Rake & gather: a poem

All the detritus. Stifling.  Its pungent scent and brown-black spores.

Withered and toxic. Acids eats away at the tender shoots

  Gaillardia and coreopsis. Their sunny faces never reach mine.

I scrape and rake with ruthlessness. Over and over.

The hard, green plastic rake bends with my anger.

                    It is all I can do to change the world.

Bending to my will. Reasons to live.

Yes, pungent smells of decaying leaves lay among fungi.

I rake and gather. Rake and gather. Over and over.

It is all I can do to change the world.

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A CHARLES DICKENS CHRISTMAS

Merry Everything! Children’s books to share with your family

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London by Andrea Warren

Andrea Warren is the author of award-winning & non-fiction titles, such as We Rode the Orphan Trains, Under Siege:Three Children in the Civil War and the Battle for Vicksburg.

More than autobiography of the famous author, it gives detailed accounts of his traumatic childhood.  Enlarging this personal sphere, Warren incorporates the laws, mores, and ethics of the mid to late 1800’s, especially illuminating the upper classes and their beliefs and behavior toward those living in poverty.  Attitudes toward children and infants were no exception to the social Darwinism, and it is chilling.

Amidst this, Charles Dickens matures and develops a strong sense of responsibility to educate the wealthy point out their lack of humanism.  Warren weaves in stories of the composer, Handel and the artist, Hogarth among those who influenced Dickens and who worked to erode the ignorance and denial by the wealthier classes toward the working class and poor. Carefully documented with primary images and text documentation, Warren offers a list of Dickens’works, a Selected Bibliography, and Works Consulted. A solid non-fiction book. 

Title recommendations by Author, Charles Dickens

original cover of A Christmas Carol
Read this from The Library of Congress, free, as an eBook

A Christmas Carol 

Published in 1843, this book has become favorite ghost story, especially atChristmas.  Here, Dickens incorporates his ardor to change social mores through this sentimental story that still engages the heart.  Online in eBook format from the Library of Congress http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/bit.37729

Oliver Twist 

In this novel, Dickens uses his own experience when young, working in a blacking shop to convey the hopelessness those feel who are born into London’s working-class and poorer environments.  He combines this with the real-life conditions of orphaned children who are forced to work in deadly jobs, such as a chimney sweep, to develop a setting filled with tension.  The child is always the hero, and Oliver is no different, as he continues to believe in goodness despite his life.  

Title recommendations with Charles Dickens as a character and/or influence

The Haunting of Charles Dickens by Lewis Buzzbe

Charles Dickens helps a young woman solve the mystery of her missing brother in this historical fiction title set in 19th century London. 

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: a Dickens of a  Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy, illus. Barry Moser

Anthropomorphic adventure tale that mimics Dickens novels – those oppressed versus the bullies. Illustrations are sublimely rendered making this a treasure for younger readers.

The Traitor’s Gate by Avi

Avi, a fan of Dickens, begins his suspense tale with the father in debtors’ prison (not unlike Dickens ‘father), and this fourteen year-old assuming the responsibilities for his family and uncovering family secrets.

Audio book covers
Don’t forget about audio books for reluctant readers!

The narcissistic father in memoir: a commentary

Implosion: A Memoir of An Architect’s Daughter

Having read through this disturbing account of Elizabeth Garber’s upbringing, many threads of thought come to the surface. Bear with me.

A brief account (for a detailed summary and critique, please read the Kirkus starred review) follows the Garber family during the late 1950s through the 1960s in Ohio, an upscale, white family. Through the eyes of his “beloved” daughter, readers are witness to the impact of this highly talented architect-father; it is the crux of this memoir. His undiagnosed mental illness combined with his own repressive Victorian upbringing and his impotence at fulfilling his personal artistic vision, permeates every facet of their lives.

It is his wife who I find most remarkable. Her story is significant in that it encapsulates the burgeoning  Second Rise of the Woman’s Movement through her elevation of consciousness and the enormous struggle to save herself and her three children from relentless abuse behind closed doors. “Jo” slowly evolves into this proper noun by the author (her daughter) rather than the generic “mommy”or “mother” thus symbolizing her role in their lives.

In 1982 Linda Schierse Leonard published The Wounded Woman: Healing the Father Daughter Relationship. As Jungian therapist, she recounts the stories of those living with abusive fathers who they loved.  Garber’s memoir fits into these stages of a daughter’s growth and pain as she tries to reconcile herself to the abuse and control by a narcissistic father to the same father she loves unconditionally.  Every step of the way, it is harrowing.

I am put in mind of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, after having read the fictional account, Loving Frank: a Novel. Based closely upon historical research, Wright, too, presents as a narcissist whose behavior is granted permission due to his genius. History is ripe with such similar stories of musicians, artists, dancers, and architects and remains ever present.

The question that arises for me: How does this continue to happen?

And, as we know, it not limited to the “arts.” Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne from the University of Massachusetts and co-author of a hefty psychology textbook, offers thoughts for the lay person in her Psychology Today article. Some are valuable; others, I would take excpetion. For instance, my feeling is that the narcissitic personality will be the last one to recognize this disorder in himself or herself and/or seek psychotherapy. 

As we go forward, will our culture continue to acquiese to those individuals who act abusively and destructuvely, rather than recognize, confront, and require health care? Is this the price we think we must pay for “genius”?


Garber, Elizabeth W. Implosion: A Memoir of An Architect’s Daughter. She Writes Press, 2018. Print.
Horan, Nancy. Loving Frank: a Novel. Ballentine Press, 2007. Print.
Leonard, Linda Schierse. The Wounded Woman: Healing the Father-Daughter Relationship. SHAMBHALA PRESS,1983. Print.

One writer’s story: a transformation

This slim book is powerful. The opening third holds this power as it is Olsen’s personal narrative told at age fifty without self-pity, without artifice. With her achingly honest outpouring the author establishes her credentials through experiences that are so visceral in her telling, that your heart aches. She has gone through it all–racism, depression and alcoholism, rape, self-loathing, and a painful divorce. The remainder of the book focuses on how she endures these trials and then, her efforts at transformation. Judith Herman, in her book Trauma and Recovery, simply states: “Trauma inevitably brings loss (118).” Olsen’s trauma and subsequent loss are substantive.

Transformation begins with honesty and Olsen honors Alcoholic Anonymous and their Twelve-Step program as is its due, along with varying styles of meditation and healing retreats and their rituals. She honors her children, her friends, both new and former. Her story comes from her direct experience. Yet, she never loses her earthy and oftentimes, humorous approach.

She does not pontificate.  She shares.  Unflinchingly.

A steadfast theme throughout the book and demonstrated through the “Suggested Reading” and “Bibliography” (worth perusing!) is hard work. It shows grit. By and by, the reader meets a sober, self-caring, and giving individual who remains engaged with those she loves, and with the world.

Sitting back and pondering this story, her story, I fall into a short reverie of the folk tale or the fairy tale that adults have put aside and labeled as “children’s literature.” Yet, it is our literature, too. And, in these myriad stories the young girl endures ordeals, herculean tasks – taking them on one-by-one until she has transformed into a woman. Her own woman. Only then can the wealth, whether it be a kingdom or wisdom, be shared.

Maria Olsen shares. With this book, she offers paths to the treasure, to you, the reader.

Publications by Maria Leonard Olsen
  • Not the Cleaver Family: The New Normal in the Modern American Families. Tate Publishing & Enterprises, 2016
  • Healing For Hallie. Mirror Publishing, 2016
  • Mommy, Why’s Your Skin So Brown?  Mirror Publishing, 2013

Herman, M.D., Judith Lewis. Trauma and Recovery: the Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. HarperCollins Publishers, 1992. Print
Olsen, Maria Leonard. 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018. Print.

A brief walk (Haiku)

restaurant

EllE̅

Sprightly steps along

cemented hopscotchéd streets

Outing with first-born

TH 2018

5 AM. Wide awake. Uneasiness keeps me company with thoughts about a seriously ill friend who cannot escape her disease. These fill every crevice. Unrelenting grey skies today with a damp chill in air. 

Unexpected texting with my son leads to the first gift from December – an invitation to “stop by.” Car loaded with small tokens for the woman in his life, I leave this anxiety behind.

In the early afternoon, his block is bustling. Couples walking dogs. Kids running up and down the sidewalk. Yes! there are trees for sale at the neighborhood school. More joys to come from December.

Yet, it is breakfast we seek out at the local hotspot. Filled with young people, children, and good energy. Sitting at the bar, watching Liverpool vs. Everton (I, a Liverpool fan) on his phone, we drink hot coffee, eat omelets and such while I marvel at this amazing man who was once my child.


haiku generator that I used with my students, and still do!
Elle. July 28, 2018, eatingalltheday.blogspot.com/2018/07/elle.html.

Orchids & mystery

Charles Finch published his first “Charles Lenox mystery” in 2007 which was nominated for the elite Agatha Award. I am thrilled to say that it is the first in the series which I have just finished. Yes, it is unusual for me, as you may know from previous posts, I read whatever takes my fancy. Whenever. Rarely do I follow any order in a series.

A Beautiful Blue Death appeals to me in so many ways, you who are orchid lovers: the Victorian English setting of the upper class who venture into the lower, especially the Rookery; the characters who are multi-dimensional one who yields a favorite of mine thus far, the independently-minded Lady Jane; the flawed and compassionate Dr. Thomas McConnell struggling with drink and his repressed, Scottish temperament (O, ye Scots!). On and on. The only character who is somewhat less complex is George Barnard. He is the consummate, duplicitous “bad” guy; even the victim, a housemaid, has more interesting permutations. Perhaps Mr. Barnard will develop more depth in subsequent novels.

book cover of mystery

It really is not fair to be so critical with this first title. Overall, it is a delight to read and puts me in mind of Anne Perry’s mysteries in the “Charlotte and Thomas Pitt” series. Both are extremely well written in terms of actual sentence structure and this, combined with their plots, yield quite a literary adventure for the likes of me.

Anyway, I am on to my second title, The Fleet Street Murders, the third in the series.

This one was sitting on my sister’s bookshelf and well, I took it! I like the cover.

book cover mystery

For a list of the “Charles Lenox Mysteries,” visit this link, and read in any order of your choosing!


Finch, Charles. A beautiful Blue Death: a Mystery. St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2007. Print.

Venice & angels

Miss Garnet’s Angel: a Novel

What a strange and enchanting tale of Venice. Of its effect upon this resolutely repressed woman of that certain age. She timidly embraces previously unknown sensations of beauty, spirituality, even the divine, as she transforms from her narrow and prescribed spinster life to one who walks with comfort in the company of angels. The sacred undertones throughout the story surpass religion, even offering glimpses of her intellectual prowess as a former teacher of Ancient History in the rigid British school system.  The companion bible story from the Book of Tobit (oftentimes referred to as the Book of Tobias) paralells and mirrors Miss Garnet’s personal story and ascent to consciousness. 

The author’s training as a Jungian psychoanalyst and drawing on her own life as an English professor, Vickers’ never uses this background to detract, never uses the intellectual component to  overpower the mystery of the story; she makes these the perfect complement and foil.

angel on book cover


“WHAT A WORLD SHE HAD ENTERED COMING TO VENICE; A WORLD OF STRANGE RITUAL, PENUMBRAS, RAPTURE” (69).

Venice, a place of myriad islands, a place of bridges is the perfect metaphor for the evolution of Miss Garnet becoming “Julia.” The unforeseen relationships she awkwardly encounters become those very forces allowing her to change into all she had never had or experienced. 

Who among us could decline such a sublime and subtle offer from such a place? Who could deny the angels of Venice?

divider line

Vickers, Salley. Miss Garnet’s Angel. Penguin Group, 2000. Print.