For Shakespeare’s Birthday: 5 Gifts He’s Given Me

I fell in love with Shakespeare’s work watching presentations of his plays on TV as a teenager. In 1980, Derek Jacobi played Hamlet and my family taped his performance with our new VCR. I watched that tape over and over, mesmerized by Hamlet’s struggle with doubt, by the inevitable destruction of the prince and those around him, and by the brilliance of the language.

Since then, I’ve seen many of Shakespeare’s plays, either live or recorded, and read some as well. I’ve added titles to my list of favorites — The Tempest, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet — and been entranced repeatedly by his work.

In honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday 450 years ago today, here are just five of the many gifts his writing has given me.

My favorite bracelet
My favorite bracelet

1) “To thine own self be true”: Although pompous Polonius’s advice to his son is usually played for laughs, when he reaches this line, you realize that he is not entirely a fool. These are words to remember and to live by, that cut to the root of true integrity, for if you follow them “thou canst not then be false to any man”. (Hamlet, Act I, Sc. iii)

2) Hamlet: Both the character and the play. It’s still my favorite after all these years. Hamlet is an intelligent man full of passion but hamstrung by doubt. I also constantly doubt myself, so I am fascinated with his story. Like many of Shakespeare’s characters, he is easy to identify with as a person, which is what makes his downfall so tragic.

3) “A Muse of fire”: When I am caught up in obsessive creation, I know what is happening to me. I am being driven by a muse of fire, a demanding taskmaster who requires frantic creation until my goal is achieved. Shakespeare gives me the perfect words to describe how I burn with inspiration. (Henry V, prologue)

4) Intense dream worlds: I am struck by the fantastical beauty in Midsummer-Night’s Dream, the lovers’ passion in Romeo and Juliet, and the solemn heroism in Henry V. The intensity of Shakespeare’s visions wake me up, make me feel — joy, sorrow, love, hate — so strongly that I come away both dazed and fully alive.

5) “Words, words, words”: Much as his characters and stories have infiltrated our culture, what stays with me are his words. The archaic language that can be challenging to comprehend is also full of glorious poetry, creative word use, burning images, apt comparisons, and humorous observations. To listen to lines by Shakespeare is to sit down to a sumptuous feast where every bite is full of complex, satisfying flavors. My appetite for it never fades. (Hamlet, Act II, Sc. ii)

Ten Reasons I Adore Life on the Prairie

I’ve lived many places in my life, but seven years ago I moved somewhere I had never thought of living. I’d heard of Colorado, driven through Colorado, even camped in Colorado, but I never once thought about living here. The funny thing is that of all the places I have lived, Fort Collins has turned out to be my favorite. As great as the town is, I know the real draw for me is the prairie. Here’s some of the reasons why (in no particular order):

1) Raptors: I enjoy watching birds of all kinds, but raptors have a special appeal. I see them daily, flying overhead or perched high above a field. Red-tailed hawks and American kestrels are the most common in my neighborhood. Bald eagles, a bird I’d never seen in the wild before, fly right over my house, and I am always thrilled when I catch sight of them.

2) Sky: We just have more of it here. The drama is endless. A giant storm can be raging away and yet seem remote. I can watch it drift across the plains, pouring onto houses or fields, from miles away. I’m constantly astonished by the beauty and variety of the clouds here.

Mountains nearly hidden by the clouds.
Mountains nearly hidden by the clouds.

3) Mountains: We have a clear view of the foothills and the Rocky Mountains from roads and trails all over town. The mountains stretch along our western horizon from north to south and add yet another layer to the weather we can observe. Mountains wrapped in cloud emerge covered with snow, while the sun shines continuously down on the flatlands.

4) Sunshine: Because of our higher altitude (5000 feet) and our low humidity, the sun we get is more intense, brighter and stronger than the sun I grew up with. You can feel it. And the majority of days are sunny, even in the winter, which helps make the bitter days a lot easier to bear.

Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. I know it doesn't look like much, but my heart thrills at the sight of it.
Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. I know it doesn’t look like much, but my heart thrills at the sight of it.

5) Grasslands: Our community protects the prairie with 36,000 acres of designated natural area. We can hike in many of these open spaces, surrounded by acres of wild grasses and enjoying the landscape and wildlife of the prairie.

6) Elbow room: I’m uncomfortable in crowds, so the emptiness of the prairie appeals to me. I look around and I am in the middle of a vast space, able to see for miles. I know long before they arrive if someone is coming.

7) Prairie dogs: Although they are often treated as pests, small colonies of these spunky animals survive in the margins along roads or in parts of the natural areas. They bark with indignation at my approach, a squeaky staccato warning to their buddies, while their black tails quiver with annoyance. They make me laugh.

Coyote!
Coyote in the prairie behind our house.

8) Coyotes: On clear nights, when the moon is bright, we hear the yipping coyote chorus all around our house. It brings home the fact that I live in the West and that it is at least to some degree still wild.

9) Summer mornings: On certain days, the early morning air is dry and clear, yet you can feel the heat of the day to come. I used to get the exact same feeling when I visited my grandparents in eastern South Dakota, so these magical mornings take me right back to the joys of childhood and summer vacation.

10) Timelessness: The prairie landscape is like the ocean, a landscape caught up in the events of the moment. The grass bows to the wind; clouds tumble over the mountains and stretch out over the prairie. Everything changes so quickly, so radically, that you can only be sure of this instant.

The prairie reminds me to enjoy the present, whatever it may be, and what better reason can I have to love it than that?

The Unexpected Gifts of My Writing Retreat

wantNeed

Today is my last day at my writing retreat. It’s time to pack up and go home. I had hoped to get so much done here and I was sad yesterday because I was feeling like I had failed.

Two weeks ago, I looked at my writing schedule and realized I could actually finish my Rapunzel draft while I was on retreat. That was before my computer died and I got sick. I lost a week and a half of work time, putting me way behind on my writing goals.

Although I managed (with lots of help from my wonderful husband) to pack and get up to the mountains as scheduled, I was still recovering from my cold when I arrived at the cabin. I’ve had to spend time sleeping, reading, napping, and oh, yeah, sleeping. I also did some writing, but no more than I would do during a normal week at home. And that bummed me out.

The retreat has not been what I expected. I have not accomplished the things I wanted to. But the good news is, other things have happened while I’ve been here, and I realize now how valuable they are.

  • I got to talk in-depth with my friends about writing and the vagaries of the creative process, both topics I find fascinating.
  • When I was full of doubt about my novel, one of my friends helped me to see that my instincts were good and I should go with my gut. I would still be agonizing over what to do if she hadn’t reassured me I was on the right track.
  • I got time to take care of myself. I went for a walk in the sunshine each day and got plenty of rest.
  • I was able to ease my way back into my daily routine, which had been completely abandoned while I was sick.

I wanted a finished manuscript, but I needed good conversation, creative support, and improved health. Fortunately, this week gave me a whole lot of the things I really need.

I’m feeling much better about the retreat now. So much better, than I can’t wait to get back to my writing.

Leftovers: A Blessing or A Curse?

leftovers

We’re still eating turkey.

It’s been just over a week since Kurt and I roasted one to make up for the fact we didn’t get to on Thanksgiving Day. That I’ve been eating turkey all week (and still have more to eat) is all my fault. I saw our local store had some left and I hadn’t had home-roasted turkey in 23 years. I got excited by the prospect. I bought the smallest one they had, but it still weighed 19 pounds.

19 pounds of turkey for two adults. We knew we’d be eating that bird for ages, so we made mass quantities of side dishes to go with it. Result: a fridge full of leftovers.

Despite both of us eating turkey once or twice a day for a week, there is still some left. I like variety in my diet. I can usually stand to eat a favorite dish two or three days in a row, but even that gets old, and I start looking for something — anything! — else to eat. A week is seriously pushing it.

You’re thinking we should just freeze the leftovers and eat them in January, and you’re probably right. Only I keep thinking, “If we freeze the turkey, I’m going to have to cook.” And that’s where I get all conflicted about leftovers.

As I see it, the pros of leftovers are:
1) No cooking required. (Heating in a microwave is not cooking.)
2) I know exactly what I am going to get. The chance that something could go wrong is removed, and I can be certain that dinner will be a success, because it already was.
3) Dinner is ready whenever we are. It’s just minutes from fridge to table.
4) No pots or pans used, so clean-up is quick.

The cons?
1) Boredom. I’m tired of eating this meal over and over and over and over. (Check my back. I think I’m growing feathers.)
2) I know exactly what I am going to get. (I know, this was also on my pros list, but that’s because my surprise threshold moves around and there’s no telling if this will be a day where I am looking for adventure or clinging to the comfortable.)
3) The good stuff goes first. A day always comes when you stare into the fridge and say, “We’re down to brussel sprouts and mashed turnips” and try not to cry.
4) Most meals taste best fresh out of the oven.

But in all my thinking about leftovers, something came up that had nothing to do with convenience, boredom, or taste. What does “leftover” mean? It means there was so much food that everyone ate their fill and there was still food on the table.

And that’s when leftovers go into the blessing category to stay. Boredom is nothing compared with my gratitude when I realize that, unlike most of the people in this world, I get more than enough to eat. I live in a country where food is abundant, and I never go hungry. I can cook a meal that has so much food in it, some of it goes uneaten.

How can I best show gratitude for the abundance in my life? By doing my best to keep those leftovers from going to waste. Even the brussel sprouts and turnips.

I’ll be having turkey for lunch.

How do you feel about leftovers? Are they a burden? A blessing? Boring? Wonderful? Be sure to let me know what I forgot to mention.

If You Think You Need A House-Elf, Think Again

This chart could use a whole lot more red.
This chart could use a whole lot more red.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I wouldn’t mind having a house-elf or two living under my stairs. I was reminded of this by a recent pie chart on Facebook, which shows the main expectations of girls who have absorbed the life styles of Disney princesses. The one that resonated for me? “Random animals will help me with my housework.” Sounds fantastic, as long as they also clean up any messes they might make in the process.

As I was cleaning the kitchen and feeling sorry for myself because I just know that Tolkien never washed a dish in his life, I suddenly realized I don’t need animal friends or house-elves. My house is already full of magical helpers.

A magic pipe brings water right into my house — no hauling buckets to a stream or well. And thanks to the magic giant living in my basement, the pipe can deliver hot water as well as cold.

I have a magic box that washes dishes and another that washes clothing even when I am in other rooms doing other things.

Magic fires live in my kitchen. I flick a switch and I’m ready to cook. No wood to haul, ashes to clean up, or fires to light. I even have a magic box that heats food up rapidly, turning unappealing leftovers into something I’ll consider eating.

I have a magic buddy that gets the dirt off my carpets. I just have to hold her hand and usher her around the house.

All these time-saving helpers lack the cute and fuzzy appeal of Cinderella’s mice and are poor conversationalists compared with the furniture that lives in the Beast’s castle, but they are ready to work whenever I ask them to and they save me time and effort. They may lack charm, but they make my life easier, and that’s why I wanted a house-elf in the first place. Today I will keep my eyes open for the magical helpers in my life (like this truly magical keyboard and screen that connect me with people around the world) and be grateful for the house-elves already in my house.

Have you been taking your magical helpers for granted? Which one is your favorite?