B’s 47th and the early June Garden

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Carrot cake and creative roman numerals by S, pansies from the garden.

B wanted tortilla soup for his birthday dinner. The recipe we make calls for mint, preferably fresh from the garden (which we can do for at least 7 months of the year). I used a combination of peppermint and apple mint–look at the size of the leaves!

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Also coming up: Indigo rose tomatoes

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Really exuberant oregano:

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And a bed of greens and herbs that I’m growing from my collection of last year’s seed pods!

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Happy, happy birthday, B.

Tortilla soup:

  • 1 quart of chicken broth (or stock, or veggie broth)
  • 5 medium tomatoes
  • 1/2 of a shallot
  • 1/2 clove fresh garlic or pinch of garlic powder
  • sprig of fresh mint
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a blender, combine tomatoes, shallot, garlic, and some of the broth. Puree and add to a stockpot with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil. This will be a fresh-tasting and light soup; we make a buffet of additions: chicken, avocado, cilantro, lime, tortilla chips or tostada shells, and cheese.

Prom 2018

Almost the whole family attended this year’s prom at Union Station! S with her boyfriend, K with good friends who are graduating this year, B and me as chaperones.

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Because I know so many of the kids graduating this year so well, it was a blast to see them all spiffed up and feeling fancy.

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On the 10:05 boat back, taking some quiet time, the first moment since 3 p.m. Apparently, after all that smiling I like to scowl at spy novels.

Two books

An excellent read: On Trails: An Exploration, by Robert Moor.

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The cover caught my eye as I was browsing at the library and I was taken with the Boston Globe’s blurb: “Part natural history, part scientific inquiry, but most of all, a deeply thoughtful human meditation on how we walk through life, Moor’s book is enchanting.”

I have long been interested in wilderness writing, and in the changing concept of wilderness itself. This book investigates the trails we’ve made through that wilderness, the reasons for trails, and the nature of trails made by animals as well as humans.

Philosophical paths and trails of conversation and thought make up much of the book; through them, Moor shows that paths make us as much as we make them.

He tells us about the designer of the Appalachian Trail, Benton MacKaye, who realized that “the key to solving societal problems [is] to change systems, not human nature. As MacKaye became an increasingly prominent voice in the conservation movement, he seldom wrote about greed or excess. He chose instead to focus on environments–how they can weaken us, or how they can be altered to strengthen us” (231).

The closing section, on wisdom, is worth spending some time with.  Moore writes, “It is no coincidence that many of the transcultural markers of human wisdom (patience, equanimity, foresight, compassion, impulse control, an ability to reside in uncertainty) are exactly those qualities which children notably lack. Wisdom is a rarified form of intelligence born of experience, the result of carefully testing your beliefs against reality. You make an attempt at solving a problem, and sometimes you stumble upon success; other times you make mistakes, and then you correct them. Over time you learn, you adapt, you grow. In other words, wisdom is a form of judgment that evolves.”

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I followed Moor’s book with Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints, recommended by a student, and found it an absolutely delightful read. It’s the first YA magical realism novel I’ve ever picked up, and I found it complex, lyrical, and thought-provoking.

 

Mother’s Day, Books, and My Students on Poetry

What a glorious day today!
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This little bunch of bluebells was sitting on our doorstep a few days ago 🙂

I’ve had a little more time to read lately; I finished Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. It’s the kind of exquisite book I feel curmudgeonly about pointing out any flaws in–and yet, I found it a bit repetitive in parts or at least predictable. Still, certain sections of Perry’s prose are breathtaking–the first paragraph, for instance:

One o’clock on a dreary day and the time ball dropped at the Greenwich Observatory. There was ice on the prime meridian, and ice on the rigging of the broad-beamed barges down on the busy Thames. Skippers marked the time and tide, and set their oxblood sails against the northeast wind; a freight of iron was bound for Whitechapel foundry, where bells tolled fifty against the anvil as if time were running out. Time was being served behind the walls of Newgate jail, and wasted by philosophers in cafes on the Strand; it was lost by those who wished the past were present, and loathed by those who wished the present past. Oranges and lemons rang the chimes of St. Clement’s, and Westminster’s division bell was dumb.

I’ve also been reading Michael Robbins’ Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music, in which he says, “You don’t decide to go deep into words. Something takes you there.”

That reminds me of some of the things my AP students wrote last week in response to my question: What makes a good poem?

“A good poem makes your hair stand up. It is entirely up to the individual.”

“A poem that leads to serious assessment or thought about something.”

“One that emotionally involves any and all readers and leaves you thinking.”

“A good poem is able to illustrate a relatable and complex feeling in a unique and powerful way.”

“A good poem can be almost immediately recognized as true.”

“A good poem is one that is simple, easy to read but has sophistication and deeper meaning; I don’t want to dissect it like a puzzle but rather more contemplate it.”

“A good poem is any poem that changes your outlook on its subject in any significant way.”

“A good poem conveys emotion, any emotion.”

“A good poem makes you imagine the poem in real life.”

“A good poem always needs to make me feel something new or something I haven’t felt in a while.”

“It should make one consider and re-evaluate one’s own life as it makes one feel.”

“A good poem has music and rhythms coursing beneath its surface, regardless of whether or not it rhymes. It conveys its images in surprising, interesting ways, and the poet shows a mastery and command of language.”

“A good poem makes you compare it to what you know about the world.”

“A good poem casts a striking image in one’s mind and intelligently conveys its message.”

“A good poem has a thoughtful structure that compliments the topic itself.”

“A good poem is able to describe and create feelings that people have always known, but never been able to explain.”

What an insightful, emotionally intelligent group of students I have! Typing out their handwritten answers is part homage, part hallelujah, and the beginning of this year’s bittersweet goodbye.

Earth Day, Books, and a Poem

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We walked the Bloedel Reserve this afternoon with its gracious vistas and green in a thousand different shades.

I’ve been a bit preoccupied for the past month with a couple of things (National Boards, my health) and it’s taken me over a month to finish a single book.

However, this book is well worth reading: How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It, by Arthur Herman. With a rambunctious, overstepping title like that I opened it a bit skeptically but soon found it to be must-read material for anyone with more than a passing interest in Scotland. I bought it for S, who won’t have time to read it until summer (when she’ll be working two jobs, so maybe not much free time even then).

Before that, I read Graeme Macrae Burnet’s brilliant book His Bloody Project, which is a reader’s holy grail for me: a noir of high literary merit (the novel was a finalist for the 2016 Booker prize), set in Scotland. 

I also listened to the audiobook of Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. I am fascinated by the references to David Hume, who may have been familiar with Buddhism.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/08/07/what-meditation-can-do-for-us-and-what-it-cant Adam Gopnik’s take on the book is fantastic.

 
And finally, the BBC Sound Effects  Library has just released thousands of sound files, and perusing their titles is a delight. Here’s my found poem:

                          I

1 man constant walking up sharp incline of loose stone

1 man climbing and slipping

1 man 1 woman approach and stop

2 people clambering over loose debris

1 man 1 woman depart

10 bells ringing, Lichfield Cathedral.

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12 month baby boy, scream & blowing three raspberries

12 month old baby boy, saying “Dada” (three times)

12-bore Shotgun, load, shot & cartridge ejected

12 bells ringing, Worcester Cathedral.

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1 lorry passing slowly

200-year old village pump filling bucket

6 bells poorly rung in English village church.