Longbourn by Jo Baker…..a review

Longbourn. The very name of the manor house of the Bennet family of Jane Austen fame will perk up the ears of any reader and avid fan of Pride & Prejudice. Yet there are so many offshoots of the Jane Austen novels that are not worthy of a true fan of hers. I found that Longbourn by Jo Baker is an excellent read. The story comes from the voice of Sarah, an orphan servant below stairs. As she comes of age, she tells the story from her viewpoint, longing for love and wishing a man would rescue her from this life.
When James Smith comes on the scene as a footman, it is obvious to Sarah that there is a secret to uncover; something to do with Longbourn. Secrets must be uncovered, she says to no one there.
Ptolemy, a freed man of Africa, who takes on his master’s name of Bingley enters the picture with big, wild, dreams of his own and he’d like Sarah to share them. Sarah longs for a life away from the drudgery and doesn’t mind going after what she desires.
Jo Baker does an exceptional job of writing. She keeps the language of the early 19th century, only revealing what the downstairs servants would have known or heard of what was going on upstairs, and describing what their lives would truly have been like. She also shows a different view of Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins. Brava to you Ms. Baker.

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The WAM Maya Angelou Tribute

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Thomas Park of the Warren Artists’ Market (WAM) declared the First Friday Poetry Night in June to be a tribute to the memory of Maya Angelou; a great idea for a great lady who influenced many people in her lifetime. Several folks read a poem or two of hers. I had just recently taken “Maya Angelou: The Poetry of Living” by Margaret Courtney-Clarke out of the library, so I brought it along. In the book there are over a hundred pages of comments from people whose lives she touched, along with a few comments of her own.
To accent my chosen readings from the book, I added two poems that touched me especially. “Alone” was one and the other “Touched by an Angel” surely she had personal experiences with both.
Sterling added some soft jazz in the background and gave us all a special treat by playing a recording, bringing Maya Angelou’s voice right into the room with us! A delightful experience!
Maya cooked with words of all varieties. She also was a kitchen cook. Reading her cookbooks, The Welcome Table and Great Food, All Day Long, etc. that sit on my cookbook shelves, are filled with recipes for elegant dining, the best recipes for leftovers, and a running conversation. They make me feel as if she is in the kitchen with me. A blessing and a comfort, indeed.

I hope she got her cool drink of water before she died.

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Writing Memoir

I gave up a chance to paint with friends one day last month because I knew I’d been postponing writing the next chapter in a memoir, written strictly for healing purposes. The Past kept burning me to get out of the place I had buried it so many years ago. Like the characters in my Major Fraser book that would not let me sleep at night until I told their story.
So I gave up the beautiful day for painting and stayed inside, on my PC, and wrote, and wrote, and wrote; only taking time out for nibbles and water from the kitchen. These trips to the kitchen help keep my lower back from protesting the hours at the PC. Lizzie came after me, pawing at my elbow at 3 o’clock. She wanted me to join her in our loosely scheduled reading time.
“Not today, Lizzie” I told her. “My muse is hot and my fingers nimble. I’m cranking.” She looked properly disappointed but understood. She’s a witness to me on a writing hailstorm.
It’s a half hour before midnight and I’ve completed the chapter. I’ve wept, dried the tears, and kept writing. I feel great now. A good cleansing made me feel lighter. The memoir is near completion and I’d like to get back to some kind of normal life, for a while anyway. Maybe do some planting if the season has not passed me by . . . cut the grass… clean the house… all waiting for me while my memories were unloading onto the paper.

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Losing Something Precious

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While I was unpacking from a recent weekend in Bordentown, I realized my Cosmetic Bag was missing. I don’t use cosmetics but I do place my personal items in there. I frantically searched through all the tote bags and book bags that I tend to take along, bringing home more than I took. Nothing. I tore apart my wee car that has no room to hide anything. Nothing. I looked on the porch, steps, and around the car. Nothing.
I was devastated!
Eating in restaurants and not taking my diuretics over the weekend (because I was too busy running here & there) caused my hands to swell a bit. Since I was leaving early in the morning, I had not exercised at all. That added to the swelling. Which means that I tossed all my rings into the jewelry pouch and tossed it into my Cosmetic Bag. Which means that I lost the most precious item I own….a Mother’s ring that my four sons gave me-on Mothers’ Day- back in 1976. It is the only thing I possessed that all four boys gifted me together.
Sobbing over my loss, sorrow and remorse set on my chest like a lead barbell. Before the end of the day, I dowsed with my crystal which told me that I would never see my precious ring again. Realization set in and I went to my laptop to heal this gaping wound.
This is what came out:

How Empty the Vessel
How empty does the vessel have to be
before it begins to refill or is it refilling
and I don’t notice

My sons are gone; I no longer mourn the loss
yet losing my ring after 38 years of feeling its
preciousness, of being so cautious, of leaving
it home if there was a chance of losing it;
the ring they gave me one Mother’s Day;
a collective gift the youngest boy didn’t even
realize, yet was included anyway

also in the pouch was a bracelet, not expensive
with small matching turquoise triangles on lacy
gold, just recently brought out to wear again
bought in a moment when money was short
I needed a lift to keep me from sinking into a pit
so I bought it; leaving milk & bread & beef &
cigarettes off the list to accommodate
never regretting it

a pair of cloisonné bangles, that I held back
from selling in the shop, unable to part with them
I’ve parted from them now;
a slender, delicate rhinestone tennis bracelet that I
bought, though I don’t play tennis, a bracelet that
lovers & husbands buy to show their love; I felt
pleasure wearing it, does that mean I love myself,
can I still love myself now that the bracelet is gone?

a silver spoon ring given in friendship from a
lover that still carried the love in it & the memories
40 years later; will a replacement feel the same on
my finger? a spiral ring, the symbol of eternity,
purchased in a special moment exuding joy whenever
it was worn; gone…they are all gone

losing things was rare for 40 years, never lost a thing
then it began, first my son Kenny, then my son Guy,
a diamond out of my engagement ring from my beloved
Angelo, his signet ring given with great intensity, one
diamond stud earring, lost in my bed at night-never to be
found, how could that be? then Angelo passed; only things
truly loved from those I truly loved, is this a cleansing;
is this the emptying before the refilling can begin;
this must have meaning to it; these losses hurt

I’m letting go of the past …I am letting go … I promise
I am letting go.

Arlene Sandra Bice © 2014

I can only hope that a man/boy found the Bag and is joyful in giving my treasures to someone who will cherish them as I did. Someone who thrills in their good luck, is what I picture. I prefer that to an image of the Bag being tossed into a trash can where no one would love them.

 

 

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Hot Cross Buns

Mom loved Hot Cross Buns
but only on Easter morning
her grandmother Paulina
made them every year
it was tradition

I liked the white cross on them;
would have licked off each one
in the dozen , if allowed
but I wasn’t

Our Easter baskets, brought down
from the attic each year, looked different
with green grass, chocolate bunnies,
yellow chicks & brightly colored eggs
sitting atop jelly beans

One Allfather’s Egg served the family
very sweetly coconut with a bright
sunflower-yellow yolk in the center
all covered with thick chocolate
that was our tradition

we didn’t have grandparents

DSCF2648the night before, my brother Bob & I
mixed color tablets with stinky vinegar
in Mom’s coffee cups, intense colors
appeared like magic

a teaspoon dipped the cooked egg
into the cup, after we wrote our names
staking our claims, until the dozen were done
color mixing produced ugly gray eggs at the end
we created another tradition

when my kids came along, I experimented
with onion skins, dark yellow ones that
created their own design on the eggs,
deep red, beet juice for purple-ly pinks,
blueberries for blues, waxy crayons for
writing names

and the boys had to hunt for their eggs
in the morning, winning prizes for finding
the special eggs marked with a star
creating a new tradition

Arlene S. Bice © 2014

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Looking for a Lost Relative

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Looking for a Lost Relative
The trouble women face, not as often today as in the past, is the name thing. When we get married and take our husband’s name as our own, we lose our identity. This makes genealogy searches on women extremely difficult. And when we marry a second time, it makes it twice as difficult.
It also makes it hard when cleaning out old files and boxes full of photos that the next generation will know nothing about. Which brings me to my dilemma; I have photos of a first cousin, who I only remember meeting once or twice in a lifetime that spans two centuries. (The last one and this one-I’m not over 100 years old.)
The photo posted was Janet Bice at her Holy Communion, born in Trenton, New Jersey area, I think. in the late 1930s. Daughter of William Bice. Not sure, but I think her mother’s name was Helen. The last I heard, she lived to Texas. This would have been in the 1970s. If anyone has an idea of who she or her family is, please let me know. I know someone out there would love to have these pictures.

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Sitting in the Garden

The last two months have been consumed with meeting a deadline on a manuscript for Arcadia Publishing. More of that as we move along. For now, now that we’ve had a taste of what spring will bring to us this year, I offer a poem to you, inspired by the late and great Joseph W. Dawley. The photo is taken from a note card. Dawley’s work just sings to me. Please enjoy.

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Sitting in the Garden
(inspired by the painting “Garden Chat” by Joseph Dawley)

Sitting in the garden on a Sunday morning
a friend shares the beauty of being surrounded
by flowers perfuming the air; color to the eye,
a feeling of peace in the world sets quietly
at least in our world; on our shoulders

A laden tea tray rests on the round table
covered with a colorful scarf, napkins folded
the china teapot, etcetera, shining to a squeak
silver gleaming, a thimble of perky violets
bring a smile; biscuits, scones, potted cream

Our words, spoken softly in hushed tones
as if someone were listening to secrets spoken
joyful in the company of friendship we share,
in this moment of beauty that will never come again
we know it, finding this morning all the more precious

Hollyhocks, roses, poppies, snapdragons, forget-me-nots
comfort us like teddy bears sleeping on a childhood bed
statuary sprinkled gracefully along the white brick pathway
beckons us to sit on the bench, the one ‘in memory of’
recalling a love once treasured and always remembered

Enchanting notes of music float from the copse of trees,
trees casting lacy sunlight patterns across our cotton dresses,
could that be “Illumination”? Impossible, no one is there
yet anything is possible and we both hear the music
surely, dusk will bring faeries dancing among the flowers

Sunday mornings are different from the rest of the week
regardless of the sky, be it blue or lavender or yellow
whether the season is spring, summer, fall, or winter
sometimes I carry my garden in my heart, in my mind
knowing the faeries will dance there every dawn & dusk. Arlene S. Bice

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