Poetry, Slice of life

Book Impressions: What Happens Off Stage

Shakespeare was a rascal among playwrights. The master of wit, romance, and innuendo was a hero of public entertainment and is now the dread of high school poetry students everywhere. In days past, Shakespearean plays weren’t fit for respectable society. Seriously, his plays would be rated PG-13 today if the lingo were updated. Imagine the horror of Elizabethan paragons of virtue if they could see Shakespeare’s collections enshrined in bookstores, libraries and schools everywhere!

Found at a summer garage sale, An Art Edition of the Most Popular Dramas of Shakespeare is a hefty tome. The cover is pretty, even though the surface of the spine fell off, and there is a round mark where a $1 sticker was pressed onto the embossed surface. The crumbled spine now serves as a bookmark.

Before you can turn to the title page, you notice a yellowed sheet of paper just beyond the coversheet. The impression of the square paper on the page tells you it has been there for a while. It is a certificate, printed in brown ink with scrolling signatures, that certifies Mr. Herbert Parker of Kalamazoo, Michigan as a member of the Gaskell Literary Club of Chicago, Illinois. It’s all very official. Unfortunately, nothing seems to remain of this literary club. . . at least not on the internet. But you’re sure there is a city record somewhere that has more information about this club Herbert joined.

Herbert must have been quite the reader. Who else would pick up a book like this and register for a fancy literary club on December 18, 1889? You carefully turn the pages, and stop at the inscription, written three days later.

Herbert W. Parker,

                        Kalamazoo, Mich.

Dec, 25, 1889.

            A Merry Christmas,

                        From Your Wife.

A Christmas present! This illustrated book of Shakespearean dramas with its broken spine and gilded pages was a gift to Herbert from his wife. The club membership allowed him to get “any moral book to be obtained through the trade,” at an economical price. At this point, you wonder how literary the literary club was, given that Shakespeare probably can’t be considered moral.

As you flip through the pages of illustrations and columned text, you wonder who Herbert was, and who was his wife? We know nothing about her except she enjoyed fine books and had neat writing. With a bit of research (and some help from Ancestry, the 1910 Census, and MI marriage records) you discover that Herbert was born in Michigan and lived there his whole life. Wedding bells rang for Herbert in 1888, when he married Helen M. Parker (Cowlbeck), age 21 from Missouri. Together, they lived in Kalamazoo where he worked as the vice president at a bank.

On a snowy winter morning in Michigan, Herbert and Helen celebrated their 2nd Christmas together. Maybe they read this book aloud in front of the Christmas tree and giggled at Shakespeare’s witticisms. Maybe their children, Alice and James (who arrived on the scene just a couple years later) read the text for school and studied the lines for a school play. Maybe the Gaskell Literary Club kicked off a new story in the life of the Parkers in 1889.

Poetry, Publishing, Slice of life

Book Impressions: To Fletch from Hettie

Used books are more than collections of beat-up paperbacks and faded texts marching out from musty spines. Used books carry the weight of tearstained pages, notes scribbled in margins, the love of personal inscriptions, and the sunshine of yesterday on their faded covers. Who knows the journey a used book traversed before landing in your hand? This is the question that draws me into bookshops and libraries to search out books with their own unique histories, and I’ve found a few treasures along the way. Some of them contain mysteries that I’ve yet to figure out, but I love pouring over the clues within the pages. So, I give you the first installment of Book Impressions.

A worn book of Robert Browning's Poems.

Most of us are familiar with the English poet, Robert Browning. During the Victorian era, he wrote plays and poems with dramatic flair and married Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who was an accomplished poet in her own right. (Talk about a romance filled with poetry!) This particular book is titled, Robert Browning’s Poems and contains selections from his poetical works. It is small, almost smaller than the mass market paperbacks you see in airport gift stores. The cover, a dove grey with silver scrollwork around the edges, is faded beyond recognition, but still soft to the touch. The cover is stained, with camel-colored paint splattered across the front. Someone must have used the book to hold down a paint tarp during a home renovation project. You wonder if anybody got upset about the book damage. Maybe not. Any book collector would tell you this book isn’t worth anything, especially in its current condition. You slowly open the cover and the first two pages fall in your lap. The second one has writing on it. Three separate lines in different handwriting:

A couple of loose pages from a book, with inscriptions.

’96

F.H. Connor.

Fletch
              from

                            Hettie

Hettie’s inscription is gracefully written, simple. Fletch sounds like a nickname of sorts. Perhaps they were close. Now you get into the technical bits. You skipped over the publisher: Donohue, Henneberry & Co. located in Chicago. When was this book published? The author’s note, by the great R.B. himself, is dated May 14, 1872. But the inscription mentioned ’96, and the publisher’s history indicates a print date in the 1890s. The book is dedicated to another famous author, Alfred Tennyson. Makes sense, that these classic poets were pals. According to Browning’s dedication, Tennyson’s friendship was “noble and sincere.”

What follows is 368 pages of Browning’s poetic genius. But turn to page 112. As you read, “And yonder, at foot of the fronting ridge…” your eye catches a bit of blue at the end of the line. Resting where the page meets the cover, there is a tiny, pale blue flower, a little slip of stem peeking from underneath the preserved petals.

An open poetry book, with a small blue flower dried between the pages.

Is it a forget-me-not? It could be. We don’t know who picked the flower and nestled it safely within the pages of Browning’s poetry. Perhaps they wanted to remember line XIV from “By the Fireside.” It could have been a mindless reaction to preserve a pretty flower on a summer day. Or maybe the flower, like the book, was a gift of remembrance.

In this book, worn beyond repair by a poet lost to time, is a flower. So this book speaks about more than just poetry. It tells a story about the wear and tear of life, of painting projects, and wildflowers that grew over a hundred years ago, when Fletch got a book from Hettie.

A close up view of a page of poetry, with a dried blue flower on the page.

Slice of life

Shared Sorrows

As I walked my dog today, I met a couple whose beloved family dogs died within months of each other, the last one passed this week.

Loss is a blow to the heart. In the moment the shock is received, you feel the pain, but only for a moment. And then the numbness spreads.

As they tried to recall the exact date of their loss, they reached out to pet my dog Bree, as she greeted them with a snuffly nose and wagging tail.

You know you are wounded, but your mind can’t process the unexpected reality of being rent open. So you begin the first aid: stop the bleeding, analyze the situation, go through acts of self-care so the wound doesn’t fester.

I saw a tears behind their smiles as the couple lovingly patted my Bree girl; my cheerful traveling companion.

It is only after this initial phase of grief has passed that the ache sets in and you wonder if you will ever be whole again. Threads of self aren’t easily healed, without a bit of borrowed thread.

The couple’s shared sorrow allowed for a bittersweet moment of companionship, and reminded me that we are never alone.

Because we all have wounds. Some deeper than others. We try to hide the damage from each other, but we know they exist. Life gives us battle scars that ache in the solitude of denial. In the company of acceptance, the scars become symbols of strength.

As the sun set, Bree scampered into the backyard and we watched the stars come out together.

Poetry, Slice of life

Songs of a Michigan Spring

It is the hush after the sun goes down. You can still hear the hum of highway traffic in the distance, but under the darkening blanket of the sky, the trees whisper to each other. Lights turn off one by one in the neighborhood, as the rabbits creep out of their dens to forage.

A rotted bench stands underneath towering tree-trunks, beckoning you closer. It’s old and getting cold, but you lie down anyway to stare up at the blue-black expanse as the winking stars slowly emerge. For a moment, the world is turned upside down and you could tumble up to the tops of the trees and into the net of constellations above.

In that moment, you remember the immensity of the world. There is a foretelling of Spring Peepers on the breeze and the scent of crisp melting snow mingling with the musk of mossy earth and fallen leaves that comes before the smoke of midnight bonfires. You breathe in the song of renewal and golden days to come.

Poetry, Slice of life

The Empty Jar

poured out

with bursts of creativity

the condensation of tears

rushing the clatter of small talk

the jar becomes empty

not shattered

not broken or stained

just empty

transparent

it is a good thing

to sit by a window

catching sunshine

to cast rainbows

across silent rooms

until the jar

is filled up again

by whispers of twilight

carried on the breath of kairos

shadows

spread blue velvet

over your skin

under the moon

peering yellow over the horizon

the trees reach up

to caress the golden warmth

that falls in the west

the earth stops spinning

till the crickets sing

and all but the knowing sleep

under a dream of tomorrow

and reflections

of a company of stars

Slice of life

Traditions in Quarantine: Good Friday Pierogis

Today is Good Friday, which traditionally is Pierogi Making Day for my family. Since social distancing isn’t possible in my Grandma’s kitchen, we can’t be together. So instead, we text each other pictures of ourselves making miniature batches at home, gifs of dancing pierogis, or selfies of faces hidden behind colorful homemade masks.

For myself, I revisit the tradition in excerpts from a paper I wrote last year.


Family traditions take many forms. Some arise from our cultural or religious history. Others arise due to our human desire for remembrance, ritual, and fellowship. The best traditions are passed on through generations and expand from one’s family, to one’s friends, and into the wider community. My family’s pierogi recipe represents just that type of tradition. It expresses many things, including the most obvious: a mouth-watering dumpling of buttery dough and delectable spices. It also symbolizes my family’s history, culture, and our love of community. For with every pierogi that we’ve made, we’ve shared.

Considering the history of this simple dumpling, it’s no wonder that it has become a symbol of familial pride and community for Polish families. Pierogis are a national dish of Poland that have appeared in Polish cookbooks since the 17th century (“Pierogi – the Best Guide to the Most Popular Polish Food.”). Preparing these dumplings around holidays such as Christmas and Easter is a common tradition.

 

For my family, the tradition began in Busia and Dza-Dza’s kitchen on a Good Friday, years before I was born. They called around, inviting the family into their tiny kitchen to roll stiff mounds composed of butter, eggs, and flour, to crimp stuffing into round spheres of pale dough and to boil each dumpling in pots of steaming water, before carefully laying the pierogis in neat rows to dry. By the afternoon, everyone went home with heaping plates of fragrant pierogis. These fluted pockets of calorie-rich goodness would be fried in butter, to a crisp golden brown and serve as midnight snacks, the highlight of Easter brunches, and the specialty of holiday dinners. The traditional sauerkraut and potato pierogis are my favorites, while others prefer the creamy, cottage-cheese filled ones.  

As we grandkids undertook our pierogi training, we learned about the different methods of preparing them. One could crimp them with a hinged “crimper” squeezing the ends of the dumpling into a nice, fluted pattern. Or, one could press the edges shut with a fork, leaving deep creases in the dough. My older cousin still swears by the fork method as the only authentic way to make pierogis. One year my cousins and I made an apple pie version… that was stretching the dumpling recipe a bit too far! 

Pierogi Making Day repeats year after year, even as the family grows and my Busia’s tiny kitchen is packed with her kids, grandkids, their spouses, friends, and extended family, all working the pierogi assembly line. Dza-Dza supervises us from heaven, and I know he would be pleased. Last Good Friday, the family churned out over 1,000 pierogis to enjoy and share with friends who request a small order of the treat every spring season.

 

In the handwritten recipe my mom passed along to me, she wrote “Traditions such as this are a special and important part of family life and heritage.” This is the most compelling aspect about the pierogi. It is a simple dumpling, but as food often does, it brings people together. More importantly, traditional homemade foods like this are imbued with a rich history, cultural heritage, and love. As my family labors around that little kitchen table in Ohio every Easter season, we enrich ourselves, our family, and hopefully, bring a yummy sense of pure enjoyment to the community.


Be well and keep your traditions alive, my friends!

Slice of life

Traditions in Quarantine: Herbs & Bonsai Trees

It is hard to create during a pandemic. At least for me. As the VIRUS THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED hit the United States and social distancing required many of us to retreat into our homes, I began questioning myself.

Am I truly a writer?

How do I push aside the pandemic fog that is clouding my mind and tap into my muse?

Does the muse even matter when it feels like the world is crumbling?

To clear the questioning fog, I turned to another hobby: indoor gardening. Yesterday, my herb seedlings sprouted and my first bonsai tree reached out from the soil.

This little seedling was powerful enough to give me hope. Hope that tomorrow it will be taller. Tomorrow, it will be greener. Tomorrow more seedlings will lift their leaves to the sun.

It reminded me that we are together in isolation.

And we will get through this apart, together.

Publishing, Slice of life

Turning the Tables: A Word Exploration

I recently completed a word-research project based upon the word table. The final product was a 1000-word argument that explored modern usage of this everyday word. Here is the abbreviated version.

. . . .

Table. The first thing that comes to mind upon hearing that word is a long, flat, wooden board, supported by four legs, standing in a dining room. It is loaded with memories of familial laughter, smells of good food, and the occasional spread of work-related papers across its surface. It is a mundane noun; the furniture that it describes exists in many forms, in many cultures, for many purposes. It is a common everyday object. And yet, it has become more.

We know words matter, but even the simplest of words can have a wide variety of meanings. 

The object this noun describes has become a gathering place. A place for discourse, learning, argument, and unity. It supports culture—that of culinary delights, entertaining games, artistic endeavors, and political debate—so much so that table has become a verb as well. We lay our thoughts on the table, and sweep them aside by tabling them. We turn the tables on our opponents and come to the table when we’re ready to participate in discussion again. Motions that are laid upon the table can also be negotiated at a metaphorical one. Even the shape of the table has historically represented social position. The legendary “knights of the round table” were each equally revered as authoritative figures, while the head of the table is still revered as a position of authority. All these meanings and nuances reside in the five letters that describe the four-legged object.

Oxford Dictionary defines table as, “A piece of furniture with a flat top and one or more legs, providing a level surface for eating, writing, or working at.” Besides this primary definition, I personally used table as a verb, meaning to delay an issue or discussion. Oxford dictionary attributes this definition to American English.

This would explain my confusion when I came across a BBC news article which used table in a completely different context. Earlier this month, the British Parliament “tabled a motion” of no confidence against UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Why would they delay a motion when they clearly meant to move forward with the vote of no confidence? This one word seemingly contradicted the point of the entire article, and dramatically hampered my understanding of it. After a quick Google search, I came across a helpful discussion post that explained the British-English definition of the word, which is to “Present formally for discussion or consideration at a meeting.”

Because words can have dramatic variations in different dialects, we must carefully consider words as they are spoken within their given contexts.

Which form of the word is correct? The answer is, both of them. It makes sense that the phrase, “tabled the issue” means to present an issue for review within British English, especially since Parliament uses table as a procedural term. “Tabling is the act of formally putting forward a question, a motion or an amendment in the Commons or the Lords.” Even Americans will occasionally refer to “laying it all on the table.” As tables have historically been a resting place for objects, it is equally understandable that the common American-English version of the word means, to postpone the review of an issue.

So what was the point of researching this common, everyday word? The usage of this table demonstrates even the simplest of words can have a wide variety of meanings across different dialects. Such word variances should not be taken for granted. It is important to maintain curiosity about language, and an awareness about the nuances of different word usages. It is a fact that one word, when heard out of context, can lead to confusion. Thus, the importance of context cannot be overstressed. To operate ethically within our world, we must carefully consider words as they are spoken within their given contexts, before jumping to misguided conclusions.

 

Slice of life

The Roasted Goose

You know those words or social idioms that you somehow never heard of, and you feel naive when you find them out? Someone at my workplace recently talked about “a roast” at a party. I thought they meant a literal roast, like beef brisket or roast beef. Little did I know, my own naiveté would be “roasted” if it was known. I just nodded, smiled, and hoped that my initial response of “That sounds good!” went unnoticed.

 

Every story is better when it’s personal. That doesn’t mean every story has to be a biography or memoir, but real-life grit can enhance every story. I try to remember this when life doesn’t go as planned. And as a 20-something who loves to plan, this happens a lot. Throughout my week, I step away from unit strategy meetings and emails to attend college classes. The writing classes are great, but the the required classes…. not so much.

 

My language professor uses German conversational terms in with her lectures. Besonders… es gibt… ganz…I think I am supposed to absorb the meaning of these words through repeated exposure. But I am too busy trying to see around the arms of the freshman kid in front of me who continually yawns and stretches during class. It happens so frequently that it often looks like he is raising his hand for a question. Ich weiß nicht!

 

I begrudgingly listen to other students talk about sleeping till 9am, when my own day begins at 7am. After a long day of work and classes, my dog (who forgets she is an older gal and wiggles like a puppy) is the first to greet me when I get home. Unlike the cats, who are content to lounge on my late-night homework assignments. I take my cue from them and settle in for a catnap after dinner… before bed. It doesn’t make sense, but slowing down matters.

 

I wrap up the evening by kissing my PhD-candidate husband on the cheek as he tackles a literal foot of grading before working on his own research. I wake up briefly when he comes to bed in the wee hours of the morning, and we steel ourselves to do it all over again the next day. I recognize it is a privilege to have a foot in the ‘American dream’ (if it ever existed) and another in the fast-paced world of our time. It is still a struggle to maintain the starry-eyed idealism of youth and not become jaded.

 

That’s another interesting word… ‘Jaded.’ Jaded sometimes seems like a slightly less positive word for wise. Perhaps the grit in our stories is different shades of jade. The more grit the better the story.

 

That’s what’s happenin’ folks. My nickname is ‘Goose’ because I am opinionated, klutzy, and a little bit naive. Welcome to my own personal roast.
Politics, Slice of life

The Art of Civil Conversation

In light of the ongoing national conversation, I’d like to highlight a few sections of a previous article, Mindful Political Awareness

While mindfulness is important for daily life, civility is extraordinarily crucial for our daily conversations. It is an art, not a natural reaction, that becomes easier with practice. The truths we share are readily accepted when we share them respectfully. And yes, eventually we must move beyond talking and take action. But, if we begin from a place of respectful understanding through civil conversation, our actions can have a greater impact.

 

LISTEN & EMPATHIZE

When we participate in conversations, mindfulness can help us to empathize and speak our truths in a meaningful manner. Active listening is a discipline that helps us tune out our internal monologue and genuinely hear what other people have to say. When combined with mindfulness, it becomes a powerful tool that allows us to breathe, focus, and attune ourselves to what is truly important. We start to identify the strength of our emotions, particularly when we need to disengage from heated scenarios. Not only that, but we begin to hear political arguments differently. Our minds are suddenly receptive to new information and we begin to understand even when we disagree.

SAY THANK YOU

Please. Excuse me. Thank you. We teach children that these are ‘magic words’ but we may not fully appreciate their magical qualities. One of my friends regularly engages in political discussions on Facebook, but somehow these conversations never get caustic. How is this possible? As I was struggling with cordial dialogue, I began watching how he managed these conversations. The key phrase he frequently said was, thank you. “Thank you for joining the conversation,” he would reply to commenters before subtly introducing a counter-point for consideration. This did several things. It established a respectful tone, made the participants feel appreciated, and added value to the conversation – just through two simple words. A precedent of introspection and respect sets the foundation of healthy conversation.

The politics of democracy have governed our beautiful country for 242 years. It touches our lives in many ways, and we each have a claim in the conversation. With mindful political awareness, we can maintain focus and consider other points of view.