Monday, 31 October 2011

Maternity Clothes

Ida sighs as I breeze in. It's my fifth visit. And I haven't bought anything. Just looked, made her open up folded tee-shirts to inspect and comment on. Today's different, though.

I have a tiny piece of paper on which I have written three different styles that are acceptable. However, I stuffed said piece of paper into cavernous bag and now can't find it. I rootle for a while as Ida's smile grows increasingly pained.

Meanwhile, other customers, real customers, with baby bumps come in and run their fingers through the racks, savouring the colours, the textures, all these cool clothes for mothers-in-waiting.

" it is," I bring out my little piece of paper triumphantly. "OK do you have the pintuck jersey dress?"

Ida stares at me blankly.

"What about the cowlneck blockcolour?" I ask, still hopefully.

She shrugs, puzzled.

"The front crossover empire dress?" I venture, enthusiasm waning.

"No, kak, our dresses are labelled according to size - short, mid-length, long..."

Hmmm....although I had a dekko at said dresses on website, I can't really remember what they look like. So I go inspect all the dresses on display. One looks like the front crossover empire dress but I can't be sure. Also written on my tiny piece of paper are the colours that are not welcome - yellow and light grey. There's one with a sort of scrunched up front. Donno what they call it, since the label goes for simplicity. "Mid length"

Ida tells me she would have to call the office to check. Except that it's late and the office is closed. Also, she cannot check online. They haven't had an internet connection for three days. Dunno why.

Unfazed, I move through the racks holding up the different dresses and blouses against self. Ida is convinced that I'm the one who is pregnant. And I just made up a friend in Australia to...well, she doesn't know why. No telling why these mad women do what they're doing.

If she cared to ask, I'd reassure her on that point.

Not pregnant.

Just fat.

Anyway, after bugging her life with about a week of daily visits, I finally settle on one rust-coloured dress. Sort of interesting front. Maybe empire crossover. Maybe not. This time, like every other time, I make her open the cute little baby tees (seems sort of counterintuitive, baby tees for a pregnant lady? but Ida says they are very popular and say I'll think about it. Again).

She has the patience of a saint. I finally pay for my one purchase instruct her to call the head office and ask about the dresses with the funky names, and sail off into the sunset, swinging my 9Months bag and singing untunefully.

Ida refolds the tee-shirts, shaking her head.

It takes all sorts.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

One Moonlit Night

So there I was, just about to herd the two dogs into the car for a rare ride out, when the phone rings, it's Mum and she wants to talk to me.

"Mark was just here," she says rather cryptically. "He was looking for you."

Now I know many Marks. But none of them would be going to our house in JB to visit my mother and looking for me there. Not the singer. Not the strategic consultant. Then I think of an obscure second cousin by that name. The one who's going to be a priest.

"You mean your nephew, Mark?"

"Chi! Nolar. Why would he be looking for you? That dog's owner. Apparently he drives by quite often with his dog to see if you're there. He wants to see if the fellow still recognises you."

"Oh..." I break into a smile.

This is Ronnie's Mark. You can read about Ronnie here. He was the cutest little Irish terrier and we found him at our doorstep and he was in hairs breadth of being lost in the no man's land land of an animal shelter forever.

So Mum chats about Mark who stayed awhile and talked to her. She told him I'd be coming there next week. It's a three-day weekend. Was supposed to go there this week but a late night and waking up at two in the afternoon put paid to that notion.

I am touched. I thought they forgot me. Apparently not. So I get to see the little doggie again and hang out with Mark and Angela.

So then I get off the phone and herd the two pups into the car. Arnold settles down in a corner...the perfectly behaved dog. And Maggot scrambles here and there and moves onto the gear box to gaze out at the windscreen, tongue hanging out, bright lights, big city, where in the world are we going?

Arnold gets up once or twice to look out of the window, but as long as it's a long ride, he doesn't care really. He's used to this sort of thing.

I have my iPod on and I think of the other doggie and sing along untunefully. Arnold and Maggot are quite easy to please. They listen silently without attempting to howl along.

I can feel my heart
And it's fit to burst
Try to clean it up
but it just gets worse
wish I could fall
on a night like this
into your loving arms
for a moonlight kiss


if you feel lost and on your own
and far from home
you never alone, you know
just think of your friends
the ones who care
they all will be waiting there
with love to share
and your heart will lead you home


Oo, I hear laughter in the rain
Walking hand in hand with the one I love
Oo, how I love the rainy days
And the happy way I feel inside

And we return home and beguile the moonlit hours with a late night walk. The moon's a fingernail in the sky, the air is fragrant, there's nobody about, the streetlights illuminate, the park at the back of the house beckons, friendly and inviting...and God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Mood Shifters

No matter how crummy I'm feeling there are books that serve as instant mood-lifters. Like anything by James Herriot. I rediscovered that recently as I read and actually Laughed Out Loud. There is also EF Benson's Lucia novels which you can actually get on Gutenberg as it's difficult to find in the stores. They are so good they're an addiction. You'll read nothing else for the duration. Or there is the evergreen Pickwick Papers.

For children's books, reading Wind in the Willows always brings about a shift of mood. Mr Toad, notwithstanding, it is a very gentle book. So much so that the menace of the weasels and the stoats are hinted at rather than actually shown. And in the only fight in the book, they are dispatched without much fuss.

Arnold lies next to me now cleaning his face and licking his bed. I think I'll give him a bath.

Think about what I said.

Later for you.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

So there I am, hurrying along to an interview and I see this and stop. And have to take a picture. Because that's what I want to do right now.

Right now!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Festival of Lights

Happy Deepavali, festival of lights. Here's an excerpt of a Deepavali card that I helped come up with (in my short, short stint as a corporate PR) four years ago. At least, I helped come up with the words (with some help from my help Mark who used them as a conclusion in an interview that came out as a personality profile - the theme of the interview was changing the world, one step at a time).

I was proud of the card. I think it was different from every other of the same. But I don't remember how many of it we sent out. Electronically, of course.

As I was stumbling towards an interview I came across this...I don't know what they call 'em, but I liked it enough to take a picture. This was at the Gardens Hotel in Mid Valley.

Anyway, I intend to spend today bumming. Absolutely!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tricki Woo (conclusion)

I was really worried about Tricki this time. I had pulled up my car when I saw him in the street with his mistress and I was shocked at this appearance. He had become hugely fat, like a bloated sausage with a leg at each corner. His eyes, bloodshot, and rheumy, stared straight ahead and his tongue lolled from his jaws.

Mrs Pumphreys hastened to explain. "He was so listless, Mr Herriot. He seemed to have no energy. I thought he must be suffering from malnutrition, so I have been giving him some little extras between meals to build him up. Some calf's foot jelly and malt and cod liver oil with a bowl of Horlick's at night to make him sleep - nothing much really."

"And did you cut down on the sweet things as I told you?"

"Oh, I did for a bit, but he seemed to be so weak. I had to relent. He does love cream cakes and chocolates so. I can't bear to refuse him."

I looked down again at the little dog. That was the trouble. Tricki's only fault was greed. He had never been known to refuse food; and he would tackle a meal at any hour of the day or night. And I wondered about all the things Mrs Pumphrey hadn't mentioned; the pate on thin biscuits, the fudge, the rich trifles - Tricki loved them all.

"Are you giving him plenty of exercise?"

"Well, he has his little walks with me as you can see, but Hodgkin has been down with lumbago, so there has been no ring-throwing lately."

I tried to sound severe. "Now I really mean this. If you don't cut his food right down and give him more exercise he is going to be really ill. You must harden your heart and keep him on a very strict diet."

Mrs Pumphrey wrung her hands. "Oh I will, Mr Herriot. I'm sure you are right, but it is so difficult, so very difficult." She set off, head down, along the road as if determined to put the new regime into practice immediately.

I watched their progress with growing concern. Tricki was tottering along in his little tweed coat; he had a whole wardrobe of these coats - warm tweed or tartan ones for the cold weather and macintoshes for the wet days. He struggled on, drooping in his harness. I thought it wouldn't be long before I heard from Mrs Pumphrey.

The expected call came within a few days. Mrs Pumphrey was distraught. Tricki would eat nothing. Refused even his favourite dishes, and besides, he had bouts of vomitting. He spent all his time lying on a rug, panting. Didn't want to go walks, didn't want to do anything.

I had made my plans in advance. The only way was to get Tricki out of the house for a period. I suggested that he be hospitalised for about a fortnight to be kept under observation.

The poor lady almost swooned. She had never been separated from her darling before; she was sure he would pine and die if he did not see her every day.

But I took a firm line. Tricki was very ill and this was the only way to save him; in fact, I thought it best to take him without delay and, followed by Mrs Pumphrey's wailings, I marched out to the car carrying the little dog wrapped in a blanket.

The entire staff was roused and maids rushed in and out bringing his day bed, his night bed, favourite cushions, toys and rubber rings, breakfast bowl, lunch bowl, supper bowl. Realising that my car would never hold all the stuff, I started to drive away. As I moved off, Mrs Pumphrey, with a despairing cry, threw an armful of the little coats through the window. I looked in the mirror before I turned the corner of the drive; everybody was in tears.

Out on the road, I glanced down at the pathetic little animal gasping on the seat by my side. I patted the head and Tricki made a brave effort to wag his tail. "Poor old lad," I said. "you haven't a kick in you but I think I know a cure for you."

At the surgery, the household dogs surged round me. Tricki looked down at the noisy pack with dull eyes and, when put down, lay motionless on the carpet. The other dogs, after sniffing round him for a few seconds, decided he was an uninteresting object and ignored him.

I made up a bed for him in a warm loose box next to the one where the other dogs slept. For two days I kept an eye on him, giving him no food but plenty of water. At the end of the second day he started to show some interest in his surroundings on an the third he began to whimper when he heard the dogs in the yard.

When I opened the door, Tricki trotted out and was immediately engulfed by Joe the greyhound and his friends. After rolling him over and thoroughly inspecting him, the dogs moved off down the garden. Tricki followed them, rolling slightly from his surplus fat but obviously intrigued.

Later that day, I was present at feeding time. I watched while Tristan slopped the food into the bowls. There was the usual headlong rush followed by the sounds of high-speed eating; every dog knew that if he fell behind the others he was liable to have some competition for the last part of his meal.

When they had finished Tricki took a walk round the shining bowls, licking casually inside one or two of them. Next day, an extra bowl was put out for him and I was pleased to see him jostling his way towards it.

From then on, his progress was rapid. He had no medicinal treatment of any kind but all day he ran about with the dogs, joining in their friendly scrimmages. He discovered the joys of being bowled over, trampled on and squashed every few minutes. He became an accepted member of the gang, an unlikely silky little object among the shaggy crew, fighting like a tiger for his share at meal times and hunting rats in the old hen house at night. He had never had such a time in his life.

All the while, Mrs Pumphrey hovered anxiously in the background, ringing a dozen times a day for the latest bulletins. I dodged the questions about whether his cushions were being turned regularly or his correct coat worn according to the weather; but I was able to tell her that the little fellow was out of danger and convalescing rapidly.

The word "convalescing" seemed to do something to Mrs Pumphrey. She started to bring round fresh eggs, two dozen at a time, to build up Tricki's strength. For a happy period there was two eggs each for breakfast, but when the bottles of sherry began to arrive, the real possibilities of the situation began to dawn on the household.

It was the same delicious vintage that I knew so well and it was to enrich Tricki's blood. Lunch became a ceremonial occasion with two glasses before and several during the meal. Siegfried and Tristan took turns at proposing Tricki's health and the standard of speech-making improved daily. As the sponsor, I was always called upon to reply.

We could hardly believe it when the brandy came. Two bottles of Cordon Bleu, intended to put a final edge on Tricki's constitution. Siegfried dug out some balloon glasses belonging to his mother. I had never seen them before, but for a few nights they saw constant service as the fine spirit was rolled around, inhaled and reverently drunk.

They were days of deep content, starting well with the extra egg in the morning, bolstered up and sustained by the midday sherry and finishing luxuriously round the fire with the brandy.

It was a temptation to keep Tricki on as a permanent guest, but I knew Mrs Pumphrey was a suffering and after a fortnight, felt compelled to phone and tell her that the little dog had recovered and was awaiting collection.

Within minutes, about thirty feet of gleaming black metal drew up outside the surgery. The chauffeur opened the door and I could just about make out the figure of Mrs Pumphrey almost lost in the interior. Her hands were tightly clasped in front of her; her lips trembled. "Oh, Mr Herriot, do tell me the truth. Is he really better?"

"Yes, he's fine. There's no need for you to get out of the car - I'll go and fetch him."

I walked through the house into the garden. A mass of dogs was hurtling round and round the lawn and in their midst, ears flapping, tail waving, was the little golden figure of Tricki. In two weeks he had been transformed into a lithe, hard-muscled animal; he was keeping up well with the pack, stretching out in great bounds, his chest almost brushing the ground.

I carried him back along the passage to the front of the house. The chauffeur was still holding the car door open and when Tricki saw his mistress he took off from my arms in a tremendous leap and sailed into Mrs Pumphrey's lap. She gave a startled "Ooh!" and then had to defend herself as he swarmed over her, licking her face and barking.

During the excitement, I helped the chauffeur to bring out the beds, toys, cushions, coats and bowls, none of which had been used. As the car moved away, Mrs Pumphrey leaned out of the window. Tears shone in her eyes. Her lips trembled.

"Oh Mr Herriot," she cried, "how can I ever thank you? This is a triumph of surgery!"

Monday, 24 October 2011

Tricki Woo

I have loved James Herriot ever since I first read an excerpt in a book of funny stories someone once gave me. That book is long gone, but since then I started acquiring James Herriot's four books - All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord Made Them All. Yeah, those are the names of his books, if you didn't know. But you probably do. Animal stories...funny vet stories, I mean, what could be better, right? Over the next two days, I will be excerpting bits from his book, featuring one of our favourite characters, Mrs Pumphreys and the immortal Tricki Woo.

As autumn wore into winter and the high tops were streaked with the first snows, the discomforts of practice in the Dales began to make themselves felt.

Driving for hours with frozen feet, climbing to the high barns in biting winds which seared and flattened the wiry hill grass. The interminable stripping off in draughty buildings and the washing of hands and chest in buckets of cold water, using scrubbing soap and often a piece of sacking for a towel.

I really found out the meaning of chapped hands. When there was a rush of work, my hands were never quite dry and the little red fissures crept up almost to my elbows.

This was when some small animal work came as a blessed relief. To step out of the rough, hard routine for a while; to walk into a warm drawing-room instead of a cow house and tackle something less formidable than a horse or a bull. And among all those comfortable drawing rooms there was none so beguiling as Mrs Pumphrey's.

Mrs Pumphrey was an elderly widow. Her late husband, a beer baron whose breweries and pubs were scattered widely over the broad bosom of Yorkshire, had left her a vast fortune and a beautiful house on the outskirts of Darrowby. Here she lived with a large staff of servants, a gardener, a chauffeur and Tricki Woo. Tricki Woo was a Pekingnese and the apple of his mistress's eye.

Standing now in the magnificent doorway, I furtively rubbed the toes of my shoes on the backs of my trousers and blew on my cold hands. I could almost see the deep armchair drawn close to the leaping flames, the tray of cocktail biscuits, the bottle of excellent sherry. Because of the sherry, I was always careful to time my visits for half an hour before lunch.

A maid answered my ring, beaming on me as an honoured guest and led me to the room, crammed with expensive furniture and littered with glossy magazines and the latest novels. Mrs Pumphreys, in the high-backed chair by the fire, put down her book with a cry of delight. "Tricki! Tricki! Here is your Uncle Herriot." I had been made an uncle very early and sensing the advantages of the relationship, had made no objection.

Tricki, as always, bounded from his cushions, leaped on to the back of the sofa and put his paws on my shoulders. He then licked my face thoroughly before retiring, exhausted. He was soon exhausted because he was given roughly twice the amount of food needed for a dog his size. And it was the wrong kind of food.

"Oh, Mr Herriot," Mrs Pumphrey said, looking at her pet anxiously."I'm so glad you've come. Tricki has gone flop-bott again."

I hoisted onto a table and, by pressure on the anus with a pad of cotton wool, I evacuated the glands.

It baffled me that the Peke was always so pleased to see me. Any dog who could still like a man who grabbed him and squeezed his bottom hard every time they met had to have an incredibly forgiving nature. But Tricki never showed any resentment; in fact he was an outstandingly equable little animal, bursting with intelligence, and I was genuinely attached to him. It was a pleasure to be his personal physician.

The squeezing over, I lifted my patient from the table, noticing the increased weight, the padding of extra flesh over the ribs. "You know, Mrs Pumphrey, you're overfeeding him again. Didn't I tell you to cut out all those pieces of cake and give him more protein?"

"Oh yes, Mr Herriot," Mrs Pumphrey wailed. "But what can I do? He's so tired of chicken."

I shrugged; it was hopeless. I allowed the maid to lead me into the palatial bathroom where I always performed the ritual handwashing after the operation. It was a huge room with a fully stocked dressing-table, massive green ware and rows of glass shelves laden with toilet preparations. My private guest towel was laid out next to the slab of expensive soap.

Then I returned to the drawing room, my sherry glass was filled and I settled down by the fire to listen to Mrs Pumphrey. It couldn't be called a conversation because she did all the talking, but I always found it rewarding.

Mrs Pumphrey was likeable, gave widely to charities and would help anybody in trouble. She was intelligent and amusing and had a lot of waffling charm; but most people have a blind spot and hers was Tricki Woo. The tales she told about her darling ranged far into the realms of fantasy and I waited eagerly for the next instalment.

"Oh Mr Herriot, I have the most exciting news. Tricki has a pen pal! Yes, he wrote a letter to the editor of Doggy World enclosing a donation, and told him that even though he was descended from a long line of Chinese emperors, he had decided to come down and mingle freely with the common dogs. He asked the editor to seek out a pen pal for him among the dogs he knew so that they could correspond to their mutual benefit. And for this purpose, Tricki said he would adopt the name of Mr Utterbunkum. And, do you know, he received the most beautiful letter from the editor" (I could imagine the sensible man leaping upon this potential gold mine) "who said he would like to introduce Bonzo Fotheringham, a lonely Dalmation who would be delighted to exchange letters with a new friend in Yorkshire."

I sipped the sherry. Tricki snored on my lap. Mrs Pumphrey went on.

"But I'm so disappointed about the new summerhouse - you know I got it specially for Tricki so we could sit out there together on warm afternoons. It's such a nice little rustic shelter, but he's taken a passionate dislike to it. Simply loathes it - absolutely refuses to go inside. You should see the dreadful expression on his face when he looks at it. And do you know what he called it yesterday? Oh, I hardly dare tell you." She looked around the room before leaning over and whispering: "He called it 'the bloody hut'!"

The maid struck fresh life into the fire and refilled my glass. The wind hurled a handful of sleet against the window. This, I thought, was the life. I listened for more.

"And did I tell you, Mr Herriot, Tricki had another good win yesterday? You know, I'm sure he must study the racing columns, he's such a tremendous judge of form. Well, he told me to back Canny Lad in the three o'clock at Redcar yesterday, and , as usual, it won. He put on a shilling each each way and got back nine shillings."

Those bets were always placed in the name of Tricki Woo and I thought with compassion of the reactions of the local bookies. The Darrowby turf accountants were a harassed and fugitive body of men. A board would appear at the end of some alley urging the population to invest with Joe Downs and enjoy perfect security. Joe would live for a few months on a knife edge while he pitted his wits against the knowledgeable citizens, but the end was always the same; a few favourites would win in a row and Joe would be gone in the night, taking his board with him. Once I had asked a local inhabitant about the sudden departure of one of these luckless nomads. He replied unemotionally: "Oh, we broke 'im."

Losing a regular flow of shillings to a dog must have been a heavy cross for these unfortunate men to bear.

"I had such a frightening experience last week," Mrs Pumphrey continued. "I was sure I would have to call you out. Poor little Tricki - he went completely crackerdog!"

I mentally lined this up with flop-bott among the new canine diseases and asked for more information.

"It was awful. I was terrified. The gardener was throwing rings for Tricki - you know he does this for half an hour every day." I had witnessed this spectacle several times. Hodgkin, a dour, bent old Yorkshireman who looked as though he hated all dogs and Tricki in particular, had to go out on the lawn every day throw little rubber rings over and over again. Tricki bounded after them and brought them back, barking madly till the process was repeated. The bitter lines on the old man's face deepened as the game progressed. His lips moved continually, but it was impossible to hear what he was saying.

Mrs Pumphrey went on: "Well, he was playing his game, and he does adore it so, when suddenly without warning, he went crackerdog. He forgot all about his rings and began to run around in circles, barking and yelping in such a strange way. Then he fell over on his side and lay like a little dead thing. Do you know, Mr Herriot, I really thought he was dead, he lay so perfectly still. And what hurt me most was that Hodgkin began to laugh. He has been with me for 24 years and I have never even seen him smile, and yet, when he looked down at that still form, he broke into a queer high-pitched cackle. It was horrid. I was just going to rush to the telephone when Tricki got up and walked away - he seemed perfectly normal."

Hysteria, I thought, brought on by wrong feeding and over-excitement. I put down my glass and fixed Mrs Pumphreys with a severe glare. "Now look, this is just what I was talking about. If you persist in feeding all that fancy rubbish to Tricki you are going to ruin his health. You really must get him on to a sensible dog diet of one or, at the most, two small meals a day of meat and brown bread or a little biscuit. And nothing in between."

Mrs Pumphrey shrank into her chair, a picture of abject guilt. "Oh please, don't speak to me like that. I do try to give him the right things, but it is so difficult. When he begs for his little titbits, I can't refuse him." She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.

But I was unrelenting. "All right, Mrs Pumphrey, it's up to you, but I warn you that if you go on as you are doing, Tricki will go crackerdog more and more often."

I left the cosy haven with reluctance, pausing on the gravelled drive to look back at Mrs Pumphrey waving and Tricki as always, standing against the window, his wide-mouthed face apparently in the middle of a hearty laugh.

Driving home, I mused on the many advantages of being Tricki's uncle. When he went to the seaside, he sent me boxes of oak-smoked kippers; and when the tomatoes ripened in his greenhouse, he sent a pound or two every week. Tins of tobacco arrived regularly, sometimes with a photograph carrying a loving inscription.

But it was when the Christmas hamper arrived from Fortnum and Mason's that I decided that I was on a really good thing which should be helped along a bit. Hitherto, I had merely rung up and thanked Mrs Pumphrey for the gifts, and she had been rather cool, pointing out that it was Tricki who had sent the things and he was the one who should be thanked.

With the arrival of the hamper it came to me, blindingly, that I had been guilty of a grave error of tactics. I set myself to compose a letter to Tricki. Avoiding Siegfried's sardonic eye, I thanked my doggy nephew for his Christmas gifts and for all his generosity in the past. I expressed my sincere hopes that the festive fare had not upset his delicate digestion and suggested that if he did experience any discomfort he should have recourse to the black powder his uncle always prescribed. A vague feeling of professional shame was easily swamped by floating visions of kippers, tomatoes and hampers. I addressed the envelope to Master Tricki Pumphrey, Barlby Grange and slipped it into the post box with only a slight feeling of guilt.

On my next visit, Mrs Pumphrey drew me to one side, "Mr Herriot," she whispered, "Tricki adored our your charming letter and he will keep it always, but he was very put out about one thing - you addressed it to Master Tricki and he does insist upon Mister. He was dreadfully affronted at first, quite beside himself, but when he was it was from you he soon recovered his good temper. I can't think why he should have these little prejudices. Perhaps it is because he is an only dog - I do think an only dog develops more prejudices than one from a large family."

Entering Skeldale House was like returning to a colder world. Siegfried bumped into me in the passage. "Ah, who have we here? Why I do believe it's dear Uncle Herriot. And what have you been doing, Uncle? Slaving away at Barlby Grange, I expect. Poor fellow, you must be tired out. Do you really think it's worth it, working your fingers to the bone for another hamper?"

Sunday, 23 October 2011

When Books Sing

Time for my own writing again. And I wrote this years ago. When I had just got back from Australia. When things were very different from what they are now.

A book was singing. Which book, I didn't know. I got up and stumbled out of bed, waving my hand vaguely at my side table, willing the noise to stop. It didn't.

I glared sternly at the higgledy piggledy pile on the table. Or at least as sternly as I could in my dazed, three-hours-of-sleep-is-just-not-enough state. Still that annoying tune. I opened and closed the books, figuring it was as good a way as any to silence the offending item. To no avail.

Finally I started flinging the books to the ground (something my mother always told me never to do) in an attempt to get the offending tome to shut the frick up! My sister unclosed one eye and looked at me. She had also been awakened by the racket and hoped I would put a stop to it, whatever it was.

I decided that this was an exercise in futility. The problem was too large for me to handle in the dark. I stumbled over to the switch at the other end of the room and shed some light on the matter.

Ah, illumination!

It was not a book singing. It was the phone ringing, singing, blasted alarm!

I switched it off, shot my sister a goofy, apologetic grin, gazed at the books on the floor and climbed back into bed.

I could clear up the mess later.

Saturday, 22 October 2011


Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up,
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like the curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

By Sara Teasdale

Friday, 21 October 2011

The New Clothes Fail

This is the second part of the post I featured yesterday, from the book, Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. The continuation of the story and resolution, in one way or another.

All the little girls went early to school the next day, eager for the first glimpse of 'Lias in his new clothes. They now quite enjoyed the mystery about who had made them, and were full of agreeable excitement as the little figure was seen approaching down the road. He wore the gray trousers and the little blue shirt; the trousers were a little too long, the shirt a perfect fit. The girls gazed at him with pride as he came on the playground, walking briskly along in the new shoes, which were just the right size. He had been wearing all winter a pair of cast-off women's shoes. From a distance he looked like another child. But as he came closer ... oh! his face! his hair! his hands! his finger-nails! The little fellow had evidently tried to live up to his beautiful new raiment, for his hair had been roughly put back from his face, and around his mouth and nose was a small area of almost clean skin, where he had made an attempt at washing his face. But he had made practically no impression on the layers of encrusted dirt, and the little girls looked at him ruefully. Mr. Pond would certainly never take a fancy to such a dreadfully grimy child! His new, clean clothes made him look all the worse, as though dirty on purpose!

The little girls retired to their rock-pile and talked over their bitter disappointment, Ralph and the other boys absorbed in a game of marbles near them. 'Lias had gone proudly into the schoolroom to show himself to Miss Benton.
It was the day before Decoration Day and a good deal of time was taken up with practising on the recitations they were going to give at the Decoration Day exercises in the village. Several of the children from each school in the township were to speak pieces in the Town Hall. Betsy was to recite Barbara Frietchie , her first love in that school, but she droned it over with none of her usual pleasure, her eyes on little 'Lias's smiling face, so unconscious of its dinginess.
At noon time the boys disappeared down toward the swimming-hole. They often took a swim at noon and nobody thought anything about it on that day. The little girls ate their lunch on their rock, mourning over the failure of their plans, and scheming ways to meet the new obstacle. Stashie suggested, "Couldn't your Aunt Abigail invite him up to your house for supper and then give him a bath afterward?" But Betsy, although she had never heard of treating a supper-guest in this way, was sure that it was not possible. She shook her head sadly, her eyes on the far-off gleam of white where the boys jumped up and down in their swimming-hole. That was not a good name for it, because there was only one part of it deep enough to swim in. Mostly it was a shallow bay in an arm of the river, where the water was only up to a little boy's knees and where there was almost no current. The sun beating down on it made it quite warm, and even the first-graders' mothers allowed them to go in. They only jumped up and down and squealed and splashed each other, but they enjoyed that quite as much as Frank and Harry, the two seventh-graders, enjoyed their swooping dives from the spring-board over the pool. They were late in getting back from the river that day and Miss Benton had to ring her bell hard in that direction before they came trooping up and clattered into the schoolroom, where the girls already sat, their eyes lowered virtuously to their books, with a prim air of self-righteousness.

They were never late!

Betsy was reciting her arithmetic. She was getting on famously with that. Weeks ago, as soon as Miss Benton had seen the confusion of the little girl's mind, the two had settled down to a serious struggle with that subject. Miss Benton had had Betsy recite all by herself, so she wouldn't be flurried by the others; and to begin with had gone back, back, back to bedrock, to things Betsy absolutely knew, to the 2x2's and the 3x3's. And then, very cautiously, a step at a time, they had advanced, stopping short whenever Betsy felt a beginning of that bewildered "guessing" impulse which made her answer wildly at random.

After a while, in the dark night which arithmetic had always been to her, Betsy began to make out a few definite outlines, which were always there, facts which she knew to be so without guessing from the expression of her teacher's face. From that moment her progress had been rapid, one sure fact hooking itself on to another, and another one on to that. She attacked a page of problems now with a zest and self-confidence which made her arithmetic lessons among the most interesting hours at school. On that day she was standing up at the board, a piece of chalk in her hand, chewing her tongue and thinking hard how to find out the amount of wall-paper needed for a room 12 feet square with two doors and two windows in it, when her eye fell on little 'Lias, bent over his reading book. She forgot her arithmetic, she forgot where she was. She stared and stared, till Ellen, catching the direction of her eyes, looked and stared too. Little 'Lias was clean, preternaturally, almost wetly clean. His face was clean and shining, his ears shone pink and fair, his hands were absolutely spotless, even his hay-colored hair was clean and, still damp, brushed flatly back till it shone in the sun. Betsy blinked her eyes a great many times, thinking she must be dreaming, but every time she opened them there was 'Lias, looking white and polished like a new willow whistle.

Somebody poked her hard in the ribs. She started and, turning, saw Ralph, who was doing a sum beside her on the board, scowling at her under his black brows. "Quit gawking at 'Lias," he said under his breath. "You make me tired!"

Something conscious and shame-faced in his manner made Betsy understand at once what had happened. Ralph had taken 'Lias down to the little boys' wading-place and had washed him all over. She remembered now that they had a piece of yellow soap there.
Her face broke into a radiant smile and she began to say something to Ralph about how nice that was of him, but he frowned again and said, crossly, "Aw, cut it out! Look at what you've done there! If I couldn't 9 x 8 and get it right!"

"How queer boys are!" thought Betsy, erasing her mistake and putting down the right answer. But she did not try to speak to Ralph again about 'Lias, not even after school, when she saw 'Lias going home with a new cap on his head which she recognized as Ralph's. She just looked at Ralph's bare head, and smiled her eyes at him, keeping the rest of her face sober, the way Cousin Ann did. For just a minute Ralph almost smiled back. At least he looked quite friendly. They stepped along toward home together, the first time Ralph had ever condescended to walk beside a girl.

"We got a new colt," he said.

"Have you?" she said. "What color?"

"Black, with a white star, and they're going to let me ride him when he's old enough."

"My! Won't that be nice!" said Betsy.

And all the time they were both thinking of little 'Lias with his new clothes and his sweet, thin face shining with cleanliness.

"Do you like spruce gum?" asked Ralph.

"Oh, I love gum!" said Betsy.

"Well, I'll bring you down a chunk tomorrow, if I don't forget it," said Ralph, turning off at the cross-roads.

They had not mentioned 'Lias at all.

The next day they were to have school only in the morning. In the afternoon they were to go in a big hay-wagon down to the village to the "exercises." 'Lias came to school in his new blue-serge trousers and his white blouse. The little girls gloated over his appearance, and hung around him, for who was to "visit school" that morning but Mr. Pond himself! Cousin Ann had arranged it somehow. It took Cousin Ann to fix things! During recess, as they were playing still-pond-no-more-moving on the playground, Mr. Pond and Uncle Henry drew up to the edge of the playground, stopped their horse, and, talking and laughing together, watched the children at play. Betsy looked hard at the big, burly, kind-faced man with the smiling eyes and the hearty laugh, and decided that he would "do" perfectly for 'Lias. But what she decided was to have little importance, apparently, for after all he would not get out of the wagon, but said he'd have to drive right on to the village. Just like that, with no excuse other than a careless glance at his watch. No, he guessed he wouldn't have time, this morning, he said. Betsy cast an imploring look up into Uncle Henry's face, but evidently he felt himself quite helpless, too. Oh, if only Cousin Ann had come! She would have marched him into the schoolhouse double-quick. But Uncle Henry was not Cousin Ann, and though Betsy saw him, as they drove away, conscientiously point out little 'Lias, resplendent and shining, Mr. Pond only nodded absently, as though, he were thinking of something else.

Betsy could have cried with disappointment; but she and the other girls, putting their heads together for comfort, told each other that there was time enough yet. Mr. Pond would not leave town till tomorrow. Perhaps ... there was still some hope.
But that afternoon even this last hope was dashed. As they gathered at the schoolhouse, the girls fresh and crisp in their newly starched dresses, with red or blue hair-ribbons, the boys very self-conscious in their dark suits, clean collars, new caps (all but Ralph), and blacked shoes, there was no little 'Lias. They waited and waited, but there was no sign of him. Finally Uncle Henry, who was to drive the straw-ride down to town, looked at his watch, gathered up the reins, and said they would be late if they didn't start right away. Maybe 'Lias had had a chance to ride in with somebody else.

They all piled in, the horses stepped off, the wheels grated on the stones. And just at that moment a dismal sound of sobbing wails reached them from the woodshed back of the schoolhouse. The children tumbled out as fast as they had tumbled in, and ran back, Betsy and Ralph at their head. There in the woodshed was little 'Lias, huddled in the corner behind some wood, crying and crying and crying, digging his fists into his eyes, his face all smeared with tears and dirt. And he was dressed again in his filthy, torn old overalls and ragged shirt. His poor little bare feet shone with a piteous cleanliness in that dark place.

"What's the matter? What's the matter?" the children asked him all at once. He flung himself on Ralph, burying his face in the other boy's coat, and sobbed out some disjointed story which only Ralph could hear ... and then as last and final climax of the disaster, who should come looking over the shoulders of the children but Uncle Henry and Mr. Pond! And 'Lias all ragged and dirty again! Betsy sat down weakly on a pile of wood, utterly disheartened. What was the use of anything!

"What's the matter?" asked the two men together.

Ralph turned, with an angry toss of his dark head, and told them bitterly, over the heads of the children: "He just had some decent clothes. ... First ones he's ever had! And he was plotting on going to the exercises in the Town Hall. And that darned old skunk of a stepfather has gone and taken 'em and sold 'em to get whiskey. I'd like to kill him!"

Betsy could have flung her arms around Ralph, he looked so exactly the way she felt. "Yes, he is a darned old skunk!" she said to herself, rejoicing in the bad words she did not know before. It took bad words to qualify what had happened.

She saw an electric spark pass from Ralph's blazing eyes to Mr. Pond's broad face, now grim and fierce. She saw Mr. Pond step forward, brushing the children out of his way, like a giant among dwarfs. She saw him stoop and pick little 'Lias up in his great, strong arms, and, holding him close, stride furiously out of the woodshed, across the playground to the buggy which was waiting for him.

"He'll go to the exercises all right!" he called back over his shoulder in a great roar. "He'll go, if I have to buy out the whole town to get him an outfit! And that whelp won't get these clothes, either; you hear me say so!"

He sprang into the buggy and, holding 'Lias on his lap, took up the reins and drove rapidly forward.

They saw little 'Lias again, entering the Town Hall, holding fast to Mr. Pond's hand. He was magnificent in a whole suit of store clothes, coat and all, and he wore white stockings and neat, low shoes, like a city child!

They saw him later, up on the platform, squeaking out his little patriotic poem, his eyes, shining like stars, fixed on one broad, smiling face in the audience. When he finished he was overcome with shyness by the applause, and for a moment forgot to turn and leave the platform. He hung his head, and, looking out from under his eyebrows, gave a quaint, shy little smile at the audience. Betsy saw Mr. Pond's great smile waver and grow dim. His eyes filled so full that he had to take out his handkerchief and blow his nose loudly.

And they saw little 'Lias once more, for the last time. Mr. Pond's buggy drove rapidly past their slow-moving hay-wagon, Mr. Pond holding the reins masterfully in one hand. Beside him, very close, sat 'Lias with his lap full of toys, oh, full—like Christmas! In that fleeting glimpse they saw a toy train, a stuffed dog, a candy-box, a pile of picture-books, tops, paper-bags, and even the swinging crane of the big mechanical toy dredge that everybody said the storekeeper could never sell to anybody because it cost so much!

As they passed swiftly, 'Lias looked out at them and waved his little hand flutteringly. His other hand was tightly clasped in Mr. Pond's big one. He was smiling at them all. His eyes looked dazed and radiant. He turned his head as the buggy flashed by to call out, in a shrill, exulting little shout, "Good-bye! Good-bye! I'm going to live with ..." They could hear no more. He was gone, only his little hand still waving at them over the back of the buggy seat.

Betsy drew a long, long breath. She found that Ralph was looking at her. For a moment she couldn't think what made him look so different. Then she saw that he was smiling. She had never seen him smile before. He smiled at her as though he were sure she would understand, and never said a word. Betsy looked forward again and saw the gleaming buggy vanishing over the hill in front of them. She smiled back at Ralph silently.

Not a thing had happened the way she had planned; no, not a single thing! But it seemed to her she had never been so happy in her life.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Betsy Starts A Sewing Society

It's been a while since I excerpted a children's story in here. This one is in two parts - my favourite chapters of a book that is out of print now, Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. You can read the whole thing on Gutenberg, if you want and I strongly recommend that you do. I notice that writers of that time were usually educators who had ideas about how children should be taught. They tried out their theories in their books, but they were usually delightful reads.

Anyway, here is Part One.


Betsy and Molly had taken Deborah to school with them. Deborah was the old wooden doll with brown, painted curls. She had lain in a trunk almost ever since Aunt Abigail's childhood, because Cousin Ann had never cared for dolls when she was a little girl. At first Betsy had not dared to ask to see her, much less to play with her, but when Ellen, as she had promised, came over to Putney Farm that first Saturday she had said right out, as soon as she landed in the house, "Oh, Mrs. Putney, can't we play with Deborah?" And Aunt Abigail had answered: "Why yes, of course! I knew there was something I've kept forgetting!" She went up with them herself to the cold attic and opened the little hair-trunk under the eaves.
There lay a doll, flat on her back, looking up at them brightly out of her blue eyes.
"Well, Debby dear," said Aunt Abigail, taking her up gently. "It's a good long time since you and I played under the lilac bushes, isn't it? I expect you've been pretty lonesome up here all these years. Never you mind, you'll have some good times again, now." She pulled down the doll's full, ruffled skirt, straightened the lace at the neck of her dress, and held her for a moment, looking down at her silently. You could tell by the way she spoke, by the way she touched Deborah, by the way she looked at her, that she had loved the doll very dearly, and maybe still did, a little.
When she put Deborah into Betsy's arms, the child felt that she was receiving something very precious, almost something alive. She and Ellen looked with delight at the yards and yards of picot-edged ribbon, sewed on by hand to the ruffles of the skirt, and lifted up the silk folds to admire the carefully made, full petticoats and frilly drawers, the pretty, soft old kid shoes and white stockings. Aunt Abigail looked at them with an absent smile on her lips, as though she were living over old scenes.

Finally, "It's too cold to play up here," she said, coming to herself with a long breath. "You'd better bring Deborah and the trunk down into the south room." She carried the doll, and Betsy and Ellen each took an end of the old trunk, no larger than a modern suitcase. They settled themselves on the big couch, back of the table with the lamp. Old Shep was on it, but Betsy coaxed him off by putting down some bones Cousin Ann had been saving for him. When he finished those and came back for the rest of his snooze, he found his place occupied by the little girls, sitting cross-legged, examining the contents of the trunk, all spread out around them. Shep sighed deeply and sat down with his nose resting on the couch near Betsy's knee, following all their movements with his kind, dark eyes. Once in a while Betsy stopped hugging Deborah or exclaiming over a new dress long enough to pat Shep's head and fondle his ears. This was what he was waiting for, and every time she did it he wagged his tail thumpingly against the floor.

After that Deborah and her trunk were kept downstairs where Betsy could play with her. And often she was taken to school. You never heard of such a thing as taking a doll to school, did you? Well, I told you this was a queer, old-fashioned school that any modern School Superintendent would sniff at. As a matter of fact, it was not only Betsy who took her doll to school; all the little girls did, whenever they felt like it. Miss Benton, the teacher, had a shelf for them in the entry-way where the wraps were hung, and the dolls sat on it and waited patiently all through lessons. At recess time or nooning each little mother snatched her own child and began to play. As soon as it grew warm enough to play outdoors without just racing around every minute to keep from freezing to death, the dolls and their mothers went out to a great pile of rocks at one end of the bare, stony field which was the playground.

There they sat and played in the spring sunshine, warmer from day to day. There were a great many holes and shelves and pockets and little caves in the rocks which made lovely places for playing keep-house. Each little girl had her own particular cubby-holes and "rooms," and they "visited" their dolls back and forth all around the pile. And as they played they talked very fast about all sorts of things, being little girls and not boys who just yelled and howled inarticulately as they played ball or duck-on-a-rock or prisoner's goal, racing and running and wrestling noisily all around the rocks.

There was one child who neither played with the girls nor ran and whooped with the boys. This was little six-year-old 'Lias, one of the two boys in Molly's first grade. At recess time he generally hung about the school door by himself, looking moodily down and knocking the toe of his ragged, muddy shoe against a stone. The little girls were talking about him one day as they played.

"My! Isn't that 'Lias Brewster the horridest-looking child!" said Eliza, who had the second grade all to herself, although Molly now read out of the second reader with her.

"Mercy, yes! So ragged!" said Anastasia Monahan, called Stashie for short. She was a big girl, fourteen years old, who was in the seventh grade.

"He doesn't look as if he ever combed his hair!" said Betsy. "It looks just like a wisp of old hay."

"And sometimes," little Molly proudly added her bit to the talk of the older girls, "he forgets to put on any stockings and just has his dreadful old shoes on over his dirty, bare feet."

"I guess he hasn't got any stockings half the time," said big Stashie scornfully. "I guess his stepfather drinks 'em up."

"How can he drink up stockings!" asked Molly, opening her round eyes very wide.
"Sh! You mustn't ask. Little girls shouldn't know about such things, should they, Betsy?"

"No indeed," said Betsy, looking mysterious. As a matter of fact, she herself had no idea what Stashie meant, but she looked wise and said nothing.

Some of the boys had squatted down near the rocks for a game of marbles now.

"Well, anyhow," said Molly resentfully, "I don't care what his stepfather does to his stockings. I wish 'Lias would wear 'em to school. And lots of times he hasn't anything on under those horrid old overalls either! I can see his bare skin through the torn places."

"I wish he didn't have to sit so near me," said Betsy complainingly. "He's so dirty."

"Well, I don't want him near me, either!" cried all the other little girls at once. Ralph glanced up at them frowning, from where he knelt with his middle finger crooked behind a marble ready for a shot. He looked as he always did, very rough and half-threatening.

"Oh, you girls make me sick!" he said.

He sent his marble straight to the mark, pocketed his opponent's, and stood up, scowling at the little mothers.

"I guess if you had to live the way he does you'd be dirty! Half the time he don't get anything to eat before he comes to school, and if my mother didn't put up some extra for him in my box he wouldn't get any lunch either. And then you go and jump on him!"

"Why doesn't his own mother put up his lunch?" Betsy challenged their critic.

"He hasn't got any mother. She's dead," said Ralph, turning away with his hands in his pockets. He yelled to the boys, "Come on, fellers, beat-che to the bridge and back!" and was off, with the others racing at his heels.

"Well, anyhow, I don't care; he is dirty and horrid!" said Stashie emphatically, looking over at the drooping, battered little figure, leaning against the school door, listlessly kicking at a stone.

But Betsy did not say anything more just then.

The teacher, who "boarded 'round," was staying at Putney Farm at that time, and that evening, as they all sat around the lamp in the south room, Betsy looked up from her game of checkers with Uncle Henry and asked,

"How can anybody drink up stockings?"

"Mercy, child! what are you talking about?" asked Aunt Abigail.

Betsy repeated what Anastasia Monahan had said, and was flattered by the instant,
rather startled attention given her by the grown-ups.

"Why, I didn't know that Bud Walker had taken to drinking again!" said Uncle Henry. "My! That's too bad!"

"Who takes care of that child anyhow, now that poor Susie is dead?" Aunt Abigail asked of everybody in general.

"Is he just living there alone, with that good-for-nothing stepfather? How do they get enough to eat?" said Cousin Ann, looking troubled.

Apparently Betsy's question had brought something half forgotten and altogether neglected into their minds. They talked for some time after that about 'Lias, the teacher confirming what Betsy and Stashie had said.

"And we sitting right here with plenty to eat and never raising a hand!" cried Aunt Abigail.

"How you will let things slip out of your mind!" said Cousin Ann remorsefully.

It struck Betsy vividly that 'Lias was not at all the one they blamed for his objectionable appearance. She felt quite ashamed to go on with the other things she and the little girls had said, and fell silent, pretending to be very much absorbed in her game of checkers.

"Do you know," said Aunt Abigail suddenly, as though an inspiration had just struck her, "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that Elmore Pond might adopt 'Lias if he was gone at the right way."

"Who's Elmore Pond?" asked the schoolteacher.

"Why, you must have seen him—that great, big, red-faced, good-natured-looking man that comes through here twice a year, buying stock. He lives over Bigby way, but his wife was a Hillsboro girl, Matey Pelham—an awfully nice girl she was, too. They never had any children, and Matey told me the last time she was back for a visit that she and her husband talked quite often about adopting a little boy. Seems that Mr. Pond has always wanted a little boy. He's such a nice man! 'Twould be a lovely home for a child."

"But goodness!" said the teacher. "Nobody would want to adopt such an awful-looking little ragamuffin as that 'Lias. He looks so meeching, too. I guess his stepfather is real mean to him, when he's been drinking, and it's got 'Lias so he hardly dares hold his head up."

The clock struck loudly. "Well, hear that!" said Cousin Ann. "Nine o'clock and the children not in bed! Molly's most asleep this minute. Trot along with you, Betsy!

Trot along, Molly. And, Betsy, be sure Molly's nightgown is buttoned up all the way."

So it happened that, although the grown-ups were evidently going on to talk about 'Lias Brewster, Betsy heard no more of what they said.

She herself went on thinking about 'Lias while she was undressing and answering absently little Molly's chatter. She was thinking about him even after they had gone to bed, had put the light out, and were lying snuggled up to each other, back to front, their four legs, crooked at the same angle, fitting in together neatly like two spoons in a drawer. She was thinking about him when she woke up, and as soon as she could get hold of Cousin Ann she poured out a new plan. She had never been afraid of Cousin Ann since the evening Molly had fallen into the Wolf Pit and Betsy had seen that pleased smile on Cousin Ann's firm lips.

"Cousin Ann, couldn't we girls at school get together and sew—you'd have to help us some—and make some nice, new clothes for little 'Lias Brewster, and fix him up so he'll look better, and maybe that Mr. Pond will like him and adopt him?"

Cousin Ann listened attentively and nodded her head. "Yes, I think that would be a good idea," she said. "We were thinking last night we ought to do something for him. If you'll make the clothes, Mother'll knit him some stockings and Father will get him some shoes. Mr. Pond never makes his spring trip till late May, so we'll have plenty of time."

Betsy was full of importance that day at school and at recess time got the girls together on the rocks and told them all about the plan. "Cousin Ann says she'll help us, and we can meet at our house every Saturday afternoon till we get them done. It'll be fun! Aunt Abigail telephoned down to the store right away, and Mr. Wilkins says he'll give the cloth if we'll make it up."

Betsy spoke very grandly of "making it up," although she had hardly held a needle in her life, and when the Saturday afternoon meetings began she was ashamed to see how much better Ellen and even Eliza could sew than she. To keep her end up, she was driven to practising her stitches around the lamp in the evenings, with Aunt Abigail keeping an eye on her.

Cousin Ann supervised the sewing on Saturday afternoons and taught those of the little girls whose legs were long enough how to use the sewing machine. First they made a little pair of trousers out of an old gray woolen skirt of Aunt Abigail's.

This was for practice, before they cut into the piece of new blue serge that the storekeeper had sent up. Cousin Ann showed them how to pin the pattern on the goods and they each cut out one piece. Those flat, queer-shaped pieces of cloth certainly did look less like a pair of trousers to Betsy than anything she had ever seen.

Then one of the girls read aloud very slowly the mysterious-sounding directions from the wrapper of the pattern about how to put the pieces together, Cousin Ann helped here a little, particularly just as they were about to put the sections together wrong-side-up.

Stashie, as the oldest, did the first basting, putting the notches together carefully, just as they read the instructions aloud, and there, all of a sudden, was a rough little sketch of a pair of knee trousers, without any hem or any waist-band, of course, but just the two-legged, complicated shape they ought to be!

It was like a miracle to Betsy! Then Cousin Ann helped them sew the seams on the machine, and they all turned to for the basting of the facings and the finishing. They each made one buttonhole. It was the first one Betsy had ever made, and when she got through she was as tired as though she had run all the way to school and back. Tired, but very proud; although when Cousin Ann inspected that buttonhole, she covered her face with her handkerchief for a minute, as though she were going to sneeze, although she didn't sneeze at all.

It took them two Saturdays to finish up that trial pair of trousers, and when they showed the result to Aunt Abigail she was delighted. "Well, to think of that being my old skirt!" she said, putting on her spectacles to examine the work. She did not laugh, either, when she saw those buttonholes, but she got up hastily and went into the next room, where they soon heard her coughing.

Then they made a little blouse out of some new blue gingham. Cousin Ann happened to have enough left over from a dress she was making. This thin material was ever so much easier to manage than the gray flannel, and they had the little garment done in no time, even to the buttons and buttonholes. When it came to making the buttonholes, Cousin Ann sat right down with each one and supervised every stitch.

You may not be surprised to know that they were a great improvement over the first batch.

Then, making a great ceremony of it, they began on the store material, working twice a week now, because May was slipping along very fast, and Mr. Pond might be there at any time. They knew pretty well how to go ahead on this one, after the experience of their first pair, and Cousin Ann was not much needed, except as adviser in hard places. She sat there in the room with them, doing some sewing of her own, so quiet that half the time they forgot she was there. It was great fun, sewing all together and chattering as they sewed

A good deal of the time they talked about how splendid it was of them to be so kind to little 'Lias. "My! I don't believe most girls would put themselves out this way for a dirty little boy!" said Stashie, complacently.
"No indeed!" chimed in Betsy. "It's just like a story, isn't it—working and sacrificing for the poor!"

"I guess he'll thank us all right for sure!" said Ellen. "He'll never forget us as long as he lives, I don't suppose."

Betsy, her imagination fired by this suggestion, said, "I guess when he's grown up he'll be telling everybody about how, when he was so poor and ragged, Stashie Monahan and Ellen Peters and Elizabeth Ann ..."

"And Eliza!" put in that little girl hastily, very much afraid she would not be given her due share of the glory.

Cousin Ann sewed, and listened, and said nothing.

Toward the end of May two little blouses, two pairs of trousers, two pairs of stockings, two sets of underwear (contributed by the teacher), and the pair of shoes Uncle Henry gave were ready. The little girls handled the pile of new garments with inexpressible pride, and debated just which way of bestowing them was sufficiently grand to be worthy the occasion. Betsy was for taking them to school and giving them to 'Lias one by one, so that each child could have her thanks separately. But Stashie wanted to take them to the house when 'Lias's stepfather would be there, and shame him by showing that little girls had had to do what he ought to have done.
Cousin Ann broke into the discussion by asking, in her quiet, firm voice, "Why do you want 'Lias to know where the clothes come from?"

They had forgotten again that she was there, and turned around quickly to stare at her. Nobody could think of any answer to her very queer question. It had not occurred to any one that there could be such a question.

Cousin Ann shifted her ground and asked another: "Why did you make these clothes, anyhow?"

They stared again, speechless. Why did she ask that? She knew why.

Finally little Molly said, in her honest, baby way, "Why, you know why, Miss Ann! So 'Lias Brewster will look nice, and Mr. Pond will maybe adopt him."

"Well," said Cousin Ann, "what has that got to do with 'Lias knowing who did it?"
"Why, he wouldn't know who to be grateful to," cried Betsy.

"Oh," said Cousin Ann. "Oh, I see. You didn't do it to help 'Lias. You did it to have him grateful to you. I see. Molly is such a little girl, it's no wonder she didn't really take in what you girls were up to." She nodded her head wisely, as though now she understood.

But if she did, little Molly certainly did not. She had not the least idea what everybody was talking about. She looked from one sober, downcast face to another rather anxiously. What was the matter?

Apparently nothing was really the matter, she decided, for after a minute's silence Miss Ann got up with entirely her usual face of cheerful gravity, and said: "Don't you think you little girls ought to top off this last afternoon with a tea-party? There's a new batch of cookies, and you can make yourselves some lemonade if you want to."

They had these refreshments out on the porch, in the sunshine, with their dolls for guests and a great deal of chatter for sauce. Nobody said another word about how to give the clothes to 'Lias, till, just as the girls were going away, Betsy said, walking along with the two older ones, "Say, don't you think it'd be fun to go some evening after dark and leave the clothes on 'Lias's doorstep, and knock and run away quick before anybody comes to the door?" She spoke in an uncertain voice and smoothed Deborah's carved wooden curls.

"Yes, I do!" said Ellen, not looking at Betsy but down at the weeds by the road. "I think it would be lots of fun!"

Little Molly, playing with Annie and Eliza, did not hear this; but she was allowed to go with the older girls on the great expedition.

It was a warm, dark evening in late May, with the frogs piping their sweet, high note, and the first of the fireflies wheeling over the wet meadows near the tumble-down house where 'Lias lived. The girls took turns in carrying the big paper-wrapped bundle, and stole along in the shadow of the trees, full of excitement, looking over their shoulders at nothing and pressing their hands over their mouths to keep back the giggles. There was, of course, no reason on earth why they should giggle, which is, of course, the very reason why they did. If you've ever been a little girl you know about that.

One window of the small house was dimly lighted, they found, when they came in sight of it, and they thrilled with excitement and joyful alarm. Suppose 'Lias's dreadful stepfather should come out and yell at them! They came forward on tiptoe, making a great deal of noise by stepping on twigs, rustling bushes, crackling gravel under their feet and doing all the other things that make such a noise at night and never do in the daytime. But nobody stirred inside the room with the lighted window. They crept forward and peeped cautiously inside ... and stopped giggling. The dim light coming from a little kerosene lamp with a smoky chimney fell on a dismal, cluttered room, a bare, greasy wooden table, and two broken-backed chairs, with little 'Lias in one of them. He had fallen asleep with his head on his arms, his pinched, dirty, sad little figure showing in the light from the lamp. His feet dangled high above the floor in their broken, muddy shoes. One sleeve was torn to the shoulder. A piece of dry bread had slipped from his bony little hand and a tin dipper stood beside him on the bare table. Nobody else was in the room, nor evidently in the darkened, empty, fireless house.

As long as she lives Betsy will never forget what she saw that night through that window. Her eyes grew very hot and her hands very cold. Her heart thumped hard. She reached for little Molly and gave her a great hug in the darkness. Suppose it were little Molly asleep there, all alone in the dirty, dismal house, with no supper and nobody to put her to bed. She found that Ellen, next her, was crying quietly into the corner of her apron.

Nobody said a word. Stashie, who had the bundle, walked around soberly to the front door, put it down, and knocked loudly. They all darted away noiselessly to the road, to the shadow of the trees, and waited until the door opened. A square of yellow light appeared, with 'Lias's figure, very small, at the bottom of it. They saw him stoop and pick up the bundle and go back into the house. Then they went quickly and silently back, separating at the cross-roads with no good-night greetings.
Molly and Betsy began to climb the hill to Putney Farm. It was a very warm night for May, and little Molly began to puff for breath. "Let's sit down on this rock awhile and rest," she said.

They were half-way up the hill now. From the rock they could see the lights in the farmhouses scattered along the valley road and on the side of the mountain opposite them, like big stars fallen from the multitude above. Betsy lay down on the rock and looked up at the stars. After a silence little Molly's chirping voice said, "Oh, I thought you said we were going to march up to 'Lias in school and give him his clothes. Did you forget about that?"

Betsy gave a wriggle of shame as she remembered that plan. "No, we didn't forget it," she said. "We thought this would be a better way."

"But how'll 'Lias know who to thank?" asked Molly.

"That's no matter," said Betsy. Yes, it was Elizabeth-Ann-that-was who said that.

And meant it, too. She was not even thinking of what she was saying. Between her and the stars, thick over her in the black, soft sky, she saw again that dirty, disordered room and the little boy, all alone, asleep with a piece of dry bread in his bony little fingers.

She looked hard and long at that picture, all the time seeing the quiet stars through it. And then she turned over and hid her face on the rock. She had said her

"Now I lay me" every night since she could remember, but she had never prayed till she lay there with her face on the rock, saying over and over, "Oh, God, please, please, please make Mr. Pond adopt 'Lias."

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Good News For All You Creative Types Out There

Technology will become commoditised by China and India, they say, being dispersed and adopted almost instantly after it's created. Economic value will arise instead from the powers of the right brain - creativity, imagination, empathy, aesthetics.

Exhibit A in their evience is the Apple iPod. Apple didn't invent the MP3 music player; several models had been around for a few years before anyone had heard of the iPod, but they had never gone anywhere. Apple took an existing product and gave it an elegant design, creative a simple, intuitive user interface, then added the business innovation of the iTunes Music Store, and somehow imbued the whole package with coolness. The result is 75% market share in music players and online music sales, a reordering of the music industry, and a multibillion-dollar boost to Apple's market value. The key wasn't technology. It was creativity, design and a deep empathy with the customer.

In a different industry, how does Target thrive as a discount retailer against the massive power of Wal-Mart, a company more than five times its size that commands by far the world's most advanced retail computer systems? In part it does so by arranging for some of the world's top designers, such as Michael Graves and Isabelle de Borchgrave, to design some of the home's most pedestrian products, such as teakettles and breadbaskets, and then selling them in massive volume at discount prices. Following that strategy, Target can never be commoditised.

The phenomenon is sufficiently widespread that the MFA degree - master of fine arts - is gaining ground on the MBA as the preferred graduate degree for young people who want to make their mark in business. New York University has even begun offering a joint MBA/MFA degree.

Creativity and innovation have always been important; what's new is that they're becoming economically more valuable by the day.

Geoff Colvin, Talent Is Overrated

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Puffballs and Fraidy Dogs

So there I was taking Arnold for a walk (it's getting rarer and rarer these days, poor pooch) and we were in a new place. I had decided to go there because I was giving my first gift in the 29-Day Gift Giving Challenge. Using one of the many gift bags I have accumulated over the years (actually I only accumulated this one this week) I put together a gift bag for one of the waitresses at Backyard 2.

She is young and cheerful and she works so hard. I know she has a day job and a night job and frequently looks exhausted. But cheerful anyway. She comes and talks to me because I'm nearly always alone and the last time she did, she asked me if I had any management books.

What would you do with a management book?

Plan a business.

Oh, OK.

Anyway, I decided I wouldn't give her a management book as most of those are as dry as dust but a book about creating the life of your dreams (I have those in abundance). And, I would also add two of the Oprah magazines I bought this year (she loves these mags) and a little teddy bear that I got as a door gift from my room at the Hotel Borobudur in Jakarta.

Because I would be driving to Damansara Perdana to see her, I thought it would be great to take Arnold along for the ride and walk him there.

And that's what happened.

As it was unfamiliar territory, he was a little tentative and as usual, he started tugging away when we got to the dark bits. Arnold is afraid of the dark. And I continued on, dragging him part of the way, before giving up and allowing him to cavort on the road, dancing to avoid traffic, I thought of Dragonlance and Fizban's puffball who was afraid of the dark, and then and there, mid-walk, started to chuckle.

So here is the relevant excerpt. What you should know is that Tas (a kender) and Fizban (a mage) have been separated from their companions when a dark elf appeared and started keening. Like a banshee. The sound of her voice is death. One more thing you should know: kenders are immune to fear.

And here he is, with Fizban, in the Chain Room at Pax Tharkas:

Tasslehoff could never afterwards clearly recall those last, few, panicked moments in the Chain Room. He remembered saying, "A dark elf? Where?" and standing on his tiptoes, trying desperately to see, when suddenly the glowing staff fell on the floor. He heard Tanis shouting, and - above that - a kind of moaning sound that made the kender lose all sense of where he was or what he was doing. Then strong hands grabbed him around the waist, lifting him up into the air.

"Climb!" shouted a voice beneath him.

Tasslehoff stretched out his hands, felt the cool metal of the chain, and began to climb. He heard a door boom, far below, and the chilling wail of the dark elf again. It didn't sound deadly this time, more like a cry of rage and anger. Tas hoped this meant his friends had escaped.

"I wonder how I'll find them again," he asked himself softly, feeling discouraged for a moment. Then he heard Fizban muttering to himself and cheered up. He wasn't alone.

Thick, heavy darkness wrapped around the kender. Climbing by feel alone, he was growing extremely tired when he felt cool air brush his right cheek. He sensed, rather than saw, that he must be coming to the place where the chain and the mechanism linked up (Tas was rather proud of that pun). If only he could see! Then he remembered. He was, after all, with a magician.

"We could use a light," Tas called out.

"A fight? Where?" Fizban nearly lost his grip on the chain.

"Not fight! Light!" Tas said patiently, clinging to a link. "I think we're near the top of this thing and we really ought to have a look around."

"Oh, certainly. Let's see, light..." Tas heard the magician fumbling in his pouches. Apparently he found what he was searching for, because he soon gave a little crow of triumph, spoke a few words, and a small puffball of bluish-yellow flame appeared, hovering near the magician's hat.

The glowing puffball whizzed up, danced around Tasslehoff as if to inspect the kender, then returned to the proud magician. Tas was enchanted. He had all sorts of questions regarding the wonderful flaming puffball, but his arms were getting shaky and the old musician was nearly done in. He knew they better find some way to get off this chain.

Looking up, he saw that they were, as he had guessed, at the top part of the fortress. The chain ran up over a huge wooden cogwheel mounted on an iron axle anchored in solid stone. The links of the chain fit over teeth big as tree trunks, then the chain stretched out across the wide shaft, disappearing into a tunnel to the kender's right.

"We can climb onto that gear and crawl along the chain into the tunnel," the kender said, pointing. "Can you send the light up here?"

"Light - to the wheel," Fizban instructed.

The light wavered in the air for a moment, then danced back and forth in a decidedly nay-saying manner.

Fizban frowned. "Light - to the wheel!" he repeated firmly.

The puffball flame darted around to hide behind the magician's hat. Fizban, making a wild grab for it, nearly fell, and flung both arms around the chain. The puffball light danced in the air behind him, as if enjoying the game.

"Uh, I guess we've got enough light, after all," Tas said.

"No discipline in the younger generation," Fizban grumbled, "His father - now there was a puffball..." The old magician's voice died away as he began to climb again, the puffball flame hovering near the tip of his battered hat.

Tas soon reached the first tooth on the wheel. Discovering the teeth were rough-hewn and easy to climb, Tas crawled from one to another until he reached the top. Fizban, his robes hiked up around his thighs, followed with amazing agility.

"Could you ask the light to shine in the tunnel?" Tas asked.

"Light - to the tunnel," Fizban ordered, his bony legs wrapped around a link in the chain.

The puffball appeared to consider the command. Slowly it skittered to the edge of the tunnel, and then stopped.

"Inside the tunnel!" the magician commanded.

The puffball flame refused.

"I think it's afraid of the dark," Fizban said apologetically.

"My goodness, how remarkable!" the kender said in astonishment. "Well," he thought for a moment, "if it will stay where it is, I think I can see enough to make my way across the chain. It looks like it's only about fifteen feet or so to the tunnel," With nothing below but several hundred feet of darkness and air, never mind the stone floor at the bottom, Tas thought.

"Someone should come up here and grease this thing," Fizban said, examining the axle critically. "That's all you get today, shoddy workmanship."

"I'm really rather glad they didn't," Tas said mildly, crawling forward onto the chain. About halfway across the gap, the kender considered what it would like to fall from this height, tumbling down and down and down, then hitting the stone floor at the bottom. He wondered what it would feel like to splatter all over the floor....

"Get a move on!" Fizban shouted, crawling out onto the chain after the kender.

Tas crawled forward quickly to the tunnel entrance, where the puffball flame waited, then jumped off the chain onto the stone floor about five feet below him. The puffball flame darted in after him, and finally Fizban reached the tunnel entrance, too. At the last moment, he fell, but Tas caught hold of his robes and dragged the old man to safety.

They were sitting on the floor resting when suddenly the old man's head snapped up.

"My staff," he said.

"What about it?" Tas yawned, wondering what time it was.

The old man struggled to his feet. "Left it down below," he mumbled, heading for the chain.

"Wait! You can't go back!" Tasslehoff jumped in alarm.

"Who says?" asked the old man petulantly, his beard bristling.

"I m-mean..." Tas stuttered, "it would be too dangerous. But I know how you feel - my hoopak's down there."

"Hmmmm," Fizban said, sitting back down disconsolately.

"Was it magic?" Tas asked after a moment.

"I was never quite certain," Fizban said wistfully.

"Well," said Tas practically, "maybe after we've finished the adventure we can go back and get it. Now let's try to find someplace to rest."

He glanced around the tunnel. It was about seven feet from floor to ceiling. The huge chain ran along the top with numerous smaller chains attached, stretching across the tunnel floor into a vast dark put beyond. Tas, staring down into it, could vaguely make out the shape of gigantic boulders.

"What time do you suppose it is?" Tas asked.

"Lunchtime," said the old man. "And we might as well rest right here. It's as safe a place as any." He plopped back down. Pulling out a handful of quith-pa, he began to chew on it noisily. The puffball flame wandered over and settled on the brim of the magician's hat.

Tas sat down next to the mage and began to nibble on his own bit of dried fruit. Then he sniffed. There was suddenly a very peculiar smell, like someone burning old socks. Looking up, he sighed and tugged on the magician's robe.

"Uh, Fizban," he said. "Your hat's on fire."

Monday, 17 October 2011

The 29-Day Gift-Giving Challenge: Letter from Mbali

This is a letter from Mbali Creazzo that was at the end of the book, 29 Gifts. Enjoy, my friends!

Dear Reader,

Sawubona, as the Zulus say in greeting.

The 29-Day Giving Challenge originated as an African ritual, but it's perfect for people living in the Western world. Giving of any kind - even a simple action - begins the process of change, and moves us to remember that we are part of a much greater universe.

The ritual of giving 29 gifts in 29 days came to me when my life was in a place of scarcity. I had been laid off from a job of eight years that I loved, and I feared I would lose everything. This 29-Day giving ritual was prescribed by a healer in a Divination similar to those I perform for my students today. This method of Divination is a type of intuitive reading, using tools such as shells, bones, or stones to help people navigate their present situation based on information received from their ancestors.

In my work as a healer, I draw from the Dagara African tradition, first introduced to me by Malidoma Patrice Some, an educator and shaman who has written many books and speaks all over the world. Like many practices of a spiritual nature, my work is often subject to skepticism. It takes a special kind of faith and willingness to pursue healing through such nontraditional methods. For some, like Cami, it is desperation and frustration with a lack of progress through "traditional" means that brings people to my doorstep. I do not claim to offer "cures" and would never suggest a person abandon treatment by qualified medical professionals, but rather add any alternative healing techniques that resonate with them to complement their healing.

When I went to one of my teachers for a Divination during a challenging time in my own life, I remember feeling that to give at this time seemed more an act of recklessness on my part than kindness to others. I also recall feeling fearful about "giving up" what little I believed I had to call my own. But as a risk taker, I decided to embrace the 29-day giving ritual with an open heart.

I would like to relate just one of my giving experiences from my own 29-day giving ritual. During my Divination, my teacher told me that one of my gifts should be to a homeless woman on the street. My teacher said I would know the woman when I saw her. I had to give her a specific sum of money and buy her a meal. This may sound familiar to you from Cami's story in this book.

I carried the specific sum of cash in the car, and one evening I finally saw the woman I thought was "the one" after scanning the streets every day for a week. I was on my way home at midnight after a long, stressful day working in a homeless shelter. I felt I had given more than enough during my shift at work, and frankly, I felt resentful about having to give more that night. I could have easily gone home to my warm bed, but something told me to see this through.

It took me a while to find a place that served food that was still open. After I picked up the meal, I drove back hoping the woman would still be in the same spot. Of course, she wasn't. She had walked some distance, but I drove until I found her.

When I handed the food and wad of dollar bills to this woman, something profound happened to me. I was overwhelmed with humility and felt very comforted and peaceful. I also felt a rush of energy that refueled my spirit that, less than one hour ago, felt drained. I was curious as to why I felt so good afterward. Giving that night felt like a gift to me. When I reflected on it later, I came to this realization: When I am in service to another person, I am moving from a place of self-centeredness to selflessness. The act of giving inherently carries gratitude in it. For me, it is impossible to give without feeling grateful.

When that woman took her meal and money from my hand, I realized how much I did have. Just a week earlier, I was in a deep place of scarcity. I now felt instantly abundant. I did not have to walk the streets or sleep in the cold with nowhere to shower. I was not hungry, nor did I have to beg for money every day to survive. Last week, I was feeling lost, scared, angry, and sorry for myself, yet offering this simple gift made me feel so much more alive. I remember going home that night and getting on my knees to give thanks. Then I reflected on the genius of the diviner in her 'prescription'. I'm sure she knew that to connect with a homeless person on the street at this time would remind me of how much I still had and jostle me out of my self-pity.

That night, I chose to take my medicine by offering that gift. Not only did I feel better, but my life changed as a result. I left the job I was sad to lose and began to focus more on my healing practice. I began to pursue my goals of becoming an HIV/AIDS educator and counselor. It was not long after this that I began doing healing work with Cami.

After the night I offered my gift to the woman on the street, I took the following nine lessons with me:

1. When I give with an open heart, I receive the profound gift of humility.

2. Gratitude keeps my heart open.

3. Giving opens space for me to receive because giving and receiving are part of the same naturally reciprocal cycle.

4. Selflessness does not mean giving of myself to the extent that I am left depleted.

5. When I give from a place of service, honesty, and fullness, I am left feeling revitalized.

6. When I give from a place of responsibility and resentment, I negate the give and nothing changes. In fact, I'm often left feeling resentful and drained.

7. When I am immersed in self-centeredness as opposed to self-love, I become isolated and lonely and I forget I am part of a greater whole. The last thing I want to do is give.

8. When I give, I am living the practice of being truly human. When I practice making mindful connections with others, my life feels meaningful, there it is.

9. I rarely move back into a place of scarcity when I remember to give mindfully each day.

I believe the 29-Day Giving Challenge is fitting for the Western world because a scarcity mindset is common to many of us, no matter how much we have materially. Though most of us have no experience of the depth of scarcity that exists in African countries, we often believe we are not successful enough, rich enough, beautiful or thin enough. We simply don't have enough or are not good enough We become so lost in our sense of lack, low self-esteem, and nonexistent self-love, that we forget that our life is an essential part of a greater whole, and that we have many gifts to offer to the world at large.

I passed on this giving prescription to Cami out of fierce compassion and deep concern for her higher good. She could have chosen to take offense and stay stuck or accept the challenge and take action. She had the courage to choose the latter. I hope you will as well.

I hope you commit to your own 29-Day Giving Challenge and enjoy your journey. You can also use the online journal provided free at to keep a record of your experience. As you begin, I invite you to turn giving into a sacred ritual. Bring mindfulness to your daily giving practice and your journaling, so it becomes a transformative experience you will want to remember and refer back to.

In addition to journaling each day about the gift you offered, I suggest you also take time over your 29 days to reflect and write about the following:

* Gratitude: Note at least three things you feel grateful for each day. This may be anything from a family member, your health, shelter, or nature.

* Lineage: Over your 29 Days, take time to reflect on the tradition and history of giving in your family. What lessons did you learn from your parents, grandparents, or other ancestors about giving? Were you taught that you are worthy to receive and that your unique gifts are valued? Do you experience feelings of guilt when you acknowledge yourself for giving? Reflection allows you time to integrate your experiences and remember the lessons that want to emerge. Remember what might seem insignificant may hold some symbol, metaphor or message that is calling your attention.

* Awareness: Decided that you will go through each day being open to opportunities to give. Take action, and be mindful of what comes up for you emotionally. Does it feel hard or easy to give? Can you notice why you are having certain feelings? Is your desire to offer this gift connected to an experience that you remember from your past? Was there some resistance to taking action or resentment after the give?

* Service: Try your best to approach offering each gift from an authentic desire to be of service to others. Take note of the times you go out of your way to help another person. What touched you about the person that compelled you to want to give? Are the traits that attracted you to the person somehow mirroring your own experience of life?

* Surprises: Approach this ritual with a willingness to be curious and surprised. Don't go in assuming that you will learn something specific, solve a problem or have an earth-moving experience. Instead, notice what surprises you about your give each day. Did you get an unexpected reaction from the recipient of your gift? Did extending yourself to another person bring up emotions you didn't anticipate? Did you receive something surprising in return?

* Receiving: When you give, it opens space for you to receive. Plus, saying "yes" to the gifts that are offered allows you to feel the joy of giving. Each day, notice if your heart feels open or constricted when you receive an offering from another person. Can you easily accept their gifts with gratitude? Do you feel deserving of the gift? Do you give yourself permission to receive with an open heart?

* Nonattachmnment: Give your gifts with an open heart, without any expectations about what you might want to receive in return. In fact, try this: What if you were to give away something that you feel you could never part with? It could be a material thing, or perhaps a deeply held belief, behaviour, or way of thinking that you feel isn't serving you anymore. Try this at least once over your 29 Days and take notice of changes you see in your life in upcoming months.

Here are a few more suggestions that should help you enjoy your 29-Day Giving Challenge:

* Set a date to begin your 29-Day Giving Challenge so that you may begin with intention.

* Start Day 1 with a short meditation about your purpose in doing this exercise. Be clear. If your intentions are vague or the energy is half-hearted, your experience will mirror that.

* Consider beginning each day of your challenge with a meditation and write out an affirmation for your day. Examples include:

- Today I give with love.

- Today I give with gratitude.

- Today I give with patience.

- Today I give with joy.

- Today I give with abundance.

* Your gifts can be anything offered to anyone - spare change, cans of soup, your time, kind words or thoughts. Anything you mindfully offer to another person 'counts'. That said, watch out for gives that are coming from the following places within yourself because you will likely feel drained when giving from this space:

- The Bartering Give: If I give, I am good and I will be rewarded.

- The Obligated Give: I have to give because it's expected of me.

- The Guilty Give: If I don't give, I will have bad karma.

- The Begrudging Give: He's got new shoes on, he can't need money that badly.

- The Resentful Give: I suppose I better give because it's Day 15, even though I just spent $300 on new brakes for my car.

* Give at least once a day for 29 consecutive days so that the energy around the ritual gathers momentum. If you do not give one day, I suggest starting again at Day 1 to release the energy and allow it to build again. If this is too much for you, just pick up the next day where you left off. The important thing is not to quit.

There is a beautiful philosophy from South Africa, my own homeland, called Ubuntu. Simply, it means, "humanity to others." As Reverend Desmond Tutu says, "My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours." Even if we have a little, and we share our gifts with other human beings, our own experience of abundance and our sense of humanity are all multiplied exponentially. In the spirit of Ubuntu, reach inside and find the courage to give and I trust you will be thrilled with the transformation you experience. I wish you well on your 29 Gifts journey.

May the ancestors bless and protect you always.

Mbali Creazzo