Friday, December 24, 2010

All the Things I Didn't Do This Christmas

frosting plate

"I'm knee-deep in cookies and smiles," I told her, "and for the first time ever, all my presents are wrapped before midnight."

What's the secret? Nothing much. Just that this year, I decided to do what Gordon said. Let the goodness of Christmas sneak up on me.

That meant letting things go, and not adding anything new.

I saw talk of cool things to do with one's kids. I let the talk slide by and simply appreciated how other families have chosen to celebrate Christmas. I didn't make cookies on time and waited until my kids stepped up to the cookie-making plate (so to speak :).

ginger lady

In my experience, Christmas is the time when we try to make up for the rest of the year. Give more, be more, faith more. I decided not to do that this year. Come January, I'll have eleven months to give, be, devote... without the pressure of getting it right in 25 days flat.

cookies on wood counter

All those Christmas catalogs asking for money for the poor? They're in the recycle bin. Does that sound harsh? What it really means is I'm looking forward to an Orphan care series this January and February over at There will be important conversations and chances to think through how I can help orphans maybe for a lifetime. I want to think about this seriously, without the pressure of making just the right choice *now*, to prove my Christmas spirit.

cookies 2

There are years when I poke through the catalogs and give. There are. But not this year. There are years when I find new recipes for Christmas Eve. Not this year. (I'm falling back on the "shepherd's meal" my kids and I worked out a few Christmases past.) There are years when I run blogging projects and I finish things like my 12 Days of Christmas Poetry. Not this year.

cookies 1

This year I'm letting the good things of Christmas sneak up on me. Instead of trying to make it all happen myself. Maybe there's a gift in that, to receive.


Merry Christmas, sweet friends. May the good things of Christmas sneak up on you. See you in the New Year. :)

Cookie Photos by L.L. Barkat. Cookie Art by the Barkat girls.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Adventing, Still

Grand Central Terminal

Sunday Eve

Mountains blue
ripple our horizon
above the river sleeping;
ribbons silken trim the sky
amethyst, pearl, gold,
as if the earth
was readying to greet
the baby we've been

This poem is offered for One Shot Wednesday.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

On, In, and Around Mondays: How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea

teacup w flowers

Start with a morning. Any morning will do.

Mine is cold.

I look out the window, see oak and maple leftovers strewn across dead grass. Two dark brown leaves, shriveled, hang from bent stalks in the rock garden. In summer, these were the orange tropical plants, with flowers that looked like pearly goldfish, mouths open to blue skies.

Where have they gone to now? What seeds, like silken-coated ambassadors, might be ushering them through darkness to find Spring on the other side?

Inside, I turn to the task at hand. Making the perfect cup of tea.

It is said that the Japanese emperors used special water for tea. I can't remember exactly what kind of water it was. Maybe something about dew gathered from cherry blossoms or water melted from snow, but I could be making this up.

My water comes from the tap. It will have to do. It's important to use this water only once. Reboiling reduces the oxygen content, makes the tea less tasty. And besides, I like the idea of drinking air with my favorite teas.

I used to think that all teas were created equal. Not so. Loose tea is far more flavorful. The larger the leaves, the greater the quality. (In general.) Even though I grew up as a Lipton teabag girl, I'll probably never go back. Not since the Creme Earl Grey from Kathleen's. Not since the French Bagatelle and Christmas teas, ushered through time zones for my sake. (Then there is Mariage Freres Wedding Imperial, which leans towards the flavor of coffee with its caramel and chocolate undertones.)

betjeman teas

Here is a list of what to do with beautiful tea...

tea steeper w hot water

1. Put hot water in the steeping container, while waiting for the water to boil. Measure out 1 teaspoon of tea leaves and set aside in the steeping basket.

tea pot boiling

2. Is the tea black? Bring the water to a rolling boil. Pour it over the leaves immediately. Steep for 5 minutes.



3. Keep the tea steeper cozy. Tea likes to stay warm through the whole process. That's why you gave it a head start by warming the container first. That's why you'll want to wrap it up. I use a towel. Not fancy, but it does the job.

tea cozied

4. Is the tea green, or herbal? Catch the water before it reaches a full boil. Pour. Cozy. 3 minutes. You're working with a more tender situation here.

Letting the tea steep too long makes it bitter. You won't do this though. You'll set a timer, gaze out the window for five minutes, or three. You'll get the cream from the fridge, think of orange tropical flowers, or Christmas which only comes in the season of dead leaves. And thinking of leaves, you will turn back to your tea, its leaves yielding to water, to the morning.



On, In and Around Mondays (which partly means you can post any day and still add a link) is an invitation to write from where you are. Tell us what is on, in, around (over, under, near, by...) you. Feel free to write any which way... compose a tight poem or just ramble for a few paragraphs. But we should feel a sense of place. Would you like to try? Write something 'in place' and add your link below.

If you could kindly link back here when you post, it will create a central meeting place. :)

On In Around button

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Youngest Reader

Child Reading InsideOut

Thanks to Corinne, of Trains, Tutus and Teatime, who sent me this darling picture of her two-year-old reading InsideOut: Poems.

"Imagine a sweet little voice reading aloud," said Corinne. This is apparently what my poems say to two-year-olds... :)

No bugging
Be nice
No hitting
No yelling
No fighting
love your brother

Corinne's Daughter photo, compliments Corinne. :)

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's a Pronoun Christmas

LL & Andrea feet

It often happens this way. I sit down to read, relax. Something catches my attention and a poem is born (forged?).

Last night I flipped through Ordinary Genius and saw this little suggestion:

"start with a pronoun, then give us the noun it refers to"

The author, Kim Addonizio, gave an example of a poem by Galway Kinnell that said, "What do they sing, the last birds." I had been wanting another Christmas poem, and it made me smile to think of making one this way. Okay, sort of...

Ms. Addonizio Advises Me
on a Christmas Poem

She said to give us a pronoun,
but I gave two. How could I
give any less
when facing a day like Christmas;
even Noah knew
to take two camels
(where would the wise men otherwise be?),
two donkeys
(Mary needed one to bring the child to birth
and the child, when grown, needed its foal
to take him to old Jerusalem,
where turtledove pairs
would no longer do,
so he freed them to fly to the trees,
and would join them soon
on a hand-hewn limb,
frail nest
between two thieves—
a him and a he,
two pronouns without proper
nouns to claim them.
They might as well have been
a you,
a me.)

LL & Andrea hands

Thanks to Andrea, of The Flourishing Mother, for inviting me to sit by her at the Christmas Brunch where Christy Tennant of IAM spoke. Yes, Andrea, I still do hands and feet. Thanks for the precious photos of yours. :)

And this is the beautiful Christy Tennant...

Christy Tennant

This poem is in honor of TheHighCalling's Christmas in Verse project.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Walk in December

angel pink

Walk in December

This is jewel-tree corner,
where I held your hand
and the streetlights
looked on, and I wanted
to keep the moment
beyond what seemed possible,
permissible, keep
the pressure of your fingers
against mine, and the ice
clinging to bare branches,
sparkling like pink
Depression glass.

Angel Photo by L.L. Barkat.

This poem is offered for One Shot Wednesday.


Monday, December 13, 2010

On, In, and Around Mondays: The Naughty Camera

earring man

It was the end of the evening. I had changed out of my black dress, put my sparkly necklace beneath a gray sweater and coat, taken off my faux diamond ring (which had looked so beautiful, in any case).

LL cinderella

I felt a little like Cinderella after midnight. Except I had my camera. And I don't remember Cindy having one of those.

single santa

There were other fairytales coming to an end. People going home. I was surprised at how many Santas boarded the train. I was surprised at how the conductor yelled at me when she saw I'd taken a picture of the outside of the train. And how she cringed and batted her arm sideways when I tried to apologize and say, "It's okay."

My camera is a naughty camera. It has a hard time letting go, even when eyes flash anger. My camera doesn't give up easily. I got on the train and it took another picture. People in Santa hats, not willing to let the fairytale end before dawn.

three red hats


On, In and Around Mondays (which partly means you can post any day and still add a link) is an invitation to write from where you are. Tell us what is on, in, around (over, under, near, by...) you. Feel free to write any which way... compose a tight poem or just ramble for a few paragraphs. But we should feel a sense of place. Would you like to try? Write something 'in place' and add your link below.

If you could kindly link back here when you post, it will create a central meeting place. :)

On In Around button

This post is offered for TheHighCalling's PhotoPlay.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Christmas in Verse

Snow Storm Gail Nadeau

An offering for the writing project going on at Come join us! :)

Another Christmas Ghost

I am always thinking,
now I do not miss you

And I am right.
Words on the page are mine
without you, as are the mourning doves
who murmur in the trees. Christmas tea
is mine, and cream, laughter
ringing on an empty street,
children are mine (I brush
their amber hair), the curl
of my toes on air is mine,
and the curve of my
doll-like hand.
I am right, I do not miss you

Then I turn a page of Neruda,
Kooser, Berry, Keats—
find I am always

Winter Trees photo by Gail Nadeau. Used with permission.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

On, In and Around Mondays: Red Ribbon


This is what I love about writing in place. Wherever I am, I can write. I am always somewhere, and there is always something nearby.

Tonight it is a red ribbon I have put in my hair.

I can't remember where the ribbon came from. It is cloth, with a black plaid design interwoven. It is just the littlest bit daring— more for the fact that I have put it in my hair, than for its color. Ribbons seem like such a girlish thing to do.


It occurred to me recently that my life is far past girlish days. For instance, when I stand at the ballet barre, with my unrecognizable fifth position, I am not there because I ever hope to be a ballerina (little girls dream that), but because I dare to stand there, and I want to stand there, and standing there is teaching me new ways to move and think.

When I hear music now, I feel it in my limbs. I see myself moving in pirouettes and arabesques, with arms held in a circle, or out like delicate, curved wings. I am not really capable of moving like that (yet?), because it takes many years to develop all the skills that look so simple but are in fact very, very difficult.

Still. Tonight I have put a red ribbon in my hair, and red lipstick on my lips. I am holding my ballerina head high and smiling. Because it took growing up to find myself here.



On, In and Around Mondays (which partly means you can post any day and still add a link) is an invitation to write from where you are. Tell us what is on, in, around (over, under, near, by...) you. Feel free to write any which way... compose a tight poem or just ramble for a few paragraphs. But we should feel a sense of place. Would you like to try? Write something 'in place' and add your link below.

If you could kindly link back here when you post, it will create a central meeting place. :)

On In Around button

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

For the Ghost of Christmas Future

swing in snow

This ends my trio of Christmas ghost poems, in honor of David's dare.

I thought to finish with a sestina, one of the more challenging forms. Thirty-nine lines. Six stanzas of six lines each, then a final stanza of three lines. The words (or tricky forms of them) at the ends of the lines repeat in a rolling fashion. See if you can figure it. Then in the final stanza, all the words from the ends of the lines repeat in a particular order, to create a grand finale of word-inclusion.


If I close my starless eyes,
I can remember winter's future
where rooftops sing with icicles;
I dare them with red lips,
Drop your soul on me.
They do.

I cannot undo
the way they pierce my eyes,
sing a rhythmic do, re, mi,
coax the present to come early to my future
where carolers make o's with lips
on winter nights long-strung with icicles.

When sky turns velvet, breathing icicles
to carolers long overdue
on streets where I have whispered lips
to lips until you felt I'd
blinded you with promises of future
sung, and strung, a mistletoe of me

and we would tumble into infamy,
two royal loves with crowns of icicles
sleighing towards a holly-braided future
and there'd be much ado
for everything—especially your eyes,
especially my red and whispered lips.

Twelve golden fairies pursing crimson lips
might tend your hands that reach for me
to save my heart, my soul, my eyes
from slipping swords of falling icicles
that hurtle from the universe of do
and did and still-to-do for future

dreams of memories pressing to the future,
where rubied glass meets rubied lips
and we reach back to reach through time, undo
the snow lace falling, calling you from me,
calling you to merge your soul with icicles,
let them take the crystals of your eyes.

I still remember future nights when, starred, your eyes
meet rubied lips; it's all that they could do
to keep me stringing crowns, stop my turning into icicles.

Swing in Snow photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Top 10 Poetry Books for Christmas

birds chatting

If you are trying to be a better poet, you know that writing poetry is only half the work. Reading good poetry is the other half. It is what informs your sensibilities, introduces you to new techniques, makes you jealous (in a good way) so you work even harder to find just the right images, sounds, rhythms.

I read a lot of poetry, because it helps me become a better poet. It also makes me a better writer in general. And it creates bonds between me and my girls, as we often read together after supper. Last night, for instance, my Eldest asked me to read some Shakespeare blank verse to her, from The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. Then we had a sweet conversation about the poem, and we both learned something about blank verse.

This is the other thing I love about reading poetry, especially with my children. It's a simple way to have a conversation about literature, without requiring the longer commitment of reading a whole book together (though we do that too).

Below are some of the books we have shared, and continue to share. I've taken the liberty of adding my own book of poetry to the list. Funny enough, my kids once asked me for a signed copy (which they thought was hilarious). And they still read the poems, and it makes me smile. I still read the poems sometimes too, and I wonder about the person who had those experiences; many of the poems are the "little stories" behind the bigger story I tell in God in the Yard.

Top 10 Poetry Books for Christmas

1. The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. This is an excellent resource book that my girls and I go back to again and again. It's where we found villanelles, sestinas, and (last night :) blank verse. It includes lots of great classic poems, grouped by form.

2. Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words is a fun little book that will get you playing with words in new ways. I remember writing the poem Bottled after taking Wooldridge's advice about collecting fun words. I am fizzle fazzle pizzaz... I started.

3. InsideOut: poems. I partnered with International Arts Movement to bring this book into the world. Some of my favorite poems are the short ones like this, called "Almonds": I remember the scent/and how you crushed them;/brown skins/turned to dust,/scattered like spilled cinnamon.

4. Valentines. Okay, I know you are thinking, "Wrong holiday, L.L.!" But this is a great little book of poetry. For years Kooser wrote poems for a whole mailing list of women, as a simple Valentine's gift, until the stamps got too expensive. I'm glad they did. Now we can read the poems too. Here's an excerpt from "Pocket Poem": What I wanted this/to say was that I want to be so close/that when you find it, it is warm from me.

5. The Butterfly's Burden. This collection, by a Palestinian poet, never fails to make me swoon. Take this little untitled poem for instance: The fog is darkness, thick white darkness/peeled by an orange and a promising woman. :)

6. Barbies at Communion: and other poems. I don't know anyone with a style quite like Marcus Goodyear. He sees the most amazing things in the common: credit cards, Barbies, a seashore. Here's the end of a poem about mowing on a Sunday: I'll admit my sin. I love this Sabbath/work, my mower's loud drone/swallows the noisy world whole.

7. Contingency Plans: poems. If you like form poetry, this is a perfect choice. The sestinas alone are worth the price of the book (if you don't know what a sestina is, come back tomorrow. I promise to give you a Christmas Future sestina, whether you are naughty or nice. :) One of my favorite excerpts comes from a poem called "On Restlessness." For some reason I say it in my head a lot: If it helps, find some paper: write your question./Mine merely asks 'How do you and I operate?'

8. How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry. Hirsch says poetry is "a secret that can no longer be kept a secret." If you've wondered why and how you should read poetry, this book will give you some unexpected and delightful answers, so that maybe you'll find yourself saying, like he does, "It always carries me away."

9. Nine Horses: Poems. One quiet Sabbath, I read this entire book of poetry to my kids. They loved it. Collins is pure grown-up, but he's accessible at many levels. One of our favorites was about the neurotic fear of a mouse who might burn the whole house down by accidentally striking a match in the walls.

10. The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems. Neruda will teach you the power of the image. Abstract language takes a back seat to poppies, a green knife, footsteps light as flour dust. I am particularly enamored with the love poetry. Here's an excerpt from "Twenty Love Poems, 7": Leaning into the evenings I toss my sad nets/to that sea which stirs your ocean eyes. I think it's the power of the images that makes Neruda still so readable even in translation (and this translation collection, btw, I hear is one of the best).

Merry Christmas, in 24 days. I'm going to go read a little poetry. :)

Mourning Doves in the Tree photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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