Glad To Be Human Update: Due to an unforeseen publishing delay and my forthcoming annual writing retreat, we must all un-bate our breaths and wait for  the e-version of my essay until some time after my return. I trust the  passage of time won’t compromise the spirit of the piece; still, I thank you for your patience.

To listen to this post, please click here:A Personal Holiday Tradition

Angel of Christmas, photo & all text
© Irene O’Garden 2012

So many words, so many details, so many packages, so much food, so much laughter, so much love. What can be added, the day after Christmas? Here, a brief reflection, occasioned by a favorite ornament.

This glitterworn angel has graced every Christmas I remember. I never heard her her story, but perhaps it goes like this:

My frosty-breathed parents, taking in the holiday lights on a freezing Midwest night. One hand securing his fedora, Dad slides his other arm through Mom’s. She wears the big-collared green coat she loved so well. (He pulled me to him by that collar and said,”Betty, we’re getting married!”)

There, in a thirties’ shopwindow, perched this little musician on her shiny star. Dad goes back the next day for it, surprises Mom on Christmas morning with this happy hint of the children they long for.

The angel takes her Christmas place as their babies are born, ornaments four lonely-needled trees in a row while my father is at war. In the stylish fifties, she could have looked cornball, but instead retained her charm.  Jetson-era, while I made jazzy silver-sprayed table-trees of styrofoam balls and toothpicks, she was not threatened in the least. Other ornaments came and shattered or aged poorly, but high in the branches or low, hung to the front, or hung to the back, she hung on.

When Dad passed and Mom sold the house, I retrieved this little Ghost of Christmas Plastic from the estate sale box.  For some years, she hung year-round as part of a wall grouping I made with an old parasol and some sheet music.

Eventually she went back to her seasonal appearance. And perhaps it was she who inspired me some years ago to begin a personal holiday tradition.

When it comes time to trim the tree, we make a point to give thanks for a special blessing with every ornament we hang. There are always new blessings to give thanks for—creative efforts, new friends, trips and so on–but certain ornaments evoke specific thanks each year. The red cardinal is always for John’s Mom. The seashell strung with golden rickrack hangs for coastal friends.  And this little angel always seems to sum up the season’s best and oldest truths.  I hang her here today, in thanks for you.


What’s your personal holiday tradition?

Peaceful Balance: A Writer Wednesday Post

December 20th, 2012 | Posted by Irene in Essays - (6 Comments)

Two notes: If you’ve arrived without a private link, you may only see only one photo with this post. To see the other two, simply click the title above and go to the post page itself.

Also–this post is slightly longer than usual. Due to audio file size restrictions, I must post it in two parts. Sorry for the inconvenience. To listen to this post, please click here:Peaceful Balance 1   Peaceful Balance 2


My Aunt Rosemary painted this family plate for us in 1955. But a few years later, like returning the flag for its fiftieth star, we sent it back so she could add her unexpected namesake niece. (It’s worth noting that she intuitively left space on the plate for this surprise.) Since the plate was glazed, Aunt Rosemary made do with a marker, which is why “Rosie” is a bit worse for wear. (Not that we ever put anything on this plate—it was always on display.)

I’ve just returned from a short visit with the artist herself, the crowning event of a far-flung week of sistering and aunting with more than a few of the plate-faces.

You can see Mary Kay on the left,  south of Dad. She turned 74 last Saturday. “Jimmy”(at 6 o’clock), “Rosie”, (at 3) Tom (west of “Rosie”) and his wife, kids and grandkids all joined us in San Jose to celebrate. I’d tell you Mary Kay suffers from Alzheimer’s, but it’s not true. She’s happier than I’ve ever known her. And at present, she still knows and enjoys all of us.

I’ve always loved the spirited freedom of this plate, the trust in the line, the confidence in the eye, and how well she pulled us altogether. While she never painted or exhibited as such, Aunt Rosemary was the first artist I ever knew. Whenever she sent a letter in her bubbling hand, asking how things were in our particular Gloccamora, whimsical creatures appeared in the margins. Intriguing  objects filled her home. Most of all, she has an artist’s sensitive heart. She saw to it that a certain chubby highschool freshman took her first train trip alone to Kansas City. “Aunt Rosemary, a cheese sandwich on the train was thirty-five cents! You could buy a whole loaf of bread for that price!” She took me shopping and to wonderful theatre, and truly laughed at my jokes.

There was much to thank her for, and I planned to do so at her ninetieth birthday next May. But when her health took a turn last week, I added Kansas City to my return trip.

Life gave Aunt Rosemary every reason to be bitter. She never was. At eleven, her favorite sister died, devastating her and shattering her mother. Her first husband died three months after they wed, his plane shot down. She married again, (a wonderful man) bore and mothered seven children, (“All angels,” she insisted the other day) but a son died young. She battled breast cancer. Major heart disease. Endured the death of her beloved spouse and lately lost a daughter to cancer. “Worst thing of all, to lose a child,” she says.  Still, even now, in the midst of pain and physical challenge, she remains unspoiled, curious, full of faith, lovely to be near. When I asked a few years back how she lived through it all she said, “That is life, honey.”Aunt Rosemary

As the sorrows of the world crush upon us, and the loops and the laps round our family plates change shape and direction, I’m inspired by Aunt Rosemary and her peaceful balance of quiet heroism and delicious whimsey.

She’s like her Kansas City landscape. Solid oaks greet you as you land at the KC airport. At night, heavy dimlit homes blur by like dark confessionals. You think to yourself, things endure here.

KC Gleam photo© IOGBut arriving at Country Club Plaza, you’re enchanted by the city’s lightheartedness: shapely Spanish architecture lightened and sparkled and crystallized in Christmas lights. Solid and light, these wide wordless influences.  Our beautiful patient elders, our old oakrooted values, with youthful delight caroling through the branches. As it ever shall.

May you feel peace and share peace this Christmas.





A Change In Context: A Writer Wednesday Post

December 12th, 2012 | Posted by Irene in Essays - (4 Comments)

Glad To Be Human update–thanks for your patient understanding while the publisher works out yet more details–I am as eager as you– 

To listen to this post, please click here:A Change in Context

Another brief reflection on wabi-sabi this week, the highly useful Japanese aesthetic concept of finding beauty in the impermanent, the worn. Like our New York City signs last week, only this time highly local. And a mark of the feet, not the hand.

We are renovating our third floor –re-organizing the storage of our creative work and making a new studio space, thereby liberating a second floor room for guests.

Wanting to recycle as much as possible, we saved useable parts of the old flooring and our builders salvaged an old porch floor from another job. Once in place, we planned to paint this new/old floor.  But after the cost and effort of preserving these materials, we were disappointed to discover there simply wasn’t enough wood. We would have to buy new flooring.

Rather than dump the old boards, though, we decided to upend the old scruffy, paint-peely porch floor and use it for wainscotting. The change of context is stunning.

Monet Boards, photo & all text
© Irene O’Garden 2012

Instead of a sanded, scraped-down, repainted pretendy-new floor, the worn boards greet you round the top of the stairs, quietly resplendent with subtle colors and textures.  More beautiful than we could have imagined.  An effect we would have  yearned for and tried vainly to achieve.  It’s like entering a corner of Monet.

These boards are humble. They are themselves. Life and human use has made them beautiful. Nothing more need be done, but to wax them and preserve the gift of their patina.

A change in context. I smile at this little domestic parable–the worn, the scuffed, the literally downtrodden shall be lifted up, shall have pride of place in an airy new chapel of art.


Are you inspired by a change of context this week?


The hand is the subject of one of my earliest essays as a child. It still remains one of the things that makes me deeply Glad To Be Human. Speaking of  which, I’m told that within a week, the e-version of my essay Glad To Be Human will be available wherever ebooks are sold.

 To listen to this post, please click here:The Mark of the Hand on New York

Fading somewhat, but we are still able to see the mark of the hand on New York. In the pause between a building coming down and the next arising, sometimes we find these old poems on windowless faces of brick.

Even ads can turn to poems when hands made them.  A weathered thing, an earnest hope, a painted record of desire. Pause. Hear the long-dead designer conversing with all three proprietors. “Use the same colors. It’ll cost less. I’ll make ‘em different.”

The eye worked out this stack of signs, but hands dipped brushes into buckets and applied it dripping to the wall. Blue-handed painters scrub their cracking palms with turpentine, and when the last rag‘s cast, and their laddered truck has rattled away, feel the gentlemanly handclasps of congratulations, smell the cigars and the whiskey toasts, sense the vest-popping pride in the bright yellow round and the elegant arrow encircling the upper sign, showing the way to the showrooms, to sunny success.

We feel hope in the work of the hand.

The modern thrill of metal furniture, the tingle of electrical appliances catching for years the upcast city eye, the upcast imagination. The allure of Smart Gifts. Hope in the shopper as well.

Yet culture and fashion, vogue and design are but grist in the turning stones of New York, feeding new appetites.  The passage of time itself is the poem, but the hand is what sets it before us.


A walk in Murray Hill this week inspired this post. If you find such signs as evocative as I do, you might want read about the Mack Sign Company here or more about the signs themselves here.

Do you see the mark of the hand where you live?


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