Talking about a Revolution

Bernie Sanders was in Minneapolis today, with bagels at 9:30 a.m. and a town hall meeting at 10. We planned to arrive around 9:15 (more to secure a chair than a bagel). I’m familiar with the neighborhood and figured I could find us a parking spot within a couple blocks of the venue. But we hit a snag when we saw cars circling around several blocks from the venue, quickly took the next spot we could find, and walked the seven blocks.

Oh my. Oh my oh my. People on people, far more than we expected. It was a line. A very long line. We walked to the end of the line—about three blocks long and not single file. Standing. Waiting. It was the most wonderful atmosphere. Casual chitchat, people listening to other comments and chiming in, mostly about how excited we were to see so many people out at a town hall meeting on a Sunday morning.

The line actually did start moving, and unbelievably we made it into the building. Lots of people got in line behind us—at least another three blocks worth. I would estimate the crowd at 5,000, and my spouse estimated same. It was standing room only by the time we got inside (there were no bagels to be seen, though I did see one person eating one, so I believe they brought some, though probably not 5,000).

We found a small staircase so we could see him above the crowd. It was exciting. It was exciting to be in the crowd, watching Bernie Sanders, listening to him affirm almost everything I believe in.

  • We need to act on climate change
  • Universal health care (like pretty much every other developed nation has)
  • Citizens United is a go-card for billionaires
  • Reducing the negative impact of free trade
  • Increasing the minimum wage
  • Addressing the growing wealth gap
  • Campaign finance reform
  • Tax rates on the wealthy that are higher than the tax rates paid by their minions

A political revolution. Making the people at least as important as the corporations. Imagine that.

The crowd was vast, and I was glad to see lots of young people there, as well as parents with young—and also teenage—children. A lot of people wore political T-shirts, and I sure as shit wish I had a Wellstone T-shirt I could wear but I don’t, so I wore my University of Minnesota sweatshirt (which was probably better since it was in the 40s this morning). I saw someone sporting a Mondale-Ferraro button. A classic Greenpeace sweatshirt. It had a bit of the feeling of a festival.

As we left, we were walking down the street and started talking to a woman walking beside us. She had told some friends she was coming to see Bernie Sanders today, and they asked, “Who is he?” She bemoaned the fact that they know practically every major league football player, but have never heard of Bernie Sanders.

I think most people know more football players than politicians, and this has suddenly struck me as wrong. What are we doing? Why aren’t we paying attention?

They were sold out of T-shirts by the time we got there, but I got a button and a bumper sticker. And a lot of hope.

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The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

YellowIn 2008, I picked up a copy of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop at Micawber’s Books. A few days ago, due to a comment on my last post, Reading in Color (thank you cellenbogen!), I picked it up, and today I finished it. Oh my yes. What a wonderful book. A book for the book lover, a book for the bookstore lover.

I think I fell in love with this book on page 8, where Buzbee sings the praises of books:

The book is a uniquely durable object, one that can be fully enjoyed without being damaged. A book doesn’t require fuel, food, or service; it isn’t very messy and rarely makes noise. A book can be read over and over, then passed on to friends, or resold at a garage sale. A book will not crash or freeze and will still work when filled with sand. Even it it falls into the bath, it can be dried out, ironed if necessary, and then finished.” 

I love books. My books, friends’ books, strangers’ books, bookstores’ books. If I walk into the house of someone with a lot of books, I immediately feel comfortable. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is a memoir, a bit of history, and a hymn of praise to books.

In the first part of the book Buzbee threw me back to my childhood. The Weekly Reader! Oh, I loved the Weekly Reader (and Mrs. Swanson, my third-grade teacher). He also mentions something I remember as a major indulgence on my parents’ part: the book catalog that occasionally accompanied the Weekly Reader. I scoured those little catalogs—books for 25¢, 35¢, 50¢, and my parents let me purchase all I wanted. I remember packages of 7 or 8 books at times. The glory of anticipation! All these books I’ve not read once, and now I can read them over and over again.

brightyWeirdness of weirdnesses, Buzbee mentions one of the books he got from the catalog that I also purchased back in those days: Brighty of the Grand Canyon, by Marguerite Henry. My eyes popped when I read that. Brighty is one of the very few books that I have left from that early-age windfall, and to be honest, I don’t even know why I still have it. It should be Charlotte’s Web, my favorite childhood book (but I think I always got that from the library), or Katie Kittenheart (which at least I remember reading several times). Is it possible that I’ve kept it because I feel guilty that I still haven’t read it? Possibly. And I’m guessing I’ll read it within the next year, now that it has come so poignantly to my attention. (Note, however, that I knew exactly what shelf on what bookshelf in what room to look for it. Not so very out of mind. Books can be like children that way.) But even if I don’t like it, I’ll probably keep it, because it’s still one of the few books I have left from the Scholastic Book bonanza.

Buzbee is also good at putting the price of a book in context. Many people find $25 a high price to pay for a book. I struggle with this myself at times (though for some reason I’m much less reluctant to part with $25 for a nonfiction book than a novel). But go out for a decent dinner and you’re looking at $25, and a nice dinner is easily $50. I have nothing left after the dinner but a full stomach and good memories. If I spend that money on a book, I have: the discovery of the book, the joy of purchasing the book, the anticipation of reading it, the occasional fondling of the cover before said book is started, the actual reading of the book (which could be just a day or two or a few weeks, or sometimes a really really long time), and after all this enjoyment, you still have the physical product of the book itself.

shakespeareAlso, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop has in general a high hoppy note. A bit of humor, in our bookish way. Referring to Shakespeare and Company, the legendary Paris bookstore frequented by Hemingway and Joyce:

Gertrude Stein was one of Beach’s original subscribers, but threatened to withdraw her subscription when she discovered the shop did not carry the classic children’s novels The Trail of the Lonesome Pine and The Girl of the Limberlost; Stein only changed her mind when Beach reminded her that the store did carry books by Gertrude Stein.”

A fun book. Banned books, differently sized books, books that should be, books that we only remember. Books. A book about loving books.

Reading in Color

The reading theme for May is color. I have so many books to choose from, I didn’t even bother to finish scanning all my fiction titles. One of the first books I picked up was From the Orange Mailbox, by A. Carman Clark—essays from Maine focused on farm/rural issues. I picked it up because I was in the mood for rural essays, and also because it was the only book I ran across on my shelves that had “orange” in the title and orange is one of my favorite colors.

SassafrassAs I was checking my YA fiction, I found Violet & Claire, by Francesca Lia Block. And once I found violet, it occurred to me that I could read the entire color spectrum this month. It would give me the opportunity to reread Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigoa book by Ntozake Shange that I read 25 years ago and loved about as much as one can love a book. Just reading the back cover made me smile and anticipate.

Here’s how it’s shaping up around the color spectrum:

Red AzaleaRed: I’m nearly a third of the way through Red Azalea, by Anchee Min (loving it). This is a memoir of her years growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Orange: As noted, I’ve finished From the Orange Mailbox, by A. Carman Clark.

Yellow: I will most likely read At Yellow Lake, by Jane McLoughlin (another YA novel). But I also have The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, by Lewis Buzbee (a bookish memoir, and I do like the occasional book about books).

Green: Anne of Green Gables, which I’ve never read. I am totally looking forward to it and bought it specifically to read for this theme month (this special purchase is rare, as I tend to use the theme to pull books that have been gathering dust for far too many years from my own shelves). But this is May, and May is a green month, so I am also going to read A Few Green Leaves, by Barbara Pym (for discussion with my friend Sheila). I’m not sure what it is about Barbara Pym, but Sheila and I always have the best discussions Deenwhen we read her books. Oddly, when I read Pym on my own, I don’t find it even remotely as rewarding. Strange. Another green book I hope to get to is Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet, by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin (with a forward by Congressman Keith Ellison who is from Minnesota and my district). I also seriously want to read The Green Tuxedo, poetry by Janet Holmes. Clearly, green is a hotbed of prospects.

Blue: I’m reading Blues For Unemployed Secret Police, poetry by Doug Anderson; and Blue Cliff Record: Zen Echoes, by David Rothenberg.

Indigo: Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, by Ntozake Shange (see above).

Violet: Violet & Claire, by Francesca Lia Block, also already mentioned.

I notice I’m reading a lot of YA literature this month, and have already scoped out the YA shelf for next month. I think it’s because there’s so much going on at this time of year (especially the birds and the garden) that my mind is in a really good place for YA literature.

Tolstoy2There are additional temptations beyond the color spectrum: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, by Nina Sankovitch; Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde (I have loved his Thursday Next series and am looking forward to this new world);  Mauve Desert, by Nicole Brossard; Rouge Pulp, by Dorothy Barresi.

But it’s May, and the birds always win in May. I won’t get to half as many books as I want to, but that’s okay, because the books will still be here in June, and the birds (at least most of them) will not.

The Yard Birds

baltimore_oriole_glamorSuccess! A bird has been calling around the house all morning and I could not find it! I didn’t recognize the song and it was driving me crazy. What if it was a new lifebird (or at least a new yard bird)? I’ve been running around the house with the binoculars trying to find it. Finally it was driving me crazy while I was writing (six feet from the window) and I went outside. Listened, walked, listened, walked, listened, walked. Saw the bird fly, but not far. Aha! A Baltimore Oriole! Not new for my year list or yard list, but absolutely lovely to match the voice to the bird, and who doesn’t love an oriole in their yard?

I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done in the last two weeks except birding and otherwise finding excuses to be outside. But today is cool and rainy—perfect for staying indoors and cooking. Beef stew for dinner tonight, and rhubarb sauce this afternoon. No birding.

gray_catbird_1At least that was the plan. But along came the oriole, and it didn’t stop there. On my way back into the house, I heard a Gray Catbird’s distinctive meow call. I usually get catbirds in the yard in spring/summer, so I wasn’t surprised, but I’m always gratified when they return. Later, when I was taking out the recycling, I saw it up on a wire, singing a multitude of songs. Catbirds are great mimics.

turkey_paredesBack to the computer, writing again, I look out the window and see a big bird in my neighbor’s yard. Big as in Canada Goose. But I could tell it wasn’t a Canada Goose, even without my glasses, because the coloring was wrong. The binoculars cleared up the mystery: Wild Turkey!

After lunch I decided to check the internet for additional rhubarb sauce recipes. Once again I glanced out the window to see what at first I thought was a sparrow on the fence. But it seemed a bit bigger and the coloring was off and I veerylooked at it through the crappy binoculars I have upstairs and could tell only that indeed it was not a house sparrow. Dash downstairs, scramble to find the good binocs, and pray the bird is still there. It is! I watch it for a long time. A thrush. A veery! This is particularly fun because I don’t see them very often, and this is the first one I’ve seen this year.

Birding is doubly fun when they come to you. I hear the Baltimore Oriole again. This time I know what it is.

A veery good birding day and hours of daylight to go! Really, though—I must go make the rhubarb sauce!

April Reprise

April was a most excellent month. Longer, warmer days, forsythia, migrating and returning birds, and new things to see every day. I also did a lot of reading in April (21 books), mostly nonfiction (9) and poetry (8). The reading theme for April was spirituality/religion, a hugely broad theme when you apply it to titles of books. For example, here are the nonfiction books I read:

  • Tap Dancing in Zen, Geri Larkin
  • Letter to a Priest, Simone Weil
  • Seeds From a Birch Tree, Clark Strand
  • Simple Truths, Kent Nerburn
  • The Fragrance of God, Vigen Guroian
  • Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams
  • The 7 Lively Sins, Karen Salmansohn

The two standouts here were Tap Dancing in Zen (which will require its own post on truth telling, among other things), and Finding Beauty in a Broken World (which I’ve already written about).

The subjective input as to what constitutes a spiritual title allowed me pretty free range with the poetry. Here’s what I ended up reading:

  • In Quiet Light, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
  • God’s Loud Hand, Kelly Cherry
  • Just This, Margaret Chula
  • Sleeping Preacher, Julia Kasdorf
  • Cold Angel of Mercy, Amy Randolph
  • Easter Sunday, Tom Clark
  • Pure Pagan, Burton Raffel (ed.)
  • A Silence Opens, Amy Clampitt

This is what I love about the reading theme: Since it involves primarily the title rather than the content of the book (though that is my own personal parameter, and I sometimes eschew it), you can often go far beyond what you might think of as suitable titles.

Only two of the four fiction books I read fell under the theme: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, by Philip Pullman; and Personal Demons, by Stacia Kane. It was not a strong fiction month. Enough about books.

After a bit of a hiatus, I’ve recently gotten back into my herbal work. I think it all started when I planted the chamomile seeds outside in the middle of April. (They are sprouting now.) And then I ran out of my ginger-chamomile-clove-black peppercorn salve (which is good for sore muscles), and that was the trigger. I’m planning on making a couple more, including one based on thyme which I’ve only recently come to appreciate. It’s nice to be back in the herb groove again. In the garden, sage and feverfew are returning, along with comfrey and St. John’s Wort.

As for birding, I try to remember to bring binoculars with me pretty much everywhere at this time of year. I added 48 birds to my year list in April (which more than doubled it). I added one bird to my lifelist (Ross’s Goose), and one bird to my yard list (Brown Thrasher—it hung around for the longest time; I was absolutely thrilled). A few other fun birds and date first seen:

  • 4-1: Great Egret
  • 4-4: Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  • 4-9: Common Loon
  • 4-10: Hermit Thrush
  • 4-14: Black-Crowned Night Heron
  • 4-23: Horned Grebe
  • 4-30: Wild Turkey

With the exception of the Yellow-Headed Blackbird, all were seen in Minneapolis. I love this city.

I had a bit of a breakthrough with the clarinet. I was getting quite discouraged when I couldn’t get the lowest keys on scale. What I remembered in my fingers (I’m relearning since high school) didn’t match what I was reading in the lesson book or hearing. What was I doing wrong? What wasn’t I getting? Was it broken? Why is this key so floppy?

I couldn’t figure it out.

And then, days later. Maybe after I felt guilty about ignoring it too long, I should at least put it away in its case. But look, what’s this? This small little wire here, sticking out. That doesn’t seem like it should stick out like that. What IS this? I have never noticed it and the wire doesn’t seem right, but there was a little place that looked like the perfect home where it would snug-in, so I tried it and the clarinet was fixed!

I was exceptionally pleased. Such a small thing.

Such a lovely month. But I did miss the April showers.

May Baskets

I gave out May baskets today—the first time since I was a kid. It was absolutely exhilarating. I can’t believe I waited so long to resurrect this lovely childhood tradition.

BasketI got a wild hair a few days ago when I realized that May Day was right around the corner. I remembered running to my neighbors’ houses, hanging the May basket (made out of construction paper, including handle) on the doorknob, ringing the doorbell and running away. That’s the trick, fun, and joy of May baskets: The idea is to not get caught. The gift is anonymous.

However, if you DO get caught, the recipient is supposed to run after you and kiss you! So, if you hear the doorbell ring on May Day morning, depending on your circumstances, you may want to run to the door or you may, perhaps, prefer to stop and do the dishes before sauntering to the door.

wven basketsMy husband had never heard of May baskets, but when I described them to him, he immediately wanted in on the action. I first tried reproducing a construction-paper May basket. I found to my dismay that I was more artistically talented in third grade than I am now. So I looked on the internet and then looked around the house and realized that I don’t need to make baskets from construction paper, I have plenty of regular baskets that I’ve accumulated over the years.

I mentioned this idea to my friend in Montana, and she said her mother (grandmother?) used to give out baskets of flowers on May Day, and that she herself often gives flowers on May Day, following the tradition. Flowers? I had never heard of flowers for May baskets. We always just filled them with candy. But why not branch out?

Of course I immediately thought of books. I found good matches for everyone, fine little gift books: a book of zen haiku, a little book of yoga, a spiritual book, a nature book, a book on sacred numbers. Some Mardi Gras beads to add a little sparkle. A couple of shells, a beautiful rock, a totem animal. And of course, the requisite edibles: Cracker Jacks, little Hershey bars (a couple of Mr. Goodbars and Krackels didn’t make it to the baskets), Dove dark chocolate, Life Savers, and Reese’s peanut butter cups. I think there might have been something remotely healthy as well, but I seem to be repressing it. Flowers on top, wrapped with a ribbon.

We put the baskets together last night and added the flowers this morning. I thought distributing the baskets would be fun, but I didn’t realize how very much fun it would be. I first snuck over to my neighbor to the south. I crouched down and scuttled in front of his windows, studiously avoiding looking at the house (apparently I reverted right back to that childhood sense of if I can’t see you, you can’t see me). I arranged it on the porch, rang the bell, and ran. We watched from the front of our house to see if he came to the door. He did, and immediately looked at our house and yelled something. I crawled out of the room in an effort to preserve my anonymity. I’m hoping he yelled “Happy May Day.”

My spouse did the delivery to our neighbor across the alley. I went as far as the garage, in encouragement (this was a lifetime first for him!). Smooth as silk—up to the door he goes, arranges the basket, knocks on the door, hears the dog in the house respond, and makes a quick getaway. We watched from the kitchen this time. There she is! Success!

The others were down the block so we nonchalantly strolled over with our baskets. Both were delivered to no response that we saw (because we ran away of course) but they were gone an hour later. Walking back to the house after the final delivery, we laughed about how much fun it was. The adventure in being sneaky. The joy of giving. The fun of trying not to get caught.

I was so jazzed, I drank half as much coffee as usual and then made a hearty breakfast of fried potatoes and egg. Maybe I should go out running every morning!

I will not be at all surprised if we do May baskets again next year. What a fun way to start the day.

Happy May Day!