past seven years, I bought into the smoke and mirros lifestyle that is part and parcel of the Washington area. But no more!

So, how do we slow things down? Perhaps it means rising a little earlier than usual [O! Perish the thought!] in order to relax with a cup of tea and your coorespondance. Maybe there is an hour or two in the evenings when you can make an appointment with yourself, close the door and do something creative, or take a bubble bath or read a book of Keats' poetry or do nothing at all! Personally, I am not at my best before nine in the morning. But after nine-thirty in the evening, I light a couple of candles, put Pandora on either my Josh Groban or Frank Sinatra station and read, write letters, work on poetry or a new song. I am always amazed at the energy and healing that takes place when you just slow things down to a more normal speed.

Because I assure you, my dear readers, that the current pace we are living cannot be sustained without some insanity creeping in. It is not normal and it is not healthy. And it does not have to be that way ~ no matter where we live.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela