A Mother’s New Day

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The children are up,

They’re awake, they’re alive!

Our morning’s begun,

One giant beehive.

 

Breakfast has started,

With two kids in the glue,

Put that away,

That isn’t for you!

 

A sock on the stove,

One kiss on the nose,

Two children are crying,

One’s eating his toes.

 

Put that away!

Don’t chew on your shoe!

We don’t stand on his head,

No, that isn’t for you.

 

Stuffed cow in the kitchen,

The fridge colored in red.

Who let you have paint?

Is that milk in my bed?

 

I don’t want to yell,

I don’t want to scream.

You’re cute as a button,

You’re Mommy’s big dream!

 

One day you’ll get it,

One day you’ll learn.

There’ll be bridges to cross,

And wages to earn.

 

I don’t think I’ll like it,

I don’t want you to grow.

I just want milk in the fridge,

And that stuffed cow to go.

Sagas of the Icelanders

IMG_0244Vikings. Epic journeys. Revenge. Love. Feuds. Strange gods and beautiful (very intelligent and occasionally magical) women.

What more can you ask from a book?

(Did I mention the Vikings? Real Vikings. Sold.)

I’ve been eyeing this book for a long time, tempted by the gorgeous cover and the mixture of history and myth, two of my favorite subjects. I wasn’t disappointed. The sagas all date back from between 1200 to 1300, although the actual events portrayed happened quite a bit before that. (And yes, seven hundred year old sagas, and the older men in them were still complaining about the ‘younger generation’. I’m starting to think this may not be an isolated problem.)

IMG_0248That said, this book is glorious. It’s written more in the style of a novel rather than a history, with sharp dialogue, vivid imagery, and believable—even likable—characters. Magic is definitely woven through these stories, but in such a casual, matter-of-fact way that it seemed perfectly ordinary. Men and women are said to be shapeshifters or magicians as indifferently as you might call someone a butcher or a farmer. Spells are cast, homesteads are haunted, and fortunes are told with the same seriousness as a crop being planted, a relative dying, or a woman being betrothed. Magic, or sorcery, was a part of their culture, and it was lovely to see it bleed through in the writing with so little effort and attention.

Iceland and the lands around were rough territories, peopled by men and women as tough as the landscape around them. The sagas follow a central character through their life. The voyages they take, their conquests, joys, sorrows, disappointments, and quarrels are described in vibrant detail. At the same time years or even decades are skipped over with only a few words to acknowledge them. The stories offer a glimpse into the rich culture and heritage of the Icelandic, Norwegian, and Danish people.

In conclusion . . . this book was definitely worth the read. Absolutely lovely. If you are interested in myth, history, cultures (Or Vikings,) I would definitely recommend picking this one up!

“The spinner of fate is grim to me:

I hear that Thorolf has met his end

On a northern isle; too early

The Thunderer chose the swinger of swords.

The hag of old age who once wrestled with Thor

Has left me unprepared to join

The Valkyries’ clash of steel. Urge as my spirit

May, my revenge will not be swift.”

Glass Butterflies

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They live in the greenhouse at the base of the cliffs. The blackened crags rise above it, glistening and wet with the spray of the sea, and the cry of the gulls fills the air. The greenhouse is abandoned, has been for as long as I can remember. No one goes there. Not anymore. No one but me.

A jungle is growing inside. Plants that don’t belong in our cold climate cling to the beams, climb up the glass, spiral around the shelves. It’s beautiful here, a garden that belongs only to me.

But I don’t come for the garden. Not anymore.

I come for the butterflies.

They live in the glass, feed on the flowers and the nectar, flitting from one plant to the next. I feed them now, when the flowers don’t bloom because the sun hasn’t shown its face in too many weeks. No one else does. No one else would.

They know me now. I can hear them fluttering against the walls of the greenhouse when I come near, their glass wings tinkling against the panes. I slip inside as quickly as I can, but a few get out, and they shatter on the stones. Glass butterflies. I cut my feet sometimes, on the shards they leave behind.

Just So Stories

Storytelling is an art.

Some books are a little slapdash in their approach, a little clumsy. Some are all about the story and the characters, with little or no interest in how it is presented. The words are just that. Words. Tools to get the idea across and nothing more. Their stories are fast-paced and intense, with no time for words like music.

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But for some storytellers, the words are more than tools. They’re magic spells and fairy dust. How they sound, how they feel, the rhythm they create. It adds to the story and takes a simple fairy tale to new heights.

I have seen many, many books do this well, but one of my all-time favorites is the collection of Just So Stories. Rudyard Kipling (also the author of the Jungle Book) is an exemplary author with a host of brilliant titles to his name, but my favorites are his collection of short stories explaining, oftentimes in a magical, matter-of-fact way, the origins of things we take quite for granted. From How The Camel Got His Hump, to The Cat Who Walked By Himself, this collection is filled with charming, often comical and always clever, stories that have the lasting brilliance to be myth and fairytale all at once.

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Told in the style of a traditional story around the fire, these short tales have drawn me back to them again and again. Rudyard Kipling’s mastery of words is what makes these stories such a delight. Whether it is the Elephant’s Child on the banks of the great gray green, greasy Limpopo River, scattering melon rinds with his mere-smear nose that has not yet grown to be a proper trunk, or the small, frightened Stickly-Prickly who would like nothing better than to find a way to fool the Painted Jaguar, these beautiful stories explain in their own unique way the wonders of the world around us.

Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild.

The Well

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The dogs are behind me. I can hear them baying in the trees, barking and howling as the scent of my blood drives them wild. They’re close now, too close, and I curse myself for a fool for coming out in broad daylight.

I know better.

The well is abandoned, covered in flowering vine and rotting with mold. I slip under the cover and scramble down, my fingernails digging into the soft rock, the crumbling sides. Stupid of me. I shouldn’t have come back here, not so directly. It makes it dangerous, dangerous for later, dangerous for the others. But I couldn’t run anymore, not on my bad leg.

The smell of damp and mold rises around me, and I touch the root winding out of the wall and drop. I land on my bad leg, solidly, and the scream in my throat isn’t all pain. I hate this place. I hate it, but I have to come back. It’s the only refuge we have.

Ivy has spilled down through the cracked stones, and it covers the door at the bottom. I push it aside, tucking it behind a root like a curtain as I unlatch the door and slip inside. The dogs have reached the well overhead, and their masters are screaming at them for stopping here. No runaway in his right mind would climb down a well, and they can’t see me, even when they throw the cover off and shine their lanterns down. The ivy falls over the door again, and I lean against it. Listening. Listening to them curse and swear, listening to their anger at losing me. It’s been a long time since I was face to face with any of them, but I remember their faces. Every single one of them. They’re branded into my nightmares for the rest of time, until I die.

I leave when the dogs are quiet. The tunnels beneath this forest are old, halls that were buried by time and by the trees, stone passages with ceilings of tree roots. No one else knows about them. Only us. The Runaways. The children who were supposed to be slaves. The forest protects us now, the forest, and these old ruins. They’re our saviors, our protectors, and much as I hate the damp and the dark and the tomblike air of these tunnels, they are my home.

The younglings are waiting for me when I come in. We stay in an old hall, our blankets spread on the same floor that courtiers, royalty, used to walk. Only their ghosts wander here now, and they don’t mind us.

Yeshi is the first to come running. She’s only four. I rescued her from a mine where they were using her to dig in places a full grown man couldn’t have reached. And wouldn’t have dared go. Her hair is white now, white and smudged with the dirt and the grim of the tunnels, the mold that grows on our walls, but she can smile again. So can the others. They chatter and laugh when I come in, as if they live in paradise, as if these dank, ugly tunnels were the gates of heaven itself.

But no one is beating on them. No hates them, no one whips them. No one curses them. So maybe, in some ways, it is heaven.

Henry and Ribsy

How many favorite authors is one person allowed to have?

I’m hoping the number isn’t too low. For me, there’s going to have to be some kind of extension on my limit, because I can think of ten or twelve authors right now that would—and should—be right on top of that list. Some of them are newer additions, people like Cornelia Funke and Victor Hugo, who I just discovered in the last few years. Others have been my favorite since I first started reading.

One of my very first favorite authors, one I’ve been reading since I was six or seven, is Beverly Cleary.

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Beverly Cleary was one of the first authors who taught me to enjoy reading. I connected with her characters in a very personal way. Ramona especially was very important to me growing up, and I read her books over and over again. They were simple, interesting, and always enjoyable to read, no matter how well I knew the story.

Henry and Ribsy is another of her books that has lasted through the years for me. I must have been eight when I first picked up this book, and it still sits on my shelf today. Henry’s adventures, most of them involving chasing after his trouble-seeking mutt Ribsy, were a constant source of entertainment for me when I was younger. When I was that age, we lived in the mountains of Colorado, and our closest neighbors were deer, turkeys, and the black bears that appeared in our backyard to dig through our trash, steal food out of our freezers, and generally make nuisances of themselves. A dog that protected the trash from the trash men, stole a sack lunch from the front seat of a police car, and had a taste for ice-cream cones was something new and exciting for me.

There aren’t many things that Henry Huggins wants more than to be allowed to go salmon fishing with his father. He’s never been allowed to go before, but he’s sure that if he goes—just once—he’ll catch himself a salmon and finally have something to brag about to Scooter McCarthy, who has been fishing before and is quick to make sure Henry knows that, even if he did manage to hook one, he’d never be able to land it. Henry’s father is skeptical as well, but he agrees to bring Henry along the next time he goes.

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There’s only one catch.

Ribsy has to stay out of trouble until they leave.

In September.

So, all summer, Henry does his very best to keep Ribsy out of trouble. And Ribsy? He does his very best to make as much trouble as he can. From mischief with the P.T.A to trouble with the garbage man, Ribsy finds ways to make trouble everywhere he turns. And yet, despite his bad record, Henry is able to keep his dog corralled for the two months his father stipulated. At last, his fishing trip is guaranteed . . . if he can just keep Ribsy quiet on the boat.

Henry and Ribsy is one of Beverly Cleary’s best books. Her grasp of the simple, yet important, troubles in a child’s life continue to capture my attention. Anyone looking for a good, solid book to hand to their children should definitely consider any of Ms. Cleary’s works.

“I never heard of anyone having a dog pull his teeth before. Maybe I can get him to pull the next one I have loose.”

Painter

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I set up my easel between a booth selling flowers and a clown selling balloon animals. Benjamin, I think his name is. I saw him last time I came to this fair. A nice man.

The woman with the flowers looks more intimidating. She casts a quick look at my portfolio of caricatures and sniffs, looking away again. I think she’d like me to leave. Obviously, my cartoon portraits aren’t sophisticated enough for her better taste. I stifle a laugh. I’ve painted portraits in staterooms and palaces, had commissions from governors, royalty, and men who are still remembered for their bloody marks on history. But there’s something about a fair that I like. The anonymity, maybe. No one notices an artist drawing portraits behind the flower cart.

My shop is harder to hide. It’s on the corner of Sixth and Wicker, and it already has more people interested in it than I like. It’s dingy, dark, and secluded, but people notice it. They like the portraits I’ve hung on the walls and the more serious paintings I do on commission. Sometimes, they ask if I can paint their portrait like the ones I have in the back room, sixteenth-century style. I laugh and tell them I haven’t painted like that since the sixteenth century.

They always take it as a joke. Which is fine. I have enough trouble trying to explain to returning customers, men and women who haven’t seen me in thirty years, why I still look the same as I did the last time they walked through my door. I tell them they must have met my father. Or my uncle. Once, I had to use my grandfather as an excuse. I moved shop after that. I always move on every fifty years or so, but I like Sixth and Wicker. It’s a good little shop, and this town has a very nice fair. I would hate to leave.

I have to, of course. Eventually. Once my shop begins to get popular, people will begin to notice me. I’d rather not have my picture in the paper or have people poking about in my past, trying to prove I’m not quite who I say I am. It’s happened before. People get suspicious, they spread rumors, they ask questions, and then I skip town and find another place to set up. I used to bother less with settling down in one spot. During the French Revolution, I bounced around everywhere. I doubt I spent more than two nights in any one town. But it’s nice to put down roots for a little while, make some friends, pretend I’m an up and coming art student trying to make ends meet instead of a grouchy, jaded immortal with a chip on my shoulder and a trade I’ve been riding on since cave drawings became popular.

Besides, nowadays, no one notices the artist behind the easel. They sit for their caricature, pay me, and disappear again. And I get to enjoy the cotton candy and pretzels.