Ascent: Sharing Our Stories

This week’s Sharing Our Stories prompt from Ruth Ayres was “spreading your wings wider.”  I thought about her words for a little while.  Lately, I’ve been spreading my wings a little wider each day even though we remain in quarantine.  It’s funny how being physically inside has made me become more open and wandering within my mind and heart.

I usually like keeping my writing to myself. I am very protective of it.  Too protective.  I know where that comes from so I try to encourage myself to take risks and reach out.  Today, I invited three friends to join SOS.  They are talented writers and need a helpful nudge, like Ruth nudged me on my 64th birthday.  I wouldn’t normally reach out to people – even friends.  But this online writing group is teaching me to read others’ words and connect.  I’m learning that my thinking is stretched and strengthened by others.  I know that intellectually, but now I’m coming to know it emotionally.

When I come to think about stretching my wings, taking chances, being wild – I think of all the abundance I have in my life and how that abundance has been revealing itself to me  these past months.  I have a 94-year-old father who lives by himself in a high risk COVID area – he remains healthy and safe.  This is good news because my relationship with him continue to heal and grow in beneficial ways. I have a mother-in-law who is very needy and lives far from me.  She has no other relatives nearby.  I am her lifeline and though sometimes, it is stressful, I think about all the lovely talks we’ve had about books (she was a research librarian and has a home library of 4,000 books).  Over the years, she has reminded me just how important books/knowledge is to personal development.

Thought it’s been a tumultuous year so far, I recognize all the things in my life that I am grateful for: my husband – who always encourages me to stretch my thinking, my family (sister, cousins, aunts, and nieces) who are there for support, my friends – and especially my friend, Molly, who is one of the most creative, positive, and courageous people I know, and the children I’ve taught for the past 42 years, who have come back to share their grown-up lives with me.  I am ever so grateful and blessed.

I use my poetry as snapshots.  They help me remember moments in my life.  This poem below fits so beautifully with how I’m feeling right now and how Ruth helped me spread my wings.

 

Ascent

This morning, if I hadn’t decided 

To hike around Lake Minnewaska,

If I didn’t choose the yellow trail

Up the mountain, past Gertrude’s Nose,

If I didn’t stop along the ridge

To watch the hawks circle above the pines,

If I hadn’t bent to tie my boot on the rocky path,

I would not have seen that single moth 

With wings folded upright, carefully clasped

Almost the color of birch bark or sunlit limestone

She would not have startled me 

With her out-spread, periwinkle wings –

I would not have witnessed 

Her ascent into the April air.

 

Getting Wild in the Wonder Lab

 

I don’t think I have a very wild life, but I do have a wild mind.  A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to create a hands-on maker space in my school called the Wonder Lab.  It is a place where elementary students come to work on independent projects and make stuff out of recycled materials.  It has been my dream to be able to create this space.

Now that we are remote learning, the Wonder Lab lies dormant, but my mind is still wildly imagining.  I’ve created lots of Wonder Lab ideas for remote learning these past 3 months.  This weekend, I tried my hand at building a cereal box vehicle from an idea I got from this Ultra Creative – General Mills video.

Step 1: Okay, so what if you don’t have a cereal box?  Use what you have!

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I used 4 small boxes:

1 cracker box

2 tea boxes (1 tea box is inside the cracker box).

1 oatmeal box (cut in half and slid together so it is the same width of the cracker box).

I stacked the boxes on top of each other and taped them together with clear tape.  I made a basic truck shape.

Step 2: Building my Monster Truck

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I needed axels for the wheels.  I didn’t have any wooden dowels, so I used 2 unsharpened pencils.  I punched holes with a sharp pencil. I made sure they were in the place I wanted them to be before I punched through to the other side.

Step 3: WHEELS!

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I needed wheels!  And it’s a good thing that my husband likes to eat a lot of oatmeal.  I had an empty container of oat and grits.  I took the tops off and had 2 wheels.

But wait!  Don’t truck have 4 wheels.  I cut the bottoms off both containers and made another 2 wheels. 2+2=4 wheels!

Step 4: Two Types of WHEELS

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The narrow wheels would be the front wheels and the wider wheels would be the back wheels.  Then I punched a hole with my pencil in the center of each wheel.

Step 5: Try, Try Again!

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I slipped on my wheels and tried them out.  My back wheels were too wide.  The truck did not run smoothly. The back wheels kept getting stuck on the truck body.  So I took the back wheels off and trimmed them.  There are the trimmings under the scissor.  I had to trim a couple of times until it was just right!

Step 6: Wheel Caps

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Here you see that I took the wheels off again to make sure they fit just right.  I added caps to the end of the pencil, so the wheels did not fall off.  I had lots of little water bottle caps.  I poked a hole into the caps with a pen and then pushed a pencil through the hole until it was just right.

Step 7: Designing the Cab

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The tea box on top is the cab of the truck.  I drew a diagonal line across the front of the tea box and then I cut it off.  I made a hood from the cut piece and added aluminum foil headlights and cut a small rectangle from a plastic baggie for the windshield.

I LOVE MY TRUCK!

 Step 8: Ready to Roll!

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WHAT I LEARNED:

Making vehicles out of boxes is fun!

I had to try again and again to get it to work.

Making wheels is harder that I thought.

Next time, I will create all the body first BEFORE I make the wheels.

I want to make another one!  I must start saving more boxes!

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Magic in the Middle

 

I am in love with words.  I don’t know when it happened.  It might have started with “Mama.” Words held meaning, and I was eager from the beginning to express myself. Writing is like breathing to me – I cannot differentiate one from the other.  When I go long period without writing, it’s like I’m holding my breath and turning blue.  And I am.  I am literally turning blue.  I am suffocating.  A little piece of my spirit dies when I don’t write.

Here are fifteen of my favorite words right now:

  1. Aquamarine
  2. Acrobat
  3. Always
  4. Breath
  5. Curious
  6. Journey
  7. Lopsided
  8. Magical
  9. Mud-luscious
  10. Perpendicular
  11. Puddle-wonderful
  12. Puzzlement
  13. Serendipitous
  14. Tangential
  15. Whisper

Number 9 and 11 are words invented by the poet E.E. Cummings in his poem “in just,”which is one of my favorite poems because it is clear that words are Cummings’ playground, and he loved swinging and sliding from one to the other. I’m intrigued when poets/writers create new words to show unique images.  As I grow older, I sometimes forget a word I need for a moment.  I start thinking and thinking and thinking. And I come up with a word, but it isn’t the word I intended.  Then all of a sudden, the right word pops into my head and I realize that both the right word and the wrong word rhyme.  I chuckle instead of becoming upset, because I take it as a sign that I am a true poet and words matter, even – especially the wrong words.

Ruth Ayres wrote recently, “Finding magic in the middle of living.”  When I read her words, I said aloud, “YES, YES, YES!  That is what POETRY is to me!” It is pure magic and it begins with stringing words together: working and playing and putting them together like an intricate puzzle. You set that last piece in place, sit back, smile, and see the whole wonderful image before you.

Number 14 – TANGENTIAL. I have so many thoughts in my head at the same time that sometimes I think I may explode.  Nothing is tangential in my mind, but to others it may not appear so.  Everything, for me, is connected to something else.  This is a wondrous world, and we are connected in ways that are both mysterious and serendipitous.  When we least expect it, someone reaches out – a stranger, a poet, a friend, someone you knew long ago – and steps into your story. Words are the placeholder, the keeper of memories.  They allow you to make sense of your surroundings and uncover the magic.

 

Come into the Garden

 

As a child, I took great delight in my grandfather’s garden.  Though it was just a small, backyard patch of land, my grandfather transformed it into a magical place with an abundance of vegetables and fruits.  He planted rows and rows of lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, a variety of squash and beans, tomatoes, and tall stalks of corn.  Grandpa also had an apple and a peach tree on which he’d graft branches of other fruit trees to expand his crop of fruits.  Our family would enjoy this bounty all year round.  Grandpa would make squash blossoms in the spring, set bowls of strawberries or cut generous slices of watermelon in the summer, we’d carved homegrown pumpkins in the fall, and savor his cinnamon-laced canned peaches in the winter.

No matter what the time of year, I loved wandering through grandpa’s garden.  I’d help him weed, concoct natural fertilizers from eggshells and coffee grinds, and set seedlings into the moist earth.  There was always something to keep my sister and me busy.  We would rake leaves, pick ripe fruit and vegetables, and gather up fallen tomatoes, setting them on a sunny sill to ripen. My grandfather would bring these garden treasures into his kitchen, creating delicious, savory and sweet treats.  Those smells and tastes remain in my memory.  My grandfather taught me that no matter how small the space, anyone could make the world beautiful.  All it takes is a little imagination and a lot of perseverance. 

Grandpa’s Garden

Grandpa’s garden stands green before me: 

Apple trees bloom pink-white,

Corn ripens on silky stalks,

Feathery carrot tops sway,

Watermelon vines wander aimlessly.

 

Grandpa and I walk among

Golden squash blooms,

Small green pears slowly ripening, 

Pumpkin vines crawling along the ground,

String beans climbing lazily towards the sun,

 

Grandpa’ hands, brown and weathered, 

Encourage tender shoots,

Smiling, he stands before me,

A perfect, sun-speckled peach,

A garden offering, in his hands. 

 

Squash Blossoms

No one quarrels

As the squash blossoms 

Are quickly plucked 

From slowly, spreading vines

In grandpa’s garden.

 

Under huge, green leaves

Grandpa’s rough hands,

Quietly gather the buds –

Tender green, yellow,

Mellow orange.

 

Wise fingers dip 

Blossoms in the batter.

Quivering as they sizzle,

A wonder to the tongue,

A springtime kiss.

 

Those memories always bring me comfort.  Though my grandfather died almost forty years ago, his garden remains with me and continues to give me sustenance. For that, I am ever grateful.  One magic recipe I made with my grandfather was squash blossoms.  They are a rare delight and well worth the effort.

Garden Recipe:  Squash Blossoms                                                                                              12-16 blossoms

You can pick squash blossoms from your pumpkin or zucchini plants.  Remember not to pick too many blossoms; otherwise you will have no pumpkins or zucchinis at harvest time.  If you don’t have a garden, you can get squash blossoms at your local produce stand, grocery store, or gourmet specialty store in the spring.

Flour mixture: Milk mixture:

1 cup cornmeal 1 cup skim milk

½ cup flour 1 egg

1 tsp. baking powder 1 egg white

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp baking soda

Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce:

½ tsp. Dill ½ cup apricot preserves

½ tsp. Chives 1 Tbsp. water

Canola oil for frying 2 tsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. yellow mustard

Directions: 

  1. In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients:  cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, dill, and chopped dry chives.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together milk, egg and egg white.  Mix well.
  3. Dip blossoms one at a time in milk mixture and then roll in flour mixture.
  4. Place floured blossoms on a plate and place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  5. Pour an inch of oil in a frying pan.  Heat oil to bubbling. Place blossom in oil 3 or 4 at a time, turning until each side is light golden brown.  Remove blossoms from pan and set over paper towels. 
  6. Serve immediately with honey-mustard dipping sauce.

Making the Dipping Sauce: (Keeps for 2 days refrigerated)

Place all the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.  Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wings Wide Open

 

Ruth Ayres recently encouraged me to think about what it means to live with arms wide open.  Even though I’m an introvert at heart, I love to take quiet risks.  I was born curious and that curiosity hasn’t subsided in my sixth decade of living.  I guess that’s why I also love teaching.  I am always looking for the new — looking to learn.

Last week, I found a new poetry form.  I never had heard of it before.  A new children’s poetry book, Nine:  A Book of Nonet Poems written by Irene Latham and illustrated by Amy Huntington, will be published in June. Nonets are poems with 9 lines and 45 syllables. Nonets can go in descending or ascending order (9-1 or 1-9 lines).  

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Nine+a+book+of+nonet+poems&i=instant-video&ref=nb_sb_noss

Line 1: 9 syllables                                                                                                                                  Line 2: 8 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 3: 7 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 4: 6 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 5: 5 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 6: 4 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 7: 3 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 8: 2 syllables                                                                                                                                Line 9: 1 syllable

I decided to have a go at writing nonets. I actually like the challenge of having to stay within a form.  It is somehow comforting to have parameters, boundaries – a garden border, a frame for my thoughts.

Nine Song Birds

In my yard, under the great green pine,

The songbirds gather in the shade

Pecking and chirping along:

Robin, jays, chickadees

With one joyous voice,

While woodpecker

Keeps the beat:

Rhythm – – –

Rhyme.

 

 

Buds

Buds

Blossom

Purple, white,

The crocus first,

In row upon row,

Then Yellow daffodils,

Golden guardians stand watch.

Sunshine in the form of flowers,

Long awaited spring returns and blooms.

As I continued to reflect on the idea of “arms wide open,” it made me think of the poem by Emily Dickinson, “Hope is a Thing with Feathers.”  I had repeated that poem over and over again when my mother was gravely ill six years ago. On a crisp, blue early November day when she was cremated, I walked out into the cemetery and suddenly a flock of Canadian geese took flight.  They honked and flapped, creating a “V” as they lifted into the air. I smiled and took in this as a final good-bye from my mother whose name was Vivian.  She was a teacher too and an artist.  It was Vivian who taught me to live life with arms wide open.

Invitations to Wonder…

Last week, Ruth Ayers invited her online writing group (SOS: Sharing Our Stories) to write about 7 small things.  Instead, I chose to write about anger.  Anger is not a small thing.  Anger is a big thing, an explosive thing.  It starts small and then grows.

As I read some members’ blog posts this week, I was reminded about the importance of simple joys.  All week, I  kept turning lists of small things over and over in my mind.  I have always been attracted to the small seemingly insignificant things: stop to notice the dandelion blooming between the cracks in concrete.  I’m a photographer, and so as I make my way through a mountain pass or a city street, my eye is always on the small things that most people would miss.  Those small things aren’t always aesthetic or beautiful, they were just common, ordinary things.  In their ordinariness lies their unique importance.

Poet, Valerie Worth, wrote a book for children called All Small.  I’ve used her poems to teach children to notice the wonders of small things.  Small IS beautiful.  The world consists of countless small things and those small things are what what makes the world an incredible place of wonderment.

As I made those lists in my mind of small things, as I reflected on a selection of small items, I thought about the work of Basho, the 17th century Japanese poet who was a master of haiku – the 3 line poem of 5-7-5 syllables.

                                                  The old pond.                                                                                                                                           A frog leaps in.                                                                                                                                        Sound of the water.

                                                   **************

                                              Their own fire                                                                                                                                          Are on the trees,                                                                                             the fireflies Around the house with flowers.

 

I decided to try my hand at some haiku for this last week of April, focusing on the small all around me.  I offer these seven small things to you now.

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Apple blossoms pink                                                        Branches tap on my window                                        A burst of bright spring

 

 

 

 

 

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Here pinecones scatter                                   

Among the gray-green bracken                     

Thorny and silent

 

 

 

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Petals on petals

Circular meditation

Center holds beauty

 

 

 

 

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Salt, sand, surf meets shore

Shells in pink light perfect                                         

Curves – one to another

                                                                                                             

 

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Perfect sculpted fur                                            Squirrel’s not camera shy                                   Swishes his puffed tail

 

 

 

 

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Egret stands alone

Graceful curved neck – peaceful

Alert – swish of fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anger

How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it. 

– Marcus Aurelius

Anger is hard for me to write about.  It is probably hard for most people to write or talk about.  I most certainly would rather write about children, art, or cupcakes.  However, the whole point of beginning again in writing this blog is to take risks. I have always encouraged the people in my life to take risks: my husband, my friends, and my students.  I have been very brave having others put themselves out in front, diving into the deep water, taking a chance. All the while, I remain in the shadows not talking about anger.  And so… I begin.

Talking about anger means talking about my family.  I grew up in a very angry household.  Not everyone was angry.  Just one.  It only takes one. One can cloud everything.  That one for me was my father.  My father could be a very generous and amicable man, and then for no apparent reason, he would become intensely angry.  I was a witness to his anger countless times, and it made me into a reticent child.  It has taken my whole adult life to come to terms with this and to heal.  I am still healing.  And my father, at the age of 94, is still changing and growing.  Now, when he gets angry, he catches himself and gains self-control.

My father is a World War II veteran.  He was 18 years old when he enlisted into the Marines, served in Guam, and took part in the bloodiest of fighting – the Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill.  My father survived the war, but most certainly had PTSD that went untreated for decades.  His trauma was carried from the battlefield and into our little, suburban Cape Cod. From the outside, our home was distinctly neat and quiet. Inside, there was always a storm brewing.

I became very adept at detecting storms, as did my sister and mother. They would run for cover.  I, on the other hand, would run straight for the storm, trying to tame it.  Not a good idea when you are four and six and ten and fifteen. Not a good idea at any age.  I was tenacious and resilient, but I was left in a wake of anger that it took me years to understand and overcome.  When my father was in his eighties, he self-published a book about his war experiences called The Timid Marine.  It was while reading his book that I began to fully understand where his anger had originated.

As I grew, though shy and reticent, I also had a great deal of hidden anger.  I kept it locked tightly in a box.  I was determined NOT to be my father.  And I wasn’t, but that didn’t mean I had a handle on my anger.  It was only  when I started to write a novel-in- verse a number of years ago that I began to delve into my relationship to anger and how deeply my father’s behavior affected me.

Water Cycle

In the morning before setting out

We go to Falls Park,

Watching the water cascade

I think about my father and me.

We are two rocks,

Rock against rock,

Striking and striking back,

Sparks fly – air ignites –

Chips of stone – pieces of each of us

Lay broken on the ground.

Aunt Connie tells me –

Water is stronger than stone.

I need to learn to be the water:

Blue, cold, crystal clear,

Flowing past the stone,

Carving an open space,

Leaving the stone smooth

Rounded – ready to listen –

Washing up the pieces

And carrying them away with me

Out to the ocean’s edge.

Recently, I heard Dr. Marc Brackett talk about his new book, Permission to Feel at the Bright & Quirky Summit.  Dr. Brackett is the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.  He developed a system called RULER, which helps children and. young adults manage and regulate their moods and emotions.  This type of work has always intrigued me, because I feel that in order to create a productive and happy life, one needs to develop social/emotional skills, but that has not always been a well-understood science. As Dr. Brackett writes, “First, emotion skills must be acquired.  Nobody is born with them all in place and ready to work.  Emotion skills amplify our strengths and help us through challenges.”  Last week, a former colleague of mine, Deborah Kris, wrote about  Dr. Brackett’s work in her article,  “When a Child’s Emotions Spike, How Can a Parent Find Their Best Self?” These studies on Emotional Intelligence are so important and give me hope that families may be able to better understand, manage, and build relationships, even if it takes decades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To begin again…

 

Sometimes, to begin again feels like a long hike in the summer sun up a steep slope. Sometimes, to begin again is like swimming in honey.  Today, I received an invitation from Ruth Ayres to begin again, and I accept it as a gift.

Now, I don’t know Ruth personally, but I subscribe to her website and have read her blogs for years.  I never had children, so I loved reading Ruth’s family stories.  They gave me a glimpse of the joys and pain of being a mom.  Ruth’s children have had dark beginnings, and they struggle. I loved hearing about their triumphs and was saddened when they struggled. Struggling is something I know a lot about.  

When I read one of Ruth’s recent blogs and her decision to start writing again, I knew I had to leave her a comment to tell her how much her writing meant to me.  I never expected a response, but I should have, because Ruth is all about connection.

Ruth sent me an invitation to begin to write again.  And it is that nudge I so desperately needed.  Thank you, Ruth. And so on my sixty-fourth birthday I begin again…

What should I write about?  What should I write about?  And then suddenly I know. A poem comes into my head. I wrote it several years ago as part a coming-of-age novel in verse I have yet to finish about a twelve-year-old girl who is struggling.

A Gift

When we are alone,

Aunt Connie hands me a present

Wrapped in brilliant blue.

I rip it open to reveal

A brand-new journal.

It’s suede, the color of new earth,

It smells of earth too, comforting,

Tied together with strong leather strings

And small brass beads.

I look up at my aunt to thank her,

She puts one arm around my shoulder,

Holds me close and whispers,

“Just keep writing – 

Just keep writing,” she says.

But she does not say it 

Like my teachers would,

Not just keep writing because I have to,

It’s an assignment– I will be graded.

Punctuation counts, spelling counts,

Not jut keep writing – like it’s good for me,

Like it’s medicine or spinach – 

But just keep writing because it’s part of me,

Like breathing in air and exhaling,

Because it keeps me alive,

Because it connects me to the world,

Because it keeps me sane

It is my life – I need to live it,

My feelings count, memories count.

The Art of Cookies

For our 30th anniversary five years ago, my husband and I returned to our honeymoon site – Montreal. Since that time, we make sure we return to Montreal every summer, sometimes twice a summer.  My husband found a wonderful boutique hotel in Old Montreal – Georges Marciano’s L’Hotel. Marciano, the founder and designer of Guess? Jeans, created this lovely hotel, which houses some of his vast collection of Modern art.

The first time we arrived at L’Hotel, to our delight, we noticed a cafe right next door – Cookies Stefanie. Since I am a foodie with Celiac, Cookie Stefanie was an amazing find for me because it is an exclusively Gluten Free bakery and cafe. In the past five years, I think I have sampled almost every item they have to offer: cakes, cupcakes, cookies, muffins, all kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches, savory soups, tartines, and fresh salads.  There are also biscotti ice cream sandwiches, pan chocolate, and carrot cake. Each are so delicious that I cannot tell you what is my favorite one.  However, they do make a tiny treat, which I favored this summer.  It’s a chocolate covered cherry.  The cherry is surrounded in a moist chocolate cake and then wrapped in a creamy chocolate ganache.  It is small, so I don’t feel too guilty, and it is so rich that it definitely satisfies my sweet tooth.  Many an afternoon I could be found retreating to Cookie Stefanie for a cup of tea and a delectable treat.  I cannot describe well enough the happiness I feel when I enter this gleaming white and pretty pink cafe.  My eyes feast on all the glorious desserts and because they are gluten free.  I can have my pick!

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Here are some other wonderful eateries in Montreal, which I have enjoyed.  I cannot wait to return next summer to seek out more sumptuous treasures!

Gluten Free Dining Options in Montreal:

I am so happy that Stefanie created this wonderful place!  I wish she’d bring her talent to New York City!
This cafe is located in the open-air market – Marche Jean Talon in Little Italy.  They make buckwheat crepes, which are gluten-free in all imaginable flavors both sweet and savory.
Great gluten free croissants and eclairs!  Really!
Amazing sweet potato gnocchi, quinoa fritters, and other wonderful delights. It is a Vegan cafe too.
Fresh and creative salads in a pretty light-filled cafe.
Love this teahouse!  A respite of CALM!
The BEST gluten-free pizza crust I have every eaten and I’ve eaten lots of pizza!  Their pasta is also perfect!
Great risotto!

 

Ming Tao Xuan or How to Relax in Old Montreal

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”          – C.S. Lewis

This summer I was fortunate to spend a week in Old Montreal, one of the most beautiful places in the northern hemisphere: cobblestone streets, majestic Notre Dame Cathedral, quaint shops and restaurants nestled on the St. Lawrence harbor.  It is really a delight for the senses.  My husband and I walked all over the city exploring all the different neighborhoods in Montreal. For me, Old Montreal is a respite from the world, a solace for my busy soul.   We’ve taken many trips to Montreal in the past five year, and so I’ve come to know this historic part of the city well.  I love exploring all the shops, tasting culinary specialties at the various restaurants and cafe, but the place I go to treat myself, to take a mindful breath in my day is Ming Tao Xuan Tea House on the corner of Rue de Brésoles and Rue Saint Sulpice in the shadow of Notre Dame Basilica.

Pushing open the heavy glass door, I am immediately transported to a realm of beauty and quietude.  It is a small space filled with wood and glass.  There are floor to ceiling cabinets filled with teapots of all shapes and sizes: iron, clay, and porcelain. Huge colorful porcelain urns sit atop the cabinets like peaceful, sleeping sentinels. There are only four tables in the tea house.  They are study, square, and ornately carved. I take a seat at one table in the back of the room near the small marble fountain. I look out the window at the crowds and city traffic, but cannot hear a sound.  This is truly a sanctuary.

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The proprietor comes to greet me,  a distinguished gentleman with dark-rimmed glasses.  He hands me a thick, celadon-colored menu.  The food offerings take up one page while the next twenty pages are filled with teas of every color, aroma, and taste imaginable.  I become a bit overwhelmed by the choices, but finally choose one that I think will sooth my stress away.  After sipping and savoring, I meditate on this beautiful place and write a poem to commemorate this moment.

 

Ming Tao Xuan

Glass and dark wood,

The sound of trickling water,

People whispering tales

Around heavy square tables

Carved with flowers and serpents.

I take a respite here –

Set down my bones, and books,

and heavy backpack.

A tall, old man in dark-rimmed glasses

Brings me a thick, celadon-colored menu,

Six items: mango salad, tofu envelope, steamed buns,

Chicken skewers, cookies, and cheese cake.

And pages and pages and pages of tea:

Black, green, red, yellow –

There is such a thing as yellow tea?

Yes – aromatic buckwheat.

I choose the tofu envelope

And the Jasmine Pearl tea,

Because if I had had a daughter

Jasmine Pearl would have been

A beautiful name for her –

Jasmine Pearl – lavender and green,

Delicate and sweet.

 

The waiter returns unrolling

A red rattan mat,

Places the teak tray on top,

Arranges the tiny porcelain tea set:

The tiny teapot with a lid

Etched with a bamboo design,

The rounded pitcher with the graceful handle,

And a small white bowl from which to sip.

He prepares the tea,

Allowing the buds to open,

Pouring the first cup

And emptying the water through

The slats of the teak tray.

Now it is ready,

Now it is time for me

To sample and savor,

Relieve my mind,

Release my imagination,

Among the iron, clay, and porcelain teapots

of the Ming Tao Xuan Tea House.

 

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