Two Timely Poems

I don’t know about you, but I first read these poems in high school. I had a great teacher (and, one should add, a great book—I still have it) and thus was born a lifelong love of the word-thrill only poetry can provide. The rhythm, the rhymes (or not), alliteration, imagery, and much, much more come together in ways that move me, over and over. And yes, I buy books of poetry too.

I’ve been thinking about “The Second Coming” for months. Grim and dark, written in 1919 at the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, William Butler Yeats’s masterpiece speaks directly to events happening now, nearly a century later:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

If the imagery in this poem shakes you up, you’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal says, “A torrent of bad news and political upheaval has given new life to a nearly 100-year-old poem written in the aftermath of World War I.”

Flash backward a century to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” published in 1818.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Perspective, yes?

I wish you peace this season, wherever you may find it. Perhaps in poetry.


Holiday Travel? Bring It!

I purchased the glass ornament on the right during my first trip to Ireland in 2003. It is hand painted.

I purchased the glass ornament on the right during my first trip to Ireland in 2003. It is hand painted.

I was delighted to see this article pop up in my inbox last month—How to Make Holiday Travel Less Stressful—because Lord knows we could all do with a little less stress, yes? (Travel or otherwise.) And because I have a little experience with it—and hope to have more.

When the kids are little it’s nice to stay home, or take a trip across town (maybe further) to Grammy’s house. The decorations, the baking, the wrapping … those are all things you can enjoy at home. And it’s good.

But when the kids are grown … a whole new world opens up. You care less about the tree and the ornaments and more about being with your favorite people. Am I right?

Sometimes that involves travel. Your schedule may be the more flexible one.

Here’s what the Times says—

  • Travel on the holiday
  • Fly direct, if possible
  • Ship the gifts
  • Go in January instead

—and I have employed a variety of them over my lifetime to make the holidays work for everyone.

For some years my son was in a traveling brass quintet, and one of their biggest concerts of the year was—you guessed it—Christmas Eve. They’d line up a nice big gig in a nice big church in a nice big city, and come Christmas Day morning, I’d find myself driving to BNA virtually all by myself. Roads were deserted. The loading zone at the airport—a madhouse any other day—was nearly deserted. And the people who were there, both travelers and their rides, were very, very happy. (Even the quiet house on Christmas Eve was a moment to be savored.) It was festive!

One of the virtues of flying out of a large city, of course, is the availability of direct flights. This facilitated the Christmas Day flying. And it certainly facilitated the times I flew to see my son when he was living and working as a high school teacher in Phoenix (my schedule was more flexible). A direct flight increases the odds that you and your luggage will arrive in the same place at the same time. You’ll agree, I’m sure, that this is a plus.

I didn’t ship the gifts those years I flew to Phoenix, but I did not wrap them until I arrived. To save time, I brought gift bags and bows with me (rather than shopping for them in Phoenix), but I left the gifts unwrapped so the TSA could see them.

As soon as you reach adulthood, you have to start juggling various holidays and various family groups. This is a prescription for stress, so to the Times’s list I would add this: go with it. Just go with it. You can hold fast to some notion of how things are supposed to be … or you can just take this holiday this year as it comes. And then plan that trip to the Bahamas for next January! 🙂


The Christmas Ornament (Part 3 of 3)

I’ve always been a collector. One knick-knack is just a pretty thing, but two or three of them—related in some way—is a collection.

And so it is with Christmas ornaments. I’m not the only one who has pulled together collections of them. Heavens, no! My friend Christy recently posted this comment on Facebook:

Since 1993 I’ve collected ornaments, either that people give me or that I buy to commemorate something in my life (or just that I like a lot, like a dinosaur gourd I bought last year). I started keeping a record of them, which I store with the ornaments, explaining where each one came from and/or what it means. I don’t put up a tree every year so without this record I would definitely have lost track of a lot of them. It brings me so much pleasure to unpack them all and put them on the tree while reading through this journal. It’s my very favorite tradition I ever started. This year I didn’t even need the “filler” ornaments I have, and every ornament on the tree is a sweet memory.

This is a tree I’d love.

When I was growing up in the ’60s, aluminum trees were very popular—all hung with one color of round bulb. They looked cool, they did. And then I’d go home to the hodge-podge of a tree at my house, with ornaments made by my parents, others purchased in a store, and things we kids made at school.

The hodge-podge tree.

The hodge-podge tree.

I still have a hodge-podge tree, and I treasure it for the very reason Christy treasures hers. When my son was an infant, we lived in south Louisiana, and I bought a small—it’s perhaps three inches—ceramic Mardi Gras mask. It’s just a souvenir—inside it reads “New Orleans 1983”—but I attached a ribbon and hung it on the tree that year. It makes me remember my little December baby.

Now it’s in the “places” collection, and gets hung with ornaments from Charleston, South Carolina, and Paris, France. None of them are actual Christmas ornaments; I just picked them up in souvenir shops, added a hook, and wrote the year on the back with a Sharpie. One of the French ornaments is just a handpainted chicken (blue); on the back I wrote “Paris 2006.” In the case of a trip to Tybee Island, I collected some sand dollars and glitter-glued the year and place on them. You might also look for lightweight fridge magnets that you can turn into ornaments. As a last resort, use a photo! These days they make lots of varieties of tiny—tree-sized—picture frames, complete with hooks, into which you can put a photograph of a special moment.

Or a special person. When my son was in preschool, they had some kind of craft project every Christmas that resulted in a photo ornament: Milk jug cap? Yep. Construction-paper frame? Yep. Popsicle-stick sled? Got one of those too. This continued through grammar school, and after that I used a school photo and made one for myself. When he became a school teacher, I added those. It’s a collection, y’all. 🙂

When Christy posted about the pleasure her ornament collection brings her, I could definitely relate. Christmas is a nostalgic, sentimental season, perfect for a once-a-year memory. Her friends added comments with lots of stories about their ornament collections too. One started collections for her daughters.

In fact, several years ago I also started a collection for my son, a musician. Musical instruments, bells, musical notation … Music is a beloved Christmas theme, so there’s lots of cheap, ugly stuff to be had. So it’s fun to search out the unique and beautiful instead. I’ve been working on it for years. Some years I might find a half dozen to add, some years none. (This is one of those years.)

The secrets to building an ornament collection are patience, vigilance, and creativity. Have fun with it!

The Christmas Ornament (Part 2 of 3)

As noted, I’ve always had a thing about Christmas ornaments. I’d had a good example from my parents, and then I got married (the first time) over Thanksgiving weekend, on the twenty-sixth of November. Christmas was a month away, and one of the sweetest gifts we received was a dozen ornaments with hand-crocheted covers. (This started me on many happy years of creating my own; I still have the craft box that evolved from those projects, and still occasionally make a new ornament.)

I still have the crocheted ornaments, too, though I no longer have that husband. 🙂

A couple years later, my grandmother—my father’s mother, my last surviving grandparent—died, and when my father and I went through her things, I saw that she also had her first Christmas ornaments. Which is to say … from the 1920s. I hand-carried them home, those fragile glass antiques. They are beautiful. (No photographs, dear reader, simply because they are packed, and this is a busy time of year.)

Since that time, I have followed my interests and tastes, and have ended up with a lot of ornaments. And every year I’d load the tree up with everything, or mostly everything. I had a lot of round glass balls, because I love color, but I also had a lot of “things.”

About five years ago, I decided it would be more fun to appreciate them as themed collections, so I bought new storage boxes, and after Christmas I separated them into categories that made themselves evident:

  • flowers
  • fruits
  • nuts and acorns
  • animals
  • elephants
  • birds
  • suns and moons
  • leaves
  • natural items like sand dollars

I called these the natural world ornaments. I had a zillion elephant ornaments because, well, I’d been collecting elephant figurines since middle school. They can fill a tree by themselves.

I also had a collection of the “unnatural” world (I know, it doesn’t really makes sense, but work with me here), which included:

  • Santas
  • snowmen
  • angels
  • shoes, clothing, and hats
  • fairies and brownies
  • other inanimate objects

Two other collections were large enough to warrant their own boxes:

  • hearts, and
  • “place” ornaments, which represented my travels to other locales

And then I met Gerry, who is Irish. As time went on, I started filtering out the place ornaments that had to do with Ireland—and buying more of them (in Ireland, whose retailers are perfectly happy to indulge Americans’ love of the Christmas ornament). I occasionally buy things in March, during the St. Patrick’s Day retail extravaganza, and make them into ornaments. I added all the green glass balls and green hearts too. And plaid ornaments found their way here.

Ireland has become an ornament classification all its own at my house. 🙂

This year is Gerry’s first Christmas in Tennessee, and we have put up “the Ireland tree.”

This embroidered fabric harp—Ireland’s national symbol—is one of several harps in the box, including one carved from bog oak.

This embroidered fabric harp—Ireland’s national symbol—is one of several harps in the box, including one carved from bog oak.

I purchased the glass ornament on the right during my first trip to Ireland in 2003. It is hand painted.

I purchased the glass ornament on the right during my first trip to Ireland in 2003. It is hand painted.

This is a representation of the Carndonagh Cross. We saw it first in 2003 on the Inishowen Peninsula, and again just this year.

This is a representation of the Carndonagh Cross. We saw it first in 2003 on the Inishowen Peninsula, and again just this year.

On the left, one of Belleek’s “Doors of Dublin” series of ornaments.

On the left, one of Belleek’s “Doors of Dublin” series of ornaments.

A teapot, also by Belleek.

A teapot, also by Belleek.

There are quite a few shamrocks, both fabric and glass.

There are quite a few shamrocks, both fabric and glass.

Below, a claddagh. Above, an embroidered fabric ornament copied from an image from the Book of Kells, representing St. Luke.

Below, a claddagh. Above, an embroidered fabric ornament copied from an image from the Book of Kells, representing St. Luke.

A glass Celtic cross.

A glass Celtic cross.

There are many more than this, of course. Santa dressed in green, with mugs of beer, for example. Tacky, I know. 🙂 The Irish tricolor. A glass St. Patrick. I could go on, but you get the picture. Is your tree up?

The Christmas Ornament (Part 1 of 3)

I’ve always had a thing for Christmas ornaments. (And decorations, but that’s another story entirely. Nothing that moves, sings, or must be blown up or otherwise requires a generator, thankyouverymuch.) Over the years I’ve collected all manner of ornaments (and things I’ve turned into ornaments), but I know my delight in special ornaments and the traditions related to them was … well, born with me.

That is, my parents had an ornament tradition before I came along. They were DIY people, and for their very first Christmas (1951)—my father was a college student at the time, and money was tight—my father made three ornaments with names on them.


(Beau was the dog.)

To do this, Daddy dipped a quarter-inch paintbrush in glue, hand-lettered each name in block letters (he’d studied as a draftsman; his printing was beautiful) on a large gold glass ornament, then sprinkled silver glitter over it. When I was born, he made another: JAMIE.

It doesn’t look like much now, I know. But I do treasure it.

It doesn’t look like much now, I know. But I do treasure it.

Sister Jill and brother Jon each got an ornament in due time. My father enlisted with the United States Air Force not long after his and Mom’s first Christmas; he was sent to Officers’ Candidate School (OCS), learned to fly both fixed-wing and rotary-operated aircraft, and was subsequently moved all over the country (and into Canada).

Things get broken in moves like these. One by one, all the other name ornaments were broken—but not mine. When I left the house at eighteen, I took it with me.

I still have it. I no longer hang it on a tree, but I do display it. Carefully. 🙂



The List: Husbands, Wives, and Christmas

My parents always asked us kids for a list of things we wanted for Christmas … when we were still kids, and when we’d grown up. It’s a habit I continued with my son, especially now that he’s grown, because I don’t see him every day—I don’t know what he wants. Why spend money on something that will never be used?

My husband thinks that’s too mercenary, but then he’s the guy who only gives cash. “They can get what they want,” that’s his motto. It works, though I sometimes find it a little boring. I enjoy the hunt for the perfect gift.

But I think that’s a gal thing. What’s a doting husband to do?

Sometimes, gentlemen, you draw a complete blank, yes? Sometimes … You Just Need a List. If you ask your wife for a list, though, you spoil the surprise.

The list that follows was making the rounds among my Facebook friends. I don’t know whom to credit; the version I read actually included the words: “I just read this somewhere.” So I offer it here, cleaned up and with a few edits.

The Doting Husband’s Gift Idea List: Gifts To Surprise Your Wife

• Gift certificate for a mani/pedi. Supersize it and give her four of them.

• Gift certificate for a professional massage.

• An empty house for 24–72 hours. No less, but longer would be cool.

• A planned weekend with her friends: fancy hotel, all plans pre-made, kids arranged, concert/play/movie/event tickets bought.

• A cleaning company to come and do even just one deep clean of the house. Those dust bunnies are not going anywhere without hired help.

• An upgrade to her engagement/wedding ring: a new wrap, added stones, whatever suits her.

• Concert tickets with backstage passes. Sitter booked. Hotel overnight a bonus.

• Get her car detailed.

• Facials/massages/hair appointments pre-booked and pre-paid for as many months as you can afford. Arrange the babysitter too.

• Gift cards for a girls’ night out. (Besties notified and booked!)

• A weekend, with you, in the big city. Plans made. Sitters booked.

• A local hotel room booked for her for a whole night (or two!)—alone. Preferably one with a spa.

• Don’t forget tradition. I have a friend whose husband, every year without fail, gets her the latest hardback edition of her favorite prolific author.

• Jewelry. Duh.

• Hack her Pinterest. Ideas galore.

• Ask her girlfriends.

• Don’t forget the deluxe wrapping.

There’s your list. A surprise is still the best thing, so don’t ask her for a list. Just do it.


A Jane Austen / Georgian Christmas

I stumbled upon this article in the New York Times back in August, which was probably about as late as you could wait and still get a spot on this travel experience (“heritage tourism,” they say in the trade) … but it’s something to put in your tickler file for next year, yes?

I think it sounds like a lot of fun, if you like a tour. (We’re not generally the sort who goes in for tours, but this seems pretty upscale, with plenty of time on your own worked into the schedule.)

I snagged this photo of Bath Abbey from the NYTimes article © 2014.

I snagged this photo of Bath Abbey from the NYTimes article © 2014.

Day 1: Arrive at London’s Heathrow Airport. Meet your expert guide, Rosalind Hutchinson, and depart for a visit to the Jane Austen House and Museum in Chawton, including a talk by the curator and the opportunity to view a first edition.
Have lunch as a group at a historic local pub before continuing to the hotel in Winchester. This evening, before dinner, enjoy “A Jane Austen Evening” by the Madding Crowd. Carols, songs, hymns and anthems are included in a mummers play celebrating Christmas as in the time of Jane Austen.

Day 2: Tour the historic city of Winchester. Visit Jane Austen-related locations, including 8 College Street, where she spent the final weeks of her life, and Winchester Cathedral, where she was buried following her death in 1817 at the age of 41. The afternoon will be at leisure to attend services at the Cathedral, shop or enjoy the ambience of Winchester at Christmas. Have a Christmas Eve dinner with mince pies and mulled wine at the hotel tonight. Guests also have the option to attend midnight Eucharist at Winchester Cathedral.

Day 3: For Christmas, you are free to relax, explore or attend services at Winchester Cathedral. There will be a Christmas Day luncheon, complete with Christmas crackers. In the evening, you may decide to dine at the hotel’s evening buffet.

Day 4: Depart for Steventon Village, the village in Hampshire where Jane Austen was born in 1775. Visit the rectory where she spent most of her first 25 years.
Travel along Popham Lane, a route she often walked, to the Wheatsheaf Inn, where the Austens posted letters and collected their mail. These and many other locations in the area provided inspiration for Jane’s incisive novels about English town and country society. “Northanger Abbey,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility” were all written at Steventon.
Visit The Vyne, a National Trust property once owned by the Chute family, who hosted many parties attended by Jane Austen and her family. Enjoy a light lunch followed by a curator-led tour. Later this afternoon, meet with a member of the Jane Austen Society.

Day 5: Visit the quaint village of Lacock, which is sought after by filmmakers for its picturesque streets and historic cottages. Have lunch in a historic pub and continue to Bath. Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801 to 1805, after her father retired from his ministry at Steventon.
Relax and enjoy the rest of the day, perhaps taking a sumptuous English tea at the hotel.

Day 6: Head out for a tour of Bath, known for centuries for its healing waters. Highlights include the Palladian-style Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon and the houses where Jane and her family lived at Sydney Place and Gay Street.
Visit the Assembly Rooms, a fashionable meeting place for 18th-century society, featured in Austen’s novels. Visit the Jane Austen Centre and the impressive costume collection at the Bath Fashion Museum. Later, continue to the Roman baths and the soaring Bath Abbey, which has undergone many transformations during its more than 1,000 years of history.
Today’s grand structure was one of the last great medieval cathedrals built in England. Tonight, toast your trip with a farewell dinner at the hotel.

Day 7: After breakfast, transfer to London’s Heathrow Airport for your flights back to the U.S.

If you’re a Jane Austen fan, do bookmark the website of the Jane Austen Centre, and the Jane Austen Society (England and North America). Here’s an interesting blog that’s All-Jane-All-the-Time, from the Vermont wing of the Jane Austen Society. Here’s another one, Austenonly.

Now start saving your nickels and dimes for that tour next year!