How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel

When the Covid lockdowns started, many folks went on a buying spree (we all know the toilet paper jokes). Ever the dutiful one, off I went too. I was feeling rather pleased with myself when I got an extra bag of rice, and headed onto the library (to get books to tide us over during the lockdown).  When the husband called to ask where I’d gone, I sheepishly said that I was at the library just in case we were unable to get books during lockdown. I could hear a sound like a paper bag bursting – his version of a cross between a snort, and the urge to laugh. I bragged about the extra bag of rice, and I could see his face wondering why he had to be landed with someone, who in P G Wodehouse’s language, ‘must’ve been bumped on the head as a baby’. 

Well, I must say that when we staggered home with books for the children and self, I felt better. The local library has been one of my favorite spots to visit of course, but over the Covid period, I felt like Rapunzel in the book: How the Library Saved Rapunzel (Not the Prince). The library allowed us to schedule an appointment and arrange to pickup books on hold. What was more, they were kind enough to include a few picture books of their choice if you requested them to do so. I am eternally grateful to have access to libraries.

I felt almost an irresistible urge to increase my Science based reading this year (maybe this is a tiny rebellion for the disturbing anti-Science strain emerging with the 45th POTUS office). Starting the year off by re-reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos set the stage for the year ahead. The following books gave me no end of pleasure and learning over the year. (My Science writing class for children)

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2020 was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day

  • Unbowed – Wangari Maathai (in progress)
  • On Looking  – Alexandra  Horowitz
  • Losing  Earth  A Recent History – Nathaniel Rich
  • This is the Earth – Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander, Paintings by Wendell Minor

Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

What a lovely statement that is, and together with his Earth Rising image, contributed to the concerns around Planet Earth that led to founding of Earth Day in 1970.

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It was also a wonderful year to take in poetry. Mary Oliver & Margarita Engle were always welcome in a year when poets alone seemed to know the right turn of phrase for the bizarre. Dr Seuss & Jackl Prelutsky always know to turn one’s frown into a smile. 

  • Blue Iris – Mary Oliver
  • Enchanted Air – By Margarita Engle
  • Dog Songs – Mary Oliver
  • Owls and other fantasies – Mary Oliver (Yes! no!)
  • Be Glad your nose is in your face – Jack Prelutsky
  • Dr Seuss books (always worth reads and re-reads). I found a few gems that truly tickled the mind and got out some belly laughs.
    • Horton hears a Who
    • Horton Hatches an Egg
    • Sleep book
    • Oh the Thinks you can Think
    • How Lucky You Are
    • Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose

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With the Black Lives Matter movement, the year was ripe for educating oneself on the inequities of society and civil disobedience. The local library, news media, and friends all helped with an excellent array of reading material. Notable among the works read then were:

  • Becoming – By Michelle Obama
  • Black Panther – by Ta Nehisi Coates
  • Sneetches and other stories – Dr Seuss
  • A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela‘s children’s book version
  • My Many Colored Days – Dr Seuss

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With uplifting books and humour, life can be truly marvelous. My all-time favorites kept me company, and I am eternally grateful to their influence of course but a few others were added to the list this year.

The world isn’t such a good place either, and reading books such as these helps to remind us about the many problems that still beset society

The lure of power, and how we are seeing it all play out in real life

  • The Fate of Fausto – Oliver Jeffers
  • Louis I – The King of Sheep – Oliver Tallec
  • Yertle the Turtle and other Stories – Dr Seuss
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (pieces relating to the Minister of Magic refusing to acknowledge Voldemort’s return so he could stay in power)

Of course the true magic of life is never complete without children’s books. There are so many of them in this genre, that I did not even note half of them. But a few of them lit up my life

  • My Grandma is a Ninja – By Todd Tarpley, Illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou (When I become a grandma – though it is a few decades off, that is how I wish to be 🙂 )
  • Gondra’s Treasure – By Linda Sue Park
  • Enchanted Wood – by Enid Blyton (old Saucepan Man, Silky and Moonface with the lands above the enchanted tree – though it doesn’t hold the same level of magic it did as a child, it still has its charm)
  • The Red Pyramid – By Rick Riordan (this was the son’s recommendation, and thoroughly enjoyable it turned out to be romping down the Egyptian myths!)
  • The Quiet Book – by Deborah Underwood
  • A Fun Day with Lewis Carroll – Kathleen Krull & Julia Sarda
  • Peter Rabbit’s Tales – Beatrix Potter
  • Why is my Hair Curly – By Lakshmi Iyer
  • A History of Magic – Based on Harry Potter Universe
  • Tintin Comics (a fair few)
  • Calvin & Hobbes
  • The Velocity of Being – Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick

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On that magical high note, here is wishing everyone a healthy, happy new year in 2021. Things are already turning around, and looking hopeful. Keep reading, and sharing 🙂

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The Secret of the Wings

So many days in the past few weeks, I have tried desperately to snatch a moment here, and a moment there, in the midst of hectic, crowding days of meetings, expectations and deadlines. Sometimes, I peek out of the window in the precious moments between ‘Leave meeting’ and ‘Join meeting’ to catch a glimpse of the beautiful November days with its soft sunshine through the yellowing leaves, each leaf 🍁🍃🍂 taking its chance to show its beauty to the world in a grand flourish before it lets go. The evenings are dark by the time the little tiles on my meetings are gone, and I clutch my coat about me as I stare at the tiny ✨ dots lighting up the night sky instead. 

So, we went:  before the crowds hit the mountain resort for the Thanksgiving holidays, the husband worked his magic and found us a little house that was free for a couple of days only. 

All of the Californian plains that we traversed for the 100 odd miles was bursting forth with fall colors. The reds were particularly fetching against the browning hills. Traffic was very light, and as we started climbing the Sierra Nevada mountains, a nippiness crept into the air. It is the lunar waxing phase, and the moon was out early in the afternoon keeping us company as we climbed the mountains. The fall colors gave way to the snowy reaches, and soon, it was apparent that here, it was no longer Fall. Here it was Winter.

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The journey reminded me of the scene in the Tinker Bell movie where the warm fairies peek into the winter lands. The orange, yellow and the brilliant reds slowly gave way to evergreens and a world blanketed in snow. There is nothing half as marvelous as a sunny day with wispy clouds against the azure skies and a snowy backdrop. This was winter wonderland alright. 

Mulish as I was, I took off on a walk as soon as we reached our destination. I huffed and puffed up the steep hills, my lack of exercise clearly showing in the panting under the mask. I was grateful for the mask for it held the warmth of my breath in as I walked on towards the snowy reaches affording a view of the vast Lake Tahoe from up above. The moon twinkled its milky light on the snowy  reaches below, and I stopped here and there to take a picture. I remembered reading in The Sea Around Us that some of our ancestors thought the moon was made up of ice (it was a much older notion of course). It was an appealing theory – standing there in the light of the moon, with the thin glint of the snow light all about me, I could imagine how our ancestors came up with that one. 

I like to see how we made leaps in understanding, and I feel the joy of every discovery almost anew as I gain even a little understanding deeper than before. One of the things that still astounds me is the spatial intelligence required to figure out our position in the cosmos. I watch the constellations change their positions in the sky every night, I notice the moon at a different place and time, and yet, every time, I marvel at the leap of understanding for mankind. 

Read: The Man Who Deciphered the Heavens – a post on Nicholas Copernicus

That evening, the movie of choice was Tinker Bell’s Secret of the Wings. The daughter and the son overruled all the action packed thrillers suggested by the hardworking man who found us the cabin in the first place, and we settled in to watch the feisty fairy instead. Tinker Bell, the impulsive little thing that she is, is curious to see what the winter wonderland is like. Since the fairies of the warm lands are banned from going over to the winter side, of course she wants to go. It only seemed fitting to sit and watch the little movie together. 

Closeted in what looked like an adventurer’s cabin, with the soft light of the snow reflecting against the moonlight outside, a fun movie, and the warmth of food and beverage created the magic that Tinker Bell and her friends were creating up in Pixie Hollow. The pixie dust swirled and poured out in to the world, and we did the same with our comments. 

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We sought peace in the less popular trails. It was a trip meant to process the year, and say thanks to the world in spite of all that has happened during the year, or because of all that has happened during the year. I feel most like Anne of Green Gables when she says she does not know how to pray, but when out in the woods, looking up at the great gifts of nature, she can just feel a prayer and let it out into the universe. 

Isn’t it magical when our most positive thoughts take on wings and soar?

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“I’d go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep, woods, and I’d look up into the sky–up–up–up–into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer. …” Anne of Green Gables, By L M Montgomery

💦 🌳 Earth 🌏 Magicians 💥❄️

Magic was in the air. The afternoon sun was shining with an intensity that surprises us every summer. The high temperatures should really not surprise us anymore, but we still scuttle inside in the afternoon sun and wonder how it got to be so hot so soon. Inside the home, we were grateful for the cool atmosphere – the suns rays were filtering in through the large sycamore tree in the backyard, bathing us in Komorebi.

Komorebi (木漏れ日): Sunshine filtering through the trees.

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Komerabi is beautiful and especially marvelous to experience on a week-end afternoon after a hearty lunch.

I was sprawled out on the sofa beside the son with a heavy book, a light heart, an empty page, and a full stomach. I was reading Harry Potter, A History of Magic. It is an impressive book that has on the cover apart from a magnificent rendition of a Phoenix, the words- The Official Companion to the British Library Exhibition at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.

Leaving the title aside, it is a comprehensive compilation of some of the magic and folklore in the Harry Potter world. I was happily frisking through the magical journey of our species through the ages stopping to savor the beautiful images in the book, and marveling for the n-th time about the brilliant mind of J K Rowling and her rich repertoire of knowledge that led to the marvelous wizarding world.

Some of the tidbits in the book were truly mind-boggling. Like the plethora of plants the myths have grown from and some superb paintings of the flora through the ages.Reading about the book, A Curious Herbal, for instance, made me realize how lucky we are to be living in this era of human history where high quality renditions of art, photography etc are available for reading and sharing digitally.

A Curious Herbal seems to have been a labor of love by Elizabeth Blackwell. Written between 1737 and 1739, the book had pictures of over 500 plants used “in the practice of physick”. Written, illustrated, hand-graved and hand colored by Elizabeth Blackwell, it was used to free her husband from debtor’s prison. He repaid her by leaving the country and being executed for treason in Sweden.

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The son was sitting next to me and making cards for the game he was designing. The looks of intense concentration were matched only by the splash of colors – clashing, brilliantly hued, and sparkling. The sound effects were not captured on the document itself, but if it could, it promised to be quite the party.

We sat each wrapped in our own imaginary worlds of thought in companionable silence for a space, when I asked him how his game was coming along. A sneak peak into the document revealed a marvelous world. There were a lot of pictures, points for this and that, and what-not. It looked like the end game would be a fascinating one, if somewhat high on the dishoom-flashoom-bazinga factor. Muons, quarks and photons made their brave show alongside tornado-crushers, wave-ripplers and what-nots in the game cards (a reflection to all that he enjoys reading and watching really.)

“Okay – I’ll tell you!” , he said the magic of Creating bubbling over as he explained his cards to me. After some time, his exuberant tones came to a hush and he said with flair. “This is for Earth Magicians! You have to get 15000 healing points to become an Earth Magician.”

“And how do you get 15000 points”, I asked, for who doesn’t want to be an Earth Magician? What a lovely title to be bestowed with?

As he explained, I scratched the old chin, and stumped him by asking what special powers Earth Magicians have.

The little fellow hemm-ed and umm-ed a fair bit as he thought through his answer. When finally he gave his answer, it went on for about two minutes, and I gathered that he had envisioned earth magicians as having the powers to create something amazing from the ordinary.

“You know? I like it – I should fight trolls and dragons and what-not to become an earth magicians. This time I will choose gardening as a earth magician superpower!”” I said.

He looked puzzled and I said with a serious expression on my face “Well…Gardeners, singers, dancers, writers, artists, aren’t they all Earth Magicians?”

I pointed to our little patch in the garden outside, where I have tried to grow many plants and flowers. Elizabeth Blackwell would have a bit of a challenge drawing a plant of rare repute from my backyard, much as I love it. I’ve even had instances of ordinary flowers which seem to thrive in the wild simply limp along and give it up as a bad job when I set to it.

“See? I try with all the best intentions and little business results. Yet, there are so many talented gardeners among us who use the same potting soil and are able to raise not just trees, but get the flowers to bloom – a new set for every season, in them! If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is!” I said, and he guffawed.

“Well…I suppose that is true!” he said

“Want some more magic powers from Earth magicians? ” I said.

He rolled his eyes, a habit he has picked up from his teenaged sister. I told him I am going for some ice-cream, and he eagerly joined in – if Earth Magicians can make ice-cream, is there a bigger super-power?

 

In Boysenberry Jelly & Mistletoe Jam

On the drive back from the Inyo Canyons, in one day, we found ourselves dealing with gusty winds, a snow storm and a rain storm before the day was out. The Wind, The Snow & The Rain – Part 2.

We were now stuck in a snow storm. The highway men had come and swapped the rustic freeway sign to ‘Snow Chains Required’ and left. We had snow chains and I supposed they worked.

By the time we had pulled out the snow chains, we were covered with snow. Our brains were exhorting the toes to wiggle but there was no inclination from the toes to w. Miss-tle-toe for you. The nose was thirty degrees below freezing point. Rudolph the red nosed reindeer anyone? Ours had turned a lovely boysenberry color and had a reindeer been about would gladly have chomped off our noses. We peered into the snow chain package. The husband beamed like a snowman with a crooked twig for a smile and said he had opened the case prior to leaving in a rare state of prescience. I gave him the my-hero look and fumbled for the instruction manual. There it was: in 8 easy steps, it laid out how to install snow chains.

Take clip, Clasp to the tire,  Move to opposite side of tire,  Do something on the side of the tire facing the inside of the car, Take clip and clasp to the tire,  Rotate the chain under the tire and, Clasp,  Click

It looked easy enough to do on a sunny day with our garage door open, some music in the background and no car on top. But the instructions seemed to have completely missed the car on top of the tires in the pictures. One look at the tires, the snow, our freezing hands, and the car on top of it was enough. There are times when we look competent, and times when we don’t. This was one of those times when we were not. Looking c I mean.

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It is at moments like this that the husband really comes into his own. While I was fumbling with the instructions, he was gone. One second, I was oh-see-this-ing to him and the next moment, I was oh-see-this-ing to a sympathetic looking fir tree. He bolted like a hare into the tavern conveniently located on the opposite side of the road, and came back with an eminently more competent looking chap from the pub. The cherubic fellow rubbed his hands together and said he could help. ‘I have done snow tires before, but you really should try it out once you know. ‘ he said plainly putting a decent face to his thoughts.

In less than ten minutes, the chap had installed the snow chains. I clasped his hands with gratitude looking like a dying duck who had just been given a new lease of life. I quacked on to thank him effusively and went so far as to call him a brother in need. The daughter, keen as always, asked me why I said that since she was not sure her Anand Maama would be any help with installing snow chains even if he had been in the car. A fair point.

There is something grandiose about snow chains. I suppose emperors frequently feel this way once they wear their crowns. They get a swagger, a dangerous over-confidence. The snow chains were the crowns to the tires, and off we went all smiles, confidence and swagger.

Post snow chains, in about 43 seconds, we found the car doing the reindeer-magic-mushroom sequence again with renewed vigor and whim. The car was not just mobile but intent on being perpendicular to the road and spinning a good 180 degrees.

Nature had not even shown her fury, and there we were spinning on highways, making boysenberry jelly with our noses, playing mistletoe with our toes,  and wondering whether we would be able to get out – snow tires or not, before nightfall. In what is a miracle,after about an hour in which a child tumbling could have overtaken us, we emerged into the rain and not an ounce of snow. It was as if they were different worlds.

As we were fumbling on the roadside in the rain to take the snow chains off, a brilliant red fire truck pulled up behind us, and the firemen helped us out smiling and chatting amiably all the while. We did the dying-duck-thank-sequence, and off we went on our way driving in the pouring rain.

In one day, we had whipped past gusty, gale-like winds, glided helplessly in a snow storm and thundered through a heavy rain storm.  The bright blue skies had turned grey and murky to ink blue and thunderous all in the span of a few hours.

We tottered into the house for a hastily made rasam and rice, and sighed like octogenarians with our feet in front of the heater that there was no place like home.

Buckle Bo & The Mystical Orb

One day, I saw the daughter hard at work writing an entry for the Young Authors Contest in her school.  Usually, when she thinks of a story, unicorns, horses and ponies, leap across continents and worlds to establish their roles in them.  If there is a human element involved, that person would have just moved to the countryside and gotten a horse as a gift. The horse could then become a unicorn and shall reveal itself under special circumstances or continue along life as a special horse with powers almost magical to behold. I glanced at the story, and surprise of surprises: there was a unicorn, a mother unicorn and seven sibling unicorns. I was a little tired of this arc, so I asked her to try something else for a change. A dash of encouragement, and some coaxing later, she agreed to try. The tale that emerged this time, I was thrilled to see,  was one where the protagonist was a duck battling an evil raven, and not only that, the duck had a noble purpose: to save all plant life. So good so far.

(Note to self: I should have taken a picture of the book title at least, but I forgot. I could have pasted it here *facepalm*)

I was mildly proud of myself. I had truly inspired her enough to try different stories. I swelled at the thought and every time I saw her working on the story, or drawing a picture for it, I would smile a little. There is something else that I should probably mention here. Recently, I spent an afternoon in her class reading out one of my stories to them, discussing the elements of writing and such. It was a golden afternoon in my mind. I had the time of my life discussing moral dilemmas, morals, plot devices and narrative styles with them. Children can be precocious and highly engaging when they want to be. In that class, it was hard to think that these children are the same ones who will double up and laugh at fart jokes. The discussions were so animated, intelligent, and lively. It was like floating in a hot air balloon above some fuzzy, golden clouds on a full stomach.

Floating in a Hot Air Balloon
Floating in a Hot Air Balloon

Obviously, when I met her friends at School later, I asked them whether they were going to write as well. Some eagerly nodded, while others skulked off. Her friends, who did try,  told me their titles. I don’t know about the stories, but the story titles made you want to snatch a chair and settle down to read: The Adventures on Mount Whirldoom, The Mystery of the Missing Phantom, Buckle Bo and the Mystical Orb (that was the daughter’s title). Very fancy, I tell you. Very fancy.

One of them hinted that she picked up some tips from my discussion in their class the other day while writing her story. I was so happy to hear that, I beamed. Clearly fishing for more compliments, I asked them why they wanted to write: did they think it will be fun to construct a plot?

Now, I don’t know what devices hot air balloon makers use to deflate their devices, but I needed none of that. Their answers were enough.

‘Oh! That. No. Usually, there is a pizza party for participants.” said a Jane Austen.

“Hey, don’t forget we also get ice-cream.” a Mark Twain piped up.

“And brownies.” said an Enid Blyton.

My hot air balloon crash landed on the lawns nearby, and I fumbled out.

Buckle Bo & The Mystical Orb, if you please!