Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween in Marblehead (Don Oja-Dunaway)

Halloween is not my favorite holiday (that would be Thanksgiving!) by any stretch... but I've always enjoyed it - from the time I was a small child living in suburbia, I loved the ritual of my father walking me around the neighborhood to trick-or-treat, while my mom stayed home to hand out candy. I participated in my share of costume parties in high school and college - my husband and I attended one the first Halloween we were married, with the theme of Come As Your Favorite Dead Person (unique, eh?). There was Marilyn Monroe, Harpo Marx, Thurmond Munson, Jimi Hendrix, etc. - Robert was dressed as Generalissimo Francisco Franco (a running joke on the popular Saturday Night Live back then - "GFF is still dead!") and I was Billie Holiday, complete with the ever-present gardenia behind one ear.

In my 8 years of teaching preschool and four years as a director, it was a matter of course to dress up: Dorothy (duh!), Mother Nature, a gypsy and a beautiful rich woman (since I never wear make-up, this was more elaborate than it sounds) - I do believe my piece de resistance was the year I masqueraded as Tina Turner (obviously not at the preschool) after I found a great blond spiky wig at a neighorhood garage sale (rollin' on the river indeed... :-)

My children always came up with something original and fun - we liked to make our own outfits, supplemented with accessories bought end-of-season (vampire fangs for a dime, a witch hat for $1.00), accumulated over the years and stored in the Halloween box on the top shelf of the garage - I took great joy in escorting my own children around the neighborhood (while my husband stayed behind to pass out candy) and was devastated the year Eric (our youngest) declared he had no need for parental companionship any longer and, following in his older brother's and sister's footsteps, ventured out with friends.

For the last six years, it's been my turn to hand out treats... which I do love, complimenting each little one on their adorability (should be a word if it's not) - our front posts are decorated with ceramic jack-o-lanterns with candles inside, on the door is a fall wreath and from the porch eaves dangles our wooden Halloween wind chimes, which we've had *forever*, making a wonderful clattering sound in the breeze...

So... the Reese's peanut butter cups are bought and I'll leave work a bit early tomorrow to make sure I'm on hand when the first costumed kiddo comes to call - if the weather holds, we'll average 100 or so spooky visitors. Even Rocky looks forward to the evening, perching on the back of the couch so he can watch the comings and goings - Happy Halloween!

P.S. No matter what they say, I still believe candy corn is the most disgusting treat on the planet - yuck!

SONG: Halloween in Marblehead by Don Oja-Dunaway

BOOK: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

POEM: Superstitious by Shel Silverstein

If you are superstitious
you'll never step on cracks.
When you see a ladder
you will never walk beneath it.
And if you ever spill some salt
you'll throw some 'cross your back,
And carry' round a rabbit's foot
just in case you need it.

You'll pick up any pin that you find lying on the ground,
And never, never, ever throw your hat upon the bed,
Or open an umbrella when you are in the house.
You'll bite your tongue each time you say
A thing you shouldn't have said.

You'll hold your breath and cross your fingers
Walkin' by a graveyard,
And number thirteen's never gonna do you any good.
Black cats will all look vicious, if you're superstitious,
But I'm not superstitious (knock on wood).

QUOTE(S): "There is nothing that gives more assurance than a mask." ~ Colette

"Clothes make a statement. Costumes tell a story." ~ Mason Cooley

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vampires, Mummies and the Holy Ghost (Jimmy Buffett)

Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.

Vampires, Mummies and the Holy Ghost by Jimmy Buffett

2oth Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

POEM: Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun,
A-listenin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you Don't Watch Out!

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers, -
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout: -
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you Don't Watch Out!

An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'for she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you Don't Watch Out!

An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'bugs in dew is all squenched away, -
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' cherish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you Don't Watch Out!

QUOTE: "A house is never still in darkness to those who listen intently; there is a whispering in distant chambers, an unearthly hand presses the snib of the window, the latch rises. Ghosts were created when the first man awoke in the night." ~ J.M. Barrie

Monday, October 29, 2007

Are You Happy Now? (Richard Shindell)

A few personal musings tomorrow re: Halloween - this now...

Dark Chocolate Can Help Your Heart

Chocoholics, your time has come to rejoice: Recent studies show that a daily dose of dark chocolate contains antioxidants that can lower blood pressure, helping to prevent heart disease.

There's no need to gorge on the stuff, though – chocolate is notoriously high in calories and fat and the effects of overindulgence will soon show up around your waist. Less than 30 calories, or approximately one-quarter of an ounce, is the perfect amount to satisfy both your sweet tooth and your body. So now, there's always an excuse for dessert.

The lucky folks at Consumer Reports taste-tested a wide variety of dark chocolate bars to find the best of the bunch. If you're in the market for a heart-healthy indulgence, here are their top five picks.

1. Cacao Reserve by Hershey's Extra Dark
2. Lindt Excellence Extra Fine Dark
3. Chocolove Organic Dark
4. Valrhona Le Noir Amer Dark Bittersweet
5. Scharffen Berger Semisweet Pure Dark

like every other year I sit outside with a guitar
while kids roam in small packs
from lit door to lit door
the costumes tonight are not that frightening
angels and fairies and superheroes abound
a few bloodsuckers and ghouls
a sprinkling of skeletons
no terrorists
the adults pretend to be scared
jessie (the giraffe from across the street)
solemnly hands me M & Ms from her stash
when I put the Snickers in her pumpkin
“honey,” I tell her
“it’s not a trade – it‘s a gift”
and she solemnly takes them back
the young girl in the bathrobe and curlers
wearing the sign that says
says to me
“I want to hear you play your prettyful music”
I hand her candy
and I pick up my guitar
to play a song appropriate to the season
(a song by the Grateful Dead)
for this world’s recent ghosts
this world
where unimaginable ashes
sift down on children’s beds
in one part of this world
the very rocks and baseballs
smell of abrasives, jet fuel, burning rubber, corpses
in another part of this world
they are making the mail glow white
long enough to kill what lives on the words
in another part of this world
this guitar would be
in that country a shrouded woman
has been carefully picking food from a minefield
(food that was airdropped in my name)
she runs and lifts her child from the ground
raising his head high up onto her shoulder
vainly trying to keep the frightening blood from spilling too much
it will take her years to fall asleep again
when she does fall asleep
she will dream of picking up a yellow bomblet
wrapping it in swaddling clothes
suckling it until it blooms hot and bright
but she will not cry
as she holds him in that dream
we all dream that dream these days
we all hold our children closer
while holding back tears
a dream like that
is not a gift
it is a trade
we have all already given
more than enough in return for this one
and you do not let go of your tears
when tears are all you have left
Halloween night
I am pushing aside the veil between the worlds
a mourning person waiting for dawn
pretending to be scared to cover real fear
while I give sweets and prettyful music
to my neighbors’ children
we are all a long way from home

if I knew the way
I would take you home

QUOTE: "Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold." ~ Judith Olney

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad (Christine Kane)

I saw the accompanying cartoon on my friend sharon's blog and, given the topic of today's post coupled with my love of all things Oz, just had to borrow - it's so appropriate!

Okay, I said I would talk about my dog one of these days - meet Rocky Raccoon, my Shih-Tzu (who my friend Brian calls "a piece of sh*tzu... :-)

We bought Rocky from my friend Kimmie when he was three months old (twelve years ago), because it turned out her boyfriend was allergic - actually, we brought him home to spend one night as a trial basis, which has turned into over a decade of mutual love. The first night here he fell into the swimming pool... which he still gives a very wide berth when he's in the backyard - he earned his name because of the black raccoon mask marking across his otherwise white face... and he looks like a cross between an Ewok from Star Wars and Gizmo from the movie Gremlins. We quickly learned his floor-length coat wouldn't be practical in this household (or this heat) so we gave him a puppy cut in the first few weeks we had him, which we've maintained ever since - so much easier...

I was one of those moms who said we'd *never* have a dog - now I can't imagine what we'd do without Rocky. It's typical of the breed to be loyal to everyone in the household, not just one particular person - he loves my husband for the nightly walks they share, my son Robby for feeding and watering, my daughter Sarah because he can jump up on her bed and sleep, my son Eric for playing fetch and rough-and-tumble and me for cuddling/scratching/petting while I'm reading.

I've always called Rocky "the best dog" because he hardly ever barks, he's loving and attentive and he rarely has an accident - just recently we realized his age, took note of the breed's lifespan (11 - 14) and began to get a bit melancholy. He still acts like a puppy, so it's hard to reconcile the equivalent in dog years - I imagine we'll soon have to prepare for the day he leaves us but I just can't do that right now, preferring to enjoy the time we have left...

Another friend sent the following essay not too long ago... and I set it aside just for this occasion - I really do love my Rockstermuffiin... <3

P.S. The book for today's post is Kathy's choice for our mid-December discussion group gathering - K has labs, so she knows of what she speaks!

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

~ When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

~ Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

~ Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

~ Take naps.

~ Stretch before rising.

~ Run, romp and play daily.

~ Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

~ Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

~ On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

~ On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

~ When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

~ Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

~ Be loyal.

~ Never pretend to be something you're not.

~ If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

~ When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
[ Added 11/13/07: On the flip side, I just read the following in a forwarded e-mail and had to share: Handle every situation like a dog. If you can't eat it or hump it, piss on it and walk away. ]

SONG: Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad by Christine Kane

Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan

POEM: Dharma by Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance -
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?
Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

QUOTE: "If you think dogs can't count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two of them." ~ Phil Pastoret

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wish I May (Kristen Hall)

**I copied the poem below, in my own handwriting, into a clothbound notebook I kept during my college years (1972-76)... a journal of favorite poems, quotes, books, song lyrics (sound familiar?... :-) - I retyped it many years later, and realized that, somewhere along the way, the author of the poem had been inadvertently omitted. I did not write Wishes, although I wish (no pun intended) I had, and I cannot recall the original source - hoping to determine the poet, I have spent the last 10 minutes googling specific phrases, to no avail. So... I present it to you as someone else's work that I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to give attribution... typing it yet again (since I couldn't find it online to copy and paste) - what is comforting is that a literary work I loved enough to transcribe onto paper in my rebellious-Catholic-schoolgirl-scrawl over 30 years ago still touches my heart - nice...

POEM: Wishes**

Sudden silence, an angel passing over,
two saying the same word, simultaneously,
a star falling, the first fruit of the year,
the breastbone of the chicken, scraped and dry -
each an occasion to wish on, a wish given.

Easy enough for children, for whom to wish
is only a way of bringing a party closer
or acquiring pennies or cake, and for
whose sake we attend to teeth beneath pillows and believe in magic,
not indulgently but somehow because
each time the silver coin appears where the tooth was,
the party seems quick in coming.

But for ourselves, with fewer teeth and no faith
in miracles or good angels, a falling star
is likely to be uncomfortable. Oh, we can ask for
new lives, more money or a change of face,
but hardly seriously. The heart is lacking.
We know too much, and wishing smacks of daydream
and discontent - not magic. Anyway, we are wary
of strings and snags, or worse, that, once fulfilled,
the thing we wished for might be old and cold.

Yet still the children come, with serious rapt faces, offering us wishes.
Take this wishbone, delicate where the breast was, whitened now by the sun,
Hold one stem of it, lightly, with your little finger. I will hold the other.
Now make your wish, my love; but never tell.

And I? I always wish you well;
but here, in this poise before the fruit can fall,
or the star burn out, or the word dwindle,
before the hovering angel
flies out of mind, before the bone is broken,
I wish we wish the same wish, the unspoken.

QUOTE: "If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of potential -- for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints; possibility never." ~ Soren Kierkegaard

Friday, October 26, 2007

Peace Call (Woody Guthrie)

And now for something completely different... :-)

Daily Mail

19th October 2007

Women around the world are sending their knickers to Burmese embassies to protest against the country's brutal regime. Burma's iron-fisted - yet superstitious - military junta believe touching lady's underwear will "rob them of power", organisers say.

And Lanna Action for Burma hope their "Panties for Peace" campaign will help oust the oppressive rulers who ruthlessly crushed recent democracy protests. The group's website explains: “The Burma military regime is not only brutal but very superstitious. They believe that contact with a woman's panties or sarong can rob them of their power. So this is your chance to use your Panty Power to take away the power from them.” Activist Liz Hilton added: "It's an extremely strong message in Burmese and in all Southeast Asian culture.”

The military junta in Burma, officially known now as Myanmar, faced international condemnation after it brutally cracked down on recent anti-regime protests. And the country's oppressive leader General Than Shwe has pledged to continue to hunt down and imprison those who took part. The junta says 10 protesters have so far been killed and 2,100 arrested, but foreign diplomats fear both figures could be far higher.

A wave of extra sanctions against Burma have already been imposed by Western leaders since the callous clamp down. And earlier this week Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned of further measures against the regime if it did not end the violence against its own people. He said: "We cannot forget the images on our television screens of monks and ordinary citizens in Burma protesting - nor the death and human rights abuses we know are still taking place.

"Last week's UN Security Council statement - the first ever formal statement on Burma - sent a powerful signal of the determination of the international community to support the Burmese people in their transition to democracy. Burma must take clear steps towards the return of democracy."

Women from Britain, Australia, the US and many of Burma's neighbours began sending their underwear on October 16. And Lanna Action hopes thousands will soon follow suit and swamp Burmese officials with knickers and end four decades of military rule. "You can post, deliver or fling your panties at the closest Burmese Embassy any day from today. Send early, send often," the group's website urges. So far Burmese diplomats have not responded.

The Myanmar Embassy in the UK is located at 19a Charles St,London, W1J 5DX.

See Lanna Action for Burma for more details.

SONG: Peace Call by Woody Guthrie

BOOK: Women, Power and the Biology of Peace by Judith Hand

POEM: The Esquimos Have No Word for “War” by Mary Oliver

Trying to explain it to them
Leaves one feeling ridiculous and obscene.
Their houses, like white bowls,
Sit on a prairie of ancient snowfalls
Caught beyond thaw or the swift changes
Of night and day.
They listen politely, and stride away.

With spears and sleds and barking dogs
To hunt for food. The women wait
Chewing on skins or singing songs,
Knowing that they have hours to spend,
That the luck of the hunter is often late.

Later, by fires and boiling bones
In streaming kettles, they welcome me,
Far kin, pale brother,
To share what they have in a hungry time
In a difficult land. While I talk on
Of the southern kingdoms, cannon, armies,
Shifting alliances, airplanes, power,
They chew their bones, and smile at one another.

QUOTE: "We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds." ~ Anton Chekov

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dark and Deep (David LaMotte)

I attended my first Folk Alliance conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1999 - it was an incredible experience of sensory overload, as there are hundreds of showcase rooms, small and large, showcasing the talents of even more hundreds of musical artists. When someone tells you what time they're performing, it's important to ask a.m. or p.m. because, yes, there are actually sanctioned acts taking place at 2:30 in the morning... not to mention the unofficial songswapping until the dawn's early light. Sleep?!? - we don't need no stinkin' sleep... :-)

All this to say that somewhere along the way I was given a CD sampler of various artists and was able to listen to it the week after I returned home - the blog-titled song immediately resonated:

I remember this friend down in Florida
She used to get lost just for fun
She'd take any turn that presented itself
Just to see where the road might run
It's amazing the places they'd take her
The people and things that she'd find

I felt as if David was singing about me - when my family moved to Puerto Rico in January 1985 because of my husband's job transfer, the kids and I were immediately thrown into many unknown situations (because R was working 12-hour days). Robby was only a few months old at the time and Sarah was 3 1/2 - I would buckle them into their car seats and we would go off in search of... the local Sears to buy a plastic wading pool... the home of someone who was selling a used dishwasher... a friend we'd met at the hotel our first week there. Invariably we'd get "turned around" somehow... and Sarah would ask, in a semi-panic, "are we lost, Mom? are we lost?" - I'd always reply, in my calm-on-the-outside, not-at-all-sure-on-the-inside voice, "no, sweetie... we're just having an adventure"... :-)

It's still an ongoing family memory - I also forged a friendship with David a few years later and had a chance to tell him this story, at which he nodded wisely... <3

P.S. If you see a connection between David's song and Frost's poem, it's not accidental - David's tune was submitted to, and accepted for, Chapter One of the Songs Inspired By Literature (SIBL) project (and he's in very good company!).

SONG: Dark and Deep by David LaMotte

The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming by Catherine Keller

POEM: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it's queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there's some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

QUOTE: "To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions." ~ Sam Keen

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

These Days in an Open Book (Nanci Griffith)

Here I am, home another day (sigh) - I forgot just how disgusting strep throat can be... and I won't bore you with the gory details. Tonight is my book club night, Nancy's choice of Lucky You by Carl Hiassen, and I still don't feel well enough to leave the house, plus I'm also worried about infecting everyone else, even if I have been on the antibiotics since mid-day Monday - the additional day (and evening) of rest and recovery will help, and I'll drop a note to everyone explaining (and mourning) my absence...

We actually just celebrated the six-year-anniversary of our book club, which first met late-September 2001 - we began with six members (M was one of the founders... :-), two of whom (Nancy and I) are still active, the rest cycling off over the years due to various reasons. We've seen many wonderful new participants (friends of friends), come and go along the way (we currently stand at seven), and we've restructured the format a bit.

We all agreed to begin with The Red Tent, for symbolic (i.e. feminist) and political reasons - one of the recurring threads has the women retreating there during their menstrual cycles, as a time to nurture each other, with massage, conversation and companionship. It's historically known that communities of women spending lots of time together will have their periods simultaneously - in earlier days, this took place during the new moon... so we try to meet as close to that time of the month as well...

We also decided from the start to contribute food that fit thematically with the book we were currently discussing - September 2001 (only a few weeks after 9/11, interestingly enough) found us sharing culinary treats Middle Eastern in nature: olive dip, tabouli, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, grapes and oatmeal raisin cakes!

We began with the premise of novels by women authors and we would talk among ourselves and agree on the books we'd be reading (taking turns hosting the group at various members' homes) - as we went on, the fiction and female "rule" went by the wayside, and we were privy to a broader perspective (Nancy's excellent choice of Richard Clark's Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror among them). Sometimes our meeting would take place at a movie theater, to see the cinematic interpretation of something we'd recently read (Janet Fitch's White Oleander or Rebecca Wells' Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) - we'd then go to a local cafe to dish over coffee and scones.

We later segued to having the person who is hosting that month choose the book, which has remained the practice - I love this, as it has most certainly "forced" me to read things I wouldn't otherwise pick up on my own (science fiction primarily). At first, when it came my turn, I'd select books I knew I already loved and wanted to enthusiastically share (To Kill a Mockingbird, Practical Magic, A Prayer for Owen Meany) - after a while I realized I had entirely too many unread books on my nightstand and began to choose literature I'd heard wonderful things about but hadn't yet gotten around to (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Confederacy of Dunces and, just recently, Eat Pray Love), so we could discover them together.

We eat first (during which book discussion is forbidden), catching up on what the others have been doing for the last month (although some of us see each other more frequently) - after the plates are cleared, we go around the circle with each member saying whether or not they liked the book, and briefly describing why... and then the host gives the backstory of why she chose it. After that, it's no-holds-barred, as we bring up various questions, issues and passages to support our opinions - what's immensely amazing is that, with our collective wisdom, we learn so much more about the book, each other and ourselves. We then serve coffee and dessert - the conversation at this point is usually a "cooldown" of the book topic, straying into other areas as well.

Two books previously suggested by others have garnered a place in my Top Ten: Prodigal Summer by Babara Kingsolver and Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos - wish I'd kept a journal of *everything* we'd covered... but some others are: The Lovely Bones, Beach Music, The Secret Life of Bees, Tuesdays with Morrie, The Time Traveler's Wife, Cold Mountain, The Handmaid's Tale, 84 Charing Cross Road, The Bonesetter's Daughter, Siddhartha, The Color Purple, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Kite Runner, Woman on the Edge of Time, Stranger in a Strange Land, Wonderland, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Good Mother, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, Wicked, Gift from the Sea, Seventh Heaven, Pull of the Moon, Six of One, Many Lives Many Masters, Wuthering Heights, The Art of Mending, Peter and the Starcatchers, The DaVinci Code, Until I Find You, How to Be Good, Naked in Death, Mandala, Saving Fish from Drowning... and so many others I can't recall. Books I'm secretly hoping someone chooses this year are Middlesex, The History of Love and The Golden Notebook (although I'll read them solo if necessary) - here's a link to a terrific website of options, plus accompanying discussion group questions...

I feel so blessed to have an extended family of women-booklover-friends, with whom I learn, laugh and cry on a monthly basis - Happy Reading!

SONG: These Days in an Open Book by Nanci Griffith

BOOK: So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson

POEM: Having Come This Far by James Broughton

I've been through what my through was to be

I did what I could and couldn't

I was never sure how I would get there

I nourished an ardor for thresholds

for stepping stones and for ladders

I discovered detour and ditch

I swam in the high tides of greed

I built sandcastles to house my dreams

I survived the sunburns of love

No longer do I hunt for targets

I've climbed all the summits I need to

and I've eaten my share of lotus

Now I give praise and thanks

for what could not be avoided

and for every foolhardy choice

I cherish my wounds and their cures

and the sweet enervations of bliss

My book is an open life

I wave goodbye to the absolutes

and send my regards to infinity

I'd rather be blithe than correct

Until something transcendent turns up

I splash in my poetry puddle

and try to keep God amused.

QUOTE(S): "The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you the knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination." ~ Elizabeth Hardwick

"The main effort of arranging your life should be to progressively reduce the amount of time required to decently maintain yourself so that you can have all the time you want for reading." ~ Norman Rush

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Susan's House (Jennings & Keller)

I've experienced a mind shift (more like a mind wrench) these last 24 hours - I'm still home, waiting for the antibiotics to kick in so I'll be well enough to return to work... and I've actually slowed down to pamper myself: sleeping because I need it, straightening up because I want to, reading because I can. I'm always on the go go go, allowing myself little time to stop and smell the proverbial roses (or cinnamon broom from Publix, in my case) - because of now being aware of my high blood pressure, each meal yesterday (no matter how simple... tuna in a whole wheat pita, cheese slices on apples, raisins and nuts in oatmeal) was prepared with intent and self-awareness. I must begin taking care of myself - yesterday was the first step in what will be a very long and difficult process...

Yesterday (and today) also helps me remember just how much I love my home - I've always described my style as Early Eclectic, eschewing a Rooms-To-Go decorating style for the loving collection and display of items that mean something to us, whether it's my grandmother's rocking chair, a painting bought at an arts festival, a pottery bowl given to us by the artist (a friend from college). When we moved into this house 15 years ago, one of the first tasks we accomplished was building a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookcase in our family room, to contain all the wonderful tomes we've kept (from Carrollton to Atlanta to San Juan to Atlanta to here) - I've tried very hard to follow the philosophy of "if I don't love it, it doesn't belong" and I'd like to think each and every object in my home has its own story to tell...

I have the distinct honor of having a song written about my home, by my dear friend Laurie (Jennings) Oudin - my friendship with Laurie is a blog post unto itself (soon) but, long story short, I met her in May 2001 when she was the proprietress of the Main Street Cafe in Homestead. We became instant pals and the rest is... herstory - we now get together for dinner and "uninterrupted yapping" (her term) once or twice a month, usually at my house... :-)

For the last year, Laurie has performed in a duo (with Dana Keller) and they've had good luck with festival songwriting contests and coffeehouse gigs during their short time together - the idea for Susan's House came about in a songwriting class Laurie was taking, and actually began as Susan's Kitchen, because I was having it re-done (the longest two months of my life). I later joked it was just as well she expanded it to the whole house as I didn't necessarily have a reputation for cooking (although I am very good at it when I have/make the time/energy) - rather, I was/am most familiar with my coffeemaker, my blender and my corkscrew (oh my!).

Since the words to the song are not on the website, I am typing them here - I restate the sincere blessings at being the recipient/namesake of such a lovely song... and hope I can continue to live up to the feelings evoked. [Susan's note: Dave, Joni and Dar obviously refer to Carter, Mitchell and Williams, my songwriting triumvirate... and Rocky is my dog, a 12-year-old Shih-tsu (also destined for his own blog post one of these days) - "prints of the vegetable gents" are the four Giuseppe Arcimboldo paintings (Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn), longtime favorite art pieces whose colors/textures/whimsical representations were actually the inspiration for the kitchen remodel.]

If you don't mind the tolls you can take Turnpike north, straight to 75,
Pines Boulevard is not very far, head east for 3 or 4 miles
Turn onto Flamingo, Pembroke Park on your right
Your heart starts to race as you quicken your pace, you're going to Susan's tonight

You turn down the lane where the trees overhang and geese waddle about
The kids are at play on this crystal blue day, softball's drawing a crowd
You turn into the driveway and as you run through her yard
Rocky's bark makes you laugh, you stop on his behalf, to heed this pint-sized guard

Your senses are filled from sight, touch and smell as you move through her home
There's incense and beads, brocaded lamps greet, candles flicker and glow
The song from one hundred windchimes serenades on the breeze
You smile at the prints of the vegetable gents as Susan finds poems to read

The fullness of life can be found inside the walls of Susan's house

There's Dave on the wall next to Joni and Dar, you pay respects as you go
Although it's now late, the Oz shrine awaits, praise Dorothy and the Scarecrow
Hugs and gifts at the doorway, Rocky bounces about
Life's harmony is no mystery, while you're at Susan's house
Life's harmony is no mystery, while you're at Susan's house

In the introduction to his book below, editor Michael J. Rosen writes:

Home is what you take away each time you leave the house. Like a wristwatch, it ticks beside the ticking that is your heart. Whether or not you hear it, look at its face or feel its hold, We're with you is what the minute, hour and second hands of home have to tell.

Home is the place that goes where you go, yet it welcomes you upon your return. Like a dog overjoyed at the door, We've missed you is what you hear, no matter how long you've been gone.

Home is all the things you know by name: a family of dishes, books and clothes that waits for you to choose among them every day. We're ready for you is what the chorus in your house sings. Your fingerprints are grinning on their faces.

And home is all the names that know you, the one and only person who does just what you do. Home is all the words that call you in for dinner, over to help, into a hug, out of a dream.

Come in, come in, wherever you've been...

This is the poem in which you're a part.
This is the home that knows you by heart.

POEM: Comfortable Old Chair by Karla Kuskin

A bird has a nest
A fox has lair
A den is a home
If you're a bear.
I have a comfortable old chair.

Soft pillowed blue,
a flowered cloud,
The perfect place to read aloud
to myself or silently
letting long words run over me,
letting the stories I have read
make moving pictures in head.
New chairs are nice
but mine is best.
My spot to think in
brood in
to plot in
dream in, many dreams,
to scheme a few outlandish schemes in.
Kings need crowns to be the king
but me
I can be anything
any person
anywhere if I just have my book and chair.

QUOTE: "Nor need we power or splendor, wide hall or lordly dome; the good, the true, the tender -- these form the wealth of home." ~ Sarah J. Hale

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Cold Song (Jewel)

Actually, there's a bit of congestion... but my true diagnosis is strep throat - I woke up with the scratchy/burning feeling Saturday morning (after feeling puny all week), which only worsened progressively. I went into work this morning and was promptly told to leave - I drove straight to the walk-in clinic where, one-hour-and-a-few-dollars-lighter later my suspicions were confirmed. I filled my antibiotic prescription immediately after, came home and told the office I'd see them Wednesday morning - I just finished eating some leftover mixed wonton and eggdrop soup Robert brought me last night (ah, the heat felt soooo good on my throat) and will head back to bed soon.

I'll use the next few forced stay-at-home recovery days to take care of myself as well as get some long-neglected tasks done around the house - I'll rue the loss of income but will take this as a sign from the Universe I'm meant to go undercover (pun intended... :-)

My blood pressure was also higher than they'd like to see, so I'll be monitoring that over the next week, in addition to reading about ways I can bring it down, hopefully without medication - can you spell W-A-K-E-U-P-C-A-L-L?

POEM: Making a Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.
"How do you know if you are going to die?"
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
"When you can no longer make a fist."
Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

QUOTE: "Look to your health; and if you have it, praise God, and value it next to a good conscience; for health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of; a blessing that money cannot buy." ~ Izaak Walton

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Holy Now (Peter Mayer)

SONG: Holy Now by Peter Mayer

BOOK: Holy Personal: Looking for Small Private Places of Worship by Laura Chester (Author), Donna De Mari (Photographer)

POEM: Everything is Waiting for You by David White

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into

the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

QUOTE: "The personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself." ~ Anais Nin

Saturday, October 20, 2007

This Place (Joni Mitchell)

Received October 12, 2007 from

I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change--the world's pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis--a group whose members have worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years. We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.

My wife, Tipper, and I will donate 100 percent of the proceeds of the award to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan non-profit organization that is devoted to changing public opinion in the U.S. and around the world about the urgency of solving the climate crisis.

Thank you,
Al Gore

October 15, 2007
The New York Times
Gore Derangement Syndrome

On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street Journal’s editors couldn’t even bring themselves to mention Mr. Gore’s name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people they thought deserved the prize more.

And at National Review Online, Lain Murray suggested that the prize should have been shared with “that well-known peace campaigner Osama bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore’s stance.” You see, bin Laden once said something about climate change — therefore, anyone who talks about climate change is a friend of the terrorists.

What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?

Partly it’s a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around President Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore were, I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of illegitimacy from the Bush administration.

And now that Mr. Bush has proved himself utterly the wrong man for the job — to be, in fact, the best president Al Qaeda’s recruiters could have hoped for — the symptoms of Gore derangement syndrome have grown even more extreme.

The worst thing about Mr. Gore, from the conservative point of view, is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as the “ozone man,” but three years later the scientists who discovered the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, “the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” And so it has proved.

But Gore hatred is more than personal. When National Review decided to name its anti-environmental blog Planet Gore, it was trying to discredit the message as well as the messenger. For the truth Mr. Gore has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate isn’t just inconvenient. For conservatives, it’s deeply threatening.

Consider the policy implications of taking climate change seriously.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.

The solution to such conflicts between self-interest and the common good is to provide individuals with an incentive to do the right thing. In this case, people have to be given a reason to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, either by requiring that they pay a tax on emissions or by requiring that they buy emission permits, which has pretty much the same effects as an emissions tax. We know that such policies work: the U.S. “cap and trade” system of emission permits on sulfur dioxide has been highly successful at reducing acid rain.

Climate change is, however, harder to deal with than acid rain, because the causes are global. The sulfuric acid in America’s lakes mainly comes from coal burned in U.S. power plants, but the carbon dioxide in America’s air comes from coal and oil burned around the planet — and a ton of coal burned in China has the same effect on the future climate as a ton of coal burned here. So dealing with climate change not only requires new taxes or their equivalent; it also requires international negotiations in which the United States will have to give as well as get.

Everything I’ve just said should be uncontroversial — but imagine the reception a Republican candidate for president would receive if he acknowledged these truths at the next debate. Today, being a good Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully foreigners, not negotiate with them.

So if science says that we have a big problem that can’t be solved with tax cuts or bombs — well, the science must be rejected, and the scientists must be slimed. For example, Investor’s Business Daily recently declared that the prominence of James Hansen, the NASA researcher who first made climate change a national issue two decades ago, is actually due to the nefarious schemes of — who else? — George Soros.

Which brings us to the biggest reason the right hates Mr. Gore: in his case the smear campaign has failed. He’s taken everything they could throw at him, and emerged more respected, and more credible, than ever. And it drives them crazy.

SONG: This Place by Joni Mitchell

BOOK: Fighting for Love in the Century of Extinction: How Passion and Politics Can Stop Global Warming by Eban Goodstein

POEM: With All Due Respect by Vincent Aleixandre

Trees, women and children
are all the same thing: Background.
Voices, affections, brightness, joy,
this knowledge that finally here we all are.
Indeed. Me and my ten fingers.
Now the sun isn’t horrendous like a cheek that’s ready:
it isn’t a piece of clothing or a speechless flashlight.
Nor is it the answer heard by our knees,
nor the task of touching the frontiers with the whitest part of our eyes.
The Sun has already become truth, lucidity, stability.
You converse with the mountain,
you trade the mountain for a heart:
then you can go on, weightless, going away.
The fish’s eye, if we come to the river,
is precisely the image of happiness God sets up for us,
the passionate kiss that breaks our bones.
Indeed. Finally, it’s life. Oh, what egg-like beauty
in this ample gift the Valley spreads before us,
this limitation we can lean our heads against
so as to hear the greatest music, that of the distant planets.
Hurry, let’s all
get close around the bonfire.
Your hands made of petals and mine of bark,
these delicious improvisations we show each other,
are good—for burning, for keeping faith in tomorrow,
so that our talk can go on ignoring our clothes.
I don’t notice our clothes. Do you?
Dressed up in three-hundred burlap suits,
wrapped in my roughest heaviest get-up,
I maintain a dawn-like dignity and brag of how much I know about nakedness.

QUOTE: "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." ~ Thomas Paine

Friday, October 19, 2007

If Only I Could See the Ocean (Amy Carol Webb)

Female inmates tell stories through art

An arts program is helping inmates share the harsh realities of prison in the hope of helping at-risk girls avoid the same fate.

Posted on Sun, Oct. 14, 2007

On a miserable gray day near the edge of the Everglades, past thickets of razor wire, doors guarded 24/7, past the sounds of a woman screaming at the voices in her head, a dozen women sit in a circle in a place they call Wellness.

In this bright room with its under-the-sea mural, these women with terrible stories to tell and hard experiences to share become writers, dancers, performers, poets, artists, singers, playwrights.

Outside of this circle, an oasis that is created for two hours each Saturday, 11 of the women are inmates at the Broward Correctional Institution in Pembroke Pines. Eight are serving life sentences for murder. And in the years before their crimes, many of these perpetrators also were the victims of violence and abuse.

In the past 13 years, dozens of female inmates have shared their stories with Leslie Neal, an associate professor of dance at Florida International University and founder of ArtSpring, a nonprofit organization that brings an arts program called Inside Out to women in prison. On Thursday, some of that painful, creative work goes public at Any One of Us: Words from Prison. A benefit featuring Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler and singer-songwriter Amy Carol Webb, the event -- staged by Neal, with original music by Webb, dance pieces, video of prisoners talking about their lives and readings by a cast that includes community leaders and former inmates -- is set for 8 p.m. at Miami's Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.

Full story here...

I was very lucky to find myself the recipient of an extra ticket to see the above production, for which my friend (and talented songwriter) Amy Carol Webb composed and performed original tunes - the play was moving beyond description, as actresses (and a handful of women who had actually been incarcerated) told the stories of others through monologues, dance movements, video and music.

Eve Ensler spoke her heart before the closing song (Amy's stunningly-crafted title track) and there was a question and answer session at the end... after a resounding and lengthy standing ovation - I am honored to have been in the audience for this event, and hope to continue to spread the word of the plight of women in prison, as well as finding ways to help. Also, Eve announced the upcoming Dome of Love in New Orleans in April 2008, as musicians/actresses/caregivers from around the country will focus their attention on the women affected by Hurricane Katrina - I'll post details as they unfold.

SONG: If Only I Could See the Ocean by Amy Carol Webb (audio sample)

BOOK: Wall Tappings: An International Anthology of Women's Prison Writings 200 to the Present by Tracy Huling (Foreword), Judith A. Scheffler (Editor)

POEM: Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison by Nazim Hikmet (Translated by Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing)

If instead of being hanged by the neck
you're thrown inside
for not giving up hope
in the world, your country, and people,
if you do ten or fifteen years
apart from the time you have left,
you won't say,
"Better I had swung from the end of a rope
like a flag"--
you'll put your foot down and live.
It may not be a pleasure exactly,
but it's your solemn duty
to live one more day
to spite the enemy.
Part of you may live alone inside,
like a stone at the bottom of a well.
But the other part
must be so caught up
in the flurry of the world
that you shiver there inside
when outside, at forty days' distance, a leaf moves.
To wait for letters inside,
to sing sad songs,
or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling
is sweet but dangerous.
Look at your face from shave to shave,
forget your age,
watch out for lice
and for spring nights,
and always remember
to eat every last piece of bread--
also, don't forget to laugh heartily.
And who knows,
the woman you love may stop loving you.
Don't say it's no big thing:
it's like the snapping of a green branch
to the man inside.
To think of roses and gardens inside is bad,
to think of seas and mountains is good.
Read and write without rest,
and I also advise weaving
and making mirrors.
I mean, it's not that you can't pass
ten or fifteen years inside
and more--
you can,
as long as the jewel
on the left side of your chest doesn't lose its luster!

QUOTE: "We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit." ~ e. e. cummings