Merry Christmas!

Thank you to everyone who has been stopping by my blog, guest blogging, commenting, and attending my readings. I wish all of you a very  Merry Christmas, and I hope you have a wonderful day with family and friends.

Ann's Christmas Tree, 2015
Ann’s Christmas Tree, 2015

I’m planning on a lovely day with my kids and then an evening of dessert and gifts with my siblings, nieces, and nephews. We love tradition, including cooking a turkey with all the trimmings. My son, Brian, is the designated carver and my daughter Christella makes sure the meal runs smoothly. Here’s a peek at my Christmas turkey from last year—-looking forward to sharing a meal with my family once again this year.

Ann roasts a turkey
Ann roasts a turkey

I love the poem “The Night Before Christmas.” Every year someone tries to recite it from memory, so here is Clement Moore’s unforgettable poem about Santa Claus. May he always be in our hearts.




A Visit from St. Nicholas


‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Holding On and Letting Go: Musings on Ambition by Barbara Quick

Barbara Quick and I met in 2011 at Toad Hall Writer’s Retreat in New Hampshire.  We spent several days in a lovely setting, writing during the day and gathering in the evening for cocktails, dinner, and readings. I was struck by Barbara’s quiet charm and her insightful prose, and I’m happy to share Barbara’s musings on the theme of holding on and letting go.

Ambition. It feels like a small animal with sharp teeth that attached itself, early on, to my person. Maybe it’s a typical phenomenon for any child marked as precocious. There’s a sense of expectation that may or may not be justified. Precocious children get to the same place everyone else does—they just get there faster. Being an early reader with an affinity for metaphor doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll grow up to be a writer, to say nothing of growing up to be a writer with something important to offer the world.

I’m so tired of those tiny teeth sunk into me somewhere I can’t reach, like an itch I’d love to scratch and can’t.

Barbara Quick
Barbara Quick

Ambition makes me mean and small, because it’s never satisfied. Every milestone achieved gives a moment of relief—and then that voice starts up again, whispering in my ear, Is that all you’ve got? Hanging by its teeth from somewhere behind my shoulder, the creature bites harder, chews a little and denigrates everything I’ve ever done. It chews me up and spits me out. Work harder, it says. I expected more of you.

But who would ever write without ambition’s nasty bite? Yes, Emily Dickinson put her poems in a dresser drawer and hardly ever showed them to anyone. But she made sure they’d be found someday, found and read.

No one writes and throws their best, most polished words into the fire. Life itself will do that, eventually, when all our carefully crafted pages are like so many autumn leaves, giving up their tenuous hold and going into free-fall. Still filled with the juice of life but destined to desiccate soon, turning brown and dry and then broken by wind and footsteps, until what was once the glory of a tree is indistinguishable from the earth itself. All art will disappear one day, along with every trace of humankind.

Poor excuse, says the sharp-toothed one, goading me to use the time I have to say whatever it is I have inside me, and to say it well.

After sixty-one years of this symbiosis, I’ve realized that I have to work out a deal with the creature, who is never going to leave me, not as long as I possess the mental agility needed to write—nor would I want it to.

I let it gnaw on me. But I also encourage it to sleep, so it lets go its hold. Without those teeth sunk into my flesh, I gulp the good air of simply being alive. Other writers’ books and triumphs give me pleasure then (if the accolades are well deserved). I go from being a sullied creature dog-paddling in a muddy pond to a strong and graceful swimmer in a turquoise-colored sea, big enough for everyone who wants to be there.

There are so many books published, so many poems written. So many beautifully talented writers, filled with passion and humanity, alive in the world, each one of them with a unique point of view and a voice that matters.

I love swimming with them, immersing myself in their words and offering my words, too. Adding my voice to that chorus with its mysterious power to touch strangers—to make them cry, laugh and feel connected to the most intimate thoughts and emotions of a writer sitting all alone in a room or a crowded café or a library.

All writers need to remember (as do their parents and partners) that the physical act of committing words to a page is only the last step in the long—sometimes years long—process we call creative writing. Suffering is often part of that process—the wordless, helpless suffering experienced by a child. Staring out windows, long walks, reading, dreaming, looking for love in all the wrong places—traces of all these things that would seem to have nothing to do with writing can be found, by a good investigator, along the trail that leads to Art.

Whether we ever get there or not isn’t really the business of the writer. Time is the only true arbiter of literary merit, no matter how distressing it feels to come up short of one’s hopes and expectations of the world’s admiration and approval right now.

When the creature wakes, I know it’s time for me to return to that solitary place where I can find a cure for the nagging sense of discontent, the longing without an object, the loneliness that courses through my blood.

It’s not ambition that makes me write, but only the need to save myself once more. To open that magic door and walk through. I hold on tight—and then I let go.

Author bio:

Novelist, poet and journalist Barbara Quick is the author of Northern Edge, winner of the Discover Award, Vivaldi’s Virgins, which has been translated into 15 languages, and the young adult novel, A Golden Web. Her essays and articles have been commissioned by national and international journals, including the New York Times Book Review and National Geographic.


Hope and Gratitude: Tools for Moving Forward

When I was going through a difficult time in my life, I found a card with a wonderful quote by Emily Dickinson that I used to fuel me through my darkest days:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all – “
Bird and flower
 That quote sprang to my mind as I looked around at  the many tragedies occurring around the world that shake our faith in humanity. The bombings and murders in Paris, the police brutality in our cities and schools, and the continuing tragedy of the millions of homeless people in our midst. As the old saying goes, there’s plenty of tragedy to go around. So how do we hold on to hope?

Somehow, we find the hope and the will to go on. One way that people often respond to tragedy is to create informal memorials to remember the victims and to comfort their families. In Paris, memorials sprung up all over the city and the glow of candles still shines as if to blot out the darkness of despair. Churches and social service agencies offer housing and meals to homeless people. Right here in Columbia, Maryland, Bridges for Housing Stability offers assistance for families and individuals who are in danger of losing their homes or who are already homeless.

And just this past weekend at Baltimore’s Center Stage theater, Anna Deavere Smith presented her one-woman show, Doing Time in Education, The Baltimore Chapter. Smith has traveled around the United States interviewing politicians, educators, prisoners, mayors, psychologists, and students about their experiences with education. In her one woman show, Smith offers us a panoramic view of the problems we face in our schools by sharing the voices in our community.  The performance was powerful and thought provoking.

But more than Smith’s amazing performance, Center Stage offered the theater-goers an opportunity to discuss the issues raised and to dream of what we might do as a community to change and improve our schools for all of our children. Each group of theater-goers had a facilitator who led them through a brainstorming session where we discussed what we can change and what we can’t change.  What can we change? Class sizes, arts programming, opting out of testing were just a few of the ideas. As for what we can’t change, I agree with the person who said, “Nothing!”

Smith’s one-woman-show explored the difficult and serious issues of the school-to-prison pipeline and the many faceted needs of urban students, families, and teachers. At times, the weight of the problems was profound. Yet, a theater full of people from all walks of life had come together on a sunny Sunday afternoon to pool their collective interest and ideas–and hope filled our hearts as we walked out into the city.

So where does gratitude come into this narrative? As I drove home from the theater, I listened The Science of Gratitude Radio Special narrated by Susan Sarandon.  One of the most striking facts that I heard was related to the value of shared experiences. According to the research, people are more likely to be generous and express gratitude after experiencing a shared experience than after they receive a gift. For me, hearing that confirmed the magic of the afternoon that I had just spent with my daughter and my two friends at Center Stage. We had shared an experience. The positive energy in the theater was infectious and inspiring. That alone inspires me to feel hope and gratitude as we move forward to face our challenges.

Enjoy the poem by Emily Dickinson. May it increase your hope. May you feel gratitude for the uplifting thoughts.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers” (314) by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Letting Go of an Old Mindset, Seeking the Divine Feminine: Siobhan Mac Mahon

This week I’d like to welcome my friend Siobhan Mac Mahon as guest blogger. Siobhan and I met in Salerno, Italy, this summer when we both attended the 100Thousand Poets for Change Conference. We shared some lovely meals in Salerno and discovered our mutual love of using language and poetry to help people heal. Siobhan is originally from Dublin, Ireland, and her poetry sings with the fierce fire of Celtic wit and humor. Welcome, Siobhan!

I am not very good at ‘Letting Go’. You would only have to cast your eyes around some of the messy, and as yet, unresolved areas of my life, (of which there are a few) to surmise that perhaps a good spring-cleaning might be in order!

Siobhan McMahon
Siobhan McMahon

Neither am I very good at letting go of things (Though don’t let on to my mother, whom I recently berated when helping her clear her house – a house groaning with things, every cupboard packed full of memories and 50 years of family life) They say that you turn into your mother and my cluttered house is beginning to resemble hers! A house littered with books, plants, candles, art, feathers collected on my woodland walks, pebbles from the west coast of Ireland, half- finished poems, photos, notebooks and journals….. Pieces of paper with inspirational quotes adorn my fridge door, making it difficult to get at the basics of life inside – milk, cheese, eggs. Not to mention the old clothes that I can’t bear to get rid of, the ridiculously high – and very uncomfortable – sequinned shoes that I will never wear again, but which remind me of glamour and glitter, the smart suit that I never have the occasion to wear, but which never-the-less represents to me the possibility of, one day, being more organised, efficient and possibly even in control of my life.

But what I am really struggling to let go of is a very old mind-set, much older than me or my mother or her mother before her; the mind-set of patriarchy. A mind-set that that has divorced the sacred from the body and from the earth and has banished it into some nebulous and ethereal realm, where it is ruled over by a judgemental and fearful God. A God whom we must eternally appease, seek on bended knees and in whose name we wreak war, destruction and violence on others and claim ‘dominion’ over the Earth.

Perhaps the truth is much simpler and more beautiful than this and perhaps what I need to let go of, more than anything, is the seeking for ‘enlightenment’/a God/the Divine – whatever you might call it – outside of the here, the now, the ‘ordinary’ Perhaps I could let go of my old conditioned mind-set and trust my inner wisdom which tells me that the Earth herself is sacred: Her rivers, seas, mountains, forests and wildlife and that we are the guardians of this beautiful planet; each of us with our own unique and beautiful song to sing and that together we create – ‘a symphony of wild delight’

But in the long struggle to let go of this mind-set, I find I meet the demons of doubt, fear, pride, guilt, despair and shame along the way. They ambush me when I am least expecting them, appearing in many different disguises- vicious, tenacious and voracious – they have, at times, crippled me. Especially shame and doubt. Those two are the most persistent. As a woman I carry within the very cells of my body centuries of shame and of silencing, and yet also, a memory of something more beautiful, something forgotten but always present, something sacred that lives and breathes within our bodies and within the Earth. Something beautiful and essential to life which has always been carried, silently, in the darkness of our bodies, which is now being re-born into the world

This is why I write. I write to remember the language of the Divine Feminine; a language that does not separate the body from the sacred, the soul from the soil. I write to break the silence of shame and of doubt, to clear out – de-clutter – my inner house. I write to name and to honour the wisdom, the power, the beauty, the un-tamed wildness and the sacred sensuality that lives and breathes within our bodies and the body of the Earth. I write to find a way home out of the deep forest of our forgetting. I write to dispel the demons – and on a good day – to laugh at their ridiculous antics!

As for my house, perhaps a little de-clutter wouldn’t go amiss after all! But I’ll keep the inspirational quotes on my fridge; the books, the pebbles, the feathers, the art, the candles and the half-finished poems littering my home. Perhaps I’ll even dust down those sequinned shoes and go dancing in them!

Mapping a New Reality
by Siobhan Mac Mahon


When all the old paths
have been concreted over,

Root tree Goddess by Debra Bernier
Root tree Goddess by Debra Bernier

the way forgotten.

When words shape-shift
beneath your feet,
spelling another reality,

When you don’t know
what to pray for anymore,
let alone to whom – you must leave

Behind The broken compasses,
burn The man-made maps
and head for home,

Following the knowing
in your bones, the aching
of your heart,

The song-line of your body.

Bio: Siobhan is Irish Performance Poet, living in Yorkshire, she performs widely in England, Ireland and Europe. Her poems, powerful and often funny, celebrate the beauty of the Earth and the return of the Sacred Feminine. She pokes fun at rigid, patriarchal religions and structures, giving voice to the outrageous, the silenced and the banished (and that’s just before she has her breakfast!)

Siobhan has been writing and performing her poetry, collaborating with other artists and creating mayhem/Spoken word projects for over 20 years, including the Arts Council funded projects – The Mouth of the Cave and Voices of Women. She has recently completed a short poetry film.