Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Precious Firstlings

"Christmas Cards from the Cremers" is a brief chapter from the book A Nursery in the Nineties, the autobiography of Eleanor Farjeon (1881 - 1965). You may already know that Farjeon wrote the lyrics to "Morning Has Broken," way back before Cat Stevens made them famous (click here to hear). Farjeon also wrote the clever little poem "Cats Sleep Anywhere," which has been illustrated as a children's book many times.

You may be wondering: Why a Christmas post so soon?

Read on, and you will see:

Recalling the Christmas presents that she and her brothers received as children, Eleanor Farjeon writes:

"Among our benefactors were . . . the Cremers. . . .

Mr. Cremer kept the best toy-shop in Regent Street. There had been a Mrs. Cremer; there were two Miss Cremers. As long as old Mr. Cremer continued in life, Christmas brought us cases full of the most fascinating toys. . . .

When Mr. Cremer died, the two Miss Cremers went to live in the Isle of Thanet [the name for the area just north of Dover, not really an island, and not very far at all from London]. At Christmas now "The Cremers" meant cards only. But they were always the first Christmas cards we received--dear little robins perched on babies' cradles, dear little girls in bonnets, with bunches of holly, "To dear little Harry, dear little Nellie [this was Eleanor], dear little Joe, dear little Bertie--with love from the Misses Cremer." They came like heralds, early in December, when Christmas was three endless weeks away. Mother's voice calling: "The Cremers' Cards have come!" brought us running. We looked, and knew that Christmas was coming too.

But posts are so uncertain, and Thanet and London not quite next door, you know, and it would be dreadful to a pair of fond, remembering spinsters should their cards ever arrive a trifle late. To make quite sure, they began to despatch their Christmas cards in November.

"Children! the Cremers' Christmas cards!"


Christmas is not yet due for a full month. We run to collect the precious firstlings (emphasis added).

And years pass, you grow older, the things to be done, the occasions to prepare for, press a little more irksomely each year on ladies who, if they cannot still send cases of toys to little Harry, Nellie, Joe, and Bertie, must never disappoint dear children of their Christmas Greetings.

"The Cremers' cards!" calls Mama, somewhere about Guy Fawkes' Day [November 5th].

We return, one September, from the summer holiday. The golden weeks beside the sea have waned, but London streets are sunny, it is weeks yet to the time of fog, and fires.

Laughing too much to speak, she appears waving the envelope. "No!" exclaims Harry. But there they are, the Cremers' cards have come. "To dear little Harry, dear little Nellie, dear little Joe and dear little Bertie." The robins, and the little girls in bonnets.

Two of us at least are over twenty, and tomorrow it will be October the First (emphasis added).

That was the last of the Cremers' Christmas cards. Then time went back on them" (313 - 17).

Time went back on them. Sigh. One day, it will happen. . . .

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fires of September

Try To Remember
[Click song title for music]

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
Without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
The fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December, our hearts should remember
And follow.
Follow, follow, follow, follow.

Lyrics by Tom Jones (b. 1928)
Music by Harvey Schmidt (b. 1929)
Sung by Jerry Orbach (1935 - 2005; the original El Gallo, from 1959 - 61, at the Sullivan Street Playhouse)


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Childhood Autumn

Song at the Beginning of Autumn
Now watch this autumn that arrives
In smells. All looks like summer still;
Colours are quite unchanged, the air
On green and white serenely thrives.
Heavy the trees with growth and full
The fields. Flowers flourish everywhere.

Proust who collected time within
A child's cake would understand
The ambiguity of this --
Summer still raging while a thin
Column of smoke stirs from the land
Proving that autumn gropes for us.

But every season is a kind
Of rich nostalgia. We give names --
Autumn and summer, winter, spring --
As though to unfasten from the mind
Our moods and give them outward forms.
We want the certain, solid thing.

But I am carried back against
My will into a childhood where
Autumn is bonfires, marbles, smoke;
I lean against my window fenced
From evocations in the air.
When I said autumn, autumn broke.

Elizabeth Jennings, 1926 – 2001
Understated, unassuming, British poet

" . . . a childhood where / Autumn is bonfires, marbles, smoke
I lean against my window . . . "

This innocent autumn scene by artist Eloise Wilkin (1904-1987) appears in her illustrated edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses (click on the picture to enlarge the text for reading Stevenson's, "Autumn Fires"). Known for her darling portrayals of chubby-cheeked children, Wilkin worked for Simon & Schuster, illustrating Little Golden Books from 1943 - 1961.

I had a few of her books as a child, and the dreamy child-centric life depicted on those pages contributed greatly to the vision of a perfect world that danced in my little head. As for visions of sugar plums, I looked no further than the gingerbread house with windows of spun sugar in Wilkin's illustrated Hansel and Gretel, one of my earliest Little Golden Books.

More Examples of Wilkin's Charming Work
& on Pinterest

See also: "The Falling Fruit, The Certain Spring"
and "When I Said Autumnal Equinox"
for the related poem "The Burning of the Leaves" by Laurence Binyon

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tonight at Noon, Equinox,
Harvest Moon

Did you see it last night? The end of summer, the first of autumn, and the full moon all at once! How amazing is it for the full moon to rise in the sky directly opposite of the setting sun on the day of equinox? Well, it only happens every twenty years or so: the last "Super Harvest Moon" occurred in September 1991 and the next will be in September 2029.

However, if you missed it last night, tonight will not be too late!

Official time of Autumnal Equinox, 2010:
22 September, 11:09 pm
Eastern Daylight Time

Official time of Harvest Moon, 2010:
23 September, 5:17 am
Eastern Daylight Time

This fall, the Harvest Moon is accompanied through the night by Jupiter, sparkling vividly just to its right. Earlier in the evening, across the sky, in her usual position, you can find Venus, whom no one save Sun and Moon can ever outshine.

With the sky so near at hand, a little magic might not be unexpected!
Tonight at noon . . .
The first daffodils of autumn will appear
When the leaves fall upwards to the trees

~Adrian Henri~

Yellow Jonquils #3, by Georgia O'Keeffe

The Lawrence Tree, by Georgia O'Keeffe

Painted on a trip to the D. H. Lawrence Ranch
Taos, New Mexico, 1929
Currently owned by the Wadsworth Atheneum
Hartford, Connecticut

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Which Season: Summer or Fall?

"When the leaves fall upwards to the trees" *

Trees Cannot Name the Seasons
Trees cannot name the seasons
Nor flowers tell the time.
But when the sun shines
And they are charged with light,
They take a day-long breath.
What we call "night"
Is their soft exhalation.

And when joints creak yet again
And the dead skin of leaves falls,
Trees don't complain
Nor mourn the passing of hours.
What we call "winter"
Is simply hibernation.

And as continuation
comes to them as no surprise
They feel no need
To divide and itemize.
Nature has never needed reasons
For flowers to tell the time
Or trees put a name to the seasons.

~by Roger McGough

[This poem can be found in McGough's
book Melting into the Foreground, 1986]


* [Photograph caption is a line borrowed
from the title poem of Adrian Henri's
book Tonight At Noon, 1969]

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Buckle Up!

A Late Summer Sunset
Photograph courtesy of Nancy Allen
(my sister-in-law-in-law)

Some Autumnal Observations from Anne Lamott

"Thank God for fall. Summer nearly does me in every year: It's too hot, and the light is unforgiving, and the days go on way too long. . . .

"Then summer turned to autumn. . . .

"I talked to more than one person . . . about the snap in the air. Everyone seemed glad summer was over. Spring is sweet, the baby season; summer is the teenage season -- too much energy, too much growth and beauty and heat and late nights, none of them what they are cracked up to be. Fall is the older season, a more seasoned season. The weather surrounds you instead of beating down on you. Clouds bobble across the sky, and there are fresh winds, and misty salmon sunrises and then cool blue skies. The weather is lighter, marbled, and it makes you feel like striding again, makes you feel glad that so much works at all.

"There has been less light as the colors begin to change and the world has grown more desperate. . . .

So when the seasons change, buckle up."

from Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith,
217 - 18, 221
(emphasis added)


"It is autumn now, following a treacherous August, and I awoke this morning to find that the leaves in my heart have started changing color, from green to yellow, persimmon, and red."

from Grace Eventually, 139

Autumn, by Georgia O'Keeffe
~ a bit different from her usual florals ~

Friday, September 17, 2010

Every Day Luminous

Still life with Chinese Lantern Plant (Physalis alkekengi)
. . . some say "Invasive" / I say "Luminous"

If you're not a fan of Susan Branch, you should be! Autumn From the Heart of the Home is one of her many celebratory books, filled with delightful drawings, charming calligraphy, tempting recipes, and inspiring seasonal quotations, such as this:

We are in for a spell of perfect weather now,
every day luminous, every night brimmed with stars.
Picnics at noon, supper by the applewood fire at night,
a walk in the cool moonlight before bed.

Gladys Taber
American columnist, 1899 - 1980
Author of the Stillmeadow Journals

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Savor September!

September Sky

"The air still had summer in it,
but the breeze smelled like fall to me.
It was weird how September
always smelled different from August.
It just did."

from The Side Door
a novel by Jan Donley
(b. 1956)
American novelist, playwright, poet, teacher


"If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy.
If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.
But I arise in the morning torn between
a desire to improve [or save] the world
and a desire to enjoy [or savor] the world.
This makes it hard to plan the day."

E.B. White
American Writer (1899 - 1985)
Recipient of Honorary Pulitzer, 1978
Famed for children's favorites, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little;
also The Elements of Style; and many, many wonderful essays

Purdue Practice Flights Passing Over Our Backyard

Monday, September 13, 2010

Haiku for Late Summer

Garden View Looking East . . .

"O Leaves, ask the breeze
Which of you will scatter first
From the verdant trees."

Haiku by Natsume Soseki, 1867 - 1916
Prominent Japanese Novelist and
Professor of British Literature and Literary Theory

. . . Looking West

"Talk to Me" (hobbies, gardening, Robert Frost, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Walt Whitman, Rebecca West, Eurhythmics)

Tuesday, September 14th

"9 / 11 Retrospective: Not a Normal Day" (My Towers Our Towers, Phillippe Petit, X. J. Kennedy, September Twelfth)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Poem for Today & Tomorrow

Small American Flag Made out of Legos
Ben and Sam's Original Idea for a
9 / 11 Tribute in September 2001

Thanks to my friend Jan Donley for sharing the following poem with me on this day last year. How amazing and humbling to feel so secure despite the uncertainty:

September Twelfth, 2001

Two caught on film who hurtle
from the eighty-second floor,
choosing between a fireball
and to jump holding hands,

aren't us. I wake beside you,
stretch, scratch, taste the air,
the incredible joy of coffee
and the morning light.

Alive, we open eyelids
on our pitiful share of time,
we bubbles rising and bursting
in a boiling pot.

X. J. Kennedy (b. 1929)
American poet, translator, editor; and
creator of textbooks for teaching Literature and Poetry


See the Little Flag on our Front Door? ~ November 2001

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Miniature & The Gigantic

"Why shouldn't we, so generally addicted to the gigantic,
at last have some small works of art,
some short poems, short pieces of music
[. . .] some intimate, low-voiced, and delicate things
in our mostly huge and roaring, glaring world?"

~ Elizabeth Bishop ~
Painting of Breakfast by Jessie Willcox Smith

"Breakfast Perspective
you can bet that if oatmeal was bigger than us, he said,
we'd be breakfast cereal in a minute"

Brian Andreas (b. 1956)
American writer, painter, sculptor, publisher,
and creator of StoryPeople


Some Days
Some days I put the people in their places at the table,
bend their legs at the knees,
if they come with that feature,
and fix them into the tiny wooden chairs.

All afternoon they face one another,
the man in the brown suit,
the woman in the blue dress,
perfectly motionless, perfectly behaved.

But other days, I am the one
who is lifted up by the ribs,
then lowered into the dining room of a dollhouse
to sit with the others at the long table.

Very funny,
but how would you like it
if you never knew from one day to the next
if you were going to spend it

striding around like a vivid god,
your shoulders in the clouds,
or sitting down there amidst the wallpaper,
staring straight ahead with your little plastic face

Billy Collins (b. 1941)
Poet Laureate of the United States, 2001 - 2003
New York State Poet, 2004-2006


I find this topic so intriguing -- the dollhouse, the little dolls, the shift in perspective from the miniature to the gigantic -- I could write a book about it.

Oh, that's right, I already did:


You can read more about my book
on The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Love and Happiness

September Sky ~ 9 / 9 / 2010

"When all your desires are distilled
you will cast just two votes:
To love more, and be happy."
Persian lyric poet, 1325 – 1389

When I was visiting my friend Diane out in Oregon a couple of summers ago, we went to an Emmylou Harris concert at the Portland Zoo. Of all the songs she sang that night, my favorite was one I'd never heard before, a parent - to - child love ballad entitled "Love & Happiness." The title might sound cliched, but the song itself is beautiful, unique, and heart-wrenching. Harris introduced it from her mother's perspective, saying, "My mom is 87 years old [Emmylou is now 63], and she still won't let me leave the house without a bicycle helmet." Ah, so sweet!

On Emmylou’s website you can find a joint interview of her and Mark Knopfler discussing their album of duets:

Asked about the song she penned with the Austin, Texas, songwriter Kimmie Rhodes, Harris says that "Love and Happiness" might be the only "proper" country song she’s ever written. "You can’t get fancy with that genre," she says. "Kimmie and I sat down as mothers and thought: What are the things that we would want for our children? What are the metaphors for that deep desire that your child will dodge certain bullets? And what will they need to help them deal with the bullets they aren’t able to dodge? Kimmie had the first verse in the bag, and with that wonderful structure of hers, we wrote the rest in an afternoon. Sometimes they come easy."

What got to Knopfler . . . was the . . . realisation that we can’t protect our children. "That was something for me to look at," says the guitarist. "I think we addressed it in Em’s song 'Love and Happiness,' and because you have a man and a woman singing it, both of whom are parents, it intensifies things."

"Anyone who is a parent or who’s ever been a parent feels a tug on their heartstrings by a song with those sentiments."

Love and Happiness
here’s a wishing well
here’s a penny for
any thought it is that makes you smile
every diamond dream
everything that brings
love & happiness to your life

here’s a rabbit’s foot
take it when you go
so you’ll always know you’re safe from harm
wear your ruby shoes
when you’re far away
so you’ll always stay
home in your heart

you will always have a lucky star
that shines because of what you are
even in the deepest dark
because your aim is true
and if i could only have one wish
baby then it would be this
love & happiness for you

here’s a spinning wheel
use it once you’ve learned
there’s a way to turn the straw to gold
here’s a rosary
count on every bead
with a prayer to keep the hope you hold

you will always have a lucky star
that shines because of what you are
even in the deepest dark
because your aim is true
and if i could only have one wish
baby then it would be this
love & happiness for you

and if i could only have one wish
baby then it would be this
love & happiness for you

lyrics by Emmylou Harris & Kimmie Rhodes
sung by Emmylou Harris & Mark Knopfler
on the album All the Road Running



"Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you." ~Hafiz

"One is happy as a result of one's own efforts, once one knows the necessary ingredients of happiness -- simple tastes, a certain degree of courage, self-denial to a point, love of work, and above all, a clear conscience. Happiness is no vague dream, of that I now feel certain." ~Georges Sand


P.S. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SAM!Sam at age 11
England, 2005: Riding the Tour Bus around Chester

Sunday, September 5, 2010

End of Summer Sounds

synaesthesia: successful in my quest for a painting
that looks like the sound of cicadas

Back in July, while reading poetry one evening, I came across the following evocative, timely image of the impending sound of summer . . .

" . . . Urgently
but languidly, oblivious to predators, seventeen-year
cicadas throb and throb and throb, hollow bodies
...and tympanum and the seventeen-year wait, clinging
to tree roots and feeding on nothing but the clear fluids,
waiting to find just the perfect mate among the many millions.
They seem so alike to us, these brood-ten cicadas, but
they have their passionate dreams and so filled with hope,
a lesson to me. . . . "

from the poem "Cyclic"
in Why We Have Evening
by Leonard Orr (Contemporary American writer, artist, educator)

. . . and the very next day one of my facebook friends posted this description of his fascinating mid-summer experience:

"Last night, I watched a cicada climb out of the ground and prepare to become the large and loud flying insect that takes over summer. I just kept thinking...this thing has been in the ground for anywhere from 2-17 years and I get to see it emerge. How cool is that! I have only seen the empty exoskeleton they leave behind." [Thanks Chandler Poole!]

At the time, I noted the coincidence of reading a cicada poem one day, a cicada post the next. Encountering the two references in two days heightened my awareness of the cicada cycle taking place right outside my door, filling the air night after night.

And now, six week later, as fall starts to overtake summer, the cicada song remains as insistent as ever! A few days ago, turning the calendar from August to September, I thought to myself, "Well, it still sounds like summer!"

Then last night, along came another notable coincidence, from the most unlikely source -- a work of historical fiction, Desperadoes by Ron Hansen (American novelist, essayist, and professor; b 1947). Though I'm not a regular fan of cowboys or outlaws or the wild, wild west, I've always taken some interest in the notorious Dalton Gang -- only because I was born in their hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas, and spent many hours as a child begging my grandfather to take me to the museum and tell me all the tall tales -- but that's another story, another time.

Hansen's novel features a first person narrator, Emmett Dalton, the lone survivor, who provides every gory detail that you might rather not know, but also this lyric passage:

"It was near autumn but what we heard were summer noises: frogs at the river and crickets in the grass and cicadas rattling out of shells that looked like brown blisters on the trees. Night birds dived and swooped" (131).

No kidding! Emmett (or Hansen?) saw what I saw -- the approaching autumn -- but heard what I heard -- summer noises!

Paintings Above & Below by Leonard Orr

Friday, September 3, 2010

"F" Words

A couple of summers ago, I saw a clever story in More magazine about "Reinventing the F - Word." The article featured Jamie Lee Curtis -- funny, fit, focused, fifty -- in an "F is for . . ." photo essay, a log of her day, beginning with "Five A.M." and ending with "Fatigue," "Friends," "Found," and "Feminine."

Curtis encourages women in their forties and fifties (get it, these are F - words!) to embrace their inner F - word, to replace the forbidden F - word with all kinds of fun, positive options: fabulous, family, fantastic, farmer, flaming, fashion, fluffy, friendly, funky, Freaky Friday! So why not celebrate today --
T G I F -- by picking out your own . . .

My choice was obvious: FELINE!
Thanks to my cat Beaumont for posing
and to my son Sam for photographing us!
(July 2008)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Clear Path

An autumn walk with my friend Cate at
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens

"Tread carefully daily,
stay on a clear path,
and avoid the nettles."

Advice from Victoria Amador
Contemporary American writer and teacher

P.S. And from The Reverend Nancy Eberhard:
"Lift yourself above the traffic of everyday life."