My Tottering TBR: Mindfulness and Magazines

When we go to the bookstore, my son and I, we kind of camp out. Sometimes I bring the laptop and my writing notebook, or I may carry along a few books and a notepad. He brings very little (“Mom, we’re going to a bookstore”). We find a spot to settle in—café or sofas—and take turns wandering, then go back to browse our finds and make our selections. This can take hours.

I meandered along the walls filled with periodicals. I wasn’t terrifically interested in roaming on this night, but wanted movement and thought that taking in some magazine elements—easy browsing was my rationale—might satisfy this as well as settle down the activity in my brain. Flipping through brightly colored pages and examining images might settle me down a bit.

What I found actually did settle my mind a bit, though activated it in another direction.

Flow: Mindfulness (English Edition)

All about mindfulness for beginners, the advanced and the curious.

Printed in the Netherlands, this journal is both a sensory delight as well as an exercise for the mind. It’s chunky, owing to the inclusion of “paper goodies”: this time a small one-thought-a-day diary; picture cards to record insights gained while reading the book; perforated notecards “for your beautiful moments jar”; a fold-out page for use in creating a collage; and a “Joy of One Thing at a Time” notebook. The magazine dedicates itself to the discussion and spread of ideas for thoughtful, creative living, slowing down the pace and living right now as opposed to speedily looking ahead at what you have to hurriedly do next. Astrid and Irene lay it out in their editors’ note and it reminds me greatly of a book I read years ago, In Praise of Slow, about a movement that began with food (what else!) and extended to other realms of life.

[Flow Mindfulness cover image to be replaced]

I love the concept, though I wonder at times if my multiple abandoned efforts to live this sort of lifestyle count toward real experience of it. It’s hypothetical, really, I don’t need an answer because either way, I still aspire to it. About two years ago I made a conscious effort to take things such as to-do lists slow and steady, and for a number of months it flowed quite nicely. I no longer recall what made me go off track, but won’t dwell on it. I have another chance, and in fact, a few weeks ago stepped down from a position I enjoyed but that took way too much time from my family. I was gobsmacked to find how little I was on the computer since then, and the greater amount of time I spend with my son actually carries the reward of an increased feeling of joy at being able to do things together–together.

The magazine feels great in my hands, contains articles and recipes, beautiful colors, designs and fonts and validates anybody who longs for and/or has taken steps to simplify and slow down their lives. It’s also rather expensive, and I struggled with whether to buy it. As I sat at the café table I could hear pessimistic voices admonishing me for financial support of overpriced periodicals filled with images created to draw me in just to grab my money. Indeed, I’ve never spent $24.99 for a magazine before in my whole life, and to me that’s a lot. I don’t even love to shell out that much on a book.

On the flip side, it is imported, is translated into English and probably costs a tidy sum to produce. I haven’t yet found anything resembling a masthead, so am unable to get much information about it along those lines. (However, I did find they have a fantastic website with some of that, plus much more.) Moreover, I believe in capitalism and the freedom to create one’s own success, and would like to support that, especially as it can have such a positive impact on others.

Ultimately I chose to see it as an investment because if I can stick with the endeavor, the guidance not only can validate my own already-in-progress efforts, but also positively affect the rest of my life, and in turn at least portions of others’. Moreover, knowing there are others who share some of my ideals—

Flow is all about positive psychology, mindfulness, creativity and the beauty of imperfection.

—is more likely to help keep me on track. That baby came home with me.

Here are another couple of journals I saw that really intrigued me:

Willow and Sage: Homemade Bath & Body

[Willow and Sage cover image to be replaced]

Unlike the previous magazine, I was able to determine that it is current (Autumn 2015), plus it hails from California so though it’s also a tad pricey ($14.99), not quite as much. And while there are some similarities, it’s a completely different journal, one dedicated to, as its title suggests, bed and bath products you can make at home.

My son laughed a bit, asking if I am becoming “almost Amish” (after a book I’ve been reading with similar endeavors) or a hippie. The answer is: nope. These are along the lines of projects we’ve done before, such as making our own paper or re-purposing/re-designing books, and ones I’ve mentioned many times that I’ve wanted to try, but never did (lacked discipline, time, energy, etc.). I reminded him that the food we create together is not much different: rather than buying noodles, for example, when preparing for winter I make a jar full of hlalems. My fascination with the Middle Ages also plays into this interest.

This magazine is perfect for, amongst others, people who collect odd bits of twine, material, containers and so on. You can use some food items to make your goodies and wrap it in a way that conjures up olden times or still in some countries or areas—I so loved when books were wrapped up in the Prag bookshop I visited, rather than put in a bag. Some boxes or containers practically beg you to re-purpose them, such as one of the magazine’s recipes for body balm does for an empty Altoids tin. I’ve always enjoyed a lovely presentation and maintain a habit of hanging onto beautiful ribbons or fancy jars, even if I’m not exactly sure what to do with them at the moment. I just know I so often can’t bear to throw certain pieces away.

I also love it that many of the recipes are accompanied by websites with more that might interest, and the directions are laid out in a way that doesn’t overwhelm. The projects range from the utterly simple (mint leaves inside ice cubes) to more complicated (“birthday bouquet candles”—oversized homemade candles in a circular tin). Also: I’ve seen so many items at garage sales (for pennies, literally) that can be used to create such gorgeous gifts or items to contribute to a beautiful, tranquil home, and many are simply bits and bobs that can be saved in a small area for projects such as these.

[Daphne’s Diary cover image to be replaced]

Daphne’s Diary

This one didn’t leave with me, largely because I had to limit my costs, plus it didn’t come as close to home—my personal interests and favorites—as the others, but it remains on my mind.

Interior * Garden * Vintage* Workshops * Recipes * Outings & Trips * Shopping

Most of these are topics that likely would contain projects or endeavors to inspire me to do them or give me ideas for my take on what they’ve accomplished. There were a couple of articles for projects I’m not terribly interested in, such as shabby chic and converting two chairs into a bench. I’m currently working on transitioning a girl’s bureau to a buffet and it’s taken a lot more time and effort (not to mention patience) than I ever dreamed. In the end that may turn out to be good for me, but in the meantime, I’ve got my hands full. However, this is just one issue and it has made its way to my TBR, to where I can return and check it out again.

My TBR is rather happy.

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TJ’s Household Haiku Challenge: Windows

Windows. What I can see from mine, and what that leads me to think about:

Chugach in my sight

Ungulates not fond of snow

Will soon join us here

[Anchorage moonlight image to be replaced]

 

For some reason I also thought about the homes where I live, many of which have gigantic windows unadorned by curtains, something that perplexes me, as I could never tolerate such openness. With some sort of treatment, perhaps; then I could open and close at will. But to be so vulnerable to prying eyes at all times–that would be invasive and my skin would crawl.

What I see through those windows would, of course, be very different to what others, looking from the opposite direction, would. But what about eyes–mine and others’–focused on the interior? Anyone’s interior. Perhaps what makes this most unsettling is not only that outsiders looking into the homes of others become privy to the most intimate moments occupants experience, but also that the windows provide a camouflage we rarely consider.

Windows. What they reveal.

Unaware of eyes

gazing into their retreat

laughter; unfeigned joy

What they might mask.

Through windows are seen

lovely rooms, rich decor, not

the thunder within

Do windows serve as a conduit between people? Or are we subject to the pathways they set out, not really knowing where a journey might begin or end?

[Mud mirror work window Gujurat, India image to be replaced]

Mirrors of time, they

decorate our lives, cooling

the desert passions

[Gujurat window* image to be replaced]

Memories of what

we see, through time we drive to

final destiny

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*See Gujurat window and mud mirror work for more details

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Book Review: The Emperor’s American

The Emperor’s American
by Art McGrath

emperor's amiThe adventures of Baltimorean Pierre Burns, in his telling of them in The Emperor’s American, start out with a bang—literally. The first words of the opening chapter are, “The ship was ablaze” and author Art McGrath keeps us on the edge of our seats until the very end. The book is divided into chapters, not all necessarily ending with cliffhangers, but infused nonetheless with a tincture of sorts, leaving readers reluctant to let go at natural stopping points. Perhaps Burns’s circumstances—unusual to say the least—play into that, or it could be where they lead him.

Written as a letter from Burns to Napoleon’s surviving brother, Joseph Bonaparte, who has beseeched Burns to set to paper his experiences as an American in the emperor’s army, the novel takes readers through a bit over one year of life as a French soldier.

Pierre Burns, whose French mother raised him modeling a hatred for the English, never knew his French-born Scottish father, whose brutal murder during the American Revolution also informs Pierre’s perceptions. So it is that when his merchant ship is attacked by the British and sinks off the coast of northwestern France, he is recruited into what history later knows as the Grande Armée, a force preparing to invade England.

At the start, I didn’t know what to expect of Burns, whose strong personality in the hands of a lesser author might have endangered his likeability. However, he is equipped with a balanced self awareness that enables him often to recognize the effect his words may have on others, and an ability to evaluate himself with a fair amount of honesty.

In retrospect, I can’t really blame Monge for his attitude. The open officer’s slot should have allowed him to move up to the number two slot in the company. Instead, a foreigner who became an officer that very morning was to usurp his place, at least until I permanently assumed my duties as Ney’s aide-de-camp, which might not be for some time, unless the invasion commenced sooner than everyone thought.

McGrath’s dialogue, which is not only strong and succinct, but also punctuated with perfect expressive indicators, also adds to reader experience:

I gasped. “Would they be so foolish?”

Jomini nodded. “If they think they can catch the Emperor, yes….”

Ledoyen, who had listened to this explanation, jumped back in where he left off with Jomini.

Jomini shook his head patiently, like an indulgent schoolteacher.

Throughout the novel, as Burns tells us his story, we are actually able to see how characters respond, as if we were also watching rather than only reading about them. His words bring to life their actions, via McGrath’s ability to put same into simplified words that create a repertoire of complex actions, not unlike watching a skilled actor utilizing true-to-life gesticulations that match the words he hears or speaks, or the emotions he feels.

As events unfold and readers are more and more drawn into Burns’s narrative, we forget it is a letter being written and the story becomes ours. Burns shares with us his mortifications, such as when he is rebuked in front of the entire company; his infatuation with a young woman at first inaccessible to him; the methods of war he learns and his growth within that knowledge; and details of encounters that terrify as well as contribute to his expertise as a soldier and swordsman. Periodically we are given a reminder, though within methods that embrace us, rather than reveal our reading of the attachment to a letter to someone else. “How,” he asks at one point, “do I draw this scene for you[?]”

In an unexpected combat experience, following the explosion of a saboteur ship, Burns and others chase an escaped killer into a nearby warehouse.

Long shadows danced ahead of us and on the walls from the light. The dirt and pebble floor crunched under our feet as we walked . . . For some reason I felt more fear there in the dark hunting one man than fighting dozens in that house months before. Possibly the darkness cast shadows on the mind and the silence gave us time to dwell on what could be waiting for us, the same fate that met that infantryman outside with his head bashed in.

It is this access to Burns’s vulnerability as well as his strength of character, his willingness to reveal his fear but determination to stand tall that contributes to readers being able to relate to him and thus, develop a rooted interest in how he fares. McGrath pulls off the first-person flawlessly; it is truly as if he is transcribing the actual words as Burns speaks them. In so doing, he develops a sympathetic character, neither arrogant nor overly self-effacing, who speaks to our own experiences, as contrasting as they may be to his.

As the year progresses and Burns is involved in a number of activities, all the characters continually look forward to the invasion they so fervently train for. For better or worse, life goes on and Burns participates in it, even engaging in some illegal dueling, which to me were the amongst the best scenes in descriptive and action terms, not to mention the emotive fury for all parties. Burns, like McGrath, is a watcher of people and the patterns they engage in, using them to his advantage and eventual victory.

As the overall tension builds, Burns utilizes this method in the broadest of ways, also using intuition in his judgment calls. Not everyone trusts his judgment, however, and some are outright hostile to it. These are men with a great many more years experience than he, and they know the conflict in ways he, a newbie to the country and fighting forces, will ever do. As the framework of the larger story enclosing all the inner pieces grows more apparent, the question remains as to whether Burns can reconcile the outcome with an outlook held onto for a lifetime. What if the French lose? Perhaps more importantly, what if they win?

While the Napoleonic era isn’t one I have studied extensively or, truth be told, ever really had great interest in, it is worth noting again how much this book held me. The idea of post-revolutionary Americans fighting in Napoleon’s army is an intriguing one, though McGrath has much more at his disposal than an initial fabulous idea to keep it all going. I am a great admirer of saying a lot with a little, and for this book that means two things: one, the depth of many of the characters is established artfully even with only a few appearances; and two: the longer passages, especially battlefield scenes, some of which really are quite long, kept my attention and interest as Burns analyses for us his perceptions and what they mean to events taking place. Burns—or McGrath, I’m not entirely sure which—has a way of explanation that fascinates as it reveals facets non-combatants never had cause to consider, linking them in significance one to another. While the end is satisfying for the momentary ramifications, there is more to Pierre’s story on its way, and you will want to read it.

McGrath has truly used his skills to his own advantage, to his eventual victory.

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Historical Note:

The Emperor’s American sees Burns and the rest of the Grande Armée VI Corps marching out from their  position beginning August 27, 1805. While not every unit left on the same day, they did proceed forward in time to their next engagement. Stay tuned for March to Destruction and events of the War of the Third Coalition.

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art mcgrath

Art McGrath lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where he is a journalist as well as re-enactor and member of the Brigade Napoleon and the 3me regiment infanterie de ligne–the French 3rd Infantry regiment of the Line. The Emperor’s American is the first in a series following the adventures of Pierre Burns.

Learn more about Art McGrath and The Emperor’s American at his author page.

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This post previously appeared in 2014 at the blog’s alternative location.

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Book Review: Like Chaff in the Wind

Like Chaff in the Wind (Book II in The Graham Saga) by Anna Belfrage

Winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion

It is Matthew Graham’s misfortune that Like Chaff in the Wind opens not only in an unwelcoming city, but also one in the grips of a day “cold and dreary in the icy January winds.” This unfortuitous beginning, already weighed down by an ongoing battle between Matthew and his estranged brother, is not aided by the former’s apprehension over a recent row turned violent and the consequences that now seem to be stalking him.

The brothers’ past history includes a son born to the woman first married to Matthew and later Luke, with the child’s birth in close enough proximity to the transition to cast doubt on which is the biological father. This being 1661 Scotland, paternity testing is not an option and the most recent sibling battle ended with Matthew angrily and unceremoniously slicing off Luke’s nose. While not unprovoked, his action was foolhardy, especially given Matthew’s long acquaintance with his brother’s rage.

chaffTherefore when Matthew sees and is threatened by his brother on this same day, is inclined to draw up papers transferring guardianship of his family to his brother-in-law should anything happen to him, and then ignores that in-law’s plea to follow up on this straight away…well, in this reviewer’s case the result was an immediate red flag and a burst of raised voice when less than a page away Matthew’s life is dramatically and cruelly altered, perhaps forever, if he cannot find a way out.

His brother having had him abducted and set on a path to indentured servitude in the colonies, forever may not be very long, given the conditions leading to the short life spans of these unfortunate souls. Thus it is that Anna Belfrage, especially if the reader has already become acquainted with the Grahams in book one, A Rip in the Veil, manages so quickly to arouse the passion of readers, who, if they are anything like this one, caution Graham and then curse his foolishness, knowing they will soon lament his horrible fate.

The speed with which Graham is abducted—it happens before one can really settle into the book—reflects the rapidity that Matthew must bitterly marvel at as he hunches on the captor ship, recalling the short time between Simon’s warning and this event going down. His wife, Alex, wastes no time in setting a perilous rescue operation into motion and as her own ship pulls away from the docks, Simon, Matthew’s attorney and brother-in-law, watches her with a prayer in his heart.

Such a little thing on all that water, totally in the hands of our Lord, blown hither and thither like a chaff in the wind. He sighed and pressed his hat down on his head.

“Dear Lord, hold Your hand over them and keep them safe,” he prayed. “Turn the light of Your countenance unto them and guide them back home.”

It should be noted here that home for Alex, while indeed Scotland, is torn between two times, for she had been dragged into this era from the 21st century during a freak thunderstorm in which the veil of time had been torn, the separateness blurred and she transported over. It had been a frightening and dangerous transition as she navigated her way through her new—old—time, with Matthew as her new companion and eventually, husband.

Misfortune seems in constant pursuit, what with conditions of the time and Luke’s unrelenting hatred and desire for revenge. Indeed, as Simon regards her, she is like helpless chaff, blown asunder while other pieces of her family lay in front of and behind her, none knowing if her mission will be successful or they might ever see another again in this life.

Like Chaff in the Wind reads in part as if we have stepped into living history: not only do we witness the events as they occur, but Belfrage also captures the humanity (or lack thereof) in various characters with their own perceptions of how to move forward. Some have given in to the cruelty, hoping to get on as best they can and perhaps see the end of their contracted time and still be alive. This is not Matthew’s way, but the author judges no one, including those close to him who sacrifice precious parts of their selves for the sake of survival.

Belfrage also captures the day-to-day order of business that provides readers with a clear sense of how people really lived at this time—ordinary people. Alex visits the registrar, her companion Mrs. Gordon garners income as a midwife, officials and citizens are co-operative and not. Like our own time, 17th century Virginia also has its share of hustlers, backstabbers and other ne’er-do-wells, the actions of whom serve as a springboard to mysteries Alex has to clear her way through, learning how to detect and use every bit of cunning that she has in the process. Though she is free in terms of servitude, she must also dodge plenty of bullets to remain so, for enemies are made and unmade, loyalties shift and prices are paid in a seemingly unending parade of bargains linking people together in ways she has yet to understand.

Fortunately, not all in this strange place are motivated to trip her up and bouts of providence provide realistic balance, more from an author so well acquainted with her eras that one might be forgiven for believing she herself has stepped out of one to record these events. Alex, with similar advantage, being from a later century and somewhat well equipped to move forward, nevertheless is not given entirely smooth passage as she has doubts and questions of her own lives that follow her down the path of this entire journey. Some of these, she knows, will revolve around the question of What now? if she is successful in retrieving her lost Matthew. After what he has had to endure, would he be able to recover? Could they get back to who they were before?

One favorite element of Like Chaff in the Wind—indeed, the entire series—is the varied nature of Alex’s adaptation to her new/old time and how she carries out her tasks despite having been used to entirely different methods. Observing her engaged in running the household, managing travel plans and activities, raising her children, interacting with her family, advocating for their needs, readers appreciate her honesty and Belfrage’s treatment of her characters in that while nothing is really very easy, there also are no extraneously difficult moments in this life: it is all kept very real with narrative and dialogue that fit with each other seamlessly.

In this particular installment of The Graham Saga Belfrage gives us mystery, crime, romance, history, time travel and, a special treat for this reviewer’s interests, a nautical theme. Her ability to manage this much subject matter, very complicated sets of relationships, events in two eras and intersecting plotlines is truly second to none.

ripBeing a sequel is never an easy task: A Rip in the Veil opening the saga as magnificently as it does, readers will wonder what audiences universally do. “Will the second be as good as the first?” Like a younger sibling it must compete for attention, carefully avoiding such traits as mimicry and overcompensation in the quest for individuality. In parenting these two books, Belfrage and readers can rest assured they have no need of worry re: a rivalry anywhere near to that of Matthew and Luke. These siblings indeed are their own individuals, but also complement and recommend one another. Fascinating tales, the only unsatisfying element will be the wait for the next one.

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Read my review for A Rip in the Veil (Book I in The Graham Saga)

Read my review for The Prodigal Son (Book III in The Graham Saga) (with author interview)

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Anna Belfrage can be found on Amazon, Amazon UKTwitter and Facebook. You can also learn more about Belfrage, her characters and her world at her website and blog, which also contains details about her upcoming series.

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This post previously appeared in 2014 on the blog’s alternative location.

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Friday Night Flashback: Alice Dreaming, Diamond Eyes

[CLD image to be replaced]

As a child I was hugely in love with Alice in Wonderland and delighted when I found anything at all Alice related. Perhaps it was the talking animals, or maybe the rhymes. Even at that young age I loved words and the way Alice’s creator played with them delighted me to no end–I roared with love at the logic puzzles I could never figure out, and the shapes of his characters enthralled me. I acquired a copy of The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, and can still remember the red cover with golden lettering on the front. Inside that book were worlds I visited and studied for hours upon hours, reciting the words and creating my own dialogue and separate stories, even writing out some of my favorite scenes, filling dozens of notebooks in the process.

[Cover image to be replaced]

At one point I discovered Anne Clark’s The Real Alice, a find that exponentially widened my world, balancing in its pages a lifetime of literature, history, art, genealogy, mathematics, poetry and photography, all wound within stories of people’s lives as they grew and aged, loved, hurt, obsessed, engaged in feuds and criss-crossed the staggering lines demarcating social class, family boundaries and cultivated friendships.

It happens that one of the years during this time I somehow started to draw, unusual for me because I wasn’t (and remain) not very good at it. Poetry was more my speed, and in fact I filled a great many notebooks with that as well. I felt at home with poetry, as if I were cushioned by the comfortable words, held in in a protective embrace with each advance into the opening up of inner worlds. Art? I simply never gave it much thought.

I no longer remember which drawing was my first, or what thought persuaded my pencil to paper in sketching movements; all I know is that today I carry with me a small portfolio of drawings I’d done, some silly, some serious, all attempts at my own or copies of others’ work. I can recall sitting on my bed (near the fish tank that held two hamsters named Sylvie and Bruno), contented with the world as I engaged in my notebooks. Oftentimes memories are punctuated by remembered products of this era, or I see something (or my son and his own productions), reminding me of a particular drawing.

In this case, I recalled and went searching for this one~~

My drawing Alice
Image courtesy Lisl Zlitni

When specifically calling up the recollection, I want to say this is copy of a picture I’d seen in a book that I strongly suspect to be Clark’s. The swirls to the left and right appear to me quite Lewis Carrollish, and I vaguely recall not being able to duplicate them exactly. (They are just lines, right? Still, for some reason I couldn’t get it.) I thought I remembered that this in fact is a drawing by Dodgson of Alice Liddell, the small girl for and to whom the story was first told. Finding out for sure was a snap~~

[Dodgson Alice drawing image to be replaced]

The quoted words beneath the actual picture drawn by Dodgson appear, as you can see, in the same journal page as the drawing, and must be what inspired me to write a particular poem, memory of which is what got this particular flashback started. I actually wrote at least two poems about Alice Liddell, one influenced by her years as Alice Hargreaves and as she grew older and eventually passed away (1937) in a world far different from the one she shared with her sisters as a young girl.

But tonight is for the “happy summer-days”:

Alice on the wavy seas
dark hair tossing on the breeze
eyes a-dreaming, gleam alive
gazing upward towards the sky
Alice dreaming; diamond eyes,
with friends’ intoxicated sighs.
They pluck the stars where angels roam
to place them in their hair like combs.
Running, laughing through poppy fields
picking flowers with happy squeals.
In Wonderland they play at home
resting eas’ly on golden thrones
Forevermore, a tale to sing
basking in life’s pleasant spring!

This post previously appeared in 2014 at the blog’s alternative location.

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TJ’s Household Haiku Challenge: Glass

A little over a week or so ago I took up a new challenge–haiku–by way of TJ’s weekly household prompt, in that instance a piano. It was a lot of fun and as we go along he may find he has created a monster as I play at encapsulating everything I can think of into 5-7-5.

Hey, when I had a toddler in the house I was fairly skilled at making up impromptu rhymes and songs about peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, items to chew on and stinky feet, all to the tunes of favorite kid songs. So this should be fun.

This week’s prompt is glass.

[City seen through rainy glass image to be replaced]

Thunder and lightning

Driven to the ground, with tears

On jagged pieces

 

Watching through its fog

As you walk away from me

I see all clearly

OK, let’s look at something a little more, shall we say, celebratory?

Whatever goes in 

your goblet, make it worthy

And may it be fine!

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[Wine in glass image to be replaced]