Old Storybooks

Dorothy comforts Billina as they begin their unexpected journey together. Illustrations by John R. Neill

Yesterday I shared a dream with a friend who was in it, and revealed that the end of it likely came from the key challenge in L. Frank Baum’s storybook Ozma of Oz. She hadn’t realized there were more Oz books (Baum wrote thirteen more after The Wizard; even more were written by several authors after his death) and through the magic of technology she immediately downloaded the audio version of this one. I’m grateful for her enthusiasm to escape into it, which inspired me to pull my copy off the vintage book shelf and also enjoy it for my bedtime story.

Billina the talking hen frightens the Nome King

I got a hundred pages in pretty quickly last night, and then turned out the lights. It was easy enough to finish it in increments today, first with morning coffee as I ran a sprinkler and enjoyed the quiet morning in the yarden, and later in the shade after work. The feel of this old book, with its soft yellowed paper and faded smell, add poignance to my third or fourth reading of it. Originally published in 1907, this may well be a first edition as there’s no subsequent information in the front matter. I’ve had it almost sixty years. Despite some dated references, it feels surprisingly relevant.

I’m grateful to have it, to have been able to pull it off a shelf in my bedroom, where it rests alongside The Wizard of Oz, a complete Dr. Doolittle series, most of the Little Women books, and numerous other old and fragile paper and board storybooks. I keep them out of love and respect, because they are part of who I am, and besides who else would want them? Perhaps they’ll go to the dump when I die, but not until then. In the complicated life of an adult, in these complicated times, I’m newly inspired to turn to these classic storybooks for an occasional quick and happy respite.

Biko approaching some garden greens harvested just for him, after sitting still for a long while enjoying a sprinkler shower.
Study in Gold: Wren in Evening Light
Study in Blue: Wren and Full Moon


I’m grateful for improvisation in the kitchen. Yesterday, I boiled some butternut squash gnocchi from the freezer, which I made a few weeks ago with last year’s squash purée from the freezer, and topped it with a quick sauce of sautéed onion, mushroom, and garlic, and the last of this year’s arugula, which I blended Bello style with a splash of milk and some pasta water then tossed back into the skillet with the gnocchi and some parmesan to heat through. It was so simple, so delicious! I tried to post last night but was thwarted.

And I got a second meal out of it as a cold salad today, with a splash of mayonnaise and some chopped chives–still green outside despite ongoing winter weather.

In the meantime, as though I needed to eat even more, I tossed together the last of the shredded chicken with a can of Great Northern beans and one of Cannelinni, some onion, one orange jalapeño, chili powder, garlic, cumin, frozen corn, and Penzey’s Arizona seasoning. It was also simple and delicious. I’m sure grateful for eating so well, and as I’ve mentioned before, for finally settling into comfort and competence in the kitchen so that each meal isn’t a challenge of What? When? How?

And I’m grateful that little Wren has been able to settle into comfort, too–do you think she could relax just a little bit more?

I’m also grateful for the hard work so many citizens (including my friend Gina, a hundred postcards above) are doing these last few weeks before the US midterm election. This is a crucial election: Our democracy hangs by a thread, and it’s up to thinking, compassionate Americans to preserve it. If Maga Republicans win the precarious balance in the Senate or takeover the House, we will return to the Dark Ages where rabid religious zealots will determine who has basic human rights (white people, mostly rich) and who no longer has basic human rights (women of all colors, men of color, LGBTQ+ people, children discovering their authentic identities); who lives and who dies by shuttering social security, Medicare and Medicaid and silencing scientific research; who gets educated and who does the educating based on one single religion–wait a minute, isn’t that what even Republicans were pissed off about with the Taliban? And what’s up with the Putin worship, anyway? My old white male relatives, Colonels and Generals in the US Army before they died in the past decade, were as staunchly anti-Russia as every other Republican in their generation.

We are literally in a battle for the future of the planet (politics aside). But if you love anybody gay, anybody trans, anybody who has a uterus and the potential to become pregnant, if you love Nature, wild animals, clean water, reading what you want to read, science, the earth, you better Vote Democratic this November. Better yet, vote early! If you have children or grandchildren, you better take a good hard look HERE at the difference between what Republicans did over their last four years in the presidency, and what Biden has done in just the past two years, and be honest about which party really has your best interest at heart. If you agree with my point of view, will you please commit to reminding at least three people you know to vote Democratic in next week’s midterm election? With gratitude.

Troublesome Moose

Thanks, Norma! This Liberty puzzle was a gift to one of our puzzle club’s founding members from her sister, and it was a doozy! Definitely one of our more challenging images, or maybe it was just for me. I’ll be excited to share more images and thoughts about the puzzles I’ve done this season in the coming weeks. It is really, truly, almost time for me to complete our puzzle catalog, after I wrap up a couple of overhanging obligations, notably my will and other end-of-life plans–just in case.

Because as we all know but are reluctant to acknowledge, death is certain, time of death uncertain. I’m fine, as far as I know. A ream of medical tests over the past year has indicated only that I am… aging. Certain symptoms remain mysteries, but I can accept that each human body is different and no one has all the answers. I intend to continue my personal Covid protocols no matter what the rest of the world does, and Dr. Fauci validated this choice in his recent interview with the New York Times.

Work has settled into a predictable and comfortable routine for the time being, winter dictates ongoing hibernation for awhile longer (though seeds have been ordered), and I look forward to days with more latitude for creative endeavors. Heading to bed now after a productive day on the computer, in the sunroom, and in the kitchen. I’d be up another hour glazing the lemon shortbreads I baked this evening but I can’t find anymore butter! So off to bed with friend Peter’s novel Celine, in hopes of a warmish morning tomorrow–like maybe sunny and 20° by the time I get out of bed, and over 60° inside.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

I mentioned my gratitude for the Bibliofillies a couple of weeks ago. Today, I’m grateful for our February book selection, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Several of us had read it before, but I chose it anyway, after our grueling January read put me off of my original selection, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, another “gripping” dystopian novel about a woman fleeing Los Angeles as America spirals into chaos” (The New York Times Book Review).

Well, 100 Years also involves some spirals into chaos, but isn’t that what life is ultimately all about? Everything changes all the time, and the inevitable result of something being born, created or arising is that it will die, dissolve, or fall apart. This is the ultimate truth. So while the trajectories of those two novels might be similar, I chose the one I’ve already read at least twice, maybe three times, and which a hundred years ago in my own life I chose as my ‘desert island book.’ There is simply no better paradigm of magical realism ever written. I’m almost done with this read-through, and there’s at least one sentence on almost every single page that I read twice, for the sheer beauty and brilliance of it.

Starting with the first line and unfurling with relentless imagination, here are some examples:

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice…. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”

“Science has eliminated distance,’ Melquiades proclaimed. ‘In a short time, man will be able to see what is happening in any place in the world without leaving his own house.”

“Her heart of compressed ash, which had resisted the most telling blows of daily reality without strain, fell apart with the first waves of nostalgia.”

“It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of José Arcadio Buendia under the chestnut tree with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight.”

“Ursula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving good-bye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.”

“He saw the clowns doing cartwheels at the end of the parade and once more he saw the face of his miserable solitude when everything had passed by and there was nothing but the bright expanse of the street and the air full of flying ants with a few onlookers peering into the precipice of uncertainty.”

“The indolence of the people was in contrast to the voracity of oblivion, which little by little was undermining memories in a pitiless way…”

“…and then they understood that José Arcadio Buendia was not as crazy as the family said, but that he was the only one who had enough lucidity to sense the truth of the fact that time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room.”

These examples are essentially random and can’t come close to capturing the rollicking wonder of getting swept away page by page in this marvelous family’s tragic saga from nothing to everything to nothing again. Nothing I write can do it justice. After forty years, it’s still my ‘desert island book.’ I am grateful for this extraordinary novel, and for others in the magical realism genre by authors like José Saramago and Salmon Rushdie; grateful for the fictional escape from actual spirals into chaos, and also for the fundamental human truths illuminated in all the best novels. I’m grateful for the precision and beauty of words, and grateful that I have time in my busy days to explore worlds real and imagined through the simple act of reading.