Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Mom on Fire

It takes a great deal of bravery
to stand up to our enemies, but just as much
to stand up to our friends.

from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
by J. K. Rowling

"It is not often that someone comes along
who is a true friend and a good writer.
Charlotte was both."

from Charlotte's Web
by E. B. White

Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting! is an energetic, energizing book about parenting and picking the right grade school (public vs. private) for your kids. Okay, yes, I saw the negative press about Loh and her marriage, but I'm not going to think about that. I'm going to focus instead on how much I relished her depiction of the almost perfect, all-American childhood, and the driving force behind it, i.e., a Mom on Fire! Plus, I like the way that she weaves in Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, Mary Poppins, and Charlotte's Web:

"Perhaps it is the wonder of periomenopause, but my days are suddenly shot through with luminous, almost hallucinogenic magic. All at once, I see the meaning of my whole year. . . . the wildest revelation of my unmedicated, premonopausal fever-dream: I suddenly saw what had been hitherto invisible to me, an astonishingly beautiful universe, a shimmering web made of millions of gossamer threads, tended, day by day hour by hour, patiently, by the stubborn and unsung force -- of women. Everywhere around me, in the the city, the whole time, there had been Charlottes, spinning their webs" (239).

Loh's metaphor captures the beauty of webs and being connected and taking care of each other. Charlotte must be the world's favorite spider, and what's more she is also a mother and a true friend. Certainly to me she has always seemed more human than arachnid. She's on our side. She loved Wilbur, and she saved his life. She looked to the future on behalf of her children.


Illustration by Garth Williams
from Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White

M. T. Anderson
Sandra Tsing Loh
David Sedaris
Sandi Toksvig
On my Book Blog

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Art of Losing

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

For more on The Art of Losing, see
my fortnightly literary blog
of connection and coincidence

For reading ideas, see
my running list of recent reading

Above illustration from

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

by Emmylou Harris & David Olney
[Click title to hear song]

Man you should have seen me way back then
I could tell a tale, I could make a spin
I could tell you black was white I could tell you day was night
Not only that I could tell you why
Back then I could really tell a lie

Well I'd hire a kid to say he was lame
Then I'd touch him and make him walk again
Then I'd pull some magic trick I'd pretend to heal the sick
I was takin' everything they had to give
It wasn't all that bad a way to live

Well I'm in this desert town and it's hot as hell
But no one's buyin' what I got to sell
I make my lame kid walk I make a dumb guy talk
I'm preachin' up a storm both night and day
But everyone just turns and walks away

Well I can see that I'm only wasting time
So I head across the road to drink some wine
This old man comes up to me He says I seen you on the street
You're pretty good if I do say myself
But the guy that come thru here last month he was somethin' else

Instead of callin' out for fire from above
He just gets real quiet and talks about love
And I'll tell you somethin' funny He didn't want nobody's money
Now I'm not exactly sure what this all means
But it's the damndest thing I swear I've ever seen

Well since that time every town is the same
I can't make a dime, I don't know why I came
I decide I'll go and find him
And find out who's behind him
He has everyone convinced that he's for real
Well I figure we can work us out a deal

So he offers me a job and I say fine
He says I'll get paid off on down the line
Well I guess I'll string along
Don't see how too much can go wrong
As long as he pays my way I guess I'll follow
We're headed for Jerusalem tomorrow

Words & music by David Olney
Sung by Emmylou Harris on the CD Cowgirl's Prayer

My friend Joni introduced me to this amazing song a few years ago. It was an instant hit with everyone and has become a family favorite that we always have to play at this time of year.
Thanks Joni!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Life and Good

Awhile back, I received the following note from my friend Cate -- remember, the one who reads and knits:

"This was in my mail today from my weekly Torah readings. I like the rhythm of it . . . I consider the most beautiful passage in the Torah to be found in Parashat Nitzavim (Deut. 30:11-14)":

"Surely, this mitzvah that I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, 'Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?' Neither is it beyond the sea . . . No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it."

Upon reading this, I felt sure that it was one of the passages I had been required to memorize years ago in school, so I ran to my old paper (yes!) files and pulled out a couple of archived folders: "Bible as Literature (Fall 1973)" & "English Bible (Spring 1982)" and sure enough, there it was:

11: For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.

12: It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?

13: Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?

14: But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

15: See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;

16: In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

Deuteronomy 30: 11 - 17

Detail from
Four Seasons Mosaic Mural by Marc Chagall
First National Plaza in downtown Chicago
Corner of Monroe & Dearborn

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mind Power, Soul Power

My friend Tony Crossman will be teaching the following workshop in the Boston area this coming Saturday:
To Enlarge Text, Click Twice On Document Above

See Also:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tree of Life

As promised:
Christmas 1996

Christmas 1997

Christmas 1998

Spring Break 2000

Summer 2005

Summer 2006

Spring Break 2008

Spring Break 2009

Spring Break 2010

Pine Forest Update 2017
Pine Forest Update 2013
Pine Forest Update 2012
Pine Forest Update 2011
Tree of Life
Watching the Boys Grow

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Vernal Equinox: Garden & Fig

What we left behind:
British Garden, Just Before the Bloom
Cultivated by Gerry's Parents

"For, lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs,
and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

--from the Song of Songs, 2: 11 - 13

What we found upon our return:
Indiana Indoor Fig
Coaxed by Gerry

Friday, March 12, 2010

Watching the Boys Grow

Whenever we go to England to visit Gerry's parents, one of the things we like to do is go to the Pine Forest near Liverpool and take a photograph to mark how tall the boys have grown. Sam, who started out as the shortest has now pulled into the lead! We will take a new picture this coming week to bring the record up to date. So be sure to check back for an update after Spring Break. I will find a moment not only to add the most recent shot but also to scan our pre-digital photos from the very short days!

Summer 2005

Summer 2006

Spring Break 2008

Spring Break 2009

. . .

Are these the little boys at play?

I don't remember growing older
When did they?

. . .

When did they grow to be so tall?

Wasn't it yesterday
When they were small?

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
from Fiddler on the Roof

Pine Forest Update 2017
Pine Forest Update 2013
Pine Forest Update 2012
Pine Forest Update 2011
Tree of Life
Watching the Boys Grow

Faith Kept Me Back Awhile

The Apple Picker, by Eugene Samuel Grasset

In "Young Goodman Brown," one of Nathaniel Hawthorne's allegorical tales, Young Goodman Brown leaves his young wife Faith for a visit to the Dark Side. As he hurries away to keep his appointment with Fate, he sees Faith's sad face, framed on either side by the pink ribbons of her cap. He is torn between his faith and the insistent call of cynicism. Arriving late for his assignation, he explains his tardiness, "Faith kept me back awhile." When I first read this story in 1977, in a unit of literature concerning the theme of Initiation, I attempted to write a poem on the same topic:

I have finally told you about the dot and the line.

The dot, a hard knot, a hurt fist between my breasts.
The crying fingers clinch in painful safety
all that I have loved and lived with and believed in for so long.

The line, a right margin the length of my body.
A fence allowing no escape for the dot,
guarding, keeping it right beside my heart.

In time,
when with a wiser hand I force the tear-stained fingers open
I will find, preserved in brine, Faith's pink ribbon.

I hadn't thought about this poem for ages, until driving in the car the other day, I caught the words from Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams. The lyrics brought to mind the imagery of my old poem -- the dot and the line, the knotted heart and the fist. I couldn't help wondering if the shallow beating heart, the divided mind, and the border line in their song are similar to those I was writing about so long ago:

"On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams . . .

My shadow's the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating . . .

I'm walking down the line
That divides me somewhere in my mind
On the border line
Of the edge and where I walk alone . . . ."

For more on "Young Goodman Brown," see
"Faith Kept Me Back Awhile"
my fortnightly literary blog
of connection and coincidence

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Reading? Ruling the World?

"Benign Neglect:
If I ran the world, he told me,
I'd pretty much leave it alone &
spend my time reading &
I'd advise other people to do the same."

by Brian Andreas
from StoryPeople

So all these years you thought I was just reading? Well, it turns out I was actually ruling the world! Not exactly the conclusion that Andreas draws; he goes on a bit, but I'm stopping here at the good part.

[last line = "Which is why I’ll probably never run the world, he said."]

Remember this great song from 1985? Now you won't be able to get it out of your head for the rest of the day:

Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Welcome to your life
There's no turning back
Even while we sleep
We will find you

Acting on your best behavior
Turn your back on Mother Nature
Everybody wants to rule the world

It's my own design
It's my own remorse
Help me to decide
Help me make the

Most of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world . . .

sung by Tears for Fears
(Roland Orzabal & Curt Smith)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

White Pumpkins

A few days ago, I finally cut up my little white pie pumpkins that I've been using since October in various Martha Stewart decorating schemes around the house. As you can see in the above photograph, from Halloween to Thanksgiving they were out on the front porch. Look closely and you can also see Beaumont just inside the door, watching me take the picture: Meow! May I come outside too? No!

After Thanksgiving, I brought them all inside to sit demurely underneath one of our Christmas trees for a few weeks (we ate the orange ones up right away). Since then, the white pumpkins have spent the rest of the winter, along with the 50 lbs of grapefruit from the high school band fundraiser, in our sunroom, where the temperature is just right for storing fresh fruit. However, March has arrived, we're down to a mere four grapefruits, and the sun room is getting warmer by the day, now that the sun has begun to shine again.

At last, I was forced to admit that the white pumpkins have seen their day. A couple had to go straight to the compost heap, but all the others were in perfect shape. Gerry hacked them open with a machete / Houdini knife, and we scooped out the seeds for roasting, then pureed the rest. In fact, this very evening, we are having pumpkin - blueberry cake, a very healthy dessert, made with graham flour and frozen blueberries from last summer. Remember?

Wish you were to have a slice, along with some Earl Grey Green Tea and a little poetry:

Pumpkin Eater
I'm no trouble.
Honest to God I'm not.
I'm not

the kind of woman
who telephones in the middle of the night,
-who told you that?-
splitting the night like machete.
Before and after. After. Before.
No, no, not me.
I'm not

the she who slings words bigger than rocks,
sharper than Houdini knives,
verbal Molotovs.

The one who did that-yo no fui-
that wasn't me.

I'm no hysteric,
emotional anarchist.

I keep inside a pumpkin shell.
There I do very well.

Shut a blind eye to where
my pumpkin-eater roams.

I keep like fruitcake.
Subsist on air.

Not a worry nor care.
I'm free for the taking
as the eyes of Saint Lucy.
No trouble at all.

I swear, I swear, I swear...

poem by Sandra Cisneros (b 1954)
American / Hispanic Writer
from her collection Loose Woman: Poems (1995)

White Pumpkins & Pink Poinsettias

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dear John

"To each other, we were as normal and nice as the smell of bread. We were just a family. In a family even exaggerations make perfect sense."
--John Irving

A few months ago, when my friends Jill and Phil went to hear John Updike speak at a bookstore in Kansas City, one of the stories he told was about his correspondence with the author John Updike. Apparently the two had a regular correspondence but barely knew each other aside from having had lunch together once. Their correspondence consisted of sending each other letters that each had received for the other! Irving said he would receive affectionate letters for John Updike about five times a year, and vice versa -- even though each one never understood how he could be mistaken for the other!

I also remember a good Irving comment that has stayed in my head for the last twenty years or so, though I can't quote it word for word, and I don't even recall where I heard or read it -- maybe on a television interview or in an airways magazine.

Irving was responding to the criticism that too many weirdos appeared in his stories to make them believable. The "critic" was asking how any one fictional family could have so many problems and so much wackiness. Irving basically said, "Show me the REAL family that doesn't have one of each" -- and then he proceeded to list:

birth defect
family feud
mental illness
mental handicap
physical handicap
unplanned pregnancy
unwanted pregnancy

and so forth . . .

Irving's observation: "I don't go out of my way to find or invent things that are bizarre. It just seems to me that I notice more and more how commonplace the bizarre is." His conclusion was that it's not an "odd" family that has a large number of these issues (okay, maybe not every single one); but, in fact, it would be the odd family that didn't have at least more than one. I've never forgotten those wise words! Made me feel a bit more normal.

Of his own family, strange but true, Irving said, "No adult in my family would ever tell me anything about who my father was. I knew from an older cousin - only four years older than I am - everything, or what little I could discover about him. . . . As a child, when something is denied you -- when there is a subject that is never spoken of -- you pretend it's for the best. But when I was denied information about someone as important as my actual father, I compensated for this loss by inventing him."

A Few More Good John Irving Quotations

"I take people very seriously. People are all I take seriously, in fact. Therefore, I have nothing but sympathy for how people behave - and nothing but laughter to console them with."

"Your memory is a monster; you forget - it doesn't. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you - and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!"

"Writing a novel is actually searching for victims."

"Whatever I write, no matter how gray or dark the subject matter, it's still going to be a comic novel."

"Half my life is an act of revision."

"If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dear March


You have to love Emily Dickinson's breezy personification of March walking down the path and bursting through the front door. The narrator welcomes March with open arms, a kiss perhaps. Sometimes March is a Lion, sometimes a Lamb, but for Dickinson, March is a Gentleman Caller:

Dear March -- Come in --
How glad I am --
I looked for you before --
Put down your hat --
You must have walked --
How out of breath you are --
Dear March, how are you, And the Rest --
Did you leave Nature well --
Oh, March, Come right upstairs with me --
I have so much to tell --

From Poem #1320
by Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)
American Poet

See also my recent Fortnightly Post: "Kiss Today"

Monday, March 1, 2010

Kiss Me

The Kiss ~ Gustave Klimt

"Kiss Me" has to be the most winsome love song to come along in ages, and the accompanying video is just irresistible. I came across this adorable song when my kids were little, on one of their "Kidz Bop" CDs, and a few years later bought the grown-up version for myself on Sixpence's "Best of" CD (2004). Some have complained that "Kiss Me" turns up not once but twice on this compilation, but I like that! The second version is a combination of English and Japanese vocabulary. It's performed primarily in Japanese, with the imperative "Kiss me" sung in English every time. Guess what? You'll find the lyrics are just as lilting, no matter what the language!

Kiss Me
[click to watch & hear]
by Sixpence None the Richer

Kiss me out of the bearded barley
Nightly, beside the green, green grass
Swing, swing, swing the spinning step
You wear those shoes and I will wear that dress.

Oh, kiss me beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift your open hand
Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moon's sparkling
So kiss me

Kiss me down by the broken tree house
Swing me upon its hanging tire
Bring, bring, bring your flowered hat
We'll take the trail marked on your father's map

Look closely, and you can see that "Kiss Me" is almost a sonnet: fourteen lines, a sprinkling of iambic pentameter. In fact it reminds me a bit of this long - treasured sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Sonnet XI
Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
Or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers'-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain—
Semper fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:

Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
"Look what I have!—And these are all for you."

from the sonnet sequence Fatal Interview

Definitely a favorite. I'll have to write more about this sonnet soon . . .
" . . . rich with red corundum . . . "

See also my recent Fortnightly Post: "Kiss Today"