Friday, December 31, 2021

New Year's Eve in Four Poems

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: What can be said about this New Year's Eve without a small sting? Little champagne, still less parties, and Times Square roomy with one fourth of the usual revelers. Many of us see the year pass with a weary sigh, wondering worriedly about the next. 

This is a good time for the reflection and consolation of poetry. I thought I'd share four poems written for this night - do they speak to you? What poems or readings would you include for a New Year's Eve?


Pavane for the New Year by Elder James Olson


Soul, plucking the many strings

Of my limbs like puppet’s, make them dance,

Dance, dance, in somber joy,

That after all the sullen play

The old world falls, the new world forms.


A thought like music takes us now,

So like, that every soul must move,

Move in a most stately measure,

And souls and bodies tread in time

Till all the trembling towers fall down.


And now the stones arise again

Till all the world is built anew

And now in one accord like rhyme,

And we who wound the midnight clock

Hear the clock of morning chime.

    from Poetry Magazine, December 1948 

 The Year by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

What can be said in New Year rhymes, 

That’s not been said a thousand times? 

The new years come, the old years go, 

We know we dream, we dream we know. 

We rise up laughing with the light, 

We lie down weeping with the night. 

We hug the world until it stings, 

We curse it then and sigh for wings. 

We live, we love, we woo, we wed, 

We wreathe our prides, we sheet our dead. 

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear, 

And that’s the burden of a year.


Promises by Jackie Kay

Remember, the time of year
when the future appears
like a blank sheet of paper
a clean calendar, a new chance.
On thick white snow
You vow fresh footprints
then watch them go
with the wind’s hearty gust.
Fill your glass. Here’s tae us. Promises
made to be broken, made to last.

    from A Poem for Every Day of the Year, Aillie Asiri, editor


Good Riddance, But Now What? by Ogden Nash

Come, children, gather round my knee;
Something is about to be.
Tonight’s December thirty-first,
Something is about to burst.
The clock is crouching, dark and small,
Like a time bomb in the hall.
Hark! It’s midnight, children dear.
Duck! Here comes another year.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Gail Pasternack's advice on living creatively

HALLIE EPHRON: Today it gives me so much pleasure to introduce you to Gail Pasternack. She's a writer, a storyteller, and all around beautiful person. She's president of Willamette Writers, the largest writing organization in the Pacific Northwest. If you ask her what she's about, she'd say, "I’m passionate about living the creative life and dedicated to writing and storytelling, but I’m also devoted to helping other writers and creative people."

With the new year just inches away, I thought it would be a perfect time to invite her to share her advice on living creatively.

GAIL PASTERNACK: Before the pandemic, I sat in a Portland Pearl District café with my friend Willa. While I breathed in the scent of roasting coffee and baking pastries, she sipped her green tea.

“Thank you for being flexible and rescheduling.” Willa put down her cup. “A client had a crisis.”

As far as I knew, Willa epitomized success as a writer and an artist. She’d published five poetry anthologies, had shows at the Oregon Jewish Museum, and traveled the world to conduct writing workshops. I didn’t know she had clients.

The waitress placed a croissant in front of Willa and a cheese tart in front of me.

“I’m a psychotherapist,” Willa said after the waitress left. “My specialty is helping people find creative outlets. You’d be surprised at how many people need art in their lives.”

I took a bite of my tart and savored the tang of the creamy goat cheese. “Makes sense,” I said as I wiped the buttery pastry off my hands. “What a great focus.”

This meeting with my friend got me thinking about just how much I needed art in my life.

When I lived in New York City, I enjoyed live music, dining out, and visiting art museums. That was until I had children and had little time for artistic outlets. I’d eke out a few minutes to experiment with creative writing, which was wonderful, but not enough.

After moving cross country, one evening, my husband and I attended a fundraiser for the Portland Symphony Orchestra. It was tango night, and local dance instructors had come to demonstrate and teach. My husband and I didn’t know what we were doing but had a blast trying. That was almost twenty years ago, and we’re still dancing tango.

Since then, I have embraced jazz singing, the art of creating cocktails, and storytelling. I became so passionate about telling stories that I trained for two years and became ordained as a Maggidah (Jewish storyteller) this past summer.

Of all artforms, I love writing most.
After publishing several short stories and articles in literary magazines, I’m truly excited about the recent completion of my first novel’s manuscript, which I couldn’t have done alone. Fellow writers and book coaches, all of whom I found through the Willamette Writers community, helped me develop my craft. I’m so grateful for Willamette Writers that I now volunteer as president of its board of directors.

With each new art form I explore, my life gets richer. Since it’s hard to know where to begin a creative path, I wrote my e-book, Living Creatively, and I share my creative endeavors in my monthly newsletter, Gail’s Art Encounters. I hope to inspire others to find art in everything they do.

Now is the perfect time to celebrate life to its fullest by living creatively. You can sign up for my newsletter and download my free e-book at my website,

Come join me, and together we can find joy in art everyday!

HALLIE: I agree! It's the perfect time to add a twist to your New Year's resolutions, inspired by what gives you joy. Jazz singing isn't in my wheelhouse, but storytelling and cocktail making certainly is.  Though not at the same time. Tango is out, but Western line dancing... Now there's a thought.

What about you? What might you add to your life to bring you joy in the new year?

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Look Back In Stupefaction: A Review of 2021

 Julia Spencer-Fleming: Well, here we are at the end of 2021, which means it's time to give the exciting events of that past year a once-over. I'm sure there will be many inspiring and uplifting goings-on to recollect! 

January: The United States looks on with pride at the quadrennial commitment to a peaceful passing of power in--touches earpiece-- I'm being told that's not quite--what? They did what? Right then, on to February.

February: Ice, snow and historic cold hit the state of Texas during a major winter storm that affected over 170 million people. Fortunately, forward planning and good management meant Texans were able to ride out the storm with-- touches earpiece -- I'm hearing they didn't ride out the storm? What happened? Are you sure? Holy cow. Okay, let's move on.

March: In a globally interconnected world, keeping international cargo flowing became vital to get goods to the millions of people staying at home due to the pandemic. Busy shipping lanes such as the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal were able to-- I'm sorry, hold on. Touches earpiece-- the what? The Forgiven? Oh, the Evergiven. No. No, that couldn't happen. You're pulling my leg. All right, all right, I'll go to the next segment.

April:The CDC announces over 100 million people in the US have gotten their first dose of a Covid vaccine, and on April 19, all adults are able to get their shot. At this pace, every medically-eligible adult will be vaccinated by-- touches earpiece -- Don't tell me, a needle gets stuck and blocks the rest of the vaccine from getting to its destination? Wait---magnetic? A microchip?

Can we cut to a commercial?

May: The Colonial Pipeline, source of almost half of the east Coast's gasoline, is cyberattacked, forcing it to shut down for a week, leading to hording, shortages and spiking prices. Once corrected, the historic low gas prices of the past months will resume - now wait a minute, I don't need my producer to tell me what I paid for gas getting here. 

Next month!

June: Microsoft unveils Windows 11! That's it. That's the joke.

July: During the long Independence Day weekend, at least 233 people were killed and 618 people were injured in over 500 shootings nationwide. 









August: Hurricane Ida, the second-most destructive hurricane to hit Louisiana after Katrina, makes landfall in Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of... Hurricane Katrina. Who is writing this stuff? It's the same team that came up with the murder hornets, isn't it? 

September: The US, Great Britain and Trinidad and Tobago become embroiled in an international science education attempt after rapper Nikki Minaj tweets:

October: 90-year-old William Shatner, famous for playing Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek, becomes the oldest person in space, on a flight of the Blue Origin.

November: NASA's DART (Double Asteroid Reduction Test) program, charged with protecting life on earth from an asteroid strike, experiments by launching William Shatner at the minor planet-moon Dimorphos.

December: Climate change influenced tornadoes cut an out-of-season swath through the mid south,  the Omicron variant becomes the most prevalent strain of Covid-19, thousands of flights are cancelled across the country due to staffing shortages and tensions grow as Russia and the NATO allies face off over Ukraine.

But I'm sure everything will be just fine in 2022.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

What's the Word (of the Year)?

Julia Spencer-Fleming: In past years, the Reds have chosen a Word for the year to come; a sort of aspirational, less restrictive version of resolutions. But of course, every December since 2008, there's been a word for the year in the rear-view mirror: The Merriam-Webster Word of the Year

The word of the year is the one most frequently searched online, which, you know, is not fair to those of us who still use the paper-and-cloth-bound version. But it's always an interesting look into the zeitgeist of the year. There are also words of the month, but those tend to be more anchored to one single event. This year includes "Guardian" in September (the Cleveland baseball team finally changed their name,) "Cicada" in June (if you were living in Brood X's stomping grounds, you won't have forgotten them,) and "Nomad" in April, when the film Nomadland won Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Directing at the Oscars. 

Take in these previous Words of the Year and see if they don't cast you back in time:

2008 - Bailout. The start of the Great Recession.

2009 - Admonish. This was tied to a single event, when a House Republican yelled, "You lie!" at President Obama when he was delivering the State of the Union address. 

2010 - Austerity. You don't need me to remind you of this...

2011 - Pragmatic. Truly, the mood of a generation of people switching their majors to coding or accepting that boring job because it included health insurance.

2012 -  Socialism and Capitalism, riding the wave of political speech in an election year.

2013 - Science. Maybe tied to climate change?

2014 - Culture. Pretty sure this was closely followed by "wars," and not by people looking for museum info.

2015 - -ism. Yes, the suffix. English teachers everywhere who said you needed to know them rejoiced. Why? Because the most searched words, collectively, had the prefixes "social," "feminine" "capital" "fasces" "race" "social" and "community." (Yes, that is the root word of "communism." I looked it up.)

2016 - Surreal. You lived through 2016. You know what they mean.

2017 - Feminism. The Women's March on Washington and the #MeToo movement, The Handmaid's Tale and Wonder Woman

2018 - Justice. The DOJ investigations, the Kavanaugh hearings, and the nebulous, lovely idea that's part of the American fabric.

2019 - They. I admit, it's taken me a while to stop writing "he or she" and just use "they," but once you dive in, the water's fine.

2020 - Pandemic. Please insert your own "whaa whaa" trombone noise here.

And finally, coming in as the 2021 Word of the Year:


I've gotten mine, plus my booster, and I hope you've gotten yours! 

Dear readers, what would you nominate as the Word of the Year? And what was your personal word of the year? (I think mine is nurturing, because I was called on to do a lot of it this past year.) 

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Reds Best of Streaming 2021

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We’ve reached the last days of 2021 (touch wood they’ll be quiet and uneventful!) and this week’s theme will be looking back at the past year and looking forward to the next. Today, the Reds are going to give our top streaming programs of 2021. 

My picks are from Apple +, which I didn’t even subscribe to until my friend Chris Holm raved so enthusiastically about FOR ALL MANKIND I had to give it a try. I did the one-week freebie thing, thinking I would slam the whole two seasons, but this show was simply too good to devour in one bite - and admittedly, I can’t start watching at 7pm and stay up until midnight anymore. FOR ALL MANKIND is what author Mary Robinette Kowal calls “punchcard punk;” an alternative history of the space race starting in 1969 when the Soviet Union, not the US, puts the first man on the moon. If you like APOLLO 13, THE MARTIAN, HIDDEN FIGURES or any 1970s film where couples try to negotiate the changing relationships between men and women in that era.

If you’ve already seen and loved FOR ALL MANKIND, I recommend reading Kowal’s “Lady Astronaut” series for a similar-but-different alternate future take.

What are your picks, Reds?

HALLIE EPHRON: I’ve pretty much cherry-picked what’s on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I can watch and re-watch any season of The Great British Baking Show. It’s calming and mesmerizing in equal parts. I also enjoy any of the British documentaries hosted by Lucy Worseley. Maybe this is why I start watching at 7:30 pm and I’m asleep by 8:00. What I wish I could find to stream are all those wonderful episodes with Sister Wendy talking about great works of art - I love art history. I wanted to like but could not: The Chair. 



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We are GLUED–and I mean GLUED–to Succession. Riveted and mesmerized. Every character is the worst person imaginable. The writing is SO brilliant, it is beyond writing. I cannot tell you how much I love this.  Ah. Fantastic. We cannot even bring ourselves to watch anything else.  (I think it’s on HBO+, but I never know these things.) 


 And we are parceling it out, not bingeing.


 Next is The Landscapers. Jonathan is watching 1883, but I cannot bear it (I’m sure it is fabulous, and it is shot beautifully, but after 10 minutes I was crying and sad) so I write while he is watching. And I am SO eager to see the new MAGPIE MURDERS on Masterpiece!  We also loved Line of Duty, and that was total immersion TV for me. SO terrific.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We’ve given in to almost all the streamers now, I think, because people will keep recommending things on services that we don’t have!! So, working backwards, a couple of weeks ago we finished INVASION which was good and really different. Also on Christmas Eve we finished HAWKEYE which is great fun if you’re a Marvel fan, and Christmasy. 

Julia, thanks for reminding me about FOR ALL MANKIND, which we started but got distracted and didn’t finish. TED LASSO and ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING got us through the summer.


JULIA: It just keeps building and building, Debs. The second season ending had me dying for Season 3, which, as is typical these days, has a very uncertain premiere date. What else? 

DEBS: LUPIN was fun. I hope they make another series. Then the new season (maybe last?) of LINE OF DUTY, which was so gripping and fabulous. And back in January last year, season 2 of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. So excited that Season 3 is coming up!

And somewhere in there we watched every single episode of SCHITT’S CREEK, which I think saved our sanity.


LUCY BURDETTE: You know I am not up on things, so we are still slowly making our way through Foyle’s War. We are up to 1944, so I think the end is coming! We are also watching season six of Shetland, as we have travel plans to go there next August. Fingers crossed so hard… And the last two nights we watched LOVE ACTUALLY, which is always good, no matter how many times I’ve watched. I am always so sad to see it end. It was brilliantly done with a brilliant cast. Waiting eagerly for the next season of the crown and Borgen. Oh I almost forgot to add Ann Cleeves’ THE LONG CALL. We enjoyed those episodes a lot. If you haven’t seen MARE OF EASTTOWN, best TV this year!

RHYS BOWEN: I’m with Hallie. I’ve binged every Great British Baking Show. So calming. Also Gordon Ramsey on his adventures. I haven’t binged much else since Riverton— apart from old British mysteries and comedies like The Vicar of Dibley.


JULIA: It's your turn, dear readers. What was the best streaming show you watched this past year? 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Boxing Day--or Booking Day!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: So how is everyone doing today? Are we recovering from the festivities? It was so lovely reading everyone's Christmas good wishes here yesterday.

And today, December 26th, we get to take a breath after the Christmas rush. It is the Feast of Saint Stephen, and in the UK (and its former territories) it's also known as Boxing Day. (Although if the 25th falls on a Sunday, Tuesday the 27th used to be celebrated as Boxing Day, because the Monday after Christmas was already designated a Bank Holiday. But that has now changed and the 26th is Boxing Day regardless. Confused yet?)

There is some argument about the origin of the name, but the most common theory is that it refers to the alms boxes in Christian churches, the contents of which were distributed to the poor on the day after Christmas.

It first shows up in the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1830s, defined as "the first weekday after Christmas day, observed as a holiday on which postmen, errand boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas box," but Samuel Pepys refers to the custom in his diary as early as 1663. Some scholars date the custom as far back as Roman Britain.

And of course if you're in the British countryside, the Boxing Day Hunt is a long held tradition.

(In case you're worried about the foxes, fox hunting is now illegal in England, Scotland, and Wales. The hunts follow scent trails.)

Of course Boxing Day has now become a big shopping holiday in the UK, compared to Black Friday in the U.S., which sort of undoes my fantasies of a Boxing Day spent sipping tea and eating cake in a perfect English village.

And since we Americans don't celebrate Boxing Day, I'm going to invent my own December 26th holiday and call it BOOKING DAY--a day in which one is at liberty to recline on the sofa and read the books you've gotten for Christmas! 

Any good Christmas book hauls, REDs and readers, that you're curling up with today?