Monday, March 24, 2014

To My Children:You ARE a Star!

My Stars Take the Stage!

 My children have a flair for the dramatic! I am so happy that my son Bear is working in the drama department at school, helping with the sets and production. Bear’s creativity and quick thinking will surely be an asset.

I also want to apologize to Bear that I was not able to attend his school play, my car broke down and I was not able to get a ride :( But I was thinking of you, and sending lots of love! xoxo

I received a van from an auto donation program for needy families, and it was a “lemon”—from the time I drove off the lot, I noticed it needed some work. The office manager at the charity told me I received the van “as is” and they would not address any mechanical issues with it. The van barely held out for 6 months before it finally died…I am just thankful my kids were not in the car at the time, as it suddenly stopped, in the middle of the road, and could not be restarted. Thankfully, I was able to steer the van safely to the side of the road then it was towed away.

It really hurts that I missed out on Bear’s play, and so many other things I want to do with my kids… but I am even more so thankful that my kids have been so good to me, and so understanding through this challenge. They never complain and look forward to the adventures. Without a car, we have been playing board games, baking pies and cookies, and cranking up the music to dance around the house. My daughter Nora puts on plays with her dolls, her dramatic faces and soap opera plots always get a laugh. My baby JC latches onto his big brother and sissy like a koala, cuddling with them, even grabbing onto Bear’s leg and going for a ride as he walks…it has been so cold so being indoors is not so bad but I hope to have a car by summer so we can go exploring. 

WHAT I WANT TO SAY…. I started taking pictures when my family became homeless; photography offered me an outlet during a difficult time to express thoughts and feelings. In so many ways I had to be strong, and often held back what I felt. Photography became a way to shed those layers, to freely express myself. I also felt a purpose in capturing the story of being homeless, and giving voice to what we were going through. From there, I began to branch out, and soon was entering local contests and art shows.  Or I was writing and doing public speeches. I feel such a purpose in introducing my children to the arts, and helping them tap into their own creativity. My children and I meet so many interesting people attending art shows and events. An discovered hidden meanings in seemingly ordinary works of art. We explored different parts of the city, galleries hidden in crumbling buildings and visiting street fairs. And we deepened our bond as we framed our memories.

I had entered an art show on urban life, the pictures were being displayed in a historic theatre that is the cultural heart of an inner city neighborhood. The theatre is brown brick with a brightly painted front; the outside is rather unassuming except for the brightly lit marquee. My children and I stepped up to the Art Deco style box office, trimmed in brass vines with berry shaped bulbs giving off a soft glow, to take a program and collect name tags. Nora and Bear were the only kids in attendance, and I was just as proud to show them off as my own photography.

We walked on the black and white checkered tiles, through the square halls trimmed with plaster arches, commenting on the photographs and cheering when we came to my work. I took a picture of a friend, who is a musician, playing a guitar, capturing how his fingers danced over the strings. Another photograph showed a freight train stopped at in rundown warehouse neighborhood, in the background, the expanse of the city with its glass topped skyscrapers and marshmallow shaped sports dome, richly contrasted against the squalor. Other photographs displayed the people, neighborhoods and interesting sites of the city. The children and I sat in an area just off the box office that faced a mirrored wall, wrought iron patio tables were set up and we sampled bubbling lemonade in fluted glasses and nibbled on crackers with meat and herb cream cheese, luscious fruits and bakery treats. It was like being in a movie…meeting the local celebrities and artists, tasting the gourmet appetizers…and enjoying the beautiful theatre.

The theatre lobby was a bit crowded, so my kids escaped inside, pulling open thick doors painted crimson that led into a 250-seat theatre. The dimly lit theatre was almost completely black; the ceiling stretched two stories above our heads, decorated with twinkling lights to resemble a night sky. A heavy velvet curtain, also crimson, and trimmed with gold braid was pulled back to expose the narrow stage. All the lights were shining on the stage. Nora gasped, her eyes widened in her face as she slowly approached…dreams were forming in her head about that stage. Shyly, Bear came from behind, just as eager but with a slower approach. 

Once on stage, shyness soon disappeared! My kids danced, sang and put on their own show. I stood in the front row cheering and taking pictures. My children had been transformed…into movie stars! They played until they were tired, cranky and read to sleep…as we headed out of the theatre, towards home, they gave me an “autograph” of hugs and kisses. When I tucked them into the car, seatbelts snug around them, and blankets tucked on their laps, I could see in the flutter of their lashes and the quick sigh on their breath that my kids were dreaming big…that being on stage, even for a moment, had inspired them. 

-- Daylen Swift, March 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick’s Day… Family is my Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

Family memories about St. Patrick's Day... A vein of silver opened into the sky, sunlight poured from dark cloud into spring. There was a slight chill in the air, but also a freshness that hinted winter was shedding her heavy cloak for the vibrant bloom of spring. My children tumbled out of the car, wrestling their way onto the walkway leading to Auntie Becky and Uncle Mike’s house. They clamored to the door with laughter, Auntie Becky answered before the doorbell could be pressed—she heard their energetic shouts a mile away.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” their voices called. The shy voice of my oldest son, Bear. The competitive soprano of my daughter Nora, who has to be the loudest. And the babbling of my baby, JC, who just wanted to be part of the action.
We entered the house with a circle of hugs. I commented on the delicious aroma coming from the kitchen, Uncle Mike was making corned beef and cabbage for lunch. I set an apple soda bread on the counter, there were other treats to sample…and more hugs to go around.

A loud Amazon scream pierced the air as my niece bounced out of her bedroom, she scooped up JC, who affectionately began to scream, “No! No! No Jessie!” JC would scream, fuss and push Jessie away while she teased him. The louder his cries, the more fun he was having. Eventually JC would settle down and play; the kids would migrate outside to kick a ball across the yard.

My Sister Becky and I loved to host family parties, if there wasn’t a holiday nearby we would make one up. Once we even had a pretend “Baby Shower” for the robot baby doll Jessie had to take care of as part of a school project, the baby cried and wet his pants like a real baby. Poor Jessie was up all night with the baby doll fussing! As a joke, I gave her earplugs for the "Baby Shower", and of course we had to eat.
St. Patrick’s Day was no exception, family and friends filled the living room, the dogs sniffed along the floor looking for a treat. The aroma drifting from the kitchen smelled so delicious, we were all drooling like dogs for a treat. Mike is well known for his recipes, everything he makes cooks fabulous, he is especially known for his lasagna roll ups and creamy fruit salad.

When lunch was ready, we sat on the balcony enjoying the silver rays of light shining on our shoulders with heaping plates of corned beef and cabbage warming our bellies. My Sister and I traded stories back and forth about our children, embellishing each with embarrassing details that had us laughing, and our kids groaning. Our favorite story cause quite an amount of confusion when we tell it, which is part of the fun.. My Sister and I are so close that we just agreed that we had all of our kids at the same time, we really enjoy the looks of confusion when we tell people that we are both “mom” and “We both had our kids at the same time, it was a Siamese pregnancy”. My niece Jessie and my daughter Nora are several years apart in age but both were born at the same hospital, which to us, makes the story even more credible. “Yeah Becky gave birth to Jessie first then I gave birth to her second…” When our kids yell “Mom!” Becky and I both turn our heads, and answer…we share photos and tell everyone about our kids as one big family.

It was a beautiful celebration that I will always remember. Nora wrote cute thank-you letter to Becky and Mike, showing her love by praising the food:

 "Dear Auntie Becky and Uncle Mike: Thank you! Thank you for the wonderful food! I love the cookies mhmm yummy! And I loved the food they were the best. They taste fantastic like Mom’s cooking. And you are probably the (best) cooker beside Mom. But anyway nice house, You’re a good cook. It’s like the angels sent you on a mission to cook. By the way the corned beef was amazing like God made them. Wow you’re amazing at cooking. Love Nora.”

** Picture of Cookie and Corned Beef**

Family is my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

-- Daylen Swift, St. Patrick’s Day 2014

Brendan Bakes Apple Raisin Soda Bread
Mott's Applesauce Irish Soda Bread: Apple Soda Bread: