plight of a peony

Plight of a Peony

Beneath luxuriant massage of
ant paws tromping nectar,
petals in fierce embrace
play their favorite guessing game
nymph or no nymph?

Weary of mischief the layered clasp allows
translucent ruffles to escape with
ethereal scent of coveted infusion
in bow of elegant piousness
king of flowers.

Devil–may-care of fleetingness,
the peony regales with pageantry of beetles
spelunking in search of a cure,
strawberry swirl feast fit for a fly
subject of art.

Graceful to the end, tinged plumes
expose bounty woodpeckers peck eyes for,
arranging piles of concluding goodness,
plush swirls in final offering
wilted banquet for crawlers and mud.

My poem, Plight of a peony, was inspired by culture, beliefs, and observations, hence by #storyeverywhere. It first appeared on Flora’s Forum in 2015.

petals of a peony
petals of a peony
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bustle in the hedgerow

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about my homeland over the years is its hedgerows. Lending a distinctive appearance to the English countryside, hedgerows are part of our cultural heritage and historical record, an abundant source of food, and a haven for wildlife.

ancient rows

Some hedgerows still thriving today were planted on banks built in the Bronze Age 4,000 years ago. Others are remnants of the original wildwood that covered Britain before fields were even carved. The Romans occupying Britain liked to plant them with thorny shrubs, and in Devon, a quarter of the hedges are more than 800 years old. A more recent boom in hedgerow cultivation for agricultural purpose happened between 1600 and 1850 dictated by the Enclosure Acts. Before then, much farmland was open. People had rights to cultivate strips of it in the growing season, and it was grazed by village livestock the rest of the year. In the process of enclosure, many rural laborers sadly lost their livelihood.

laying hedgerow

There is more to hedge laying than planting a line of woody vegetation. It was a country skill with regional variations in style and technique. The basic concept behind laying a new hedge is to reduce thick upright stems. The remaining stems, or pleachers, are angled toward the horizontal. Smaller shoots called brash are partly woven between pleachers. Upright stakes are placed at regular intervals for strength and sometimes for visual effect.
In addition to defining the landscape of British countryside, hedgerows prevent soil erosion, reduce pollution, regulate the water supply and reduce flooding, and have long been a larder for the locals, a source of berries for jams, apples and nuts, and edible plants like nettles, dandelion, burdock, and wild mustard and garlic, and materials such as walking sticks.
Hawthorn is probably the most common hedgerow plant. Its name is derived from the Anglo Saxon hagathorn, literally ‘hedge thorn’. It has a profusion of white blossoms in spring, shiny red haws in autumn. Other common plants are field maple, honeydew, hazel, bramble, dog rose, field rose, and guelder-rose. Hedgerows are bustling to birds, dormice, butterflies, caterpillars, and bugs of every size, shape and color. The hedgehog, or heyghoge as it was called back then, was so named around the year 1450 after its preferred habitat.

lost and saved

Modern farming techniques began to spell their demise–hedgerows were no longer needed to mark boundaries. In 1946, there were about 500,000 miles of them, falling to less than half that by the early Nineties, when the Hedgerow Regulations was introduced to protect ones of landscape, archaeological and historical importance.

married in the hedge

Hedgerow also held social importance. In the Middle ages, before it became the domain of the church, getting married was easy. All you needed to do was recite a few lines in front of a witness in the street, field, tavern, or by a hedge.

shot in the hedge

And has anyone ever told you that you look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards? In 1826, some poor blighter did drag himself through the hedge backwards, and shot himself in the process. The Westmorland Gazette reported: It is supposed from the position in which the body was found, that the unfortunate young man was endeavouring to make his way through a bushy hedge backwards, and, in drawing the gun after him, the trigger caught a twig.

hedges around us

Today we often hear the word hedge used in financial circles to describe a hedge fund. The term indeed derives from the verb to hedge a piece of land, meaning to limit it in terms of size, giving rise to the meaning ‘secure, limited risk’.
And you’ve also very likely sung the word hedgerow—we’re all Led Zeppelin fans here, aren’t we?

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.

So, if you are planning a trip across the pond, I’ll be the piper leading you to reason–be sure to travel beyond the sound of the Bow Bells into the English countryside. Take in a castle and a quaint village or two, wander through a church graveyard, and make sure you get a close look at the diversity of life in a British hedgerow.

flowering hedgerow

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ancient vegetable

Kale might have gained notoriety in the US as a super health food just in recent years, but in reality, it has been cultivated for at least 2000 years. It is in the Brassica family alongside cabbage and broccoli, which are believed to have evolved from wild sea kale.

what’s in a name?

Its Latin name, Brassica oleraceo var. acephala means “without a head”. The English word kale derives from the Scottish word “coles” or “caulis”. Kitchen gardens in Scotland are called “kale yards” because so much kale is grown. It’s such a staple in Scotland that to be “off one’s kail” is to feel too ill to eat.

around the world

Years ago, during Halloween in Ireland, young people would pull up kale stalks from the ground to predict their love life. In Japan, kale is dried and ground into a powder for green drinks. In northern Germany, social clubs have a Grünkohlessen or Kohlfahrt (“kale tour”), visiting a country inn to consume kale stew, pinkel sausage, kassler, and mettwurst. Many communities in the area have a yearly kale festival where a “kale king” (or queen) is named.

what was that name, again?

Kale has had a resurgence in France also. In World War II, people were encouraged to grow kale and other vegetables, under the Dig for Victory Campaign. After the war, when food grew less scarce, kale became a légume oublié, a lost and forgotten vegetable, falling so far out of favor that the French actually forgot what to call it. It used to be called Chou fries, but over time that name began to refer to Savoy Cabbage. Alternatively, it is sometimes called feuilles de chou, literally leaves of cabbage, chou borécole: chou frisé vert demi-nain, a direct translation of “curly-green half dwarf cabbage”, or chou plume, a poetic name that means feather cabbage.

massage and a story

Kale can be cooked in many ways, or can be eaten raw. For best flavor, massage the kale in olive oil for a few minutes. True story.
The health benefits of eating kale are well documented. And kale has been documented in literature. The Kailyard school of writers (kailyard = kale field) wrote about traditional rural Scottish life. One of the authors, Cuthbertson wrote a book called Autumn in Kyle and the charm of Cunninghame. In it, the village of Kilmaurs in East Ayrshire was famous for its kale. A neighboring village offered to pay a generous price for some seeds. The locals agreed, but before they handed the seeds over, they gently roasted them on a shovel over a coal fire to make sure the seeds never germinated.

orange and kale cupcake

Despite the health benefits, some people still don’t like to eat their veggies. I decided to make the experience a bit sweeter, so I baked some kale and orange cupcakes for my husband’s biker group, a chapter of the Widow’s Son’s, a Rider’s Association of chapter of Freemasons. It even sparked some discussion, and the suggestion of a metaphor. Brother Rabbi pointed out that kale has come in and out of popularity, much like the Freemasons. There was a time when there were around 250,000 Freemasons in Pennsylvania, just 100,000 today. But there’s hope for resurgence, even the Widow’s Sons are a sign of growth, often attracting younger members. If you’re wondering, they did enjoy the cupcakes. Well, most of them did, anyway.
What about you, do you eat your veggies? And do you ever eat them in cupcakes?

 

trying kale cupcakes

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fork in time

a new fad

The fork only gained full recognition as the decent way to eat relatively recently.In Ancient Egypt, China and Greece, forks were carved from wood or animal bone, but their use was intended for cooking or serving.
During the Middle Ages, the fork became common in eastern Europe and the Middle East, but the rest of Europe still used their hands to eat. Noblemen would carry their own food knife, no fork, helping fair maidens to cut up their food, and using their knives to spear their own.
Things began to change when Italian noble woman Catherine de’ Medici married the French King Henry II. Catherine set trends with the food she ate, introducing such delights as the artichoke and ice cream, thank you Catherine, but also by the way she ate, namely with a fork.

a pitchfork to vanity

The fact that the pitchfork was around long before the fork and provided the origin of the name perhaps delayed it being accepted as being civilized.
And, like in any age, new-fangled ideas are slow to be accepted by some. St. Peter Demian, a hermit and ascetic, criticized a Byzantine-born Venetian princess for her excessive delicacy of using a fork. He was so offended that when she died of the plague, he claimed it was just punishment from God for her vanity.

the unnecessary

In an essay in Feeding Desire on the sexual politics of cutlery, Carolin Young notes an anonymous allegorical novel written in 1605 portrayed a mysterious island of hermaphrodites, whose behavior is characterized by theatricality, artifice, and falsehood. The hermaphrodites ate with forks, spilling more food than they managed to consume in their pursuit of the new and the unnecessary.
Until 1897, British sailors refused to use a fork, considering them to be unmanly.

around the world

Not that use of a fork is a global marker of civilization. Cultures that use chopsticks or fingers or spoons have their own strict etiquette and hygiene practices. In India, people only eat with their right hand, considering the left hand to be unclean. In Thailand, rice is eaten with a spoon. In Ethiopia, separate plates and utensils for everyone is considered wasteful, and their strict rules of civility include eating with their right hand only from a shared plate.

inequality

Dollar Street is an excellent project that sorts homes around the world by income, showing how people really live around the world. Have a look at the cutlery owned by families from different income levels. Notice that the poorest families may own a knife or spoon, rarely a fork.

be the nobleman

Before, however, we get too settled into the idea that we are so very civilized, let’s consider the fact that about 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year, wreaking an enormous toll on marine life and our own health. Just 6% of the plastic cutlery used in the US is recycled, partly because it is often made from polystyrene which is costly to recycle. For your next summer picnic, think about buying compostable forks, and instead of grabbing a plastic fork with your next take out, perhaps you can be the nobleman and carry your own metal cutlery. Many of us already own water bottles, why not a travel cutlery set? I just ordered mine.

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morning dew

mother nature’s jewels

Most mornings, Mother Nature scatters minuscule jewels of morning dew on flowers, and hangs gem-orbs from each leaf tip. Dew forms when a surface cools to a temperature that is colder than the dewpoint of the air, and the water condenses. The dipole charge on every water molecule attracts positive to negative, making the drops spherical because of attraction and cohesion.

desert collectors

Some animals have evolved to capture dew in climates where water is scarce. The Thorny Devil that lives in arid regions of Australia and the Fogstand Beetle in the Namib Desert collect dew on their spikes. Both creatures have channels on their bodies that direct the moisture to their mouths.

a history of harvesting

With almost twelve times as much water in the air than in the earth, people recognized the value of dew as a resource as far back as the Byzantine Empire, and they knew how to harvest it by building conical mounds of stones. In the south of England, farmers built dew ponds on the tops of hills to provide a constant source of water for their livestock. They puddled the ponds with clay and chalk, and made sure a tree branch hung over them to distill moisture. The ponds still fill up every night, even when lower waterways run dry.

As the global population rises, our need for water increases, various organizations are exploring modern methods to harness dew.

notice the extraordinary

Resource and utility aside, why don’t you slow down and notice the morning dew? Use a zoom lens if you can. Then imagine what would happen if we started every day looking through a lens of attraction and cohesion, seeing the ordinary world around us adorned with such extraordinary yet simple splendor.

dripping leaves

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the butterfly wall

the butterfly wall

At our fall retreat last year, I saw a butterfly floundering in the grass, its wings apparently crippled by the cold. The frost was late, and the butterfly was just one of many insects still hanging on instead of being tucked away for winter. I began to imagine butterfly wings, one of Mother Nature’s most stunning creations, being cared for, wounds repaired, ragged edges refinished, torn tips sewn to restore the pristine embroidery for the next season. And so my story, The Butterfly Wall, came into being.

into the woods

It has just been published in the anthology, Into the Woods: Stories, Poems, Essays & More by the Mindful Writers Retreat Authors. The book was the idea of our fearless retreat leader, Kathie Shoop. It was edited by Ramona DeFelice Long, and all proceeds are being donated to The Children’s Heart Foundation.

magical

There’s something magical about writing in the lodge at our retreats in the beautiful mountains of Ligonier with writers who have become my inspiration and writing family. Madhu Bazaz Wangu leads us in meditation, Lori Jones leads our walks, then we immerse ourselves in our own literary worlds, elevated by the energy of the invisible, silent threads of intention and creation that join us.

wishes

As you begin this new week, my wish for you is to have special people in your life whose presence elevates what you do. And if you find a butterfly whose wing is in need of repair, take her to the Little People. As you carry her gently in your palm, whisper your wishes so she can carry them into the earth to plant the seeds of your dreams come true.

Into the Woods

To get your copy and support The Children’s Heart Foundation, click here.

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mothers

Not all species are given a Mother’s Day celebration. In fact, mothers can get quite a raw deal in the natural world, though they tend to accept the sacrifice with love.

octopus

The octopus lays up to 200,000 eggs. She then spends months protecting them, during which time she will not hunt, and often ends up ingesting her own arms for sustenance. By the time the eggs hatch, she’s too weak to defend herself, and chances are, she’ll die soon after she has ensured her babies’ survival.

alligators

Not all mothers are as fierce as we might think. Alligator mothers take pride in building nests made of, ew, rotting organic matter. Alligators love to eat eggs of their own species, so she’ll defend the nest until the babies are born, then she’ll gently carry them to the water in her mouth, and take care of them for the coming year. Interestingly, if she lays her eggs in a warm place they will hatch as males; a cooler nesting spot produces females. Scientists have just this week identified the gene responsible for temperature-controlled sex determination in turtles.

elephants

A special shout-out to elephant mammas. After a 22-month pregnancy, the 250-pound babies are born blind, and are fed and nurtured by their mother for many years, helped by other mother elephants who help out with feeding and care-giving duties.

my mum

Elephants are also one of my mother’s favorite animals. She developed a special admiration for them when she went on safari in Africa, not far from where her mum and dad had once been missionaries.

your mom

Does or did your mom have a favorite animal? Like my mum’s mum (I’ll keep my British spelling), who was a missionary, did your mom’s mom do something that impacted her life?

mountain goats

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bird song

Songbirds have a special voice box called a syrinx, with two independently-controlled branches that allow them to produce two unrelated pitches at once.

more notes than a piano

The Northern Cardinal can launch notes with one side of the syrinx and switch to the other side without stopping for a breath. It can sweep through more notes than are on a piano keyboard in a tenth of a second. Others, like the Wood Thrush, can sing rising and falling notes simultaneously.

language of birds

Young birds begin to learn songs from others. When birds are raised in isolation, their song lacks complexity and is different from wild song. Some species, separated by geographic features such as mountains and stretches of water, develop dialects.

gender roles

Males normally sing to defend their territory, attract a mate, and even just to show off, but in the tropics, it’s typically the females that do.

dawn chorus

It is not known why birds put such an effort into the dawn chorus. I’d like to think they are simply really excited about celebrating the day to come, not too unlike how #storyeverywhere subscribers welcome the week to come.

bird on fence

 

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photography

According to Wiktionary, the word photography comes from photo + graphy, which together mean “drawing with light”. What a description.

For me, photography is a happy place. It helps me notice what’s around me. It grounds me in the now so I can’t barge through the day thinking about where I need to be next, which is why it also fits perfectly with #storyeverywhere. Another reason to love photography is that I find myself actively looking around for beautiful shots, and because I’m actively looking for beauty, I tend to find it. Like smelling the roses, only with the eyes.

a camera story

This week I want to share a personal story. A story that came about because of a story and in the end unearthed another story. Got it? Not really? Hmm, I can’t really blame you. Let me explain.

Rolleicord

A few years ago, I started working on a story about an old camera. But it was hard to imagine what an old camera felt like, or how my character would see the world through its lens, so I bought a Rolleicord camera on ebay. The seller didn’t know if it worked, he apologized about the poor condition of the case, and estimated it was from the fifties. I’d wanted an older model, but I knew it hadn’t changed that much. As for its working condition, the main thing was finding out what the camera felt like in my hands.

photos from the past

My imagination went into overdrive when it came and I saw the counter was on number 3. Someone had taken 3 photos and left the film in it! Photos from the past It didn’t take much research to realize the camera was not from the fifties. The name for the German patent changed at the start of World War II. The initials DRP and DRGM on the front of my Rolleicord dated it to pre-WWII, and the text on the back plate meant it not only had been manufactured in Germany, but it had been manufactured for sale on the German market. These were pictures from Nazi Germany!

into the closet

After weeks of research into how to wind the camera on and open the case, I climbed into a closet to extract the film in the dark to absolutely make sure I didn’t ruin these pictures that might reveal something so critical, they could change the entire course of history! Imagine my chagrin when there was, after all, no film in it at all. The counter turns manually, it doesn’t need film in to turn. A disappointment, for sure, but it did give me a story idea.

story in a case

The poor case the seller apologized about, however, did bring a real-life story. Sure, it is in bad shape, so bad that the leather has worn completely through. Inside though, was a name, Sgt. Stanley Dorfer. With a bit of research, I found out that Sgt. Stanley Dorfer was originally from Oregon. He enlisted with the Army of the United States on December 8, 1941. I like to presume he fought in Europe and got the camera before he came home. And, of course, I like to presume the camera came into his possession by some dramatic, even surreptitious means, not by strolling into a shop and simply buying it. Which gave me another idea for my story.

So the camera gave me two wonderful twists to my story, only you’ll have to wait until it’s finished to learn more. How’s that for suspense?

Have you ever come across something from the past that’s given you ideas for a story? Or have you found something that revealed a secret about the past?

 

 

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aperitivo

aperitivo

if Monday is still a struggle, plan a little happiness, and slow down with one of my favorite Italian rituals

a gift from Hippocrates

We can thank Hippocrates for the Italian pre-dinner ritual of l’aperitivo, the noble descendant of the concoction he devised to stimulate the appetite. His was a sweet white wine infused with fraxinella, absinthe and rue, which meant it offered the added benefit of warding off plagues and pestilence.

options

Over the centuries, a white wine or Prosecco base has remained a mainstay, often mixed with soda and a bitter, such as Aperol, to make a spritz. Vermouth and Campari make a MiTo, derived from the cities Milano and Torino where they are made. Add soda water and the MiTo becomes an Americano. Or forget the soda water and add gin to make a Negroni. Add Prosecco instead of gin, it becomes the Negroni Sbagliato, which actually means a mistaken Negroni.

perfection

But there’s little mistaken about the art of the aperitivo. It is artistry, and not just in the drink. The Italians drink when they eat and and eat when they drink, so this pre-dinner beverage is always accompanied by savory snacks, and is best served with friends. Quantities are never overdone. The only excess comes from the sheer attention to detail.

Piazza Ducale

When I lived in Italy, I could stroll down the road from my apartment to one of Italy’s best kept secrets, Piazza Ducale in Vigevano. There I’d sit outside at one of the many bars to ready my appetite and in fact engage all of my senses, surrounded by the beauty of the 500 year old piazza, and the endless stream of locals, experts in slowing down and enjoying the moment.

enjoy

Next time you’re in Italy, do as the locals do, preferably in the piazza under a setting summer sun. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you do before dinner. Do you and your family or friends create special moments before you tuck in? Do you do it with an appetizer, a drink, or both? Might an Italian-style aperitivo be in your near future?

Buon appetito!

a bite to eat

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