17 March, 2010

the magic of music (not to mention squash)

The past week or so has been an exercise in taking my own advice: simply putting aside the imaginings of what I ought to be accomplishing, in favor of the here and now of my rather needy family of late.

Avery's day off school descended into that most dismal of all ailments, the common cold. Not enough of an illness to justify staying home (although if John weren't breathing down my neck, I'd always rather she stayed home when the slightest runny nose strikes), but enough to make life miserable for the duration. Achy, no appetite to speak of (which strikes terror in my feeding-people heart), cranky and apathetic. One of Avery's favorite jokes? "Are you ignorant, or just apathetic? I don't know and I don't care."

Then John's tooth flared up again and he spent a miserable weekend anticipating a root canal, which took place yesterday. Then last evening, while I volunteered at a school drinks party, John took Avery to the maxillo-facial surgeon (can that be right?) for a consultation on her upcoming surgery to bring down her incisors, to be met with her braces and pulled into place.


The poor guys. All I can do is make chicken soup and other soft, warm foods, and feel sorry for them both.

In the meantime, I managed to meet up with my new blog designer here, over an enormous dish of macaroni and cheese and a mammoth salad of beet leaves, rocket, olives, tomatoes, artichoke hearts. The plans that young man has for my efforts! Have you ever heard of SEO? Neither had I, but it stands for "Search Engine Optimization," or how to get Google to pay more attention to me. For instance, if I write about our trip to Venice, he has strategies for getting my blog to come up early in people's Google searches for "Venice," and the same for creamy sweetcorn and rocket soup. And he has wonderful ideas for randomly-appearing recipe hot links to pop up every time you log on, and a different banner photo for every post. And a logo! There will be a whole series of deadlines, test drives, opinion polls (you can weigh in if you like!), before finally going live with the New And Improved Kristen in London on... May 20.

That's all very well for me, in the dull month of March, to keep me occupied. And John's had more than enough to contend with visiting dentists. Our entire household has been livened up in a very minor way by our acquisition of a "toastie machine," which makes anything between two slices of bread a hot, chewy, glorious meal: buffalo mozzarella, bresaola, rocket and homemade pesto, as you see. Something to keep us entertained.

But dear Avery? Readers, I can hardly convey to you her frustration with the piano. She hates the songs she's been given to learn at school, her lessons occur during other lessons at school, so she must leave, miss the homework assignment and rush to meet up with her teacher for a scant 20 minutes or so of instruction. Then she forgets a lesson, then her teacher is called away and cancels. You can imagine.

So the poor dear sits on the velvet bench, music propped disconsolately in front of her, banging away as I cook dinner. "But Avery, that's meant to be an F sharp, I'm sure." "I like it this way." Dear me. Moments of silence fall between songs as she gathers her mental strength to continue. The whole instrument seems to encapsulate everything frustrating about education: being at other people's mercy, having to do what THEY say, having to follow all the stupid rules when YOUR way sounds just as nice. My sister and I have agreed that to play the piano at least on a basic level, or at least to read music competently, seems to us a skill akin to reading or subtracting. So I insist that Avery continue, just for a bit.

So, the antidote for all this musical misery? Not, as I would have thought, immersion in Facebook or video games or television. No, in a display of the sort of wisdom that makes me look at her in awe, she picked up, as you see, an old guitar, loaned to her by one of my friends, and began to improvise. Strumming away in the dimly lighted study, by herself, she looked for all the world like the next Joan Baez. Even what she was wearing, and fall of her hair, seemed an image of serenity from bygone days. How beautiful the sound was, how it took me back to my childhood with my brother's incredible talent playing itself out every day from his guitars...

How peaceful the house suddenly was, one sort of music acting as a cure for another. She played from "High School Musical," unrecognizable from its awful pop incarnation, just softly thrumming chords. The cats settled down near her, candles flickered on the table, and my dinner vegetable bubbled away in the oven. Quite perfect, and so unexpected! A cure for anxiety: guitar and butternut squash.

Baked Butternut Squash with Sage
(serves 4)

2 smallish butternut squashes
4 tbsps butter
4 tbsps brown sugar
drizzle olive oil
16 sage leaves
sprinkle sea salt

Heat oven to 400F, 200C. Line a cookie sheet or baking sheet with foil. Cut each butternut squash in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds. In the cavity left behind the seeds, place 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp brown sugar. Drizzle with olive oil, place 4 sage leaves on each squash half and sprinkle with salt. Bake for at least 40 minutes or until very soft. Lift out carefully because the squash may collapse, and mind the very hot butter-sugar mixture. Spoon the melted sugar butter over the whole half squash and serve hot or warm.


Speaking of music, we are on our way to a charming English school institution known as "The Singing Tea." Just what it says on the tin (also one of my favorite English expressions), it's a teatime concert of performances by girls who are taking singing lessons at school. You turn up in time for a cup of tea, or a glass of elderflower, you take a little piece of date and walnut cake, and chat for a bit with other parents. Then the girls are called onto the stage in the Singing Hall, one by one, to perform the pieces they are practicing for the upcoming National Exams this weekend. Avery is singing one piece in French (very depressing words, but they sound lovely) and one piece in German (she assures me it's a bucolic tale of frolic and mayhem, but it sounds like a funeral dirge).

I'll take plenty of tissues.


Bee said...

What a coincidence . . . tonight I have spent 30 excruciating minutes listening to my youngest daughter practice for her piano exam next week. She is very rough, still, and has almost no time to practice at school. We both felt fraught at the end of it! My older daughter does guitar, and she has a very cool 19 yr old "teacher" who is in a very cool band. That is just for fun, thank goodness.

The blog redesign sounds fascinating. I learned a lot just reading your description of it! (Where are all of the pictures for the changing headers going to come from?)

Anonymous said...

My oldest is in 9th grade and I hate how sick he has to be to justify staying home from school. Last week after a miserable night of sleep with an awful head cold he got up looking terrible. I asked if he thought that he should stay home and he said "It will just make tomorrow even worse because I will have to make up everything and will be scrambling all day." And it's true, so off he went.
Can't wiat for the redesign, sounds very innovative.

Kristen In London said...

Bee and Min, I find it terribly touching how much we have in common. What a far-reaching thread motherhood is...

Music, sick days, and the redesign of the blog. I have to TAKE all the photos we're imagining using on the blog, so I'm trying much harder to make food pretty (difficult for me) and take a good picture. John bought a tripod!

Anonymous said...

I suffered through piano lessons until my mother relented and let me quit...My son just gave up the trumpet after playing for 5 years (he's in 9th grade). I keep warning him that once he stops he may not be able to pick it up again. It's funny how motherhood changes our perspectives.

It's neat to hear about your blog plans. I'll be able to say I "found" you (through JaPRA) right before you hit the big time.

Kristen In London said...

Hi Julia,

What's jaPRA? I'm glad to have you here.

Julian said...

I think you're doing very well with the photographs, keep up the good work, will get these designs to you soon.