February 9, 2011

Pajamas and Pink Lemonade

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It’s Pajama Week at the Local Dilettante studio.  When I get up in the morning, I exchange my sleeping pajamas for my bright red pajamas with the Scotty dogs. This is my teaching attire for the week.  My students come to their lessons in their pajamas.  I have hot cocoa, and marshmallows for roasting in the wood stove.  Sometimes I get out the brandy for the adults.  Eventually we get to the music.

My adult students and elementary age girls are the most vocal about enjoying Pajama Week.   But middle school age boys have been known to bluster in, toughened from a day of school, and go into the bathroom to change into their pajamas before their lessons.   And this year I am –per her request–doing a Pajama Week reprise next week just for Genevieve, whose singing voice is of unearthly beauty, because she is missing this week.

I originally instituted the week to help me cope with the time change in November.  But after many years I decided I needed it more in January than I did in November. By the middle of October, there are enough holidays going and coming to distract from the encroaching darkness.   Pajama Week is late this year because it took me all of January to recover from Christmas.

The first Pajama Week of my career was exhausting.  First there was the nuisance of having to change back into my clothes when I had errands to run between students.  Then I had to supervise the making of the cocoa for twenty-five children, give or take a child, who of course had to be allowed to manipulate the lever on the old fashioned church potluck coffee maker that I rescued from my parent’s basement in Olympia.  It’s astonishing where I found smears of chocolate at the end of each day.  More important than the cocoa making was the supervision of  the roasting of the marshmallow in a wood stove that was hot enough to bake Hansel and Gretel, not that I am a witch, at least not a wicked one.

Which association of the gingerbread house with candy trimmings brings me to another of my institutions: Treats Week, which happens four times a year to coincide roughly with Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter.   Some years I push a cart down the aisle at Bartells or Ballard Market and load up with bags of candy canes, Fortune cookies, chocolates, conversation hearts, Cadbury crème eggs—whatever looks fun, and increasingly, whatever I, myself, won’t be too tempted to deplete before the week itself.

Other years I find things at Archee McPhees or through the Oriental Trading Company which, unlikely as it seems, is in Omaha, Nebraska.  They are especially good at Halloween: candy witches warts and skeleton bones, Dracula balls (bubble gum balls with a thick red fluid inside), wax lips, candy blood bags, ear wax gummy candy.  Classic stuff.

The week before Treats Week, I lay everything out in an assembly line and make up 30-50 little packages from the endless supply of wrapping paper and ribbon rescued from my parent’s attic. My longtime students can set their watches by Treats Week.  They come in and immediately case the front room to find the basket, bowl, or display of packages.

One child surveyed her holiday package and informed me that it wasn’t very big.  Another told me he didn’t like the sugary things and could he please get all chocolate.  With another child it was the other way around.  Almost every child pokes and prods and weighs the packages and asks me if they are all the same.

I don’t have 50 students now.  I did once and it was too many.  It seemed like they were all breaking off little bits of me when they left the house.  But I often still unload 50 packages because I make extra ones for friends and siblings of students, and for alumni who stay in touch.

My favorite Treats Week story, as related to me by her mother, concerns Neah who at the time was the younger sister of a student.  I knew her because she sometimes came to Michael’s lesson and sat shyly and noticed everything. When Michael entered middle school, there was a discussion around their family table about his dis-continuing his lessons.

Neah burst into tears. “I don’t want him to quit piano lessons!”

Heads turned in astonishment.  “Why on earth would it matter to you?” her mother asked.

“Because I want to get the treats!” she sobbed.

Neah resolved her dilemma by starting lessons with me herself.  She is now in college and is one of the regular alumni I see several times a year:  http://www.elenalouiserichmond.com/2010/12/tales-of-the-high-teas/

This year has felt a little off.  The old coffee urn is up with the tea bags and the cocoa packets.  But Pajama Week is late and I ran out of wood by the end of January so we aren’t doing the marshmallows.  The treats are little boxes of chocolates and Jolly Rancher lollipops, of which the pink lemonade ones were gone before the week even started.  Yes, that’s right, I picked every last pink lemonade flavored lollipop out of the bag.  It’s both a hazard of the tradition and a privilege of the premier dilettante.

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