its ever-widening circle

Last week, a dear friend and I visited a charming garden center, tucked miles away on a winding county road deep in the midwestern heartland. We spent blissful hours together among the plants and flowers, loading carts with choice annuals and perennials. Knowing I couldn’t carry the entire garden center home with me, I walked around to snap photos of flowers I had to leave behind.

I’ve long admired verbena’s cascading blossoms but have had trouble keeping it happy in summer’s extreme heat. So, alas – whenever I spy an appealing display of verbena, I’ll smile, sigh, walk wistfully past.

But not so last week. As one who takes perpetual notice of hearts in nature, I was stopped in my tracks by this delicate face – Verbena, Lanai: Twister Pink.

With sweetest simplicity, this flower’s inner circlet of deep rose hearts forms an image of my ideal world, a place where hearts unite with shared joy, love, friendship, peace. This blossom’s simple eloquence reminded me of a quote I cherish.

I’ll just leave it here for you. . .

0161_the oasis, the little cell of joy

We can, to a certain extent, change the world;
we can work for the oasis,
the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.
We can throw our pebble in the pond and be
confident that its ever-widening circle will
reach around the world.
We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love,
and, dear God, please
enlarge our hearts to love each other. . .

~Dorothy Day, (1897 – 1980)

A Poets’ Tea

In the fall semester of 2010, our son and his fiancée met in a college English class, and they’ve been writing a sweet love story ever since. Soon, they’ll speak their wedding vows; later, in a storybook mansion, they’ll glide across the floor in their first dance together as newlyweds. With a sentimental glance back to that fateful English classroom where our two lovebirds first met, their reception will be literary-themed, the tables stacked with vintage books, flowers, pearls, lace.

The day before Easter, my husband, our daughters, and I hosted a Poets’ Tea bridal shower for our darling bride-to-be. Since April happens to be National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share a few photos from our special day.

As we brainstormed on ways to decorate our home for our guest of honor and assembled family, my husband came up with an idea to fill each of our existing picture frames with portraits of the great poets. Here’s the result of this marvelous idea:

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A few of the teacups I’ve collected over the years sit in front of four of the nine poetry vases we created with pages from an old book of garden poetry. From left to right are Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Frost, Louisa May Alcott, William Butler Yeats, and Carl Sandburg.

 

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On the wall from left to right are Ralph Waldo Emerson, e.e. cummings, Robert Browning, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning; on the table, Henry David Thoreau.

 

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Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

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Maya Angelou

 

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My mother’s college poetry professor often compared her poems to those of A.E. Housman, pictured here.

 

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Lewis Carroll strikes a thoughtful pose as Sara Teasdale’s sad eyes seem to search for a silver lining.

 

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Poets’ Corner: on the wall are Robert Burns and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; on the table, Langston Hughes and Jane Kenyon. (Other poets on display but not pictured here are Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Kahlil Gibran, the Brontë sisters, William Shakespeare, John Keats, and Lucy Maud Montgomery.)

 

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Because I wanted to create a poetic keepsake to give our guests before they departed, my husband helped me decoupage stanzas from e. e. cummings’ “i carry your heart with me” to papier-mâché eggs. I framed the words with palest pink flowers (to reflect the color the bridesmaids will wear) and finished each egg with delicate ribbons.

Our Poets’ Tea, which was great fun, is a treasured memory now, the teacups washed and put away. But the marvelous faces of the poets still grace our home.

All my life, I’ve papered the walls of my innermost heart with poetry. What a joy it is for me now to sit here in our quiet home with my beloved friends, the poets, and to feel, with Robert Browning, that “all’s right with the world.” Soon, we’ll gain a lovely daughter-in-law, and our dear son will be a married man. There is so much to look forward to, so much to be grateful for.

In honor of our precious, soon-to-be bride and groom, I’ll close with one of the most exquisite love poems ever penned.

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

~e. e. cummings

Her name means clear, bright, shining. . .

Clare.

Her name means clear, bright, shining, brilliant to the sight. She sparkles, scintillates, always has.

I close my eyes, lean back in my chair. Looking down the bedroom hallway, she’s there in mind’s eye, prancing along with her stuffed sidekick, a pony she named Shadowfax.

0137_Her name 1

She had such love for ponies. The summer she was eight, our family vacationed in Estes Park. As our car passed a roadside corral near our hotel, she pressed her nose to the window and caught a glimpse of a brown and white pony. She cast adoring eyes on his beauty, locked him in her gaze until our car curved around the mountain road.

She turned from the window with impossibly long-lashed, expressive eyes. “If I owned that pony,” she said with a wistful sigh, “I know what I’d call him – his name would be Melting Snow.”

Melting Snow, a name so poetic, it still enchants me. It’s a rare privilege when a creative child lifts the veil just enough to allow a glimpse of her world, of what she sees through shining eyes. Melting snow, first sign of spring. . .

Our little dreamer was not born in spring, but in the white snows of February. I called her my early Valentine, loved that her birth flower is the violet, sweet harbinger of spring.

0137_Her name 5

A sketch of violets I drew and began embroidering for a pillow for Clare’s room. I got off to a good start, but, alas, I set it aside in the busy whirl of life, and forgot about it until I unearthed it a few years ago.

 

Clare is five years younger than her brother, James, and eight years younger than her sister, Margaret. As a former teacher and lover of children’s literature, Clare’s arrival bequeathed me an extra six or seven delicious years of story time. She’d curl into my lap like a kitten in fuzzy, footed jammies, then off we’d fly to Neverland. We’d visit Heidi’s mountain, or slip into the shadowy barn at twilight to watch Charlotte spin her wondrous web. Clare and I traveled fast and far. (She remains a voracious reader whose most prized possession is her fine and ever-growing collection of books.)

0137_Her name 2

When Clare was growing up, we sang and danced as often as we read. At four, she’d waltz around the living room singing “Once Upon a Dream” from Sleeping Beauty. When she was five-going-on-six, she’d sing “Where is Love?” from the musical, Oliver! every night while I dried her hair. Other special favorites were “The Riddle Song” and “The Owl and the Pussycat” by John Rutter and The Cambridge Singers.

Over Christmas break of her fourth grade year, I took Clare and her friend, Morgan, to see Phantom of the Opera. Clare, a confirmed aficionada of musical theatre, was mesmerized and saw the movie several more times. Later, she rather shyly told me she could sing “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” I must admit, I was skeptical; after all, she was only ten. But I asked her to sing it for me.

“Don’t watch, Momma,” she said, and walked out to our sunroom. There, in the dim light of evening, arms at her sides, she began to sing. I was unprepared for the clear soprano voice that belied the singer’s age, soaring to the song’s most poignant notes, filling my heart, and my tear ducts. . .

She’ll be twenty soon, this child who has brought so much light and joy to our lives, this child who is no longer a child. Clare – clear, bright, and shining, whose playful, ethereal presence, though unseen, was palpable before she existed.

I remember it so well, that sun-dappled spring afternoon. Our children were at play.

Jeff and I leaned together on the front steps of our first house, a pale yellow clapboard nestled on a wooded cul-de-sac. We watched as seven-year-old Margaret and four-year-old James clambered in and out of their shiny red Radio Flyer wagon, taking turns tugging one another up and down the long sidewalk.

Cardinals called from the treetops, butterflies fluttered in the garden, golden light dripped like honey through the leaves of our flowering crab. The infectious giggles of our merry two made us smile.

As we watched our children frolic in the sunlight that April afternoon, I heard a distinct inner voice.

Someone isn’t here who should be, the voice said. Someone’s missing.

I made no remark to Jeff at the time, but the words I heard interiorly stayed with me. This lovely day, this moment in time, perfect and beautiful as it was, whispered of beauty yet to come.

Roses blossomed, acorns dropped, snowflakes sailed the skies.

Less than a year later, our precious daughter, Clare, was born. In the quiet hours that followed her birth, I confided to Jeff what I heard on that balmy spring day while Margaret and James frolicked in their red wagon.

Jeff looked at me for a moment in stunned silence. “Amy,” he said. “I can’t believe it….. That’s exactly what I heard, that same day.”

We stared at one another in wonderment, then looked down at our newborn child. . .

0137_Her name 3

That’s how our darling daughter came to be – our someone-who-was-missing, the little rosebud who fit into our arms, just so, to complete our family’s joy. . .

Clare – brilliant to the sight. She lights up a stage, sings like a lark, writes up a storm, lives life with wide open arms. Like the sea, like the sky, she has depth and strength and beauty and unlimited possibilities. She’s going somewhere, although I can’t know where – not just yet; her story is just unfolding.

But I do know this: she is well on her way.

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Happy birthday to you, dearest Clare,

A bright future awaits you. May you embrace your journey with unbounded joy, with your characteristic sparkle, with all the love in your heart. Dream of life, then live your dream.

Shine on.

I love you, my littlest one, always and always. xoxox

~Momma

Update: “Tidings of Comfort and Joy” published on The Manifest-Station

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The Victorian wreath I designed for Momma in early December, with a delicate songbird and sweet mistletoe kisses.

In a blog post last February, my lovely friend, Katrina Kenison, posed a question that remains ever-present with me: “Tell me, how are you making love visible today?” As I pondered the possibilities of Katrina’s words, I never could have imagined the extraordinary ways love would be made visible this Christmas.

It all began with a Victorian-themed wreath I designed and placed at my gentle mother’s grave this December. A photo I posted of my wreath inspired my new and wonderful friend, Melodye Shore, to fashion a meaningful wreath of her own to honor the memory of our dear grandmothers, Maymer and Nana.

0122_Melodye's wreath

Close-up of a tussie-mussie of forget-me-nots and antiqued song scrolls Melodye incorporated into her lovely remembrance wreath. [Photo credit: Melodye Shore]

Yesterday – Christmas Day – “Tidings of Comfort and Joy,” Melodye’s story of how our friendship and her beautiful wreath came to be, was published on Jennifer Pastiloff’s online magazine, The Manifest-Station. Click here to read Melodye’s wondrous tale – a precious gift from the heart of a generous and loving friend, and an experience that will shimmer in my memory forever.

0121_Maymer and Momma

Sweet memories of Momma and Maymer will bloom for me always.

 

Tidings of comfort and joy

0120_Tidings of Comfort and Joy

A Victorian wreath I designed and created this year in memory of my lovely mother.

As I mark my first anniversary of blogging here on My Path with Stars Bestrewn, I find myself feeling humbled and amazed. When I posted my first offering, The Gate of the Year, on January 1, 2014, I was secretly filled with trepidation. Where would my words go, and who might read them? I had no way of knowing what wonderful new friends I’d make here in the blogosphere, lovely souls across the United States, Canada, and various countries around the globe. It has been the most incredible experience. Thank you!

Through our ever-lovely mutual friend, Katrina Kenison, I happened to meet a new and wonderful friend, Melodye Shore. Last February, Melodye and I bonded over While my pretty one sleeps, a tribute I wrote in memory of my beautiful mother. Over the course of this year, Melodye and I have continued to discover the many ideas and ideals we happen to share: a mutual love of gardening, music, poetry, photography, and the mystical wonders of creation.

Intrigued by a photo I posted of a Victorian wreath I designed and lovingly placed on my mother’s grave this year, Melodye struck up a series of conversations with me which led to an extraordinarily loving gift she recently gave me, a gift she has also dedicated to the memory of her beloved Nana. She has written all about it today on her blog, Joyful Noise, in a new post entitled “Tidings of Comfort and Joy.” I’d love to share it with you now: please click here to read this beautiful story!

Melodye’s thoughtfulness and generosity are love made manifest. From her careful attention to the metaphorical meaning of each minute detail of the handmade gift she created, to the lovely photographs she snapped to document this gift, to the magical way she relates this story, Melodye reveals her rare and beautiful heart as she pays homage to the divine and eternal spirit of loving and giving.

This is a Christmas tale to tuck in your heart, one whose lessons are never-ending. (Melodye’s post today also features a haiku written by my mother in 1982 – three precious lines that mean absolutely everything to me. I hope you’ll love them, too.)

Whether you’re near or far, I wish you peace, love, and joy today, and many, many blessings. Thank you, so very much, for the gift of your presence here with me on My Path with Stars Bestrewn.

 

 

a snow globe of memories

An early winter storm, blown by a stiff west wind, blankets our town with several inches of snow. . .

Since I’ve nowhere special to go today, I put the kettle on, pour a cup of tea, and settle into my favorite chair near the window with a Frostian intent “to watch the woods fill up with snow.”

There’s a certain hypnotic charm in every fall of snow. Each starry flake that floats by in December is a slowly-whirling magic carpet ready to whisk me away. When snowflakes fly, time is suspended, and the hourglass topples back on itself, tumbling end over end. Days and nights are erased, years and decades, too, until I am a child once more, safe and loved in a snow globe of memories that swirl feather-soft around me.

0116_Snow Globe1

If you’d like to come with me today, pick a snowflake, hop on! I’m bound for 1961. Here – take my hand. I’d love to show you around. . .

Do you see the red brick colonial there in the sparkling snow? That’s my childhood home, snug on a hill beside the frozen pond where we skate each winter. It’s nearly Christmas, and there’s so much to share; won’t you come in?

The house smells wonderful! Momma’s been baking gingerbread men all afternoon. She gives each crispy gent a pair of raisin eyes and a coat of red sugar crystals with cinnamon candy buttons, all carefully piped in white sugar icing. (Would you like one? Help yourself! They’re lined up on this tray, here on the dining room buffet.)

I’m three-and-a-half right now, and while Momma’s not watching, I’m about to treat each of these fine, baked gentlemen equally. Since I can’t choose which cookie-man looks tastiest, I’m going to move right down the line and bite the left arm off each one on this tray – a simple solution to my dilemma that’s simply delicious! (After all her hard work, Momma won’t scold me. She’ll laugh and laugh instead and repeat this tale every year, just so we’ll always remember.)

Let’s run upstairs to my room! I want you to see the mysterious scrollwork patterns Jack Frost paints on my window. Just look at these delicate frost-ferns! I love to study them. I’ve never met Jack Frost, but if I wake early enough some morning, maybe I’ll spy him at work!

Every night before I’m tucked in, I stand here at my dormer window and gaze up through frost-illuminated panes to the towering oaks beyond; their snow-swept branches seem to lace up the sky. I wonder whether I might, just might, catch a glimpse of Santa as he sails – like the down of a thistle, with gifts for children everywhere – past a bright winter moon in a star-studded sky.

Although I am very small, I understand that Christmas is about the birth of the Christ Child. I love and believe in the Christmas Story, yet my imagination turns cartwheels over the wondrous mystery of Santa Claus.

Each year on Christmas Eve, while Daddy’s dressing me after my bath, there’s a joyous jangling of sleigh bells. A low-voiced “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!!!” rings up the stairwell. I squeal, then leap from Daddy’s arms and skedaddle downstairs.

There are presents under the tree, toys in our stockings! The metal screen of our fireplace has been left ajar! I race to the kitchen, where Momma’s absent-mindedly wiping a dish she’s just finished washing. I cannot for the life of me comprehend how she could possibly miss something as momentous as a visit from Santa.

“Momma?” I ask, one afternoon just before Christmas. (She’s making us a lunch of broiled peanut butter or cheese toast, which she cuts in triangular wedges and serves with bowls of piping hot soup.) I reach out small arms to encircle her legs, press a cheek to her apron. I peer up earnestly into her sweet face and ask, “Is Santa real?”

She looks down at me with kind, blue-grey eyes, smooths my baby-fine hair with a gentle hand. No matter how many times I inquire, her answer is perfect and always in these exact words: “Santa is the Spirit of Loving and Giving.”

When, at age five, I discover the truth about Santa, I’m disappointed, but not disillusioned. I think to myself: Santa is the Spirit of Loving and Giving. Therefore, he is better than real; he’s eternal.

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Would you like to see our Christmas tree? I have two favorite ornaments. I adore this Bohemian glass ornament from my great-grandmother’s tree; its trailing tail reminds me of the Bethlehem Star.

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This is the angel my grandfather made for us: she has wavy chenille hair and hand-cut metal wings that are silver on one side, gold on the other. Her delicate gown is made of starched ivory netting covered with stars. I love her.

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Come sit with me here by the fireplace. I have a few minutes to play before bedtime. See my new dolly? Her name is Saucy Walker. In her blue dress and white pinafore, she’s exactly my size, 30 inches tall. I think her name is a mouthful, so I shorten it to “Saucer.” (Makes sense to me, if to no one else.) Saucer is big-as-life pretty, but the toys I love most are my stuffed pink bear, who sleeps with me each night and goes with me everywhere, my drawstring bag filled with bright-colored blocks, my wooden puzzles, and my ever-trusty tin of Crayolas.

Want to try my new Fisher Price cash register? I love spinning this little crank to hear the merry DING! of a painted coin as it drops into the cash box. It’s fun to count coins, but my true wealth is here in the warmth of our family circle. I’m only three and a half, but I’m learning to count my blessings: one, two, three. . .

The snow has all but ended, and my dream-time here in 1961 draws to a close. Before we wave good-bye, you might like to click here to hear a recording which served as the musical backdrop to the most fervent imaginings of my pre-Christmas childhood. In this vintage recording from 1942, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians sing their fanciful version of “The Night Before Christmas.” I played this record over and over as a child, learning by heart every stanza of Clement C. Moore’s 1822 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, in the process. I can still recite (or sing!) every word.

The opening chords of this wonderful old recording spin me right back to my childhood Christmases, no snowfall necessary. I am already there — back again in my house on the hill, caught up in the arms of my precious parents, nestled close to a sense of joy so real it brings tears to my eyes, remembering it. This joy, these bright memories are an undying gift from the Spirit of Loving and Giving – a gift that will remain with me, always and always. May this same Spirit embrace you, too, and abide with you forever.

a carefree circlet of midsummer joy

0083_and my heart dances with them

I’m madly in love with my nasturtiums. For me, a simple bouquet of these bright blossoms is the dawn chorus, summer’s sweet solstice, and a sunset serenade all rolled together into a single, symphonic celebration of warmth and delight. Here, dancing merrily in flowing skirts, are five lovely daughters of the sun: Amaranth, Carmine, Coquelicot, Saffron, Flame. With peals of laughter, they join hands and twirl together in a carefree circlet of midsummer joy – and my heart dances with them.