Tag Archives: gifts

leslie meets frances, and we all flip out

After inundating Instagram with photos Sunday night, I thought I should probably take the time to write down what happened so that we could read it later and remember all of the details. It’s not likely that we’ll forget that night anytime soon, but it’s a fun story to share as well, so here goes.

M’s parents gave us an early Christmas present this year. They bought us some really special VIP tickets to see Leslie Odom, Jr. in concert with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. When I was first discussing this opportunity with my MIL, I waffled a bit about the whole VIP thing. The tickets were very pricey, and I wasn’t even sure if children would be allowed. I knew that the girls would enjoy the concert regardless, but their grandmother called the Symphony’s office to chat about the details, and ended up going for the whole shebang.

Since I was the only one with any real knowledge of the details (although I had blocked off the time on our shared calendar in September), I knew there was an extra sting to our cancelled Thanksgiving trip. It was our opportunity to open the tickets together as a family. Instead, they packaged them up, sent them (insured!) through the post office, and we set up an evening to open them over Skype. Frances squealed, but Ella had the most profound reaction. She raced out of the room in tears, and came back barely holding it all together. It was pretty cool to watch.

Sunday rolled around and we ate an early dinner and got dressed up for the show. E put some fantastic French braids in F’s hair, and there were zero complaints about fancy holiday attire or dress coats. I always think the girls are pretty cute, but I will say that F was looking particularly adorable in her dark blue twirly dress with tiny gold stars and I’ve missed those braids now that she prefers to do her own hair in a simple ponytail. She also stood out from most of the crowd because of her size. There were definitely other children there, but most were older elementary, middle or high school students. In the first three rows where the VIP’s were sitting, she stood out as the only little one, almost dead center on the stage, and just feet from the microphone where Odom was about to stand. You should have seen our faces when we walked down to find our seats! I think that’s when it really started to sink in – Aaron Burr was going to be right smack in front of us for the next hour and a half. We were already over the moon and the concert hadn’t even started.

Then he was there. People went mad. The electricity in that place was unreal. He walked out of the door and straight to that mic and our whole family was just giddy. He immediately started to sing “Wait For It” from Hamilton, and that’s when it finally hit me how special this night was. We had this whole concert ahead of us, Odom, his musicians, the entire orchestra, and then, when that was through, we were going to meet him in person. I knew we’d never forget this night.

And then, after singing some of his own music – (“Winter Song”, “Autumn Leaves”, good gracious, so beautiful), the whole night changed. E noticed towards the end of the third song that he had locked eyes with F and gave her a little nod and smile. E said she knew then that he’d say something about his smallest fan. (I was oblivious to this because I was convinced that he was really just singing to me the whole time.) E was spot on.

He looked right at F and asked her for her name. Clear as a bell she answered “Frances.” The whole theater ahhed. He put his hand on his chest and said “Frances. I love that name.” (Melt.) “How old are you Frances?”

“Eight.” She wasn’t shy, she didn’t hide her face or cling to her dad. She just looked right back at him and answered. He teased her that she must be so bored with all those LOVE songs, and was wondering when he was going to get to more Hamilton already. She cracked up and he laughed with her, promising her they were coming, just you wait. He continued to talk to her between songs, and then intermission happened, and the four of us just stared each other with our jaws dropped. It hardly seemed real.

We headed to the lobby to get something to drink – F was VERY excited about this because we also had VIP drink tickets, and she had a Shirley Temple on the mind. That’s when we realized that we kept hearing the name “Frances” around us. Everyone was talking about that lucky little girl, and trying to come over to talk to her. She giggled when she realized that she was “famous” now.

My phone had buzzed a few times during the show, so I checked it and found a slew of messages like these:

We thought it couldn’t get any better, but then the orchestra filed back in, followed by Odom’s musicians, and then the lights dimmed and he walked back in to thunderous applause, waving, and pointing a phone to record the crowd because “his social media manager said he needed to post more.” The crowd went wild, and then he walked to the center of the stage, paused, pointed directly at our row and said “Frances. How are you?” The crowd erupted. “Good,” she answered.

“Did you take a power nap during the break?”

Giggling. “No!”

“Did you eat some candy?”

Again, “No!”

M and I stared across the girls at each other in disbelief. The night was young, and it just kept getting better and better and better. He continued to check in with her, referenced her age when telling the story of the first Broadway musical that changed his life – his “Hamilton” – the musical Rent. He thanked the crowd for supporting the arts. He looked right at me, at M, and thanked us for bringing our girls tonight. He sang a bit of “Forever Young” to her. He sang “Dear Theodosia”, and I seriously thought I might lose it at that point.

Then it was time. The orchestra was at attention. The musicians were alert. The lights changed. And Leslie Odom, Jr. looked right at F with a knowing nod and launched into “The Room Where It Happens.” Full force Hamilton, just as promised. The girls’ faces. M’s face. My goodness, let me remember this bit the longest.

…..

We were one of the last people to head downstairs to the lounge where we were scheduled to meet Odom. There were maybe 20-30 people in the room, and no other children. We waited a few minutes, and then the door at the top of the stairs opened and he came downstairs. F was standing on the landing, and he stopped, smiled and said “Frances – how did I know you’d be here?!” stooping over to hug her around the shoulders. Then he greeted the room and started meeting people one by one.

It was fun to be at the end of the line, because we got to watch him interact with everyone. He was hilarious and sweet and exactly as we imagined him to be. When it was our turn, each girl talked to him on their own, posed for several photos, and had him sign something special to them. F had him sign her lanyard, and E brought our big Hamilton book. He asked her if she had a page in mind, and she flipped open to a full page head shot. “Wow, that’s one handsome man,” he said, pulling out the marker to add his signature. “Well, I prefer the one of King George, but this one will do,” she teased. He cracked up and they talked for another minute of two. She seemed so cool and calm and it was just amazing to watch her charm one of her idols. Kids are just so cool sometimes.

We posed for a few family photos, and M shook his hand and thanked him for a night we would never forget. He thanked us again for coming, and we gave a shout out to the grandparents for the amazing Christmas gift. “Thank goodness for Grandmas!” he yelled, and we floated up the stairs and out of the quiet theater (pausing for a final celebrity Frances sighting and photo op!) into the night.

In the words of a favorite book we used to read years ago –

Wow. All I can say is wow.

a new desk: before and after, and a mess


BEFORE:

Frances' Room 2

Here’s a shot of F’s desk area from her baby days. We used the elfa system from the Container Store because we knew that it would easily grow with her, and it was definitely time to grow! The green Eames chair was just there for that photo, but F had a smaller green desk chair that she received as a first birthday gift from her grandparents.

You can see it buried there if you look closely. It’s underneath the avalanche of school items she brought home and her continuous collection of recyclable material. (Somewhat) in her defense, I had collected everything in her room into one place and dumped it all there so that the rest of the room was neat and orderly for vacation packing. Still, this area was driving me nuts.

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These photos in the middle are crappy and ill-lit, but it was also after midnight on the day we had traveled home from vacation. I brought M along on my before-sunrise jaunt to the lighthouse, which meant we had been up in the 4 o’clock hour (central time) that morning. So naturally, 21 hours into our day, we decided to put together a new desk in a half darkened room, next to the sleeping birthday girl.

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It took awhile, but mostly because we were trying to be quiet and we were also exhausted. We kept dropping things (loudly), and the drywall anchors for the magnetic strip didn’t work, so M had to raid the basement stash. I just piled all the mess up in the other corner of the room, and we did our best to get everything set up for the morning. I also wrapped E’s birthday gifts from her sister because she had passed out in her own bed before doing it.

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I set up this little birthday chain of kids on top of the desk, and we left her other wrapped gifts on the desk.

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She was still pretty sleepy in the morning – so sleepy that she didn’t even notice the changes at first, but afterwards she was really excited for the new space.

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If you look back at the before photo, the desktop was about even with the top of the outlet to the right. It’s about 6″ higher at this point, and works well with the Eames chair that I moved back up here.

Desk 4

We raised the shelf on the left up, and added to pull out drawers to corral the art supplies. This allowed us to remove the bins that were always overflowing and took up a lot of precious work space. Now she has a ton more space to work on important projects, and it’s easier to see her supplies in the drawers. We have room for a third drawer if we get rid of that second shelf, but we’ll see how she uses the space she has first. We already had that shelf, so if it’s still functional, that’s great. 

Desk 1

We didn’t buy any additional art supplies because the girls already have plenty. My parents did buy the magnetic pieces and accessories that span between the vertical desk standards and add more supply storage that’s off the desktop. There are a few clear bins that have crayons and glues and erasers, some hooks for tape and triangles, these cute loops that hold her scissors collection – all of these just snap into the bracket – some magnetic glass topped containers that will be full of treasures soon, I’m sure… and plenty of fun magnets.

Desk 2

Desk 3

They don’t make the snap in magnetic bracket with the slots in a 30″ width, which is the width of the desk pieces on the right (where the chair is). But they suggested this magnetic strip which screws into the wall and is the same height as the bracket on the right. I picked out aqua and lime colored magnets, and couldn’t resist the birdie set either, right?

Desk

I haven’t changed much on the walls in this area over the last eight years, added a few things, subtracted others. This little desk area just makes me happy. I’ve been missing this kid this week – can’t wait to see her back and busy in this space.

Desk 6

PS – here’s the other gift she got – a tent and lantern for her mice!

Desk 5

on moments of time: (story)time: eat this poem by nicole gulotta


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“As for food, simple cooking dominates most days, like jam spooned into thick yogurt, a bowl of popcorn left on the coffee table, or beans smashed on bread. None of it is particularly noteworthy. Leftovers are placed in glass containers for tomorrow’s lunch, and scraps are scraped into the trash bin. Whole plums, celery stalks, and bunches of carrots in the bottom of the crisper go soft before we can use them. The remains of our meals are discarded like poem fragments we put into a file to look at when we’re in need of inspiration.

A poem stops time, keeping a moment suspended until we’re ready to revisit it. A good meal stops us too, however briefly, reminding us to savor every bite.” – Nicole Gulotta, Eat This Poem.

I’ve had this book in my hands for a month now, but I wanted to read through it all first, and cook from it as well, before I shared it with you. The month has been very busy, but I’ve pulled this book into my lap for five and ten minute stretches here and there, and we’ve been cooking from it all month. To be completely honest, it wasn’t the first time I’ve read or cooked with Nicole. Her blog of the same name is a staple in my life, and I consult her Literary City Guides first before planning any trip. I even got to test out some of the recipes in this book last year as Nicole was writing and editing her manuscript. I had to dig a little to find the photos I took during that time, and finally found this one.

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Our family tested four of Nicole’s recipes, and the Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies could be reason alone to purchase this cookbook. But don’t let it be.

The only recipe I made for just me was a simple Caesar salad with paprika croutons. I saw this photo and I can remember all the details of that Saturday afternoon. I was home from yoga, and the sun was streaming in the back window of the kitchen as it likes to do on the weekends. Everyone else was eating at the table while I prepped the ingredients; they were scattered again when I finished. I pulled the latest issue of Dwell out of the mail pile, and filled a water spotted glass two-thirds high before sitting down to eat. I ate the whole bowl, and helped myself to seconds. The afternoon stretched ahead of me, glass-spotted, sun-spotted. I packed the leftovers into glass containers for tomorrow’s lunch, and ate the scraps, folded down the corner of the magazine page, and set it aside to finish later.

…..

Pairing Nicole’s own rich food stories and kitchen experiments with poetry is the magic here. One night I had beets, and I started in an ordinary place – the index, scrolling my finger though the b’s to find inspiration. But another night I first opened and began to read Billy Collins’ writing about a pear, and dinner inspiration started there. Food is temporary, fleeting. A few moments on our counter, and then spent – eaten, stored, discarded. It meets us where we need it, and can be nothing more than that. Which makes the memory of a salad on a Saturday that much more surprising – and comforting. What else did I do that day? I’m not really sure, but I can still remember standing there at the counter, scraping croutons off the baking sheet, and eating scraps as I went.

…..

BASKETS

By Louise Gluck

From The Triumph of Achilles (1980)

1.
It is a good thing,
in the marketplace
the old woman trying to decide
among the lettuces,
impartial, weighing the heads,
examining
the outer leaves, even
sniffing them to catch
a scent of earth
of which, on one head,
some trace remains—not
the substance but
the residue—so
she prefers it to
the other, more
estranged heads, it
being freshest: nodding briskly at the vendor’s wife,
she makes this preference known,
an old woman, yet
vigorous in judgment.

2.
The circle of the world—
in its midst, a dog
sits at the edge of the fountain.
The children playing there,
coming and going from the village,
pause to greet him, the impulsive
loving interest in play,
in the little village of sticks
adorned with blue fragments of pottery;
they squat beside the dog
who stretches in the hot dust:
arrows of sunlight
dance around him.
Now, in the field beyond,
some great event is ending.
In twos and threes, boldly
swinging their shirts,
the athletes stroll away, scattering
red and blue, blue and dazzling purple
over the plain ground,
over the trivial surface.

3.
Lord, who gave me
my solitude, I watch
the sun descending:
in the marketplace
the stalls empty, the remaining children
bicker at the fountain—
But even at night, when it can’t be seen,
the flame of the sun
still heats the pavements.
That’s why, on earth,
so much life’s sprung up,
because the sun maintains
steady warmth at its periphery.
Does this suggest your meaning:
that the game resumes,
in the dust beneath
the infant god of the fountain;
there is nothing fixed,
there is no assurance of death—

4.
I take my basket to the brazen market,
to the gathering place.
I ask you, how much beauty
can a person bear? It is
heavier than ugliness, even the burden
of emptiness is nothing beside it.
Crates of eggs, papaya, sacks of yellow lemons—
I am not a strong woman. It isn’t easy
to want so much, to walk
with such a heavy basket, either
bent reed, or willow.

…..

Buy a copy of Eat This Poem for yourself, but then maybe for your mother next week, or the teachers who share poetry with you and your children, or the newlyweds just filling a first kitchen, or any others who feed your soul.


[Gift pairs well with the aforementioned cookies.]