At 5 o’clock, I have a glass of wine and wind down from my day.
I think about dinner. I have 3 binders full of my own recipes. And two shelves full of cookbooks that I rarely consult. And the internet with its countless recipes and variations. And many variations my head that I haven’t written down. I like to cook.
I’ve never met a recipe I didn’t want to tweak. That’s why I don’t bake. Baking is not forgiving of my experimentation. If baking is chemistry, cooking is alchemy. I am an alchemist.
I list on-hand ingredients in my head and let them simmer in my brain. I pull things out of the fridge and out of the cupboards. I start to chop, not knowing exactly what I’m making.
I stop chopping and run to my desk to capture a story idea that came to me like magic.
Back in the kitchen, flavors start to build. They smell delicious. And inspirational. I run to my computer again. And again.
Dinner is often delicious. Seldom inedible. But the stories that come to me while cooking are always indelible.
I don’t know why
Tears come for no reason
And all reasons
I embarrass myself
And probably my kids
Although they’ve grown used to my tears
On every occasion
I try really hard
But I can’t seem to stop
Those salty tears
That run down my face
I am soft-hearted
And overwhelmed by beauty
This is repost. I originally posted this in January 2019 but I couldn't find it when I went through the archives. It is one of my favorites.
A small wooden carousel sits on the Piaza della Republica in Florence, Italy. It is owned by the Picci family and is carefully attended by a family member. It is a charming, colorful antique carousel with 20 horses and two gilded carriages. The horses stand two by two, leaving plenty of room for parents to stand next to children. The carousel makes people smile. It is magic.
At dusk, the attendant approaches the carousel carrying a box. He has come to remove the feather plumes from the horses’ headdresses and pack them away for the night. The tourists, all but two, are gone, finding their dinners and evening entertainment. One couple remains standing in the shadows of the Piazza, witness to an amazing scene.
“Finally,” sighed Eduardo, “that feather has been poking my head all day.”
“I like the plumes,” said Francesca, “they are like wearing a hat. I feel glamorous.”
“I hope the attendant brings soap and water,” Maria complained, “a little girl dripped ice cream all over my mane and shoulders. I feel so sticky.”
“Look, here he comes with a bucket. Ah, that warm water feels so good.”
“Oh, my aching back. And legs. And neck. And everywhere else,” griped Giuseppe. “Kids these days don’t know how to properly mount a horse. They were kicking me all day. I am getting too old for this.”
“I just love riding round and round, with a giggling child on my back,” gushed Marisol. She was the youngest of the horses.
“I wish we could jump off this carousel and gallop through the streets. We could race, like in the Palio di Siena,” Marco said with a lusty sigh. “It would be so much fun to race flat out instead of bobbing slowly up and down.”
“The horses that run in the Palio di Siena run around in a circle, too,” corrected Luigi. “They’re just faster. And they sometimes run into each other or crash into buildings or spectators. Besides, we have these poles running through our backs. We can’t go anywhere.”
“I can dream, can’t I?” Marco snorted.
“Horses, horses, calm down,” Anna pleaded. “It’s getting dark and I’m tired. Let’s all go to sleep. Tomorrow is another day. I wonder if we will get to wear the blue plumes? We’ve been wearing white for months.”
“Good night my lovelies,” said the attendant as he put away his bucket and picked up the box of feather plumes. “Sleep well. See you in the morning.”
The two remaining tourists looked at each other in wonder. “Let’s ride first thing in the morning.” They whispered good night to the horses and strolled away, hand in hand. “I wonder where we should eat dinner.”
Joy. Exhilaration. The unbridled freedom of a summer day and no more chores. The dusty wooden plank floors in the kitchen had been swept. The animals were feed and watered. At age 6, Bobby was happy he was too small to do the big chores like milking cows or driving the tractor across the field like his father and his older brother. He knew his mother would call him back in the afternoon to pick peas and shell them for dinner.
But for now – Freedom! Slamming the screen door, he pulled off his shirt and kicked off his shoes, leaving them in a heap on the stoop. Then he leapt off the porch and raced across the long grass punching his fists in the air, his face split by a wide grin that revealed a missing front tooth, a sprinkle of freckles across his cheeks. The grass smelled sharp. It was drying in the summer sun. Grass wasn’t a crop, so it wasn’t important to keep it watered or cut. The blades scratched his ankles as he pumped his legs and sprinted across the yard.
He was a wolf chasing a deer. He was a lion racing across the plains towards an antelope. He had seen pictures of lions in one of his books.
He smelled the lake, dank, slightly rotten, a little green. Like fish. Cool. His legs didn’t slow as he reached the edge. He ran straight into the water, kicking up drops, splashing, scattering the tiny fish that swam near the shore. Annoyed ducks quacked and scolded as they flapped their wings to fly away.
Stopping, Bobby squished his toes in the cool, soft mud. He liked the way the mud felt between his toes. He squatted so he was up to his shoulders in the water, leaned back, and spread his arms. He floated, looking up at the blue sky. A few fluffy clouds floated by. Shade from the nearby trees filtered the sunlight o the water. The surface sparkled. He was a pirate and the lake was his treasure chest of twinkling jewels.
After a while, he got bored.
Flipping over, Bobby looked for fish under the surface. If he was very still, the fish would swim near. Maybe he could catch one. He let his arms dangle in the water, small hands ready to grab a fish.
Bobby looked up at a sound. A plop in the water. A bull frog. Bobby kicked his feet and chased the frog. It was no contest.
He waded out of the pond and flopped down in the grass. The sun felt good on his chest and his face. He spent all afternoon daydreaming.
“Bobby, time to come home,” his mother called. “I need help picking peas. If you pick some cherries, I’ll make a pie.”
Bobby loved cherry pie.
He was called Robert now. He sat at his desk and stared out the window, daydreaming about that perfect summer day when he was 6, topped off with warm cherry pie and ice cream. He sighed.
Raven Feather ruffled his coal black feathers before turning to face the morning sun. His one snow white feather was stark against the black. He hated that white feather. It ruined his image. Its symbolism went against everything he was. He was fierce, mean, tough. He led a murder of violent crows. He was Raven Feather, not Mostly-Black-Except-for-One White Feather.
Preening, he tried yet again to pull out that hated feather. He grabbed its base with his strong beak and yanked; his daily ritual to try to rid himself of this symbol of peace. Raven Feather was not a peaceful crow.
His black feathers smelled of acrid dust. He liked that scent. But the white one smelled fresh and slightly citrus-y. Even its scent offended him. Crows don’t smell fresh, he thought with disgust.
It didn’t even taste right, he thought. It tasted like a flower. Ugh. He preferred the taste of insects, mice, rotten fruit. Not flowers.
The white feather felt soft in his beak. Not coarse like his other feathers. Coarse like his personality. There was nothing soft about Raven Feather. This white feather was ruining his image. He made up for it by being extra cruel.
He yanked again. The feather came out! He shook his head and opened his beak. The feather fluttered to the ground. Finally, he thought. Raven Feather spread his now all-black wings and flew off, satisfied.
Two weeks later, a small white feather broke through his skin and grew again.
Only black and white and gray.
Trash bags on the sidewalk
Nothing to see here.
No homeless people
No down and out
With no place to go
The sidewalks are clean
No cigarette butts
No sign of life.
Just two trash bags
Hiding all signs of life
Pindi and Mindi were playing on the fence when Zoom flew up to them. He was panicked. “My baby son fell from the nest!” he chirped between gasps for breath. He’s sitting on a car. He’s too young to fly. Plus, I think his wing is broken. Help me!”
They looked at each other in horror and flew to the Crepe Myrtle Tree where Zoom had his nest. There, on top of the giants’ car parked below the tree sat Intrepid, Zoom’s baby boy. He was wedged between the windshield and the hood.
“I’m afraid,” he chirped. “I can’t get out.”
Pindi and Mindi hovered around the baby, calming him as much as they could.
“What should we do?” Mindi asked. “How can we get him back to the nest?”
“If his wing is broken, he needs a healer,” said Pindi. “We can’t put him back in the nest if he can’t fly.”
Mindi looked up. “Oh, No! Here comes the giant. He’s coming to get in his car.”
Pindi and Mindi both flew to the giant and shouted as loudly as they could. “Don’t get in the car! There’s a baby hummingbird on your hood. He’s injured.”
“What? There are two of you?” the giant asked shaking his head. “Am I seeing double?”
“We’re twins,” Pindi shouted. “Will you help us with the baby hummingbird?”
“Can you lift the baby without touching him with your hands and carry him to our healer?” asked Mindi.
The giant nodded. He opened the car door and took out a small towel. Spreading the towel on the windshield, he used a corner to nudge Intrepid onto the towel. Then he gently picked up the towel with Intrepid clinging to it.
“Bring him to our tree,” Pindi said. “Our healer will help with his wing.”
Zoom flew around and around the giant holding his baby. “It will be ok,” he chirped. “The giant is taking you to help.”
“What are you two up to now?” King Bran demanded when he saw his daughters followed by the giant and a frantic Zoom.
“Intrepid fell from the nest and injured his wing. We’re taking him to our healer,” Mindi explained.
Later that morning
“There, there little guy. You’re going to be fine. It will just take awhile for your wing to heal. You’ll be flying in no time,” the healer told Intrepid. “You’ll need to stay with us until you can use your wing again.”
“I want to go home!” chirped Intrepid.
“Listen to the healer, son,” scolded Zoom. “He knows what he’s talking about. I’ll visit you every day, and you can play with Pindi and Mindi while your wing heals.”
Pindi and Mindi took turns playing with Intrepid and feeding honey nectar. Intrepid loved honey nectar and swallowed greedily. He got stronger every day.
Four Weeks Later
“My wing itches,” Intrepid complained. “When will you take off this cast?” he asked the healer.
“Let me check to see how you are healing,” said the healer. “Hummingbirds heal fast.”
“Hmmm,” he said as he gently moved Intrepid’ swing. “I think we can take off this cast today. You will need to be careful with it for another week or two.”
“Hooray!” shouted Pindi, and Mindi. “We can teach you how to fly! Let’s practice. Flap your wings.”
Intrepid stood up straight and flapped his wings. He opened his beak and chirped in amazement when he lifted off the ground. “I’m flying!”
“Careful son,” Zoom cautioned. He had just flown over from the Crepe Myrtle Tree to check on Intrepid. “You’re really good at flying. Take it slow. Don’t get carried away.”
The friends practiced flying every day. After a week, Intrepid was flying up and down and frontwards and backwards, with Pindi and Mindi right next to him. “This is fun!” he chirped.
“Let’s fly to your nest and surprise your father,” Pindi suggested.
Off they flew, towards the front of the house where the Crepe Myrtle Tree grew. Zoom was flitting around the garden, sipping nectar for lunch. He looked up and saw Intrepid flying with Pindi and Mindi. “What?” he asked. “You flew all the way home? That’s amazing. You are a fantastic flyer.”
Zoom and Intrepid said goodbye to Pindi and Mindi and spent the afternoon sipping nectar. All was well again.
My animals misbehave
The cat goes on a rampage
A chicken pecks me because I didn’t give her worms
I am not raising animal children
My husband touches cupboard doors with sticky fingers
And leaves dirty marks
He doesn’t see them
I clean them up
He’s often late
He doesn’t consult a watch
The passage of time is meaningless
When he’s doing something else
He doesn’t make the bed
He doesn’t tell my I’m pretty
Or compliment my cooking
But he notices when my car is dirty
And washes it
And vacuums it
And doesn’t say anything
He notices my gas tank is nearly empty and fills it
With the kind of gas my car likes
When he could be doing other things
And doesn’t say anything
He cuts roses and lavender and other blooms when he is puttering in the garden
And brings them inside
And puts them in a vase
And doesn’t say anything
He puts cards on my desk or on the kitchen counter
In advance of events
And doesn’t say anything
He buys me earrings because he knows I like them
He hid a diamond ring in the Christmas tree
And waited for me to find it
And didn’t say anything
He does so many things for so many people
And doesn’t think of himself
Because he wants to give
So he doesn’t say anything
Standing at the jewelry counter in Mervyn’s, I admired a necklace with silver beads and a smooth red stone pendant. School had just gotten out for the summer. My friend Jane and I would be seniors next year. Wow. Our last year of high school. I was reveling in the freedom of driving and shopping with Jane. Without my mom chauffeuring me around. Or judging my decisions. That would come later when I got home with my purchases.
I was flush with babysitting money. I worked hard for those dollars and I was going to spend them well.
I picked up the necklace, held it up to my neck, and looked in the small mirror that was standing on the counter. The necklace was so delicate. I liked the sheen of the silver beads and the smooth texture of the stone. Plus, red was my favorite color.
I turned over the tab to check the price and my hand slipped. The necklace slithered down the front of my shirt. I froze. Panic and guilt showed on my glass face. I’ve never been able to lie.
I shimmied a little trying to get the necklace to drop. It didn’t. Now What? No way was I going to reach inside my shirt while standing in the middle of Mervyn’s. I was mortified. Surely someone saw what happened. Weren’t there cameras and employees and watching teenaged girls loitering in the jewelry department?
I was equally sure there were cameras in the dressing rooms, so ducking into one to retrieve the necklace was out.
“Hey Inga, let’s go,” Jane called. “I’m done shopping.” In her code, that meant she had lifted something and wanted to get out of the store as fast as she could. Jane was way more daring than I was.
We walked towards the door. With every step, I was sure we would be stopped by a security person. Everyone must know I had a necklace under my shirt.
Two more steps and we were on the sidewalk. No one stopped us.
“Come on, let’s go get cookies and I’ll show you want I lifted. Did you get something?”
No, I thought, not on purpose. It wasn’t really stealing.
I never wore the necklace.
The fairies and all the guests at the Summer Solstice Celebration Fairy Ring slept late the morning after the celebration. Or they tried to. Zoom the hummingbird sounded the alarm just after dawn.
“I was looking for breakfast,” Zoom told a tired and disheveled King Bran. “I saw the crows massing in the Crepe Myrtle trees. Raven Feather cawed his war cry. They’ve captured Ka-a and are keeping him imprisoned. They don’t trust him not to help us.”
“Raven Feather and his crows dove at me. I flew up, then backwards to throw them off my tail. Then I came straight here.” Zoom was perched on a branch just outside of the great hall. His feathers were ruffled after his desperate flight.
Yawning and stretching her arms above her head, Pindi wandered into the great hall. “What’s going on? I heard crows cawing.”
“The crows have declared war,” King Bran told Pindi. “This is no place for a young fairy. Leave us now. And stay inside.”
“We should send a battalion of fighters to distract the crows, while a small stealth party flies to their nesting site to dismantle their nests. They are too big for us to fight directly,” said Angus, King Bran’s war chief. “
“We need our allies to help with this battle,” Angus advised. “We can’t do this alone. I have a friend among the paper wasps. They will help. Their stings are very painful and should slow down the crows.”
Crows cawed loudly outside the great hall and strafed over the castle, dropping walnut bombs on the roof. The ceiling shook as crows dropped their bombs. Dust rained down and dishes fell from shelves.
“Come children,” Queen Caelia called. “We’ll go further inside the castle where its safer.” Pindi grumbled, but she followed her mother. She was afraid but didn’t want to show it. Mindi and some of the other small fairies held their hands over their ears as the walnut bombs dropped and the castle walls shook.
“Angus,” King Bran said, “I don’t want you leading the stealth party. I need you here. Choose one of your commanders to go. Tell him to find out what he can about where they’re keeping Ka-a.”
“Seamus, go to the still room and talk with Petiole. We need some potions to disable the crows. Something we can dip our spears and arrows in before we go to battle.”
Blade flew into the great hall, skidding on his landing, his wings crooked and his hair spiking in all directions. “What can I do to help? My buddies and I are ready to fight!”
“Can you throw a spear or shoot an arrow?” King Bran asked.
“Yes, we’ve been practicing, but it was for sport, not war.”
“Get into battle gear and go tell Angus you’re ready to fight.”
Blade wiped the sweat off his brow and turned to dip his arrow into the pot of potion. The noise of battle swirled around him. The whir of dragonfly and hummingbird wings. The whistle of flying arrows. The caws and screams of the injured fighters. Crows were diving and weaving. “Ready, guys,” he said. “Aim carefully. Go for the throat. The potion is potent, but our arrows need to fly true.” He heard a scream and turned as one of his buddies was hit by a walnut bomb and fell. He called Zoom to take his injured buddy to the castle to see the healer.
A dozen paper wasps surrounded a crow trying to drop a walnut bomb. “Move in!” called their leader. As one, they attacked the crow, stinging again and again. The crow flew off cawing in agony.
King Bran stood on top of the fence and readied his spear. “Come closer…closer…closer” he chanted to the crows. “Now!” His spear throwers unleashed a volley of potion-laced spears at the approaching crows. Two fell. The rest turned and flew away.
As darkness fell, Blade dropped down into the fairies’ camp, sore, bruised, bloody, and exhilarated. “We kicked some crow butt today!” His buddies joined his war whoop with less enthusiasm. They were beyond tired. And they were hungry.
“How many casualties, how many injured?” Angus asked. He tended the fire as he asked, nudging almond cakes into the glowing coals. Blade’s stomach growled.
“We lost one,” Blade told him. “I’m not sure how many crows fell.”
“Eat some food and get some sleep. There will be more fighting tomorrow.”
Blade and his buddies bedded down near the fire. Blade was so tired he was asleep almost before his head hit the ground.
The Next Morning
“Go!” Angus yelled as he leaped astride a dragonfly. With a whir of wings, the dragonflies carried the fairy warriors into battle, whirling and swerving to avoid dive-bombing crows. Angus took aim and heaved his spear at a crow that flew too close. The spear hit home, and the crow dropped to the ground. Pumping his fist in the air, Angus yelled in triumph. “Another one bites the dust.”
Ducking to avoid a crow diving at him with its talons out, Angus told the dragonfly to maneuver his way back to the castle for more potion-dipped spears.
Taking a swig of honey nectar, Angus rested for a moment on top of the fence. “We’re holding our own,” he told King Bran, “but we need more fire power if we expect to win this war.”
“The wood nymphs are joining us” King Bran replied. “They are under your command. They have darts and spears with them. Are there enough dragonflies to carry them?”
Angus looked at the battalion of wood nymphs. “Take the long way around and flank them from the other side. Blade and his crew have the rear guard. I’ll take the front. We’ll force them into the center.”
At the castle, Pindi crept silently towards the door. Her mother was busy trying to keep the children calm and no one was paying attention to her. At the door, she whistled for Dasher the dragonfly. When he got there, she whispered her plan in his ear. “We have to go to the crows’ nests to free Ka-a. He will help us fight Raven Feather.”
“Its too dangerous,” Dasher replied. “Fairies and crows are fighting out there. You could get hurt. Or worse.”
“We won’t get hurt. We’ll fly around the back and take the long way. No one will see us.”
“What’s your plan for freeing Ka-a?”
Pindi patted her pack. “I have these nuts dipped in potion. I’ll figure out the rest when we get there.”
“Figures,” grumbled Dasher. “It’s just like you.”
Pindi crept to the nest where Ka-a was help captive. The crow guarding him was threatening Dasher and not paying attention to her.
“Ka-a,” she whispered, “we’ve come to free you. Can you fly?”
“My leg is tied behind me. I can’t reach the twine with my beak.”
“I’ll cut the twine,” Pindi whispered. “Stay still. I don’t want to cut your leg.”
Ducking to reach inside her pack, Pindi drew out the potion-dipped nuts. “These will put your guard to sleep so we can get away,” she said, and tossed them to the side of the nest. “You need to get the guard to come over here and eat the nuts.” Pindi climbed back out of the nest and crouched out of site.
“Guard!, look what I found.” Ka-a called. “Nuts. My favorite.”
“Give me those,” demanded the guard. “You aren’t allowed any food.” Back at his perch, the guard pecked greedily at the nuts. “These are delicious,” he cawed, and yawned deeply. His eyes slowly closed.
“Is he out?” Pindi asked Dasher?
“Yes, it looks like it. Hurry.”
Pindi jumped on Ka-a’s back and they flew.
On their way back to the castle, Pindi told Ka-a what she knew. “The crows are winning. We need more help to beat them.”
“Raven Feather has as many enemies as he has friends.” Ka-a said. “I have friends among the crows who will fight him. I’ll round them up and we’ll meet King Bran at the front. Give me 10 minutes.” Ka-a said as he landed on the fence to let Pindi jump down. “Now, get back inside the castle before you’re missed.”
The War Ends
The battle raged on. The fairies and their allies surrounded the crows and pushed them towards the center. The crows broke towards the far flank and threatened the wood nymphs. Ka-a and his friends flew over to help. Crows fell. Fairies fell and were taken by hummingbird ambulance to the castle healer. Day became night. Night became day. The battle was epic.
Finally, the tide started to turn. Ka-a returned to the fence after dropping walnut bombs on Raven Feather’s crows. “Gave them some of their own medicine,” he cawed. Ka-a was tired and thirsty. His feathers were rumpled and dusty. He ate a quick snack and told King Bran, “Raven Feather is ready to surrender. He has lost too many crows to continue to fight. Hop on. I’ll fly you over to accept his surrender.”
King Bran sat tall on Ka-a’s back as he told Raven Feather his terms. “You and your remaining crows must leave this neighborhood and never return. You must leave Ka-a ands his friends alone. You must not harass fairies or our allies. If you agree to these terms, I will accept your surrender.”
Raven Feather knew he was defeated. He grumbled, but accepted King Bran’s terms. He called his remaining crows and they flew off. Ka-a and his crow friends took over the Crepe Myrtle trees. King Bran thanked the paper wasps, wood nymphs, dragonflies, and hummingbirds for their help. “We couldn’t have won this war without you,” he told them. Then he turned to Pindi. “Daughter, I told you to stay inside where it was safe, but you didn’t. This time I am glad you didn’t listen to me. Thank you for freeing Ka-a. But, next time I tell you to do something, you had better listen.”
Pindi bowed her head and whispered, “Yes father.” But she crossed her fingers behind her back.
There was finally peace in the fairy kingdom.