Monday, August 24, 2015

Our Golden Hour Dinner Party

All the way back in June I decided that one of the things I wanted to do this summer was plan and host a pop-up dinner party. Before that day I didn't even know what a pop-up dinner party was but when I read this post I thought, "You know, I could totally do that!" A few minutes later as I scrolled to the end of the post I thought, "I'm definitely doing that!" and started looking at dates on my calendar.

So many things about this concept–hosting a semi-surprise, fancy dinner party outside with friends–resonated with me. What could be better than eating al fresco, for one? We live in a gorgeous part of the country and I was pretty sure we could find a breathtaking venue. I loved the idea of being in nature but using linen tablecloths and real forks and plates and glasses and cloth napkins. The challenge of coming up with a menu and cooking everything myself excited me. And of course, the most fun part was making everything as beautiful and magical as possible and getting to share that with the people I love. (I just hoped I could pull it off!)

We have such a lovely collection of friends here in Charlottesville. We had four couples at the party, plus us and my baby brother (who took all the photos and was incredibly fun and helpful all day long–couldn't have done it without him). In Oh Happy Day style I sent out this slightly cryptic invitation on Paperless Post a few weeks in advance.

I thought that keeping things sort of secretive would add to the magic of the party. The venue we decided on was a quiet public park with a lake and pretty mountain views. We set up the tables in the shade under a collection of old trees near the small lake. The morning of, we emailed directions that my husband had written out old-school style and told everyone that once they arrived, to look for white tablecloths under some nearby trees.

I spent all day cooking. My brother and husband were a huge help with this. I made only things that would be delicious at room temperature and I wanted everything to be fresh and seasonal and look colorful and beautiful on the table. We had poached salmon with a dijon sauce, brown rice with chives, local tomatoes with olive oil and feta, sliced peaches and blueberries, kale and cabbage salad with a balsamic dressing, baguettes with salted butter, and for dessert, lemon pound cake and raspberries. And rosé, because it's so darn pretty.

As we approached 5ish we loaded up both of our cars with all of the supplies. Two 6-foot folding tables, 11 chairs from around the house, a huge tub of tablecloths/dishes/silverware/serving utensils/glasses, the cooler of wine and sparkling water, a metal bucket with candles/bottle opener/twine/lighter/scissors, two vases of wildflowers, and finally the platters of food wrapped tightly in saran wrap. We stopped on the way for ice. 

One thing that was so incredible: as my husband and brother and I set up it was very hot, humid and buggy. This was around 6-6:30ish. We lit tons of citronella candles and sprayed our legs with bug spray and hoped the heat would subside. As we approached 7, which is when we had told our guests to arrive, the sun crept behind the mountain and it became instantly cooler and perfectly crisp and comfortable and the bugs all but disappeared. It was such a welcome relief and I was really able to relax once this happened!

My brother is an excellent photographer and he snapped most of these in the few minutes we had between taking off the saran wrap from the food and when our guests arrived. The light was golden and exquisite and I think he really captured the magic of the evening.

Our friends were so sweet and excited and I think they all loved the surprise element. They didn't quite know what to expect and I think it's safe to say they were amazed when they arrived. It was a marvelous, enchanting evening and I'm so glad we did it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The More Loving One

I've been slowly making my way through the most fascinating book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Have you heard of it? The author chose 161 inspired and inspiring people from human history–writers, scientists, composers, poets, inventors–and did meticulous research on the habits that surrounded their work and gave structure (or lack of structure) to their days. Interesting, right?

As you might expect these creatively brilliant people were mostly quite odd, and many of them followed their routines with a manic sort of discipline. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard would fill his coffee cup to the brim with sugar, pour acid-strong coffee over it and drink it in one energetic gulp. Thomas Wolfe wrote his novels naked, standing up, using the top of his fridge as his desk. Gustav Mahler dragged his wife Alma on 3-or-4-hour walks every afternoon, often stopping to compose for an hour or two at a time while he insisted she wait for him. Gertrude Stein usually wrote no more than 30 minutes a day and often got her creativity flowing by staring at individual cows and rocks (!) in the French countryside.

Along the way I've been doing a lot of Googling because I find myself wanting to know more about the actual work these people did. I'm familiar with the composers he's written about and a lot of the writers but the psychologists and poets are a little less known to me. In my side research the other day I discovered this poem by W.H. Auden. It's called The More Loving One.

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us, we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

I love this poem. It's simple but so emotionally honest. If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me. How beautifully self-sacrificial to prefer the giving end of unrequited love, to have heartbreak rather than cause it.

Anyway, I highly recommend the book. It's gotten me thinking about my own habits as a creative person. Mostly though, it's sort of like peeking into someone's window which is something I find endlessly intriguing. We've talked about my nosiness before, right?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Life These Days, And Hello Again!

This poor Something Ivory has gotten a bit of neglect these last few weeks but today is Friday! (I always feel inspired on Fridays.) And I wanted to check in and post a little update.

First of all, though I never thought I'd be one of the many writers/bloggers to ever say this, I think that Instagram has begun to replace my blogging in some ways. I almost always spend more time crafting the caption than taking the photo and I see it as a chance to tell a little story. When we were abroad our friend Jim asked midway through the trip if I'd blogged yet. I answered no, I hadn't, but that I'd started to think of each of my Instagram photos/captions as a mini blog post. Not everyone uses Instagram like this but I love trying to thoughtfully share real glimpses of my life this way.

Even though I haven't been blogging I've still been writing privately. To be frank, there is something in this season of my life that I'm struggling with deeply and that is too personal to blog about (for me, anyway). But there are many days where I wake up and can't imagine writing about anything else. So I write privately.

In better, kinder news, my life as a business owner/freelance artist/teacher/musician has taken off! I now have close to 15 students in my private studio. I've developed friendships and partnerships with several other young professional musicians and I can tell you, few things are more fun than playing music with your friends. And then gabbing about life over lunch. The best.

A few months ago I was asked to take on the role as vice president of the Charlottesville Music Teacher's Association which made every introverted muscle in my body tense up. I took a day to think about it, then gulped and said yes and it is now my job to plan each of our group's monthly programs for the whole year. We're going to Skype with an expert on performance anxiety, I've invited a soprano and a pianist from UVA to perform some German art songs for us and one of our own members will run a discussion on studio policies and practices. (Among many other things!) This has been enormously fun for me and a huge honor. And time-consuming! More writing emails and less writing blog posts. :)

This time in my life–personally and professionally and inwardly and outwardly–is one of change and growth. It's one where I feel quite proud of myself at times and at other times feel completely raw and vulnerable. Sometimes I'm confident and other times I doubt myself. I have made several incredible, close friends here in the last year. I'm learning how to do adult female friendship well and I'm so thankful for this gift. I feel fulfilled by my musical life and so sure that I'm in the right line of work. I also have realized that we are very much not in control and that we must take every blessing and every hardship alike to God. My prayer life has deepened necessarily.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that life these days is both harder than ever and more beautiful than ever. Is it possible that both could be true? I'm learning that yes, I think so. There's a rare sort of beauty that is found in suffering. And everything else, it's made lovelier by comparison. Glory be to God for this not-so-small miracle.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Japanese Silk

There was really only one thing that I would have been heartbroken to leave Japan without and that was a silk made-in-Japan kimono. Before the trip my mom and I both did a little research on the best place to find them and we decided that I didn't actually want a kimono at all–what I wanted was a yukata. A kimono is a very formal, very expensive, very hard-to-put-on-by-yourself piece of clothing. But a yukata, a simple robe that is made in both cotton and silk, in indoor and outdoor versions, is something I knew I would use and love for years and years.

We read that the best place to find good quality silk yukata (when in Japan, always go for the silk) was in high-end department stores. So one evening I took a cab to Takashimaya just before closing time before meeting the rest of our group for a late dinner. The "kimono floor" where I was instructed to go was magical. Wooden and paper fans and exquisite hair clips and the most luscious fabric samples surrounded me as I stepped off the escalator.

I decided on an indoor yukata as opposed to an outdoor one, something intimate and lovely to slip into after a bath or wear on lazy Saturday mornings before getting dressed. I tried on short and long ones but think I knew the whole time that the long, almost floor-length ones were for me. The saleswoman helped me into pale pastels with dark brushstrokes and a cream-colored one that I thought might be it.

But then I put on an orange-red yukata, that color that is so Japanese, with the most gorgeous white and gold and blue flowers and cherry blossoms pattern. (The photos don't do it justice.) I looked in the mirror and knew. There was no other yukata for me. This was the one. It made me feel elegant and lovely and isn't that the point of a luxury robe, how it makes you feel? The beauty of buying a piece of clothing that's meant to be worn only around the house is that its purpose is purely to make you feel good and soft and pretty. (And maybe to make your husband think that too.)

Since I was alone this first time around I was excited to bring Val back with me a few days later because she wanted to bring a yukata home too. (Side note: I was so touched when, this second time on the kimono floor in Kyoto's Takashimaya, Brahms' Op. 118 No. 2–which I consider my signature piece–was playing overhead.) She decided on a knee-length yukata in a fresh mint shade that is to-die-for against her dark hair and light skin.

I had thought I'd save my yukata to wear only every so often but I've been slinking into it almost every night. The older I get the less I believe in "saving" our nicest things for special occasions, but instead using them and loving them in regular everyday life. As evening looms I get excited to put it on and lay in bed with a book and I'm not sure I own anything (aside from my wedding dress) that makes me feel more beautiful.

p.s. Val and I decided that kimono just sounds better than yukata so that's what we call our robes, even though we know it isn't really accurate. :)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Never Stop Noticing

Isn't it lovely when life overwhelms you with joy over the simplest things? The other day I was making a chickpea salad, a new-to-me food that I can't believe I haven't thought to make before because chickpeas and I are very close friends. I whirred up the chickpeas and olives and tomatoes and red onion and jalapeños and stirred in a squeeze of lime juice and olive oil and kosher salt and chopped basil from the porch and it was all so fragrant and heavenly.

As slices of sourdough bread toasted I ran into our bedroom to grab my book to read while I ate and the sight of our tidy bedroom, which I'd spent some time cleaning and organizing earlier that day, made me ridiculously glad. There are few things as satisfying as a clean bedroom.

Back to the kitchen I skipped with a smile to assemble the chickpea salad sandwich. My first bite, that combination of warm, crisp slightly sour bread, slathers of mayo, earthy garden lettuce and the incredible flavor of chickpeas mixed with herbs and onions and spice almost made me fall over. It was so. good.

We can find joy anywhere. In fresh sheets, in warm baths, in powerful thunderstorms, in that first sip of cold lemonade, in a hug, in a pretty bike spotted on the street, in a line from a poem. We just can't allow ourselves to stop noticing it.

Happy Friday, friends!

Monday, June 15, 2015

On Traveling With Friends

I think most people would agree that traveling with friends is risky. We went to Japan with another married couple and we joked on the trip that we'd either love each other even more or hate each other by the end of it!

But with these friends there was never any question in my mind which way it would go. If you are lucky enough to find friends who are as delightfully laid back, curious and interested, positive even in a crisis, fun-loving and goofy, un-picky about food and uncomplaining in general, and excited by life as these friends are then I can wholeheartedly recommend going on vacation with them. Seriously. We had the time of our lives, the four of us.

There are so many cool perks to traveling with friends and particularly another married couple. First of all it's just plain fun. Of course I love traveling with my husband and family but there was something about traveling with good friends that made us giddy. It felt extraordinary to be sharing these otherworldly experiences with each other! They also live in Charlottesville so we did plenty of getting together to plan and chat about the trip which amplified the excitement and anticipation.

It was also really wonderful to sometimes pair off for girls things while the guys paired off for guys things. One afternoon us girls went to an onsen where we soaked in hot baths in the nude, along with some other Japanese ladies, for three hours! It was an amazing, culturally beautiful experience and it was so nice to have a girlfriend to do it with. (I loved this recent, related post on this general subject.)

It was neat how we all settled into roles. We four worked so well together and had the right mix of personalities. I was the one who always had a water bottle to pass around. Jim figured out all the subway routes which I appreciated even more after I struck out on my own one day and had to navigate the complicated Tokyo subway system by myself. My husband was good with directions on the ground and keeping us all laughing. Val had the camera and enough enthusiasm to fill three people.

One day we completely miscalculated how long it would take to get to the airport and had to take a $200 cab ride so we didn't miss our flight to Kyoto. And then after our flight we sat on a train for 2 hours just to get to our hotel. It could have been a miserable day but it wasn't, not even a little bit. We made the most of it (in part by buying some wine and beer and sipping it on the train! not illegal in Japan!) as we traded stories and laughed about the super yucky rice ball flavor we picked up at 711.

I think it's safe to say we solidified our friendship with these two for life. We definitely want to travel with them again though we're unsure how we could possibly top Japan. As my sister-in-law recently wrote me in an email, sharing memories makes them live longer. Jim and Val, we think the world of you guys!


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