a theater story

Aladdin’s lamp

At the Taproot Summit, Alison Diggs said that being inside the Tennessee State Theatre was like being inside Aladdin’s Lamp. When we went to see a Broadway stage production of The Wizard of Oz earlier this yearI had to agree. The lush interior is adorned with gold and jewels, oriental carpets and drapery. It is like a palace that is transported through thin air to a different world, just as story has the power to transport us to a different world.

People have been using story to make sense of life for as long as we have existed. Theater as we know it dates to the 6th century BCE, when a priest of Dionysus called Thespis engaged in a dialogue with the chorus at a festival honoring the god of wine and fertility. He became, in effect, the first actor. Actors in the west, ever since, have been proud to call themselves Thespians.

the Tennessee

The Tennessee State Theatre opened in Knoxville in 1928 as a movie palace. The Mighty Wurlitzer organ installed that year is still played every week to launch the week on the right note for a free lunch-time concert, Mighty Musical Monday.

Sadly, many early films were not preserved, the reels simply disposed of when they finished their run. The Tennessee’s first movie, The Fleet’s In, no longer exists today.

When The Wizard of Oz was first screened at the Tennessee in 1946, Knoxville Journal critic Sam Adkin called it “probably the most ornate and beautiful film ever produced.”

historic chapter

At its opening, the Tennessee Theatre was a whites-only theater, like many other theaters in Knoxville and throughout the South. In early 1963, students from Knoxville College protested on Gay Street outside the Tennessee. After months of nonviolent demonstrations, theater management relented during a screening of the powerful film To Kill A Mockingbird starring Gregory Peck.


With the help of the community, the Tennessee Theatre reopened in 2005 after renovations to restore its status as a resplendent entertainment palace, permitting a new chapter in the stage and screen storytelling in the 16th state.

your story

I’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite play? Do you have a special theater in your neighborhood?


a play
a play




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spring tradition

The Greeks, Chinese and Persians exchanged eggs at spring festivals long before the Christian festival of Easter. Eggs were considered symbolic of the first sign of spring, and of fertility. They were also associated with magic because of the inexplicable birth of a living creature from such a strange object. To harness the eggs’ special powers, people would bury them beneath the foundations of buildings to ward off evil, and they’d be placed on thresholds for newlyweds to step over when they entered their homes for the first time.

the message is in the egg

Eggs have also been used to smuggle secret messages. During the Spanish Inquisition, Italian scholar, polymath and playwright Giambattista della Porta found a way to write secret messages on the inside of the unbroken shell. Seemingly intact, they were the only thing not checked at the gate of the prison where some of his friends were being held.
How did he do it? First, della Porta wrote on the egg shell using a mixture of plant pigments and alum. The ink penetrated the shell, and once it had dried, he boiled the egg in hot water and the ink on the outside washed away. The recipient in prison peeled off the shell to reveal the message on the egg white.

egg face

Like the prison guards, it never occurred to us to write on the inside of eggs, but growing up, we used to scoop out and eat our boiled eggs carefully so we didn’t break the shell. Then we’d turn the shell upside down in the egg cup and draw faces on the outside. Inevitably, we’d tell mum we weren’t hungry so we weren’t going to eat our eggs today. Of course, she never fell for it. My sister Vanessa always drew the best faces. Look at the ones we drew this Easter. We might not be eggstraordinarily gifted artists, but it’s all good fun. Which one do you like best? Vote in  the comments, and while you’re here, share your egg stories.


egg art

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mindfulness, and a cup of tea

In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.
Pico Iyer

the story of tea

According to Chinese legend, one fall afternoon long ago, Shennong decided to take a rest under a Camellia tree and boiled some water to drink. Dried leaves from the tree above floated down into the pot of boiling water and infused with the water, creating a pot of tea, marking the first ever infusion of the tea leaf.

For centuries, tea was used for its medicinal qualities, but became a popular drink in Buddhist monasteries after the caffeine proved to keep the monks awake during long hours of meditation.

slow down with a cup of tea

For some time, I’ve been pondering the question of how to slow down. Twice a year, at the Mindful Writers Retreat, I unplug in the company of other writers, focus on the now, and quiet the clutter of daily life to immerse myself in my writing. For the rest of the year, I try to do it by noticing the world around around me, the profound and the ordinary, #storyeverywhere, and when I can’t seem to stop racing, the act of brewing a cup of tea always helps. The first step is to select a type.
What’s your favorite brew? And what do you do to slow down and notice the world around you?


A good quality, well-steeped jasmine tea should be light and clean, with an aroma and aftertaste like a fine perfume. The Ming obsession with anything floral made jasmine a popular option. It is made by placing fresh jasmine flowers on a tray below a woven tray of green or black tea leaves in a warm room.
Often. jasmine tea has a base of green tea, so you get the proven health benefits of green tea plus its relaxing scent, found to lower heart rate. Some also claim that Jasmine acts as an aphrodisiac.

white peonyWhite Peony

This white tea is aromatic (with a peachy note) and the flavor is complex, fruity, stronger than most white teas, with slight mineral notes. It is made from a single bud and two tea leaves, which gently unfold in your tea pot, resembling the petals of a peony blossom, hence its name. The young leaves are carefully handpicked so that they suffer minimal crushing as it is when the tissue cells break that oxidation occurs and white tea stops being white tea.
A good white tea like this also contains antioxidants that strengthen your whole circulatory system. It helps both to lower blood pressure as well as reduce bad cholesterol levels.


Smoky, sweet, woody, grassy, vanilla, floral, geranium, honey, herbal and caramel are just a handful of the words that can describe the flavor spectrum of sipping a rooibos tea. Rooibos is an herb native to South Africa that isn’t even a true “tea” at all. Rather, it’s a plant that when harvested and dried can be brewed into a reddish-brown herbal infusion. Locals have been harvesting and brewing the naturally growing rooibos in the Cederberg region for hundreds of years.
The antioxidants in rooibos tea protect the liver from oxidative stress. It lowers blood pressure and relaxes tense muscles. Because it’s an herb, rooibos is completely caffeine free.
Rooibos is delicious sipped on its own but it also holds up to a splash of milk and a little sugar or honey, which is the traditional South African way to sip rooibos. The deep amber red color of brewed red rooibos makes it a great natural dying agent for hair color, fabric for crafts or Easter eggs.

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Lavender, a childhood fragrance

from garden to drawer

My grandma, or granny as I called her, made me lavender bags when I was growing up—beautiful cotton sachets tied with ribbon or lace and filled with lavender harvested from her garden. I used to tuck them in my clothes drawers and the fragrance would remind me of her in the morning.

Garden is one of the British English words I cling to steadfastly. I’ve even rubbed off on my all-American granddaughter who loves to play in my ‘garden’, even though I conceded the vegetable patch to the deer a few years ago. For me, the word “yard” is rather barren, with connotations of concrete from a shipyard or metal from a junk yard. It doesn’t capture the romance, the feeling of peace that comes over me when I watch bees gathering, butterflies exalting, flowers exuding full color.

My garden falls short of the true English haven my mum creates year after year, but it brings me joy, it gives me a sense of renewal and rejuvenation.  I love to unwind with my camera, and explore the flower beds or the woods for images and patterns that only nature has the imagination to create. An instant slow-down moment. It’s the details that amaze me the most, the secrets you can’t know unless you stop for a closer look.

I planted lavender a few years ago. It’s given me a beautiful crop already, with a second about ready to pick. Soon, it will be dry and I’ll find some pretty cotton to make lavender bags. I think I’ll do them in my granddaughter’s favorite color, maybe she’ll tuck some away in her clothes drawers like I did.


lavender on wood
lavender on wood


lavender close
lavender close




















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Seeing a play is a lovely way to break routine, fitting nicely into my quest to slow down. When we were kids, mum would take us to the theatre in London (allow me the indulgence of the British spelling), to see plays by my granny’s favorite writer, Agatha Christie. I’ve loved plays ever since, so I was delighted when my daughter took me for an early birthday treat to see Peribanyez, performed by Quantum Theater (American spelling, I’ll concede) in Mellon Park, Pittsburgh.

I didn’t know what to expect from the story. The playwright, Lope de Vega, was a  Continue reading “Peribanyez”

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Going slow

Everyone seems to be noticing that life is racing faster than ever. It makes me wonder whether I was onto something with the first book I was going to write. In it, a circle of gnome-like men in the heavens, manipulated the human race like an intricate yet global game, causing all the crazy things that happen in this world, people mere pawns. Perhaps it wasn’t fiction, perhaps the truth Continue reading “Going slow”

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