They Say (a poem)

It’s so much easier for me to write about the fun parts of fall than it has been to talk about the difficult summer that I’m so glad is behind me. I kept feeling I should write about it–that emotion, our hard times, are the inspiration behind the fruit of our best work. Sometimes, though, life is so hard, you can’t write about it until it’s behind you. You can’t write in the dark…no matter what they say.

They Say
By: Amanda K. Fowler

They say
you can feel bad things coming
in the wind.
But I say
it’s not true.
In the heat
of summer,
I felt nothing at all
when disaster struck
three times in three weeks.
I felt nothing
when three of my loved ones,
pieces of my heart,
fell away from me.
I felt nothing,
till I got one back,
the one I needed the most–
his near-death only near,
thank God–
and then I felt everything.

They say
water is the soother
for us all–
it is how we were born,
after all;
it cradles us,
easing the gravity
of everything.
It cleanses us.
But the waves I felt this summer
were the wrong water:
tears instead of surf.

They say
you can feel it
when summer shifts to fall,
when leaves retire
to the splendor of their finest moment–
and this time,
I agree–
it’s a slow goodbye kiss,
a healing, scabbing cool.
I feel the wind
blowing away the ash,
carrying away
the burns of summer,
finally behind me.

October: A Month to Celebrate and Give Back

October is one of my favorite months–possibly my very favorite–for many reasons. Long-time readers and even casual acquaintances are quite familiar with my passion for Halloween (you’ll see some Halloween posts here as the holiday gets closer–and feel free to search “Halloween” in my blog for previous posts!). Crunchy leaves, crisp (but not cold) air, autumn soups, apple-picking, so many festive opportunities…what’s not to love? As one of my favorite literary heroines famously said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers” (L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables).

Image result for i m so glad i live in a world with octobers

–Pinterest User iBelieve.com

October is also the month for celebrating important awareness occasions, like National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and Breast Cancer Awareness Month–two observations that are a focus for me both at work and personally. While I’ve written about NDEAM for work with Marianjoy in the past, and continue to do so, I’m looking forward to writing about breast cancer awareness, as well, for Northwestern Medicine’s Marketing Team, having had the exciting opportunity to work more closely with them lately. How lucky we are to have top cancer and rehabilitation programs right here in the Midwest! Breast cancer has always hit close to home for me, with several family members and friends as survivors, and more friends who are currently battling the disease.

Besides writing, I decided to take the observation one step further. Financial donations are great to help with breast (and other types of) cancer; without funding, research projects to eradicate the disease wouldn’t be possible–and so I try to donate to cancer charities a couple of times a year (check out Charity Navigator to find one that fits you and has a good stewardship score). There’s another type of donation, too, that most people might not think of right away, one that requires your time, not money: hair.

It wasn’t until my traumatic brain injury in 2005, when part of my head had to be shaved for brain surgery, that I realized how important hair is to identity. For women, it’s inextricably tied in millennia-long trends denoting femininity, fertility, sexuality, youth, conservatism/rebellion, professionalism…the list goes on. For 19-year-old me, it was one of the hardest changes to my appearance I had to get used to, partly because I had no choice in the sudden change–just like cancer patients. It made me very self-conscious–with my eye patch and wheelchair, it was just one more thing broadcasting to the world that I was going through a major medical experience. And what if I wasn’t ready to share that?

Luckily for me, it was only part of my head, and I was able to do quite the comb-over to cover the bald side until my hair grew in. I always joked that Rihanna soon after took my cue and made the style a trend.

(You’re welcome, RiRi)

Fortunately, my hair grew in fairly quickly, and when it reached a point where I could get it cut into layers, I decided to donate the rest to those who were less fortunate. It felt good, the thought of helping others, when so many had been helping me.

I decided to do it again…22 months ago. Unlike my first time donating, the thought popped into my head when all of my hair was short, so I knew I was in for a long road. Over those 22 months, I only got one trim–it helped that I stayed away from heat-treating my hair, so I didn’t have to worry (much) about split ends.

The experience reminded me of the way the religious customs can remind you physically of spiritual meaning (like the practice of giving something up for Lent reminding Catholics of Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice). Although I sometimes enjoy having long hair, there were many times were I couldn’t wait to get it cut again–it felt so unruly to me, but I reminded myself this hair wasn’t for me–it was for someone else. It was a good exercise in patience.

My mom made the growing process more fun with some elaborate hairstyles–some so beautiful I second-guessed cutting the hair:

Thanks, Mom! ❤

I went to my hair stylist a few times to get a length check, and finally, I was ready. I already knew the charity I wanted to donate to: Wigs 4 Kids, an organization in Michigan that provides wigs to kids and young adults for free. It’s important to research where you will donate your hair, because some organizations charge patients for their wigs (it’s a laborious process to make them, so I understand, but I’d prefer the patients to get their wigs for free). It’s also important to know how long you need to grow your hair, if it can be dyed, if it can be gray, etc., before you make the chop–each organization is different. Wigs 4 Kids requires 10″, and after my hair stylist evened it out, I had just over that to donate.

Ready!

Megan, my hair stylist, is very familiar with prepping hair to donate. It’s important to section off and secure the part that will be donated before you cut it, so it doesn’t fly all over the place. She made four braids.

Moment of truth. Even though I wanted the haircut, it’s always initially intimidating to me to part with so much hair all at once!

Done; I loved it! It was hard to believe all that hair was in that silver bag.

I really appreciated Megan’s help in getting my hair ready to go; I was happy she was so familiar with donating. After that, it was just a matter of mailing the braids to the address on the organization’s website.

I never feel better than when I’m helping others and giving back in some way. Ever since my miraculous TBI survival, I’ve felt a mission to help others as I was helped. With time and patience, hair donation is an easy and inexpensive way to help people–I highly recommend doing it, if you can. I’ve mentally committed to doing it again, though I may go for one with a shorter requirement (360 Hair looks like they take 6″ or more–sounds good to me!).

I wish you all a wonderful remainder of your October. I hope you get to enjoy your favorite traditions, and I hope you take a moment to celebrate those other important observances, too.

Top Ten Tuesday: Appetizing Book Covers

Hello, readers! I hope you’re feeling festive tonight, because I am. We had a lovely pre-Thanksgiving celebration last weekend with a couple who is very special to our family. The timing was significant, too, in just how special they are to us–they have been instrumental in my brain injury journey. Sam is the one who was able to get my dad out of the city to the hospital in time to see me before my brain surgery, and Sue Ann came to see Jennifer and me speak about our experience at my memoir preview event. Not to mention, they have been supportive and encouraging all along the way. Both of them have become as close as family, lifelong friends whom we love deeply. Beautiful people we couldn’t help but be thankful for at a celebration about thankfulness right after an anniversary of what we are most thankful for (my survival, our family’s survival over something that might have destroyed us). I’m not sure if writers’ lives are onion layers of symbolism, or if we just have a layered way of looking at things. #SorryImNotSorry, right?? 😉

Speaking of Thanksgiving, HarperCollins posted a very timely list from their Buzzfeed on their Facebook today, and I thought it would be perfect for tonight’s Top 10. I will be posting another “Top 10” installment on Thursday for Thanskgiving, prompted this week by  The Broke and the Bookish: “Top Ten Things I’m Grateful For.” For now, though, sit back and salivate over HarperCollins’s compilation of appetizing book covers. (The list has product links if you’d like to buy or lust over the book covers in greater detail.) Though my mom and sister are the primary chefs of the family, I enjoy cooking/baking, too, and I sure enjoy eating the fruits (and veggies) of their labor. These book covers are making me even more excited for Thanksgiving, and you already know how excited I get about holidays. 😉

10 Book Covers You Wish You Could Eat On Thanksgiving

1.

With foolproof recipes, detailed menu timetables, and down-to-earth advice,Thanksgiving 101 is the holiday cook’s best friend.

2.

Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, the pioneers of the online community cookbook, return with a second helping of delicious, seasonal recipes from the country’s most inventive home cooks in The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2.

3.

Supplemented by illuminating food facts and anecdotes, and illustrated with gorgeous full-color photographs, Nick Malgieri’s A Baker’s Tour is a satisfying and educational international collection of inviting, delicious recipes for home cooks and food lovers everywhere.

4.

Featuring scrumptious dishes passed down for generations through Christy Jordan’s family, Southern Plate highlights the very best in southern cooking.

5.

From squash and root vegetables to cranberries and quince to hearty, savory dishes, Autumn Gatherings will help you make the most of this season’s natural bounty.

6.

In Slow-Cooked Comfort, Lydie Marshall focuses on fish, poultry, meat, and vegetables that have been simmered in aromatic broths and sauces. Unparalleled in flavor, these dishes resonate with the coziness of family suppers, hearth, and home.

7.

Since it was first published in 1973, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco has established itself as the classic work on one of the world’s great cuisines, and in 2008 it was inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame.

8.

A one-of–a-kind cookbook, Savory Sweet Life is a wonderful collection of inventive and playful family recipes that celebrate the everyday moments in life—from birthday parties and family game nights to potlucks and summer backyard barbecues.

9.

A celebration of the food of the Hudson Valley and the people who grow and produce it, Hudson Valley Mediterranean shows how to use seasonal ingredients to create delectable, nourishing meals.

10.

Fresh Food Fast is a collection of seasonal vegetarian menus that can be created in under an hour, from James Beard and IACP Award–winning chef Peter Berley, a culinary instructor, family man, and chef with a passion for delicious meals that use seasonal produce and are easy to prepare.

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Are you hungry now? 😉 What delicious-looking books would YOU add to this list–and what cookbooks are your favorite? Though you’ve probably wandered off for a snack by now, just remember that the rule about not talking with your mouth full doesn’t apply to typing. 😉

Please join me on Thursday for a list of the ten things I’m most grateful for–and have a happy Thanksgiving, dear readers. ❤

Book-‘O-Lanterns!

My darling readers, I had so intended to fill my blog with Halloween-related posts this week, but work has been crazily busy in a wonderful way–we are preparing for our annual gala, i.e., fancy dresses, but also lots of edits to make because our donors have been sooo generous that we have lots to auction off!

So instead of the epic–in length, as well as content–top 10 that I owe you, which I am still working on, I am instead going to give you what we all really want–pumpkins.

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In fact, I wore several pumpkins myself, today.

That’s right, pumpkins. You know I love them. Tonight will celebrate, in specific, Book-O’-Lanterns!, a collection of beautiful literary carvings. You can view it on Bookriot’s original Oct. 24 post by Rita Meade, or you can view its entirety here:

Posted by
Rita Meade
October 24, 2013

Book-O’-Lanterns!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, lit-lovers: HALLOWEEN TIME! And what better way to combine your love of books and your love of Halloween than by carving a pumpkin in a book-related fashion? Trick question! THERE IS NO BETTER WAY.

Full disclosure: I haven’t personally carved a pumpkin in a long, long time. That’s not because I think I’m too cool for Halloween or because I hate dealing with the goopy pumpkin insides – it’s because I never progressed past the “three triangles and a mouth slash” stage of jack-o’-lantern design. You know the one.

This is literally the best sketch I could do. Banksy I am NOT.

This is literally the best sketch I could do. Banksy I am NOT.

Luckily, there are people in the world who are extremely creative and talented in the realm of pumpkin carving, and thanks to the magic of the internet, we can use their ideas for inspiration. Here are some cool bookish jack-o’-lanterns I dug up that haven’t been featured on other such lists out there.

Our own Rebecca Schinsky recently kicked off the spooky fun on our Facebook page with her wonderful READ pumpkin. (And a response on our Facebook page is what inspired this post, so thank you, readers!)

PumpkinRead

Blogger Christie Speich has some awesome YA-lit inspired jack-o’-lanterns on her site, including the two below, which display some serious carving skills. (She also provides free patterns on her site, so be sure to check it out!)

Divergent!

Divergent!

PumpkinBeautifulCreatures

There are many Harry Potter-themed pumpkins out there, but I like this one featured on the Our House of Paint blog because it’s A) adorable B) easy to make. (Instructions are provided on the site, and there’s lots of other great Halloween stuff on there too!)

PumpkinHPsimple

If you’re interested in more elaborate “Harry Potter” patterns, some can be found here and here.

For you manga fans, here’s a badass “Dragon Ball Z” pumpkin created by Anj of the Comic Box Commentary blog (and there’s more on the site). Don’t try to steal any candy from THIS guy.

PumpkinDragonBallZ

Anj was also nice enough to email me a photo of another impressive jack-o’-lantern he carved featuring theMockingjay pin. May the trick-or-treating be ever in your favor.

PumpkinMockingjay

On the ObSEUSSed blog, the Cat in the Hat is featured in all his mischievous glory. (I especially like the first stage photo because it shows that you don’t necessarily need to break out the Ginsu knives to make a festive pumpkin.)

Stage 1

Stage 1

Final Stage

Final Stage

Author David Rochelle’s talents apparently include writing AND pumpkin carving. Check out the cute “Fall Into a Good Book” jack-o’-lantern (via librarian extraordinaire Mr. Schu).

PumpkinRochelle

Spoonful has many cute printable patterns, including this one inspired by Mary Poppins.

PumpkinMaryPoppins

You can also find some other great YA-inspired patterns over at YA Highway. Awesome stuff.

Did you carve a literary inspired pumpkin this year? Or do you have a favorite site for bookish carving patterns? Let us know! And, of course, have a happy, safe, and book-filled Halloween.

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About Rita Meade

Rita Meade is a public librarian in Brooklyn, NY. She blogs about the more interesting parts of her job at ScrewyDecimal.com, and she can be found on Twitter @ScrewyDecimal.

All posts by Rita Meade  Twitter

Interesting Literary Facts for Halloween

Good evening, readers! You already know I *love* holidays, but Halloween is my favorite. The costumes, the sweet seasonal treats (I currently have candy-corn-themed nails going on–I am nothing if not intense in my passions), and the whole lore and history of Halloween. A fellow blogger wrote a wonderful article about the literary history of Halloween, and I wanted to share it. I hope you find it as fascinating as I did. Join me tomorrow for a special Halloween-themed Top Ten Tuesday!

Interesting Literature

‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ as Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton began his 1830 novel Paul Clifford (and, in doing so, gave us perhaps the most famous – or infamous – opening line of them all). Since Halloween is looming, we at Interesting Literature thought we’d blow the dust off some mouldy tomes in the Gothic library here at the Castle, in order to bring you some of the most eye-watering literary facts and fancies from the season.

Halloween – or Hallowe’en, as in ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ – is a Scottish term, first recorded in print in 1556 (where it’s spelled, almost unrecognisably, ‘Halhalon’). This Scottish origin of the specific word ‘Halloween’ was continued when Robert Burns wrote a poem titled ‘Halloween’ in the late eighteenth century, which can be read here. The first reference to a Jack-o’-lantern (or pumpkin lantern), however, is, unsurprisingly, American: it’s found in a short…

View original post 605 more words

A Song of Beautiful Sorrow: Kung Liljekonvalje & Chicago a Cappella

A week ago, I had the great experience of going to a Chicago a Cappella concert with my mom. I actually won the tickets on WFMT, my favorite classical music station, for answering a quiz question correctly. 🙂

Listen at work.

Click to listen to WFMT streaming.

I’d never really been to an a cappella concert before, save for the ones my friend Kara’s choir sang in high school. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but if WFMT was promoting it, I knew it would be good. I invited my mom to go with me.

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My mom and I snapped a picture during intermission. We had such a great time! 🙂
I’m looking a little severe in all black, but let’s just say it’s festive for Halloween season. My mom, of course, looks beautiful as always! ❤

We were blown away immediately. The nine voices of the choir blended together so richly, yet you could still hear individual qualities. We were impressed not only with the immaculate quality of every selection, but also the wide range of genres they chose. Since it was their 20th Anniversary celebration, their theme was “best of” from the last 20 years of their performances.

Chicago a cappella

The musical director gave a short explanation before each piece, just enough to get a sense of the song. While all the songs were fantastic in their own ways, there was one in particular that my mom and I really liked. It was the second one they sang, and we were transfixed by it. The song was in Swedish, but the music was haunting, and with the snippet beforehand, we felt the song just as intensely as if we knew all the words. I even had tears in my eyes.

I wanted to share the translation with you, since I found it so beautiful. The lyrics come from a poem, and apparently, the song has become extremely popular in Sweden.

From the Chicago a Cappella program notes:

David Wikander: Kung Liljekonvalje

This song takes place in a miniature world conjured by a poet’s imagination. Gustav Fröding’s finely-wrought poem creates a single beautiful scene, so complete that it feels like it was cut in whole cloth from a Swedish cousin to JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. (In fact, Fröding and Tolkien both used medieval images and style in their works deliberately, so the kinship is an overt one.) The soaring, plaintive melody and exquisite counterpoint are by David Wikander, a Swedish church musician of the early twentieth century. The piece has carved out such a firm place in Swedish hearts that it is virtually considered to be folk music—a high honor indeed for “composed” music [likely, of the 20th century].

I’m going to post the translation first, since I’m assuming most of my readers speak English over Swedish. 😉 The original lyrics will go after it, though. Please do listen to the audio excerpt available on the Chicago a Cappella website, too; I hope they will include the full version on a CD or MP3 soon.

File:Lily of the Valley (2528553648).jpg

Lily of the Valley (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

King Lily-of-the Valley

King Lily-of-the-Valley from the grove,
King Lily-of-the-Valley is as white as snow,
now the young king mourns
over Princess Lily-of-the-Valley-Maiden.

King Lily-of-the-Valley, he lowers
his sad head so heavy and weak;
and the silver helmet shines
in the pale summer twilight.

Around the bier, a spider weaves
from the “incense place” with floral scent
an incense [that] slowly flows;
the entire forest is full of fragrance.

From the birch’s rocking crown,
from the wind’s waving green house
small songs of sorrow sound;
the entire forest is filled up with whistling.

A message is whispered through the valley
about a king’s sorrow among whispering leaves,
in the wide kingdoms of the forest,
from the capital of the Lilies-of-the-Valley.

Original Swedish lyrics:

Kung Liljekonvalje av dungen,
kung Liljekonvalje är vit som snö,
nu sörjer unga kungen
prinsessan Liljekonvaljemö. 

Kung Liljekonvalje han sänker
sitt sorgsna huvud så tungt och vekt,
och silverhjälmen blänker
i sommarskymningen blekt. 

Kring bårens spindelvävar
från rökelsekaren med blomsterstoft
en virak sakta svävar,
all skogen är full av doft. 

Från björkens gungande krona,
från vindens vaggande gröna hus
små sorgevisor tona,
all skogen är uppfylld av sus. 

Det susar ett bud genom dälden
om kungssorg bland viskande blad,
i skogens vida välden
från liljekonvaljernas huvudstad.

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An accurate selfie of how I’m feeling right now.

Aren’t those lyrics so lovely and haunting? And “haunting” fits the seasonal theme so well; I just had to share them. I think this elegy is a sweet example of how love transcends time and life itself. All of the nature symbolism shows us that the princess isn’t really gone; she is everywhere, in everything. Her people, especially her father, keep her memory alive. ❤

Monday Midnight

Hello readers! I apologize for the silence here lately! I had a sudden bout of busyness involving writing projects and a trip to South Haven, Michigan, both of which prevented me from posting. However, if you follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook, you can see more frequent activity on there, if only because they’re more easily mobile and they force me to be brief (not my natural writing style, but I like to think I’m getting the hang of it; #amirite? #Notreally? #Verbose?)

So because it is not only pumpkin season, but also pumpkin–>coach time, tonight’s post will be very brief. Please join me back later in the day (Tuesday) for another Top Ten Tuesday posting, with the theme of “Top 10 Book Turn-Offs.” I promise it will be deliciously scandalous in the most nerdy of ways.

For now, I’d like to share a teaser photo from my weekend away. These are two of the girls I’ve been lucky enough to be friends with forever, the ones I talked about in this post about friendship and this Taylor Swift concert post.

I swear our hair looked better when we left the hotel that morning, but a day of showers and humidity will take its toll! Maybe most people wouldn’t choose to pick apples in the pouring rain, but Lindsey, Megan, and I (right to left) just had to cross it off our South Haven-Girls’-Weekend Bucket List!

Crane Orchard was spectacular, even in its muddy glory. Just look at that poetic fog rolling in behind us! Megan was especially a trooper, considering she didn’t even want apples, but she trudged along for the muddy fun. 🙂

That’s all for tonight, my dears! Again, please check back later today for a new Top-10 Tuesday, and check back this week for more details about our South Haven trip. I’ll probably post a poem later this week, too, just because I missed you so much. ❤