Friday, February 27, 2015

An Ode to Stock

Chicken noodle soup reposes in a bowl.

An Ode to Stock

You’re the essence, the marrow
The life, the core.
You lend your healing power
When my throat’s sore.

You’re yellow, hot and briny
So savory good.
I slurp you straight from my spoon
Like sick folk should.

I find you in the market
Premade for me.
Which means someone spent those hours
And now I’m free.

I add wilting vegetables
With garlic kiss.
Chunks of chicken, loads of herbs
To liquid bliss.

A meal I’ve made from the earth
A pot of stew.
Thanks to your willing bounty,
I just ate soup.

Copyright © Perception 2015.

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Darrow and Virginia on the shoal reef

“It was late in September, off the coast of Lake Michigan. All my sister wanted was one ghastly member of the opposite sex to stay interested.

“Instead, my dear Darrow, she found you. But you were unaccountably stranded on board an expedition to a shoal reef when the others got out of it.

“And you know, that didn't sit too well. She was quite miffed you were so delayed getting back to the mainland.

“You see, Olivia’s had a bit of bad luck with romantic entanglements lately. Trouble is, working up here in vacationland, she sees oodles of celebrities who swing through for the sand and sun and fresh company. She goes on dates with them, but they don’t call back.

“Just last month, she bumped into Chris Pratt while she was driving visitors in a tour limo along 22 to see the sights. He recognized her and was quite embarrassed to remember how he’d left things. Pratt somehow managed to convince her by the end of the ride that they’d mutually agreed not to see each other anymore at the end of last summer. She didn’t contradict him, but they both knew she wasn’t buying it.

“Fresh off that encounter, when her self-confidence had really taken a hit, along you came – charming, and single.

“What exactly happened on the expedition?” I asked, leaning forward to look across the table at him.

Darrow shifted in his seat, adjusting his collar and tie.

“Well, as you said, it was late in September. It was rather less than optimal weather for a tour of the reef, but a fellow traveler by the name of Viriginia Warrick absolutely insisted on it.

“She said she wasn’t taking a vacation in this god-forsaken region unless she got to do what the brochures advertised.

“So, against his better judgment, I think, the tour boat operator adjusted his route to head toward the reef.

“Just as he’d feared, with the autumn rains come early, the lake weeds and lily pads had already blocked the channel entrance, so the route was impassable for motorized boats. There was simply too much risk of getting stuck.

“Far from taking ‘no’ for a sensible answer, Ms. Warrick demanded to be let out in the inflatable dinghy with the 10-horsepower engine.

“She said she’d return it to the docks before nightfall.

“I knew she wanted some alone time on the water, as I’d overheard her talking to another passenger. But I also knew I’d never be able to forgive myself if she got stranded trying to operate a skiff in the rain.

“So, I convinced her to let me go with her. That way, she’d have a second pair of eyes on the channel.

“We barely made it to the reef, because of the rains, plus it was getting dark. So we decided to head back almost as soon as we got there.”

Darrow trailed off, a faraway look creeping into his eyes.

“My sister says you both returned the skiff to the dock, but Ms. Warrick was never seen again after that,” I said.

“Really?” Darrow’s eyes refocused and he looked at me intently. “Surely the hotel clerk remembers seeing her check back in that night. I walked her to her door, for God’s sake.”

I rubbed my temple, feeling the familiar tightness of a budding headache.

“Can anyone vouch for that, Darrow?”

“Well yes, Ms. Warrick can, but if what you’re saying is true, that won’t be much use.” He cursed softly.

“We called you here because her body was found in the channel today. Coroner’s report said it’s been there weeks, which likely means she never made it back to her room that night.”

Darrow held his head in both hands, face to the table, fingers gripping his hair, which now stuck out wildly from root to tip.

“He got her then,” Darrow said. He sat up and resumed staring at the wall.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mariah visits her alma mater

Mariah flopped down onto Sam's couch and blew out an exasperated sigh.

"What's the matter, chica?" her friend asked, with those large, dark eyes full of sympathy.

"My sister is in college, and she and her sorority pals are driving me nuts!"

"Uh-oh, what's she done now?" Sam asked.

"She puts glitter on everything," Mariah said. "I crashed at her dorm last night, and apparently she and the girls on her floor have commandeered the communal bathroom to use as another bedroom. They squeezed in a twin bed and bunk bed, but they didn't put a sign on the door indicating it's not a public restroom anymore.

"So I go in there in the middle of the night to use the toilet, and I instinctively flipped on the lights when I walked in. I was bombarded by angry yells and airhorns.

"While I tried to get myself safely into a stall to pee — yeah, it was an emergency — they had enough time to douse me with water, glitter, confetti and craft paint, like a Michaels store vomited on me.

"It's like they have a special little craft sabotage table set up in the corner waiting for unsuspecting alums to stumble in half-awake and receive their punishment."

Sam raised an eyebrow and chuckled, for a moment slipping into a reverie, recalling her own college dorm days, when so many of the pranks you'd get expelled for in high school were suddenly OK, as long as you could keep word from spreading to your resident assistant. Sometimes, even that was unnecessary, provided she was fun-loving and discreet.

Once, Sam and her suite mates compiled a list of "not supposed to's" and did them all, from repainting the dorm room to candlelight dinners cooked on hot plates, to smuggling in kittens they successfully kept hidden for weeks.

After freshman year, the thrill of rule-breaking eventually wore off, especially as class loads got heavier and she and her friends got part-time jobs.

"Don't you think this will be just a phase for your sister, Mariah?" Sam asked.

Mariah leaned back and pictured her sister and her roommates holding the airhorns and glitter, and sighed again. When had she ever been so loud and destructive? How could a sibling raised in the same household be so very different? Surely Mariah's love of all things quiet and peaceful would eventually trickle down.

She laughed at the thought, shaking her head at herself.

"My sister is fire, and I am water," Mariah said. "Do you think that will be a phase?"

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Making the path wider

Making the path wider

Four feet wide, the notice said.
No ice, no slush, no hard-packed snow
Or else your neighbors will slip and fall,
And we will send you a fine.

Seven to ten we shoveled,
Working in shifts to stay warm
One thawing inside while the other
Scraped and salted the walk.

Teamwork, this is what it is
Edge to edge for 25 feet
Removing winter’s evidence
Just in this one spot.

What will tomorrow bring?
Sore shoulders and more snow,
The knowledge we’ve prevailed,
And hopefully a nap.

Copyright © Perception 2015.

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Out to sea with Stacey Kent

One of the reasons I enjoy jazz singer Stacey Kent is because her songs are so light-hearted, relatable and sometimes funny.

This song hits all three high points. I'm sure we've all felt a little out of our depth at times when eating at a fancy restaurant or in any other type of unfamiliar situation where we need assistance — desperately — but we can't seem to snag a moment of eye contact with the people who can help.

Or is that just me?

If you enjoy Kent's voice and style, I also recommend "Breakfast on the Morning Tram," "So Nice" and "How Insensitive."

"Waiter, Oh Waiter," by Stacey Kent

Waiter, oh, waiter, please come to my rescue
I cannot understand a word that's written on this menu
Not that I'm unaccustomed to this kind of smart cuisine
But what you've handed me is in a language I've never seen.
And the way my companion here keeps gazing over at me
Makes me feel like I'm drifting further and further out to sea
Everything looks so frightening
Everything here looks so nice.
Oh, waiter, please waiter!
I really need your advice.

Waiter, oh, waiter, I feel so embarrassed
If this is really French it's not the kind they use in Paris
What is this crab and lobster foam, what's in this cassoulet?
And my companion's so at home, so terribly au fait.
I need some words of wisdom I need you to take my side
For very soon I know will come the moment to decide
Won't you help me through this menu
Won't you please just catch my eye
Oh, waiter oh, waiter!
Please help me out tonight.

Underneath that stiff tuxedo you must be human too,
You'll have had your days of heartache
And days when your dreams came true
So, waiter oh, waiter! Please help me out tonight.

Waiter, oh, waiter please come to my rescue
Oh let this be the sort of thing your service can extend to.
Not that I'm unaccustomed to this kind of smart cuisine
But this menu is as baffling as anything I've ever seen.
And the way he looks across at me with his sardonic gaze
Makes me feel I'm drifting further out into the choppy waves
Everything looks so frightening, everything here looks so nice.
Oh, waiter please waiter!
I really need your advice

Underneath that stiff tuxedo you must be human too
You'll have had your days of heartbreak
And days when your dreams came true
So, waiter, oh, waiter!
Please help me out tonight.

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mariah of the sky

(Photo: Free images)

Mariah watched herself rise, spin and flutter over the sidewalks next to the college, zipping past bewildered professors and staring students, weightless in a blue full-skirted cocktail gown.

She skimmed between spreading trees and soared over the construction cones blocking off the school road's half-rebuilt culverts. At no other time did she feel so alive and free.

Flying always felt this way. Mariah had honed her control over spells of unexpected weightlessness very gradually. The spells always came at a time of great need, during stressful encounters, when the troubles of life were mounting.

The first time it happened, her feet had floated suddenly away from the ground, but she was unable to keep them from rising above her head. Before long, she was spinning end over end, higher and higher above the city, unable to steer and quite incapable of returning to the ground, until by chance a hailstorm came, weighing down her clothes and dragging her body back to Earth, miles from where she had risen. That time, thankfully, the only witnesses were strangers, and she never saw them again.

Since then, it had been much more difficult to keep her ability a secret from friends and acquaintances. Still, somehow, she managed.

Today, the spell came on during a party at the local college with her colleagues. She noticed someone staring at her from across the room. Her co-worker Maxine had brought a date — was his name Ted? — and he looked rather like he wanted to strike up a conversation. Just when he started threading his way through the crowd toward her corner, she felt that sudden familiar lightness.

Once, in the past, Mariah had experimented with hiding in the ladies' room when the lightness set in, to see if it would pass, but it hadn't. She'd gotten herself pinned against the ceiling for an hour, until she finally wiggled a heating duct screen loose and crawled up to the roof to fly off into the distance.

Tonight, she wouldn't try to fight it. She quickly grabbed her coat and purse and ducked out a back door just in time, as gravity lost its hold and the ground began to melt away beneath her.

(Photo: Free images)
Where would she go tonight? The college was in the countryside, surrounded by deserted roads and a sprinkling of homes here and there, but mostly just open fields and clumps of forest groves.

For an hour or so, Mariah glided over streams and rocky fence rows, watching the sunset from the clouds, looking for a smooth, dry place to land. She knew how this would go. She would take off her heels and tuck them in her — thankfully quite large — handbag, then she would walk in stocking feet through muddy fields for a couple of hours beneath the stars, back to her car, feeling the strangeness of gravity's pull, the force she had been freed from so briefly.

Maxine and Ted would think she had gone home early. Mariah wouldn't have to answer any questions.

And then she would wake up.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Muse Returns

(Photo: Free images)

You left me abruptly
Two months ago
Waiting for your next move,
I held my pen

I needed you greatly
In those long days
The air was thick and still,
And you hid well

If I’d known you’d desert me
I would have planned
Instead of waiting here,
Cautious and closed

You’re back now but slowly
My pen resumes
Writing with your guidance,
I toast to you

Copyright © Perception 2014.

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The music of "The Nutcracker Prince"

We all know the classic Christmas ballet, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker."

But did you know about the enchanting 1990 animated film "The Nutcracker Prince" loosely based on E.T.A. Hoffman's story, "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King"? It uses music from the Tchaikovsky ballet and features the vocal talents of Keifer Sutherland and Megan Follows.

"The Nutcracker Prince" 
I grew up watching this movie every holiday season, and it's still a favorite for me and my sisters.

I have always strongly identified with the protagonist, a young dreamer named Clara (Megan Follows). Her "uncle" Drosselmeyer is an inventor and magician of sorts, and he brings stories and other realms to life for Clara when he gives her a nutcracker shaped like a soldier and fills her in on the gift's history.

This clip from the movie is the prelude to one of my favorite scenes. Clara can't sleep, so she comes downstairs on Christmas Eve and dances with the nutcracker, singing him a song set to Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers":

"Clara's Song"

If you could hear me now 
If I could only get through 
I'd open my heart, whisper my dreams 
Share all my secrets with you 

If you could see me now 
Waiting for someone to hold 
Someone so brave who's never afraid 
Someone who's strong like the knights of old 

I save this dance for you 
I hope it lasts forever 
So let one star shine through 
And make my wish come true 

If you could hear this song 
This dance would last forever 
I'd carry us along 
To a place where we belong

If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it. The animation is ... well ... 1990 animation, but that aside, it's a beautiful, imaginative story with lots of color, humor and joy. 

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mariah at the holiday gathering

(Photo: Free images)

Mariah leaned against the door frame as if she'd like to melt into the wood, becoming part of it, making herself invisible to the loud group that gathered.

She made standing on the periphery an art, just as she noticed her cousins clustered close to the punch bowl and relish trays, where the crowd was thickest and conversations mingled in a blender-like buzz.

Sentence fragments floated her way during lulls:

"Out bounced her hearing aid into my cup..."

"My boss called to tell me the news..."

"When did you say your plane flies out?"

"In theory it was a great idea, but it turns out monkeys like to fling their dung..."

Mariah smiled to herself as she caught these detached story snippets, glad to be free from the responsibility of keeping a conversation going.

She glanced over the room, candlelight reflecting off the gold Christmas trimmings, and found her mind drifting back to holiday gatherings of the past, much less elaborately furnished, with fewer guests and smaller quarters.

No matter where the party or who had been invited, Mariah would stay with the group long enough to finish dessert, then the lure of a novel hidden in some fold of her coat would be too great to resist, and she'd find a quiet nook somewhere, making the excuse to her mother that she was tired, or simply slipping away when the moment was right, spending the rest of the night curled up reading in a window seat or in an empty side room.

During the drive home, her exasperated parents would lecture her about her antisocial tendencies, but Mariah always felt assured that no matter what they said, her way of enjoying a party was just fine. She'd heard the laughter and mingled conversations from her perch, away from the crowds, and felt comforted by relatives' proximity and the warmth of family love, but far enough removed from it that her imagination could stretch its legs and breathe life back into her drained body. That knowledge filled her with a peace all its own, which her social parents could never understand.

Isn't imagination its own gift, its own reward? This thought returned to Mariah now, in her young adulthood, as she stood surveying the gold-trimmed room and propping up the door frame.

She wandered over to the snack table and filled a plate with crackers and veggies, pausing to compliment a cousin on her excellently baked pie from dessert earlier in the evening.

The Nutcracker Prince takes Clara's hand. (Scene from 1990
animated film "The Nutcracker Prince")
As she said the words, Mariah's mind flew off to the Land of Sweets, where a glorious dance hall awaited, bedecked with Russian candy canes, chocolates from Spain, Arabian coffees and all the tea in China. She let her mind's eye linger over each delicacy, watching Mother Ginger dance with her many flower children, skimming through the room on the Nutcracker Prince's arm and out the doors to a coconut-frosted garden, with swans pulling purple-cushioned boats across a punch-colored lake.

Mariah sighed. "You see?" she said to herself. "Imagination wins again."

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A poem of gratitude for you

(Photo: Free images)

Gratitude for You

When we say our prayers each night,
We thank God for each other, our home, our friends.
We thank Him for our furry companions,
Our vocations, our callings that intersect.

Over our families we speak a prayer for safety,
And blessing and love and gratitude,
We think of each sibling and parent
However nearby or however far away.

With humor, wit and joy we make our way
On a winding and sometimes thorny path
That is filled with reminders great and small
Of the oneness we’ve pledged to forge.

The winter creeps in and blankets our hearts,
Then the spring renews and cleanses.
The summer is a time of abundance and joy,
And the fall is a harvest of blessing.

Wherever we’re at in one of these seasons,
We’ll have a hand to hold and a heart to cherish,
A home to call our own, just yours and mine,
Because I've got you and you've got me.

Copyright © Perception 2014.

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.