Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

friends with tea (pots) and books and music and…

imageMy friendship with my dear friend M is the product of technology, for which I’m very grateful. M started a book group several years ago, and we all talked books online. I’d met only one of the group f2f, as my students would say. And she wasn’t M.

M, whose background is Russian, insisted we all needed to read War & Peace (another of those things for which I’m thankful!). So we did. M only wears his equable demeanour to fool you: he’s pretty strong-willed.


Since then, we’ve probably met f2f 2-3 times; we used to both work for the same non-profit. I’ve since retired, but M continues to make the world a much better place.

Recently — possibly because I’m constantly posting pictures of tea, trays, and spouting off about tea (get it??) — he asked if I might like his beloved uncle’s Russian tea set. Would I?? You can see from the picture how lovely the set is. What you can’t see are all the stories: M and his uncle, sharing culture and family and sorrow and love. M’s partner, present in the vivid red amaryllis. The Russian tea I brewed for the teapot, in honour of M’s heritage.

You can’t see the museum membership M leant me so I could go to an expensive museum in Chicago w/ my best friend. Or the many many musicians of all types he’s turned me on to: Brazilians, classical pianists, violinists, orchestras, jazz, doo-wop… M’s musical tastes are eclectic as my teas!image


You can’t see the many emails about this and that — music, pop culture, the trivia of every day — that wing from the coast to the heartland. And more importantly, you can’t see how humbly astonished I am that someone would care enough about me — via the airwaves! — to send me something so precious, so treasured. But M’s like that. He thinks things should have good homes. And be used by people who love them.

The beginner’s heart in this equation is that M’s friendship reminds me of the wonderful twists life can take. Who  would think an online book club through work would result in a dear friendship? With someone who lives half-way across the country?

Who would have thought — those many years ago, when tea saved my sanity in a land long ago & far away — that tea would become such a part of my ‘brand’…? And who would have thought I’d be making Russian tea in an imperial blue & white teapot, courtesy of a very dear (virtual) friend…


International Poetry Day!

poetry goes around

courtesy of Google

Poetry — the breath of love, life, grief, terror, justice. And more…

We woo with it, grieve with it, celebrate and commemorate and just plain live with it. All around the world today, poets and readers and appreciators are joining together in praise of the mystery of poetry.

In other countries, poets have the fame and star power of movie stars here. Poets can — and have — destroyed totaliarian governments. They’ve also won the hearts of fair love, from Albania to Zimbabwe. It’s only right that the world should join together to honour the vastly colourful and infinitely varied body of poetry our various countries’ poets have written.


poetry image

courtesy of Google

Next month, fittingly (since it’s my birthday month!) is National Poetry Month in the U.S. So prepare for an onslaught of poetry. Today, though, I want to share a goofy poem by one of my favourites, Ogden Nash. I’ve never understood why Nash ‘gets no respect’ in academia. Lauded poets are far less skilled, in my humble opinion. And as far as laughter at his antics? Who doesn’t need a laugh? Almost any day of the year??


Here’s “Spring Comes to Murray Hill,” courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac this week:

Spring Comes to Murray Hill

I sit in an office at 244 Madison Avenue
And say to myself You have a responsible job, havenue?
Why then do you fritter away your time on this doggerel?
If you have a sore throat you can cure it by using a good goggerel,
If you have a sore foot you can get it fixed by a chiropodist,
And you can get your original sin removed by St. John the Bopodist,
Why then should this flocculent lassitude be incurable?
Kansas City, Kansas, proves that even Kansas City needn’t always
be Missourible.
Up up my soul! This inaction is abominable.
The pilgrims settled Massachusetts in 1620 when they landed on a
stone hummock.
Maybe if they were here now they would settle my stomach.
Oh, if I only had the wings of a bird
Instead of being confined on Madison Avenue I could soar in a
jiffy to Second or Third.


for love of a book


photo by the author

I’ve loved books since before I could read them. I vaguely remember chewing on a cloth book my mother or aunt gave me, but it may only be a family story. I do know I read early, and with gusto. ANYTHING: cereal boxes, manuals, maps, kids books, the paper, comics, and whatever else had letters on it.

Later, I’d end up an English major — where do most readers fetch up? So, this is a life-long reader’s ode to her most recent love affair with a book.


Because last night, I read one of those books you know will stay with you. Maybe it won’t be everyone’s big book — it’s not Tolkien or Tolstoi. But it a little like the books I read as a child — those books you inhaled, staying up into the late late night to finish.

I checked it out of the library yesterday afternoon, and was done with the 300+ pages by late evening. It was that necessary to read every word.

I’m not going to say what book it was — that’s not the point. It could be any of at least 50 books I’ve read through my life: Little Women, as a child. Later, The Last Unicorn. And of course Moby Dick, and a book of poetry by Ishmael Reed. Another by Mark Doty. M.F.K. Fisher’s Art of Eating. May Sarton and Carolyn Heilbrun, Mary Oliver and Mary Rose O’Reilley. Jack Kornfeld. Howard Gardiner and Richard Rodriguez and so many others. Books that transformed me, changed as surely as if I had them tattooed onto my skin.


I Love Books

courtesy Google

This is just one of many many bookshelves through our house, crammed with mysteries, sci fi, theory, science, how-to, gardening, war lit, poetry, art, esoterica, religion and spiritual thought, cookbooks… Almost any kind of book you can imagine.

Because here’s the point: books are FOOD. Food for heart and mind and growth and the broadening of all our horizons. It’s why people fear them, why writers are still killed in some countries. Why various volumes have been banned over the centuries.

Sometimes, when I am teaching, I remind people that the first of Hitler’s victims were not the Jews. They were the artists, the teachers, the intellectuals. Because within those minds were books. And books are as dangerous as any weapon, if not as immediately fatal.

Go find a book. Be ready to change.


cutting boards, character, and throw-away culture

cutting board

photo by the author

This cutting board cost me $15. On sale, sure, but all it needed was some TLC and it rivals my other cutting board/ chopping block, which cost more than 5x that much. Because this cutting board, when I bought it, was wrapped in torn and clouded cellophane. Not to mention whatever had been used to seal it smelled rancid.

This was NOT an alluring cutting board. :)


Because I know cutting boards, I bought it. It’s well-made, and again, all it needed was some love. I scrubbed the daylights out of it w/ a scrubber, then put salt & lemon on it to lift the odour. It needed a LOT of scrubbing, and a lot of lemon & salt paste, as well. A few days later, it was ready for Boos board magic (an amazing mix of mineral oil and beeswax).

I put the cream on it by hand, rubbing it in all over. Then left it overnight, for the wood to soak it up. It took another application of hand-applied magic the next day. But now? I have this beautiful, functional cutting board. For $15.00 and some board cream I use anyway. All it took was seeing the potential. And really? It looks every bit as good as my expensive chopping block that I’ve had for 10 years.


chopping block

photo by the author

Can you guess where this is going…?

Many years ago, when my older son was in middle school, there were several boys he hung out with, all of whom I loved. But one was especially memorable: his father was divorced, w/ custody of the three children. The boy always seemed at a loss ~ G was a sweet kid, but often acted out, as boys (my own included) do. Girls too, as one of those who did.


The principal at the middle school the boys attended wrote my son — and his friends — off. They were throw-aways, too much effort. Note to others: do NOT mess w/ my kids. I was able to get my son out from under the influence of the principal (I never really worried about the boys — they were usually at our house, anyway); my husband spoke to the principal, and he backed off of my son. But he still had it in for the other boys, several of whom weren’t as obviously cared for as my son. Torn clothes (and not fashionably so!), bleached hair (although my son’s was, at one time, blue), the sullen stance of many middle school boys.

decline in boys in school

from Crux Research


Plus my son’s friends weren’t blond, blue-eyed white boys, obviously  middle class. They were mixed-race, sometimes less polite, and with parents less actively engaged. At least a couple were blue-collar, as if that should matter. None were ‘name brand’ cutting boards, in other words. Some of their parents worked two jobs, unable to make the many school conferences and events we attended religiously. And G’s father was, let’s face it, not only ‘foreign,’ but a TV ad for a mail-order bride. Really. Neither went over well in Middle America, I assure you.

Still, how do you get to be principal at a middle school and not love kids? And why is America so willing to throw away children as if they had expire dates? Boys seem especially vulnerable, although perhaps — as the mother of sons — I’m sensitive. Wouldn’t you expect a middle school principal to know as much about boys as I do about cutting boards? And to put in the time and energy it took to make sure they were functional and cared for?


Years later, I still grieve for that boy, now a young man like my son. Unlike my son — who is happily married to a wonderful woman, w/ a darling son of his own, and a wonderful job at a top research university, G was shot in gang-related violence. He’s paralysed, and never did finish school, dropping out not long after the principal judged him discardable.

If he’d been a cutting board, I could have saved him.


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