pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: January, 2007

reading by the light of the double dd

not a creature was stirring as i looked out the window into the night. not the ‘possum. not the waddling raccoon. not even an owl, the ol’ nightcaller himself.

it was so cold and so quiet last night, you could have heard a snowflake falling. only it was so cold they were up huddling in clouds.

the moon, just a sliver away from the full snow moon, draped its blue light on what in the day had been white. cast shadows, like night lace, all over the lawn.

i could have stood there for hours, locked in my moon meditation. but i thought i heard rustling from the room up above. so i took to the stairs in the dark, just past bedtime.

ah, yes. a creature was stirring, all right. a boy with a beam powered by double-d batteries. a boy in his bed, with a book on his lap, turning the pages with one hand, holding his moon with the other.

seems we were both locked in moonlight meditations. only his offered forth the story of a worm, a worm who keeps track of his days, of his doings.

seems the pages, the pictures, the underground dramas were too much for the boy with his head once kissed, left snug on the pillow.

he was reading by flashlight, a time-honored rite. only this boy’s no fool, he had backups stashed all around him. three tubes of turn-on light. just in case.

he was deep into the earthworm when i came upon him. he barely looked up, barely flinched. certainly didn’t try hiding the light.

i could not protest; in fact, i just melted. rather like a moonbeam on the frozen earth just out the window.

there is something about stumbling upon a child caught up in a moment of childhood, of wonder, of total absorption in a world that is defined, is outlined, only by him.

it’s like watching a child catch a snowflake on her tongue for the first time. or cupping his hands ‘round a firefly.

who teaches these time-honored tricks? is it somewhere deep in our wiring: stop, behold wonder. use your whole body to grasp it, to taste it, to touch it.

to drink it all in by the light of the moonbeam you hold in your hand.

my whisper today is that each one of us, with children or without, discover, re-discover, the magic of stumbling upon wonder and doing our darnedest to hold onto it, to catch it, to tuck it in a jar, to steal a few sacred moments, under the light of the snow moon, ascending, and carry it like a flashlight in our back pocket. where someone obviously had been carrying his.

you can always pull out a little wonder, cast its light on the dark of the world that surrounds you.

hunker down

when the little man who lives in the radio next to your bed rouses you from your slumber with the rooster-squawking news that your world, it is abysmally freezing, that there’s nothing between zero and you but a scant shallow degree or two,well then there’s nothing to do but hunker down.

since pulling up the covers and six months’ hibernation is not an option for the homo sapien species, you do the right-thinking thing: you grab all the clothes from your closet, you pile them on, then you waddle down the stairs, the abominable mother.

deep inside you this mad cave-woman thing is stirring you on: you want to grab all your loved ones, even the birds and the squirrels and that ol’ fat raccoon, and you want to haul everyone and everything to the back of the cave where you, in a cave era gender leap, will rub some sticks, start a fire and keep flesh, feather and fur all warm and all toasty.

but, alas, there’s no cave and you’re not good with sticks, so instead you start fueling your flock for the day.

in the deep arctic cold, you step into the purplish light of pre-dawn, armed with your coffee can brimming with seed. you pour seed for the cardinals, seed for the sparrows. you fill water for everyone, scatter bread, scatter popcorn for squirrels.

back in the house, you repeat the routine for the little ones sleeping up over your head. it’s oatmeal for the sapiens, oatmeal studded with every imaginable fruit on the shelf. you are filling their tanks for long walks to the train, to the bus, to the playground. calorie-packing, the arctic climbers call it, and you call it the same, as you pour almonds and wheat germ and fat juicy apricots into the porridge. if you invest oatmeal with amulet powers on a 30-degree day, you should see what you do when the digits come only one at a time.

the whole day will unfold with similar bone-chilling caution. all errands are nixed, unless earth-shatteringly essential. no child of yours shall be dawdling at bus stops. each being who steps out of your house will be so wrapped in cloth, it’ll be nearly impossible to move even a muscle. but you’ll insist.

and then you’ll get on with the business of stoking their furnaces. you’ll rub your numb fingers, yank supplies off the shelves. it’s visions of soup, bread and cookies, all steamy and yummy, all straight from the oven, that swirl in your head.

so pull up your long johns, fasten your ear muffs. we’ve a cold day ahead, arctic winds to contend with. remember the birds. crank your crotchety ovens. it’s hot cookies for all, and for all a good day.

baking for God

if you wandered by my house, you would never stop to think, hmm, something unusual happens inside that house. not any more than you would think that at anyone else’s house.

but inside my house, once a month or so now that my kitchen is back in business, i bake for God. yes, yes.

not in the way dear benny, grandson of a bagel baker in the charming, makes-you-brush-away-a-tear, children’s book “bagels from benny,” ferries the hot bag of bagels into the synagogue every friday morning, tucks them into the holy ark, the blessed cabinet where the torah scroll is kept. only to find, come every saturday morning, that the bagels are gone. and he is convinced he is feeding bagels to God.

no, i don’t bake for God that way. though i cherish the story, cherish the thought.

in the uncanniest twist for a girl who grew up knowing that only cloistered nuns in faraway places were holy enough to mix the wheat with the water that would be cut into wafers that would rest on our tongues and get stuck to the roofs of our mouths, all in the name of jesus, well, i bake communion.

yes, yes.

the same ovens that once a week transform twisty dough into risen sweet challah, once a month turn hot water (4 cups), white flour (2 1/2 cups), wheat flour (4 hard-to-add cups) into squat, flat unleaven loaves.

there is a recipe i follow, and i follow it religiously. turns out i was not doing it according to rules for my first few at-bats, and in a flash that took me back to sister leonardo mary rapping me for my mispronunciation of the word “women” (i couldn’t get that the pronunciation change was on the first syllable instead of the second), i was rapped in an email for my failure to cut the unleaven bread into little brown bits.

i was told they were tossing my loaves. (never mind that that step had been left off the photocopy they’d given to me.)

and i was informed, later on at a workshop (a remedial baking class, disguised as one-day retreat, perhaps?) that the recipe i now follow, one titled “boulder bread recipe” (you only need drop a loaf on your foot to understand the derivation thereof), was the product of many many hours of ecclesiastical to and fro. i was informed that to diverge from the steps was a sure path to, well…at the least your loaves would be, shame of shames, tossed. they would become so much squirrel food.

all kidding aside, there is something so sacred about turning two essentials of life–water and wheat–into loaves whose cut-apart squares will be blessed, will be made into communion.

communion, whatever you believe about it, is the sacrament of taking in life in the form of bread so that in your belly, your soul, you might live life more fully.

i have always found it to be far more than a metaphysical vitamin. i have the sense when i swallow a host that God, more than ever, dwells deep inside me.

so to stand in my kitchen, alone in the silence, to stir the ever-thickening dough, is indeed to be in communion with something far greater than little old me. i think as i stir of all those who will partake. i haven’t a clue who they are, or how this might change them. even if only so far as the trip back to their pew.

but perhaps, just perhaps, the person who swallows the bread that i bake needs sustenance of a form that only can come if you believe that far more than water and wheat is mixed in that bread.

believe me, i pray as i knead. i push hard into that smoothing-out mound. God only knows what else is working its way into the soon-to-rise dough.

for a short spell, then, my kitchen is holy. and the oven at 375 is filling the room, filling my soul, with a heat and a light that lasts long after the loaves they are packed, sealed and delivered.

you wouldn’t know that if you paused by my house. but you do now.

baking for God is a prayer that i pray with my hands and my raggedy red oven mitt. baking for God is my unspoken blessing. baking for God is, well, really quite heavenly.

weekend update

i know. i know. i’m not supposed to be here. supposed to be off spooning lucky charms into my lazy little saturday morning mouth. well, rules, as they say, are to be broken.

so here i am. in my jammies. and my big fluffy slippers. seemed like it was time to not meander in the monday through friday way, but rather get us all here at the table, chat about just a few little things.

first off, chair people, i cannot tell you deeply enough how much i love that you are pulling up chairs. wish i could prance around in my big whites (aka slippers of many yarns), tap on your window panes, leave big pucker marks on the glass. yes, it’s true. i would kiss each one of you who is out there regularly pulling up a chair. or even just once in a while.

and i must tell you that when you step out of the shadows, boldly hit that “add a comment” button, well, then you make this the very place that i dream of it to be. it is soooooooo fine if you just like to drop in, read, scamper away. but when you add your fine thoughts, your perspective, your queries, your ponders, well, then this broth gets really rich here.

it almost gives me goosebumps the notion that chairs from maine to california are pulling up here. that dots are being connected. like souls are sniffing each other out. when that happens i just stand back, like the proudest mama that ever there was, and watch magic unfold.

now about that “add a comment” button. do not be afraid. just add. someone asked me just this week, a couple someones i think, if there were rules. heck no! i am not a rule girl, despite my many years of good catholic nuns. (my nuns, by the way, were behind the convent, smoking cigarettes, wearing shorts, stripping off their veils. so that tells you something about my formative catholic years.)

back to rules: no, there are no commenting rules. well, yes, there is one. be polite. please. but that’s not something i need to tell chair people. sing your heart out, like blessed brilliant wm ulysses (wow, can that man write). charm us with tales from your front (see just about any jcv or pv-az post). take us to a new height (all of the above, plus jan the moon lady). delight us with your word play (check out thelonius; and, by the way, how’s that for a name?) unspool your wisdom (mbw on children’s books comes droolingly to mind, but there are so many others). drop in like the old friend you once were and are once again (kd-nj, hullo). pop up here and there, melting us every time (susan, nancy, becc, blessed becc. or even vpk). you might even insert a question, a question to think of all day (carol z, aka bread-delivery queen).

write like you are writing to friends, which i hope we will all become, if we aren’t already. say whatever strikes your fancy. and please please, talk among yourselves. you don’t have to talk to me. i just get the yarn rolling each morn. i am only the beginning.

oh, and one more thing: if there is a spool of conversation that you still want to meander, don’t feel compelled to stick only to the meander of the latest day. (we’re still thinking about what’s called a forum page, so you can easily talk among yourselves, following a particular thread ‘til the spool runs dry.)

but, truly, if you care to sit in silence, you are just as welcome as us wordy ones.

one other thing before me and my slippers shuffle away: seems not all of you are seeing this the way i do, and i don’t mean in a metaphysical or philosophical sense. i mean graphics. plain, old, what you see with your eyeballs.

i see the words that i type in a font that looks, well, just like an old typewriter. some of you do not. i am learning these things. occasionally, i’m told, that mucks things up. words slide behind pictures. pictures eclipse thoughts. not a good thing.

so the committee on graphic construction is considering a little reconstruction (though it pains me to give up the typewriter, although not so much if you can’t see it anyway). so, let’s all pull in our chairs, and give me your vote.

i could start writing in this, which is called georgia, and which my technical wizards think is cool, think is different, think is the closest approximation to typewriter that almost all computers can read.

or i could go for my old stand-by, times new roman, the type i have used for years and years, the type that i first loved. now that i see them cheek-to-cheek, i think i can see why the wizards want door no. 1. but that doesn’t mean i could ditch my first love….

anyway, it’s out on the table. i’ll sure hate to let go of this baby, american typewriter. it’s the font that birthed pull up a chair.

so that’s about it, people. back to your cheerios. back to your froot loops. i’m off to rustle up bagels, lox, the works, for my boy who did not get the part of his dreams, but who is weathering it well. we invited over the boy who did get the big part. and my boy, the fiddler’s butcher, the man who wants to marry daughter no. 1, is taking in wisdom that will last his life long.

see you monday. when i’ll be back to meander. in the meantime, i’ll put some fresh morsels onto the lazy susan. not now, but by the time the weekend is done.

here’s the big kiss i’m smearing on your windowpane. mwah. and here’s me, shuffling away….

little miss hyacinth

hmm. when last we left little miss hyacinth she was asleep at the back of the fridge, tucked back by the leftover spaghetti and the butter-under-cow.

she had, just before last dispatch (“honey, what’s that growing in the fridge?” 12.14.06), been rescued from the deep recesses of the laundry room. where she had unwittingly, and against her deepest desires, been wrongly abandoned. there on a shelf with the holiday wrappings and curlicue ribbons.

what did i know about hyacinths? i was, still am, a hyacinth virgin. when the little cheat sheet that i carried home with her told me to leave said bulb in a cool, dark place, i thought the back of the storage room was as good as it gets.

i was wrong.

so i righted my ways—once shown the light by my bulb lady friend.

i fetched poor miss hyacinth, hoisted her up from the cellar and into the back of the fridge. where she sat, nestled alongside her leftover neighbors, sinking her tush in a bath of cold water, soaking up all that she needed, all that she wanted, so she could let rip a tangle of white waxy roots.

i don’t know about you, but if i sat in cold water for a month and a day i might go on some sort of a strike. a protest, you know. a no-growth, no-how, sort of horticultural tirade.

hmm. seems that she might have.

friends, little miss hyacinth has been out of the fridge for a full 11 days now, and barely a peep has she made. her green leaves, they are tight. her buds-in-the-making, they are pursed and determined. she seems, by all measures, hellbent on not moving.


remember how our bulb lady friend likened the big red amaryllis to that teenage boy who had no desire to move ’til he was good and well ready (“red triumphant” 1.18.07)?

well, meet little miss prissy hyacinthy who seems to be the bulb equivalent of the teenage girl who has locked herself in the bathroom for hours on end, swiping mascara, dabbing gloss here and there, sweeping cobalt-blue blush all over her most striking cheekbones.

we have been banging on that bathroom door for days now. but she won’t answer. won’t come out. won’t even humor us with a note slipped under the transom.

by even the worst prognostications, she was, by now, supposed to be strutting her stuff, perfuming the daylights out of the kitchen. but nooooooo. here we are bounding toward february and she is in there doing god-only-knows-what with her girlie-girl bag of botanical tricks.

so we just thought we’d let you in on the big bulby letdown. and tell you that little miss hyacinth seems to have turned into some sort of behind-closed-doors balled-up prima donna.

we’ve little to do here but leave her there on the sill. we shove her toward sunlight. we whisper sweet nothings. it’s useless, it seems.

so we slump by the door and we wait and we wait. she’ll be out as soon as she runs out of mascara.

p.s. and meanwhile, ol’ stud boy amaryllis, mr. red buds on long tall stout stalk, is putting the rest of the winter garden to shame. he’s up to six, count ‘em six, trumpets on high. the boy, finally roused, is running and running the bases. long past home, he’s back over to second. (if you can do such a thing in baseball…) maybe he’s showing off so little miss hyacinth will come out of her shell.

after-school cookie therapy

the little one had his hand deep in the cookie bag when i walked in.

“hey sweetie,” i said, launching into the kitchen. “hold on. let me make something healthy.”

that’s when he started to cry. words followed tears. tears followed words. “but i had a hard day,” said the boy who is 5.

that’s when i kicked the after-school snack into super high gear. “oh, boy, let me make something special,” i said as i grabbed for the bag and the boy and a red splatterware plate. while i gathered my wares—orange, dried strawberries, banana, and, yes, even reclaimed bag of pepperidge farm brussels–i turned up my ears, cranked open my heart.

“tell me what happened,” i said, slicing orange into juicy-spoked wheels.

something about dominoes, it turned out, was the source of the tears. something about dominoes not being shared.
by now i was sprinkling dried strawberries like rain on orange puddles.

that’s when his big brother walked in. “you need a hug, little buddy? looks like you need a hug.”

as they squeezed, the big brother therapist added this: “the best way to fix a bad day, little bud, is to talk. talking fixes bad days.”

while they wrapped up the squeeze, slid onto chairs at the old kitchen table, i reached into cookie bag, pulled out buttery-crisps that the little one had already determined would sop up the hurt.

laid crisps on the plate, tucked in between orange wheels. making it pretty. some quirk in my brain thinking that pretty sops up hurt better. maybe because really it soars to a place beyond words, says someone cares, cares enough to make the plate pretty. and, sometimes, you’ll do anything—words, pretty, pepperidge farm–to sop up the hurt.

sopping up hurt.

some days that’s what after-school snack is all about. i am an ardent believer in after-school snack, depend heavily on its medicinal powers. i still remember, more clearly i think than any other food of my childhood day, the apples in wedges, the pretzels in twists and stirring the chocolatey powder into deep earthen ooze at the bottom of my green glass of milk. i don’t remember the talking. but i do remember the after-school rite.

and i distinctly remember a smart lawyerly friend, a mother of two in that smartland known around here as hyde park (home to the university of chicago and iq’s off the chart, for you who dwell outside the land of 606-something). i distinctly remember her telling me she worked part-time hours just so she could be there for after-school snack. mind you, this was one tough cookie making time for, well, milk and cookie.

some things stick with you forever. that one sticks with me.

all these years later it defines the minutes from 3:30 on, ’til the talking is done. no matter the stacks on my desk, no matter the deadline, i practically always lift my head long enough for snacks and the news of the school day.

little people have hearts, they have hurts, they have sorrows. some days they have triumphs. or just a good knock-knock that makes them laugh silly.

today it took oranges in wheels, sprinkled with strawberries. then the boy who loves cheerios thought a handful of o’s might make it more better. so we nibbled, we talked, we indeed made it all better. more better, even.

they pushed in their chairs, i rinsed off the plate. we are back to our days now. our tummies are filled, and so are our hearts.

you needn’t be a parent, nor have little birds still in your nest, to partake in the patching together of a broken heart at the end of a long day. this was our story, our story from yesterday. tell us your story of a heart being patched all together again….if you care to, of course. only if you care to…

illumination: bees’ no lesser labor

ah yes, back to the hive. back to the inner sanctum, the holy hollows, of hundreds of thousands of Apis mellifera, uncommonly known as the western honeybee. more often, simply, the bee.

it is the wax of the bee we consider today, hardly the lesser of the sweet honeybee’s labors.

there is so much to ponder about the great pollinators, your pontificator soon will be percolating. strike that. make it a buzz. as in your brain soon will be buzzing.

consider this: to produce a pound of beeswax, bees must consume roughly eight times that in honey. likened to a sumo wrestler packing on pounds by sucking down steaks before the big match, the bee intent on waxing might be found gas-guzzling nectar.

put another way, it is estimated by those who estimate such things that bees fly 150,000 miles to yield one pound of beeswax.

or, this: 10,000 bees can produce one pound of beeswax in three days.

here’s how it works: the bee, known for short as A. mellifera, sucks up the nectar from les fleurs, from blossoms, from your own lowly rose bush, through a very long tongue. the nectar is then stored in a sac called the honey stomach. when the honey tummy is full, the besotted bee zig-zags back to the hive, and somehow transfers the not-yet-liquid-gold to young house bees, bees 12 to 17 days old, in case you’re counting. the house bees, not unlike a compulsive housekeeper, spread the nectar drop by drop into the honeycombs. while they’re at it, they add enzymes to the nectar to break it down from complex into simple sugars.

because the nectar, back at the blossom stage, is 80 percent water, the bees need to distill it down to its dehydrated essence, a fantastical feat they accomplish through, get this, the fanning of their little bee wings. flap, flap, flap, out goes the water, out of the nectar. turning watery nectar to syrupy honey.

here’s where the beeswax comes in: each little house bee has eight slits on her belly. when it’s time, teeny tiny shavings of wax–flakes the size of the head of a pin, one hundred of which are said to weigh hardly as much as a kernel of wheat–emerge on the bee belly.

what happens next is best put in the words of one holley bishop, author of the utterly mesmerizing, “robbing the bees: a biography of honey–the sweet liquid gold that seduced the world” (free press, $24).

she writes: “… like a construction worker pulling nails from her toolbelt, she reaches for a flake….in an advanced yoga move [she] transfers it to her mouth. there, she masticates it, chewing and working the wax like a baker kneading dough…all around her, other masons are patting and caressing their own scales of wax into place.”

never mind that she switches similes faster than a bee beats its wings. what she’s telling us here is fairly straight-forward: the bees do a helluva job constructing their hexagonally-heavy honey palace. and not only that: each she-bee minds her own beeswax.

when each honeycomb is filled, the ol’ house bees drop one final wax blob, sort of the tupperware lid on the sweet golden goo. in fact, one lid, about the size of a split pea, can take several hours and dozens of bees to assemble.

it is hard not to be awed, not to be wowed, by the fannings and droppings of the wax-wielding bees.

it is ancient, this hushed veneration of bees and beeswax. daedalus of course used beeswax for his flawed wings. and ulysses, in the odyssey, stuffed ears with the stuff, in hopes of blocking the call of the sirens. and, at the cusp of the first millennia, candles as we now know them were born, and, without haste, made their way to the front of the pews. the roman catholics insisted on beeswax. the greek orthodox, too.

in 1855, a thinker named karl von leoprechting wrote: “the bee is the only creature which has come to us unchanged from paradise, therefore she gathers the wax for sacred services.”

clearly, we are not the first to draw a line between the divine and the communal chaos of the hive where, through mystery and miracle, the sap of the back forty is turned into the golden sweet goop we spread on our toast. and the fall-out from the shelter is melted down and dipped into sticks that shine light on our lives.

perhaps this is all more than you wanted to know about bees and their pre-plastic, all-purpose wax. perhaps it’s making your head buzz.

but, in the end, i know one thing for certain: the next time i strike a match to a wick, i will marvel, will drop my head in a deep bow of reverence for the little winged things that laid down their lives for my sweet incandescence.

what if we all did away with those paraffin fillers? what if we vowed that the only candle worth burning was one built the hard way, through the flapping of hundreds of thousands of wings, for hundreds of thousands of miles, through the hard work and labor of A. mellifera & friends?
cast your vote here….

from tasha’s bees to me

a box arrived over the weekend from vermont. anything from vermont makes me happy. but this particular box said it was from tasha tudor, who is pretty much my hero. she might be the loveliest illustrator of children’s books that ever there was. think “secret garden.” she’s the one who painted the garden that pulled you in, and all these years later has never let you go.

tasha is my hero as much for how she lives as for how she puts color to paper. she lives at the end of a perilously-steep, much-potholed road, in a timeworn cedar-planked farmhouse–just like one built in 1740 in concord, new hampshire, one that caught her considerable fancy.

but her house, on the crest of a hill, the inside a labyrinth of rooms with low-slung doorways and uneven floorboards, is one that her son seth built for her, using only hand tools.

seth and his mama are both, they like to say, “a bit reluctant to live in the twentieth century.”

tasha, who is 91, lives purely. you might say she lives simply, but that would be to discount the bone-thinning work it takes to live the way she lives. she is old yankee through and through.

she cooks on an old black cookstove, roasts a turkey in a “tin kitchen,” a contraption she describes as a reflector oven, set in front of the fire. (“barricade the bird from corgies and cats with a firescreen,” she warns, right in the midst of her roasted turkey recipe, a recipe for which she insists a fireplace is required, not optional.)

she eats what she grows in her tumbly riotous garden. raises goats for milk and butter and cheese. wraps herself in shawls to keep away the cold.

when dusk rolls in through the windows, she lights her rooms with beeswax candles, candles she has dipped in autumn, after she cleans the hives so the bees can begin again.

which brings us back to the box that came from vermont over the weekend. it was sent by my sister who is married to my brother in maine (don’t be frightened by that construction; i just constructed it, but it seems right, more right than saying, sister-in-law, a term too clinical for me). it was sent by becca. but it came from tasha.

yes, tasha dipped the candles that now are at my house, now lying on my window seat. maybe it was her children who did the dipping, or maybe one of her grandchildren, some of whom live in cottages nearby. whoever dipped, it’s close enough for me.

and so, as i opened the box, unrolled the sturdy brown paper, i watched six nubby, knobby hand-dipped sticks of beeswax roll toward me. they are in pairs, their wicks still joined, their wicks all tumbled together.

i was dumbstruck by the candlesticks. by the bees’ hard work. by their purity. by the fact that they were dipped and came from tasha’s bees, bees that sucked the nectar from tasha’s enviable and magnificent garden, the garden that has long been the muse for all her painting. the garden that is a muse for me.

the candles got me to thinking about bees. i happen to love bees. i did some reading. soaked up all kinds of wonderful things about bees, about beeswax. i will tell you all about it tomorrow, because this seems to have turned into a tale about tasha. which is a good thing.

which is a pure thing.

please come back tomorrow for another pure thing, a bit about bees, a bit about beeswax, the less considered thing about bees and their labors. honey, of course, being the bee thing that tends to get more of our time and attention. because it’s a sweet thing. of course.

monday morning slam

it hits sometimes, with all the force of a dumptruck backing into your front hood (a force i recently felt firsthand).

one minute you are tossing off your hazy dreams, the next your heart is pounding, your boy is running late, oatmeal is looking impossible, and the week is barreling at you.

this was one of those mornings. oatmeal got into the boy, but only thanks to a styrofoam, toss-away bowl thrust into his clutches as he dashed past, stumbling into untied shoes, en route to carpool at the curb.

the throbbing thing in my mouth kept up its 2:4 time. i realized, head spinning, we were out of the weekend zone of leftovers and chili made by someone else in the middle of the afternoon.

it’s my turn again. to feed the boys. to wash their clothes. to get them where they need to be. to get me where i need to be. imagine that.

and so, lumbering down the stairs, to unearth the frozen chicken breasts from their frosty slumber, i take in a deep, deep breath. i consider all the things that soothe me. i take account of what surrounds me for moments such as this.

i consider soup, a tall slow pot of it simmering through the day. i consider the loaf of bread a wonder woman dropped by yesterday afternoon, hot still from the oven. i shoot a glance at my amaryllis, the one now neverminding a measly three blooms, going instead for homeplate, with four trumpets about to blare in all directions, north, south, east and west.

i press my nose to the window. see the birds flapping and the squirrels chasing each other for the cookie i tossed out last night.

i listen to the heartbeat of the clock, slow mine to sync with its.

i pour a big tall mug of coffee, spiked with cinnamon, as always.

i invoke the patron saints of everyday grace. i realize it’s my job to soothe these jagged nerves, the ones that are mine, and blessedly the ones of those who dwell here with me.

it is a job i love, a job that i’ll get done with snippets of herbs on bowls of soup, with toasty bread, with more seed for more birds, with breathing deep and slowed.

may every one of us this day find ways of stitching grace into the madness that is the monday morning slam. how do you soothe the dwelling place that you call home? do tell….

turn the page slowly

come in close. crack open the cover. take in the book. finger the paper, the color, the type. hear the page crackle. as you lift it, you turn it. you turn the page slowly.

drink in the story. take note how the words are unfurled on the page. feel the thump of the poem as it beats with your heart.

at its best it is poetry, tucked in those pages. tucked between covers. awaiting your fingers. awaiting your heart.

some of the books that i love best, have always loved best, are books for children, children’s books. books meant to be read curled up in a lap. curled up in a corner. curled up in a chair with a lap like a mama.

i have loved children’s books, collected children’s books, since long before i had children. and will keep doing so, i am certain, long after those children no longer fit in my lap.

i don’t even have to close my eyes to see the thumbelina page in tasha tudor’s book of fairy tales, the one i have loved since i was so very little, curled in a corner, the page in my lap. on the page that i love, the little spit of a girl floats on a red tulip petal, two wisps of perhaps a cat’s whisker for her oars. she has been floating on that page, trying to get to the edge of the bowl that is wrapped in a bank of bleeding heart, and lily-of-the-valley and sweet yellow pansies for 46 years, since 1961, when tasha published the book, and probably near the time that my mama gave it to me.

it might have been thumbelina who made me love books. or maybe my mama.

because today is a day at school in which all children are reading, or being read to, in hopes that illiteracy can be wiped out in schools not far away, i pulled two of my favorites off of the shelf.

they would be, for now, the beginning and end of my favorites, for one, “what you know first,” by patricia maclachlan, engravings by barry moser, has been my favorite since i stumbled upon it years and years ago in the stacks of a dusty old book store, a used-book store with the marvelous name aspidistra, squeezed in next to a hamburger joint at the not-so-quaint corner of clark and wrightwood in chicago.

the other book, “ox-cart man,” by donald hall, illustrations by barbara cooney, i call the caboose of my favorites only because it’s the last one in the door. it should have been a favorite for a long, long time. but i only just came upon it, waiting for me on a table at just about the coziest, most thoughtfully considered place to find children’s books in all chicago these days–the sweden shop, on foster near kimball, where my dear friend sandra has resettled after closing her own much-loved and missed shop, sweetpea, where some of the best books on my shelves were ever-so-reverently slipped in my most hungry hands.

“what you know first,” is pure heart-breaking poetry. a child is leaving the prairie; the family farm, sold, or, probably, lost. you hear the child’s voice, ache for the child, as he or she, i can never tell which, leaves behind an ocean of grass, endless sky, a cottonwood tree, even uncle bly who sings cowboy songs, eats pie for breakfast. i’ve always heard echoes of “the grapes of wrath” in these few pages, a grownup novel of loss and leaving behind boiled down to its rich, pure essence, in words a young heart can’t help but feel. the black-and-white engravings, i could study forever. could frame and hang on my wall.

“ox-cart man,” a poem that originally appeared in the new yorker, of all places, on oct. 3, 1977, quietly unspools a powerful tale of a man, his wife, his son and his daughter who work all year to gather, to grow and to make goods that he then sells at the market, drawn there by the ox and the cart. it is a book that pounds home the lesson of true economy, you use what you have, you sell what you’ve got, you buy what you need, you start over again. in a disposable world, these pages can’t be fingered often enough.

the u.s. poet laureate billy collins wrote of hall: “[he] has long been placed in the frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet.” barbara cooney, one of my truest heroes (she wrote and illustrated “miss rumphius,” which teaches us, “you must do something to make the world more beautiful”), won the caldecott medal for her ox-cart illustrations that remind us of early american paintings, new england quaint.

the power of both books is that they are quiet, so quiet. plainspoken poetry. they are books you can’t close when you get to the last page. you just sit there, holding. holding your breath. holding your heart.

holding on to the power of a poem, poured out on the page, a page best turned oh so slowly.

please forgive me if i rambled. bless you if you got to this bottom. please take a turn. tell us your best children’s book. go ahead, gush.