The Feathers: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time. . .

a girl left her home as the morning moon shone through the tree branches and hummed a farewell song.

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Before she began her daily chores, she wanted to enjoy the peace of the forest, to hear the birds sing, and to see the sun rise and gild the treetops in golden light. These moments of beauty both stirred and quieted her soul. Her village was expanding, but somehow the lives of all who lived there were shrinking. They parroted the words of the king and expected riches to follow, but life had not improved. Her parents had seen no reason for her to continue with her schooling. Other villagers felt the same way, and so the school closed. It stood empty on a hill, a silent beacon.

The girl walked, enjoying the feel of the cool morning air against her face. From above, the dawn star winked, startling her and causing her to stumble and fall on a small pile of feathers. They sparkled, iridescent, blue, silver, and red. She wondered what sort of bird could have dropped the brilliant plumes. As she stroked the silky quills, a door appeared in the forest. It shimmered in the air, and opened just a bit in silent invitation. The girl opened the door wider and walked through.

Inside was a land filled with light and color. Wisdom dripped from the trees, and animals licked it up. A deer came up to her, and shyly nuzzled her hand before sprinting off. Her hand tingled, and she was filled with joy. She learned the feathers came from the bird of knowledge, which was perpetually in motion. Its size and color constantly changed, and it looked different each time she caught a glimpse of it. Over time, the girl learned many things in this world from the trees and the animals, but eventually she wanted to go home.

She found the door and opened it–for it was never locked–and she stepped back into her forest. It looked sadder, smaller. Her parents were happy to see her, but they too, looked sadder and smaller. The villagers were disillusioned. The village had not prospered, and though many still dutifully echoed the king’s words, others were seeking something more. The girl joined these seekers, as they reestablished the school, and she shared an important message:

Ignorance brings fear; knowledge leads to hope.

The girl became a woman, and she remembered the lessons she had absorbed. She made time for books and nature, and when she had children, she read to them every night. She told them the story of the bird of knowledge, and showed them one brilliant blue, silver, and red feather that she had kept. Sometimes the dawn star looked down at them and winked.

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William Llewellyn, “Girl with Pigtails,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is for a writing challenge that Jane Dougherty and Jeren of itsallaboutnothing concocted. You can read about it here.

Well, I suppose this is too long for flash fiction, and it doesn’t involved insects, and I guess it’s fairy tale, not a folk tale, but other than that it fits the challenge perfectly!

Freed Minds and Imprisoned Bodies

Monday Morning Musings

“And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”

–William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1

“The system here is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong. I hold this slow, and daily, tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

–Charles Dickens, 1842

A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside, and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact in one of the spice islands of the Indian ocean.

–Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

 

In the deep soft blue of night,

a full bright moon murmurs

which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

I ponder mysteries of life and time,

the paths we choose, the where and when

the roads that make us who we are

the journeys that lead to discoveries,

do the words I write,

the forms of things unknown,

take flight across the world,

in a poetry chaos theory

to effect change?

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One of my writer workout shirts.

 

I’m at a book fair,

I don’t sell many books,

my profits come from knowledge gained

or reaffirmed,

books have power,

the reason why slaves are not taught to read,

they release the minds of those bound by ignorance

they free those imprisoned by walls of stone

or by barricades of bigotry,

they build bridges of enlightenment,

people are drawn to them

in excitement, wonder, and surprise

I watch the boy’s eyes

open wide at the thought of reading magical adventures

then disappointment,

“My mom doesn’t have any money.”

“Today is your lucky day, says the author,

“I have something special,

a free book for you–

see, the cover is slightly damaged.”

 

He signs the book for the boy

who takes it,

holds it reverently,

a treasure.

I hope he remembers this moment.

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West Deptford Township Book Festival. Yes, I did bake cookies, too.

 

My husband and I visit the art museum

not for any particular exhibition,

“Sunday at the museum,” someone says,

people there from all over the world

(even though the “Rocky Steps”  are closed)

I hear many languages: French, Chinese, Russian.

We walk through the Impressionists,

see the real and surreal,

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View from the Duchamp Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

look at art and people,

adults and children,

viewed and viewers.

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Reading at the Museum—Mary Cassatt, Family Group Reading (c. 1901) Philadelphia Museum of Art

We walk from the museum

 

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across the Parkway to Fairmount

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and on to Eastern State Penitentiary,

 

 

the world’s first penitentiary,

conceived with a purpose–

to induce penitence in its prisoners,

the original building completed in 1836,

though the process began earlier

with efforts to relieve the conditions of the Walnut Street Jail,

in 1787, Dr. Benjamin Rush founded a group to reform prisons,

The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons,

an organization that still exists,

the new penitentiary is thought to be humane,

a wonder of technology and innovation,

a central hub with spokes,

cells with plumbing and heat

designed by architect John Haviland,

but prisoners were cut off from human contact

and sometimes went insane.

Charles Dickens wrote of the torture of solitary confinement

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and later the prison became too crowded for the concept to continue,

a second tier of cells was built

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and prisoners shared cells.

We listen to actor Steve Buscemi

tell us about it in the audio tour,

we’ve been here before,

but it is good to be reminded,

and there are new exhibits we haven’t seen

there are other visitors and tour groups,

but when it is quiet, without other visitors around,

I feel the ghosts around me

there amidst the rubble

 

Prisoners

in dark fevered air

decayed concrete and old secrets,

a dirt home

listen to who was

they live not

but almost open,

in time

 

It is a reminder

of good intentions gone wrong,

yet there are traces of beauty and goodness,

even here,

the tales of good and humane guards

the art created by inmates,

the synagogue

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The original synagogue door. (For my blogger friend, Robin.)

 

but still there are ghosts,

the imprisoned,

some died here,

and I have no answers for those who are imprisoned still

but I hope they have books and art

and that their minds can roam, even if their bodies cannot

do they wonder about the paths of their lives?

Which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

Tonight I dream of wide-eyed boys

of beauty and art

amidst decayed walls

a cat purrs softly in my ear,

I am home, but my mind roams free.

 

The kind author was Ben Anderson, who shared a table with me at the West Deptford Township Book Festival at Riverwinds Community Center. His books are chronicles of Irish fantasy, targeted for middle grade readers, but suitable for “eight to eighty-eight” he says. You can read about them here .

We joke about the Magnetic Poetry Oracle, but she gave me this poem (incorporated above) the morning of the day we went to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. She also came me part of the opening.

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You can find out more about Eastern State Penitentiary here.   Here is an article on programs for prison literacy.   And a list of additional resources here.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is always worth visiting, even with construction going on.

 

 

 

The Beauty Is: NaPoWriMo

 

Monday Morning Musings:

“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night –William Shakespeare, Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 5

“And the beauty is, when you realize, when you realize, Someone could be looking for a someone like you.” –Adam Guettel, “The Beauty Is” from the musical, The Light in the Piazza  Song here.

“At such moments I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is “Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you’re not part of it.” My advice is: “Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy. –Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, March 7, 1944

It’s a rainy Earth day,

the grey skies swaddle pink and white blossoms

Spring, verdant, full of life, thirsty, greedily drinks like a baby,

unselfconscious and we the admiring parents watch her,

she is beautiful, even when she’s a dirty mess.

 

A mother-daughter outing to see Beauty and the Beast,

the theater has reserved seats that we recline in ready for the magic to begin

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My daughter is comfortable in the theater.

 

— the Disney version of the story,

though we’re both impressed by Gaston, more nuanced than his cartoon version,

possibly charming at first in an oafish way

until the true darkness of his soul is revealed,

the mob scenes remind me a bit too much of history and recent events,

mobs inflamed by ignorant narcissists,

it’s happened throughout the ages

it happens now,

but how can I not enjoy a story where the heroine loves books,

a movie that is a shout out to literacy,

and where lovers bond over reading,

Belle reads poetry to the Beast,

he knows a quotation from her favorite play, Romeo and Juliet,

there’s singing and dancing, people and objects,

I had forgotten Audra McDonald was in this movie–

until she sang,

and I didn’t know Dan Stevens had such a fine voice,

(remember that time he was in a little series called Downton Abbey?)

we get a backstory for the Beast (which we both like)

Belle’s backstory is inserted more awkwardly,

Still it is an enjoyable couple of hours of mother and daughter time

And there is more beauty in the day

the beauty is. ..

a bowl of lemons

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not exactly life giving them to us

as going to the store and buying six bags of them

and rather than lemonade, we mix them with vodka to make limoncello

aren’t grownup daughters fun!

(And beautiful?)

So, we grate lemon peel,

the kitchen becomes gloriously lemon-scented,

a Chopin polonaise plays softly in the background,

(her husband’s study music),

we talk, of her girlfriends, of work, of this and that,

my husband has been doing yard work

(it’s not raining that hard, he says),

he sits at the table with us,

their dog chews on his toy,

their cat ventures out to see if it’s dinner time

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Not pleased by the citrus scent

 

When we’re finished, we eat takeout Pakistani food,

my husband and my son-in-law learn

the kind and talkative restaurant owner was educated at Oxford

(perhaps he is a book lover, too?)

And what do I do the next day with leftover lemons?

Make lemon cake, of course!

 

 

It’s beautiful and delicious.

And though there are beasts all around, the beauty is. . .

spending time with people you love,

enjoying good food and wine,

beauty simple and sudden,

striking you, when you look up from your morning coffee

to see the sun dawning over the neighbor’s white dogwood tree

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The photo does not capture how beautiful it was

 

the profound beauty of birth, mixed with blood and pain,

the simple beauty of a smile,

the beauty that is there within the beast,

the beauty is

it surrounds us

the beauty is. . .

in yourself and in everything around you

 

Today is Day 24, NaPoWriMo. We’re asked to write a poem of ekphasis, a poem inspired by a work of art. We’re challenged to base a poem on marginalia of medieval manuscripts. I suppose you could very loosely say I’ve done this, as they are beautiful and filled with beasts. (Such as this one )

Huffington Post summarizes some previous versions of Beauty and the Beast here.

Today is Yom HaShoah ( This year, it’s Sunset, April 23- Sunset April 24), Holocaust Remembrance Day. I wonder what Anne Frank would be writing about now, and if she would still see beauty in the world.

Beginnings and Endings

 

 

 

Monday Morning Musings:

“But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life.”

–Dr. Louise Banks in the movie, Arrival (2016)

“Time is what stops history happening at once; time is the speed at which the past disappears.”

–David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

 

Beginnings and endings,

I hear the mockingbird sing.

 

A spring day in February,

we changed plans,

instead of a movie,

we went to lunch,

where we could sit outside,

 

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Valley Green Inn, February 2017

 

and take a long walk.

our server did Sesame Street character voices

(for the children at a nearby table),

he carried our dishes to us

announced them with a song,

kind of strange,

but so is spring in February.

 

We sat at our table watching people walk dogs,

and dogs walk people,

(dogs pulled leashes,

noses up, sniffing,

pulling toward the porch-

This way! There is food.)

we watched bicyclists,

and one unicyclist,

and I watched the geese

beginning and ending flights,

over and over

the same patch of the Wissahickon Creek,

a gaggle of honks and feathers in short, graceful flights.

Were they the same geese?

Was it a game?

Teenage geese in race?

I watched

wondering when they began

and when they will end this game,

their journey.

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We walked,

we talked,

spring fever,

people smiled

said hi as they passed,

everyone enjoying this glorious February day,

We strolled along the Wissahickon,

 

 

we could have veered off to another path—

(two roads and all that)

I think about other walks we’ve taken

and other times we’ve walked,

and other people who have walked where we walk,

will walk there after us,

wonder if they walk with us, unseen,

I think about paths and time and connections

and music that is triggered in my head

by a word,

a thought,

and the way that books take people through time and space.

I see scenes in my head as I read,

(do you?)

and sometimes I feel that I am there

in that moment,

in that place,

and sometimes I’m not certain if I’ve read a book

or seen the movie

because the scenes are so vivid

and when I write,

the characters become real,

they have always existed,

no beginning

no end

on a timeless path.

 

Days later,

I think about how I love books, shows, and movies with complicated storylines—

stories that move through time,

or are told from different characters’ points of view,

I realize

(of course, you will say)

it’s connected to my fascination with time and timelines,

different paths our lives could/might/may have taken,

the protagonist of our own lives,

a minor character in someone else’s,

a movie extra without lines.

 

I wonder if time passes the same way for everyone,

does the mockingbird singing before dawn

know the sun will come up soon,

that it’s a new day?

I wish I could ask him,

I wish I could understand his answer,

instead, I listen to his song,

and in that song

in the predawn darkness

he does communicate,

an announcement,

I am here. Listen!

Perhaps that is enough,

I relive the moment in my head

a moment past,

but present,

no beginning,

no end

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chosen: Microfiction

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Ilya Repin. “Choosing a Bride for the Grand Duke” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Once long ago, as the full moon glowed in the sky, a line of maidens stood in brilliantly colored gowns and feathered headdresses. They chattered and peeped like exotic birds, as they waited for the king to arrive to choose one of them to be his bride.

Katerina alone was silent; she comforted herself with the thought that she was unlikely to be chosen. She had nothing against the king in particular—he seemed pleasant enough. But marriage to him meant a life of seclusion in the women’s quarters, a gilded cage, a life spent producing babies and little else.

Katerina’s mother had convinced her father that reading was a skill that would allow Katerina to assist her future husband. So as she stood waiting in the Great Hall, Katerina read. When the trumpets sounded, announcing the King’s arrival, she quickly tucked her book inside one of her wide sleeves.

As the king strode down the line, each maiden curtsied before him. When he stood in front of Katerina, she bent low, and as the king took her hand, the book slipped from her sleeve and dropped to the ground. The onlookers gasped, but the king merely bent and picked up the book. Glancing at its title, he smiled, commenting that philosophy was an unusual choice for a woman. He handed the book back to Katerina and walked on. Throughout the night, the king talked to all of the women, but he kept returning to Katerina.

At dawn, the King announced he had chosen Katerina to be his queen. As a result, carrying books—even if they were not read–became a fad among unmarried women. Over time, Katerina adjusted to her role as queen and to life in a “gilded cage”—though she had to admit that it was a luxurious, gilded cage that many would envy. Using her position, she convinced the king to let her teach all the women at court to read. A generation later, all of girls in their country, as well as the boys, were permitted to go to school. Finally, after many decades, on another moonlit night, a woman became the leader of the nation. She was also named Katerina, after her distant ancestor, the queen who made books and reading fashionable.

 

This fairy tale was written when I was feeling hopeful. It is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge—though I am again stretching the meaning of the term “micro.”  There were two possible painting prompts, I chose the one above.

 

 

 

 

Time to Read

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William McGregor Paxton, “The House Maid,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Wise minds seek wise thoughts,

with care press on—reading books

in discreet corners

 

A haiku in response to Secret Keeper’s Writing Prompt.

This week’s words were:

Thought/Care/Discreet/Press/Seek

I thought this painting by William McGregor Paxton nicely illustrated my haiku. It was probably some sort of household book, but I like to think this housemaid was sneaking some time to read a novel. 🙂

 

A Holiday Dinner

Monday Morning Musings:

I often wonder what I would do to survive, to escape

it’s the story of Passover, after all.

the story of a group of enslaved people who escape

(with the help of a few miracles)

and of people all over the world in the past and present.

My grandparents left a repressive land,

pogroms and restrictions,

coming here where they could prosper

they met and married.

Both sets of grandparents—love matches.

They worked hard through the Great Depression

and WWII

making certain that their children were educated.

Some people don’t want to think about

slavery in this country.

They want to visit historic sites

without a reminder that slave labor kept the homes and farms running.

But we can acknowledge the achievements

and the faults of historic figures.

I listen to Annette Gordon-Reed and

Peter S. Onuf discuss Jefferson’s complicated

moral geography—

people and situations are seldom simple

black or white–

and still the world has slavery,

people forced to work with little sleep or food,

beaten if they disobey,

women kept as sex slaves,

a young woman, now a college student here,

who escaped from the

Boko Haram:

“And I say to one of my friends that I’m going to jump out of the truck. I would rather die and my parents will see my body and bury it than to go with the Boko Haram.”

I wonder if I would have had the courage to jump from a truck and run.

I read Those Who Save Us, a novel by Jenna Blum,

and I wonder—

what I would do in war time to survive?

It’s easy to judge others.

And so on Passover,

I think about slavery and escape,

of generations of people celebrating this story with words and foods,

celebrating in basements,

in wealthy homes,

in concentration camps,

We sit around the table(s)—reading from our homemade “Haggadah,”

going through some of the Seder steps, mixed with family lore,

“the spirit of roast beef.”

We read our parts in our Passover play,

and laugh,

this year, the play includes “Pharaoh Trump,

and rap songs.

We eat the food that I spent days cooking–

chicken soup, vegetable broth, knaidlach made the way my mom taught me

with separated eggs,

no recipe of course,

done by feel,

done with love,

but they are light. No sinkers here!

Matzo balls that float,

and don’t land with a heavy thud in your stomach.

Gefilte fish with horseradish

to clear away those spring allergy symptoms

Oh—that’s not what it symbolizes?

We eat my sister’s charoset,

the mixture of fruit and nuts that symbolizes the mortar or mud used to make the bricks in

the Exodus story.

The meat eaters consume brisket and turkey breast with delight.

Those who don’t eat meat, enjoy the roasted sweet potatoes and salad of spring greens.

Many glasses of wine. No Manischewitz!

For dessert, flourless chocolate cake,

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And my daughter’s cheesecake, made with a crust of chocolate almond macaroons.

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And coffee meringues with chocolate chips

And lemon-almond macaroons

My daughter, believing she is addressing a lack in my education,

brings Fireball whiskey for me to do my first shot ever-

It’s a group activity—with dancing.

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I really do dance in my kitchen.

 

I realize suddenly that this is the first holiday in years

where all of my siblings

are here together,

and both of my daughters with their spouses.

My mom is still here, too.

I feel love.

I feel content.

OK. I feel a bit tired

by the time it ends.

But happiness, too.

And love.

 

Recipes for the Flourless Chocolate Cake (to which I add 1 Tbsp. espresso powder and 1 tsp. vanilla, and bake for one hour at 325 degrees) and the recipe for the coffee meringues were in this post from last year. https://merrildsmith.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/a-passover-legacy/

Dancing with Food and Juggling the Myths

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“It has been said that the myth is a public dream, dreams are private myths. Unfortunately we give our mythic side scant attention these days. As a result, a great deal escapes us and we no longer understand our own actions. So it remains important and salutary to speak not only of the rational and easily understood, but also of enigmatic things: the irrational and the ambiguous. To speak both privately and publicly.”

–Mary Zimmermann, Metamorphoses

In October, my husband and I saw Metamorphoses, Mary Zimmermann’s play, based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. We were immersed in ancient Greek myths, which still have such relevance today. It seems we tell and retell stories, hoping that somehow we will learn. Sometimes there are happy endings, but often there are not.

Over the weekend, we watched the final Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay, Part 2, which we missed when it was in theaters. Suzanne Collins, who wrote The Hunger Games trilogy, originally came up with the idea of her book from the story of the Minotaur. In the legend, King Minos of Crete required Athens to send as tribute seven young men and seven young women to Crete to be devoured by the ferocious Minotaur, a half man, half bull, who lived in a maze called the Labyrinth. This maze was designed by that champion-designer, Daedalus. (Daedulus was locked up in tower so that he could not share his knowledge of the labyrinth’s layout. To escape, he fashioned wings coated in wax so that he and his son Icarus could fly and escape. Icarus flew too high, and the hot sun melted his wings, causing him to fall into the sea and drown.) When the third sacrifice time approached, Theseus volunteered to go to slay the beast. Mino’s daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with Theseus, and in most versions of the story, she gave him a ball of thread. With that thread he was able to retrace his steps and find the way out of the labyrinth. (Play away with all the symbolism here, all the threads, so to speak. Also, apparently, the Minotaur was the child of Mino’s wife and a bull, so he was Ariadne’s half brother. Lots of subtext here.)

Collins also took aspects of the Roman coliseums and games, present day reality TV shows, and the war in Iraq to come up with her YA novels that involve a society sometime in the future in which every year young men and women from each of twelve poor districts of Panem (roughly what is now the US) are chosen by lottery to compete in the Hunger Games. They compete in lavish, televised games for the amusement of the wealthy, capital until only one tribute remains alive. My younger daughter and I have read the three books, and had seen all the movies, except for this final one. My husband has seen the movies, and my son-in-law has seen some of the movies. In truth, Mockingjay, Part 2, was not a great movie, but it was enjoyable, and it was a perfect excuse to get together. Jennifer Lawrence embodies Katniss Everdeen, brave, fierce, and stubborn. Donald Sutherland is perfect as evil President Snow. (Here is the New York Times’s review of the movie.)

So if my daughter and her husband were going to come over to watch the movie, then we have to have food, right?  So it went something like this.

What a wonderful idea, we thought,

a Hunger Games party to view the final movie.

We’ll cook together, and sip wine.

E-mails flew back and forth–

“I think I need to make pita bread,” I said,

(One of the characters is named Peeta.)

“And should we have something flaming?”

“Oh yesss!!!” she said.

“I’m excited now—and ready for this week to be over.”

“I’m excited, too!” I replied.

She decided to make hot wings “for the men.”

We discussed timing, and who should make what.

“I have two ovens, we should be able to work things, out.

Besides, we’re both good at improvising.”

And so we did.

Dancing in the kitchen to Zumba music,

while cooking and sipping wine,

our husbands worked on math in the dining room. We are nerds. Truth.

One cat oversaw the kitchen work, while the other one slept upstairs.

We decided on one large goat cheese-apple tart because I have a tart pan that needed to be used.

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Baked brie with blackberries marinated in wine.

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Prepared while the men’s wings cooked in one oven.

I made the pita bread and the roasted red pepper dip in advance.

So mother-daughter team made enough food for forty rather than four—

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you’ll understand if you know us.

But we enjoyed every bite.

After the movie, we made a flambé, a tribute to “the girl who was on fire”: bananas cooked in brown sugar, butter, and flamed with rum. Soundtrack: “Fireball.”

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We served it over homemade pineapple curd and vanilla ice cream, and sat at the kitchen table and talked of the past, present, and future. Mother and daughter danced in our seats to “Fireball.” This is how family myths are created—epic stories to retell of love and food shared. We love each other. Real or not real? Real.

Recipes:

Roasted Red Pepper/Walnut Dip

Goat Cheese and Apple Tarts

Pita Bread

Caribbean Bananas Flambé with Pineapple Curd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers and Books, Two Hourglass Poems

These are for Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge. The poems are in the shape of an hourglass. Syllables: 5,4,3,2,1,2,3,4,5

 

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Flowers Wake

Flowers wake, the sun

calling them, Come

Arise, You!

Unfurl

buds

dormant

through winter

Dance gently now

Nascent warmth of spring.

 

Interesting Literature posted this article about the Prague Library statue, Idiom, often referred to by such names as Book Tower or Book Vortex.

Word Vortex

Novels, poetry,

a word vortex

stacked skyward

thoughts soar

book

a time

for quiet

reflection of

life in prose and verse

Clearing the Cobwebs, Rearranging the Lines

Monday Morning Musings:

“There is nothing more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.”

-Homer, The Odyssey

“If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in.”

–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.”

–Douglas Adams

Several years ago, our refrigerator died an unexpected death, and we bought a new one. That one purchase somehow led to a kitchen remodeling project—a new double oven, stovetop, Corian counter and sink, and new cabinets. A few days ago, we bought a new living room sofa to replace the suddenly worn one we’ve had for close to twenty years. (How do rips and tears appear overnight?) That led us to, not another remodeling job, but rather, a rearrangement.

We’ve lived with the same furniture arranged in the same way for about two decades. Oh, we’ve moved some bits, hung paintings and photos, and painted walls, but the essential arrangement has remained the same way for years. The new sofa (and chair) won’t arrive for another 6 weeks or so, but we’re ready to see how they might fit in our newly configured living room. It’s time to look at things from a new angle, to embrace a room with a new view.

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Our first sofa went from two apartments to our house.

My husband retired from teaching in June, after thirty-seven years at the same high school. (Obviously, we’re not impulsive people.) For the past few weeks, he’s been moving items in, out, and all about the house. He’s turned one daughter’s bedroom into a study for himself. He’s moved our son-in-law’s military gear and other items to basement and attic. We’ve been arranging, rearranging, and repurposing items. By we, I mean him. He provides the brute strength. I provide ideas, encouragement, and meals. But I have my own building and rearranging going on.

A few nights ago, I dreamt that I was living in an apartment and that I shared a kitchen in that dwelling with a young woman I know from the gym. In the dream, I was a young twenty-something woman, too.  Also strange, but in the way of dreams, making perfect sense in that dream world, I was starting a garden in my apartment. I was using a type of long, wooden container, like a horse trough that you’d see in an old Western. I think I was growing herbs, perhaps flowers, too, and I was very excited about it. They would all be moved outdoors at a later date. (Presumably by someone very strong.) There was quite a lovely view from my dream-apartment’s large picture window. It was like an estate, Downton Abbey, perhaps. Well, when you dream, dream big, I suppose, even though my dream apartment was small—and with that shared kitchen.

When I woke up, I was amused by this funny dream, but I instantly realized that it was about the two books I am just beginning to work on. I had received an email from one of my editors, confirming that the project had been approved by the powers that be at the press. For one of the books, I’m co-editing with another person—sharing the work as I shared the kitchen in the dream. I have a new computer, and I’m attempting to organize items in it. Rearranging. So now I have two projects with seeds planted. More seeds must be sown. The seedlings need to be watered and weeded. I hope that they will blossom and grow.

A friend and I used to discuss our house dreams. We both seemed to have them whenever we were working on projects or working out personal issues.

A house, like life, is never complete. There are always objects to refurbish, restore, or replace. My husband and I have never furnished our homes in a particular style; we don’t have rooms in which all pieces were purchased together and match. Our rooms are mishmashes of items we’ve bought, inherited, and found. We value comfort over a particular style. Somehow these varied items come together; a little of this and a little of that—much like my soups and stews—and writing.

Furnishings serve a function—a bed is to sleep on; a chair to sit on—but they also convey ideas about the inhabitants. Traditional or contemporary? Frilly or functional? Does the room have family heirlooms? Does it have books? Religious items? Valuable art? Is every surface covered with Knick knacks? Anyone who enters our home would see books, a kitchen that is obviously used, and, yes, cat hair.  It’s who we are.

Houses and furnishings convey class and aspirations. They always have. Even well-to-do 18th century Philadelphia Quakers furnished their homes with the best that they could afford.

On September 14, 1779, Elizabeth Drinker recorded the following account in her diary:

This morning in meeting time (myself at home) Jacob Franks and a Son of Cling the Vendue master, came to seize for the Continental Tax; they took from us, one Walnut Dining Table, one mahogany Tea-Table, 6 hansom walnut Chairs, open backs crow feet and a Shell on the back and on each knee—a mahogany fram’d, Sconce Looking-Glass, and two large pewter Dishes, carrid them of, from the Door in a Cart.

–Elaine Forman Crane, ed. The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991. Vol. 1, 359.

The Quaker Drinkers were pacifists, and they did not support the Revolution.

The chairs Drinker describes could describe a pair of chairs owned by my mother. Years ago, when Antiques Roadshow visited Philadelphia, they appraised the chairs, bringing in more than one expert, before determining that the Philadelphia Chippendale chairs were actually 19th century reproductions. Still valuable, still good chairs, but not quite as valuable or interesting as if they had been original 18th century chairs, like the ones Elizabeth Drinker owned.

I remember these chairs from my home in Dallas when I was little, to houses in Havertown, PA, and then my mom’s subsequent moves to apartments in Merion, Philadelphia. They’re now in her independent living apartment. Antique does not always mean fragile, and both the chairs and my mom are sturdy.

I wonder which pieces of furniture in my own home will last the test of time?

Words also last. Will mine? And will anyone want to read them?  A book, like a house, involves building and re-patching. Words, like furniture, get arranged and rearranged. Sometimes words, like objects, disappear or are moved. Sometimes it’s something minor, a lamp, or a comma. Other times, it’s a sofa, or an entire chapter. Sometimes words, like fine furniture, need to be dusted and polished.

I’m always writing, but the start of big projects is a peculiar adventure, exciting and sometimes scary.

For now, I’m ready to climb the stairs and open the door to the castle room. I’ll turn the knob and step inside. Will there be ghosts? Will it lead to an adventure? I’m not certain what I’ll find, but I think it’s where I’m intended to be. And if not, I can always rearrange the furniture.