Tag Archives: life

The Vanity Table

My mother used to have a dressing table 125that was done up in dark blue fabric decorated with gold thread that criss-crossed in a diamond pattern.  It was kidney shaped and consisted of two pillars of three drawers on either side, with room for a small stool in the center.  On top was placed a kidney-shaped glass, cut to the exact dimensions of the table with a 3-part glass mirror fixed to the back.
I loved that table.  It was like a huge jewelry box.  My mother was very neat and tidy, and everything had its place.  One drawer held all of her gloves.  She had dainty wrist gloves made of white lace, grey suede, and fawn.  She had leather driving gloves and thick gloves decorated with fur.  In another drawer, she kept silk scarves, neatly folded into piles of jeweled hues.  In the third drawer on the left hand side she had a collection of embroidered handkerchiefs, in piles of neatly ironed triangles.  On the other side she kept her jewelry in various cardboard boxes, marked Bentalls on them.  (Bentalls was the name of the local department store in Kingston-upon-Thames.) Here were pearl earrings, pearl strands, and heavy pendants on metal chains, brooches, and ear-bobs.
As a child I would happily spend hours sitting there while my mother was out at work, and my grandmother was downstairs doing the laundry or making lunch.  Then, “What do you think you’re doing?”  And I would jump to see my mother standing in the doorway. I flushed, guiltily aware that she didn’t like my going through her things.  My mother would sigh as she walked towards me.  Why aren’t you practicing your violin?
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and has recently opened her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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Poem: As Rigid As Glass

I feel like glass.
As if at the slightest touch, I will shatter.
The light is bright, too bright.
I am dressed stylishly, and feel frozen.
The glass in my hand is chilled.118
My eyes are glazed.
Everyone around me chatters brightly.
But I am silent.
I feel frozen, unable to start.
Where do I begin?
Everyone has formed into groups?
So where do I belong?
How do I break in?

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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News & Notes: Horseriding

Some time ago, I went with a friend to visit Trinity Horse Farms in a corner of Montgomery County Maryland that borders PG County.  There on a windy, sunny afternoon, we wandered around looking at thoroughbred horses, standards and ponies.  Eventually, my friend suggested that I have a go at riding a horse. 191 This is something that I’d never done before, but after watching other newbies enjoy themselves on horseback, I plucked up the courage.  They made it easy for you to get on, by having a mounting block in the shape of three or four wooden steps, so it was easy enough to put your left foot in the left stirrup and swing yourself over.  Or at least it should have been, but my nervousness meant that I actually managed to sit behind the saddle!  Never mind, the horse was patient and I maneuvered myself forward to sit in the saddle. Then we set off, with a willowy girl controlling the horse by means of a leading rein.

If you have never ridden a horse before, all I can say is that it is the most peculiar sensation.  I had never realized before that my mode of transportation had been exclusively on wheels of various sorts, unless I was flying.  Sitting on top of a tall animal with four hooves going down at various different times is unsettling.  I wondered idly how long it would take for me to fall off, because I felt so unsteady.

However, I managed to survive. As I am writing a historical novel set in the 1400s when horses were common, I am thinking of taking some lessons in riding.  Watch this space for more adventures!

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business. At the end of the day, she meditates.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Poem: The Appassionata Sonata

The music curled out of the half-open door of the music shop.  It fell gently down and then rose quietly.
“That’s the Appassionata sonata,” remarked my mother.
The quiet opening closed and exploded in jazzy syncopated chords.  Suddenly it became quiet with a running note underneath like an underground stream.
It forced me to stop and listen to every note.
I felt caught, transported by emotion.
The music was pure. Grand. Magnificent. Rocky.
It took me out of my daily life.
It took me above myself.
It took me and held me.

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

“Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn…”

With these words – which immediately give us a narrator with attitude – Ernest Hemingway begins his first big novel, published in 1926.  This novel perfectly evokes the twenties. It is a portrait of a group of British and American expatriates enjoying the café scene of Left Bank Paris, who decide to take an excursion to Pamplona in Spain to see bullfighting.

sunalsorisesWhat could be more charming or interesting than to see (or hear in Hemingway’s inimitable dialogues) these well-educated bright young things? And yet the ravages of the Great War lurk underneath the surface, with ruined bodies, ruined minds, cynicism and spiritual dissolution.

It is helpful to remember that when people talk about the “Lost Generation”, they mean the survivors of a horrible and wasteful war. This war killed so many young men (the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 cost England 23,000 young men), that plenty of women had to live out their lives without any hope of marriage and family.

It is not surprising that the twenties – when people tried to cope with the aftermath of so much destruction – evokes so many images of light and darkness.  This book is particularly relevant today.

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Travel: The Perils of Renting a Car

1121Two summers ago, I went online to Travelocity or Expedia to rent a car because I was visiting family in England and my husband and I decided to take a motoring tour of the country.  I spotted what looked like a great deal.  My memory is that we could rent a car for about $500 for the 3 weeks that we were planning to tour. It seemed almost too good to be true. We showed up at the rental agency near Heathrow with reservation in hand only to find that when you added taxes, insurance and other charges in, the cost was closer to $1000!  What a nasty surprise!

Last year, my husband and I spent a week doing a motoring tour of northern France.  So I did much more careful research. Here is what I found:
1.    Most credit cards cover the collision damage waiver (CDW) and theft protection (TP), so you DON’T need to buy that insurance when you pick your car up at the agency.  All you need to do is pay with a card that has your name embossed on it, be sure to decline the CDW and theft protection and make sure the other drivers you have listed are authorized to drive.  The credit cards provide numbers to call if you run into difficulties.
2.    You DO NEED liability insurance, which covers the medical expenses of another person injured as a result of an accident involving yourself.
3.    Personal accident insurance (PAI) covers the medical expenses of the occupants of the car including the driver, so if you have a good health insurance plan, you probably don’t need this.
4.    Don’t expect to see this all spelled out for you on Travelocity or Expedia or the other large conglomerations that book rental cars.  If you really want to find out what you are paying, you have to go to the rental car site.
5.    I found that I preferred Avis, because it disclosed all costs to you in a very clear manner, and offered an easy way of opting out of insurance coverage you did not want.  It was the only car rental company I could find that specifically offered personal liability insurance.  The other car rental companies that I checked –  which included Hertz, Alamo, National, Budget – only offered CDW, TP and PAI.

Endnote: There were no nasty surprises from Avis.

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Poem: Moods

His conversation
Rambles
Down a path
Between the trees
Into a sunny glade
Where it spreads its fingers…

His conversation
Rumbles
Down a path
Between bare rock
DSCF1475.JPGInto the boulder field
Where lightning sparks icy trails.

His conversation
Turns
And spins out of control
Or
Turns and spins
Through various
And many
Before coming to a
Stop.
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

This novel has one of my favorite opening lines:

“All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.  Everything had gone wrong in the Oblonsky household. The wife had found out about her husband’s relationship with their former French governess and had announced that she could not go on living in the same house with him…”

Immediately, Tolstoy plunges us into a very unhappy situation, with a weeping wife, an uncomfortably guilty husband (forced to sleep on a morocco-leather couch in his study) and various people (including the husband’s sister Anna Karenina) who come to try and calm the situation.

annakareninaOf course, the novel is not really about Prince Stepan Oblonsky or his wife Dolly. Instead, it is a classically constructed tragedy about his sister Anna, her own unhappy marriage to a cold man, and her search for happiness.  Like a classical tragedy, we first meet Anna when she has position, money, family and her son to sustain her Then we see her gradually throw everything away in her pursuit of passion until she has nothing left.

This is a great novel that tells us much about the stifling lives that respectable women were forced to endure in the nineteenth century (the novel was written in 1873). It would make a perfect gift for a person of any age.
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Fiction: Blosmy Bowes

“Who are you?” I demand, twisting around on my knees to face the slender twelve-year-old boy.  I speak in French, the language of the aristocracy.  He should understand, richly dressed as he is, in dark blue velvet with black stockings and shoes. With his pale face and grey-blue eyes, he looks very serious, altogether too serious for me.
He draws himself up and says, “And whom do I have the pleasure of talking to?”
I get up, brush my old blue woolen gown with muddy hands, fling my hair out of my face, and draw myself up.  Mama has sent me out on this fine December day to care for my garden, a small plot of land, which lies between the eastern side of Bulmer’s Tower and the curtain wall that surrounds the castle.
“I am Lady Cecylee de Neville”, I declare, “youngest daughter of the greatest lord in the land, my father Earl Ralph of Westmorland.”171
His mouth opens slightly.
“Who are you?” I repeat.
The boy eyes me carefully. Eventually he replies. “I am Richard, Duke of York.”
I know exactly who he is.  Mama explained that someone called the Duke of York would be arriving soon.  “Why is he coming here?” I asked.  Mama’s mouth crinkled at the corners. “Your father wants you to wed.”
I toss my head and smile. “You don’t look grand enough, or old enough, to be a duke,” say I.  “What are you doing here?”
His eyes widen, but he does not answer.
I try not to yawn, and resist returning to my roses. Eventually, I say briskly, “I’m busy.  I have to put my garden to rest.” I gesture at the tools lying here and there, the roses, and my wicker basket full of weeds.  “You may leave us,” I say grandly, adopting Mama’s manner in dismissing unwelcome guests.  I turn my back on him, kneel, and dig vigorously while I sing.
He does not move.  So I look around.  There he is, staring.
I flush. Then impulsively, I say, “Would you like to help?”
Richard nods his head several times.
“You can do the digging over there.”
Silence falls again.
I say: “Do you like roses…1101What did you say your name was?” I don’t want him to think he’s so important I can actually remember his name!
Richard flushes.  “It’s Richard…my lady.”
I start to laugh.  “You don’t have to be so formal, you know.  We’re very informal here.  My family calls me Cecylee, except for Papa, who calls me Cis.  You may call me Cis, if you like.”
“Well, Cis,” he says, “You may call me Dickon.”  There is another pause, and then he actually says something. “I love roses.  Are all these flowers yours?”
“They mostly are. Mama had them planted for me shortly after I was born, as part of my Garden of Contemplation.”  I smile.  “But Robin looks after them too.”
“Who’s Robin?”
“My playfellow.  Only of course, you can’t see him.  He only appears to girls.”
“Does he?” asks Richard, who now frowns.
“Yes,” say I.  “He appears to tell girls all they need to know about boys, so that when they get married, they know what to do.”
I stare at him expectantly.
But Richard only flushes slightly, and concentrates on his digging.
So I start to sing again.
Richard stops digging to listen.
“Do you know that song, Dickon?”
He shakes his head, and so I take him by the hand and say, “I’ll teach it to you.”  He slowly begins to repeat the verses, which are written in English:

“A gardyn saw I ful of blosmy bowes
Upon a ryver, in a grene mede,
There as swetnesse evermore inow is,
With floures white, blewe, yelwe, and rede…”

Great-Uncle Chaucer wrote the lines.  I made up the tune just the other day, to accompany the words.
“It’s fun to sing with you Dickon,” I say, giving him my sweetest smile.   “What are you going to do when you grow up?”
He is silent for a long time.  Finally he says, “I hope to be like your father, with a large estate to manage and a wife and family to come home to.”  He looks at me.  “You will marry.”
I toss my head and pull my ugliest face.  “Oh, I don’t think so!” I squeeze as much determination into those words as possible.
Richard stares at me wide-eyed.
“I don’t want to marry,” I tell him, “because I don’t like people telling me what to do.  It puts me into a very bad mood.”  I pause for a moment.
He stares.
“That’s the trouble with husbands,” I remark. They boss you around.  My sisters always complain of it.”
There is dead silence.
After a while, Richard says very quietly, “So you mean you wouldn’t get married at all?”
“I might consider it, but only if the husband would let me tell him what to do.”  I fix my dark grey eyes on him and speed up to my normal pace. “It would really be much better that way because I have so many good ideas about things, and I’m so often right.”
A little movement begins around the corners of his mouth.  But he says nothing.
I toss the rose onto the pile of weeds. “But truly, I don’t wish to marry!”
“But Cis,” he says quietly, “Ladies are expected to marry. What are you going to do if you don’t marry?”
I open my eyes wide. “I have thought much on that,” I say.  “I would travel to the Holy Land…” I look at him from under my lashes “…like Queen Alainor of Acquitaine.” 1111
But Richard does not blink at my comparing myself with a powerful Queen, who divorced one husband and outmaneuvered another.  He does not walk off or demand my retraction.  Instead he says, “But you can be married and travel.  I would like to travel too.  You could come with me.”
I stiffen.
“Ladies need a man to escort them around.”
“Well, I do not,” I immediately say.  “I can manage very well without one. A man would just be in my way.”
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Poetry: Clouds Like Colophons…

The clouds were colophons above Longs Peak.
White and fluffy, they made clear emblems,
Signs that stood out against a background of deepest azure.

Two of them stood together,
Hanging in the still air above the mountain
The morning was fresh and bright
No harbinger of things to come.

That was at nine in the morning.
By twelve, the clouds moved in.151
By one, the storm rolled off the mountain
Striking sparks of lightening upon the unwary,
Who, enjoying their climb, went above the timberline
To the boulder field to the Diamond face.

No! No! Don’t go there.
Said the hikers as they scampered down the mountainside.
There’s lightning there. It’s dangerous.  You could get hit!
They ran down the hill for the cover of trees.

So my husband and I turned reluctantly,
Away from the beauties of Alpine plants, high air,
A platform view of the surrounding mountains.
We trudged downhill as the hail struck
Fierce pellets of ice hit us hard
After twenty minutes it turned to rain
The dusty track became viscous and squishy
Churning mud onto legs and trouser bottoms.
At length we arrived at the Ranger’s hut
That was the worst hike I’ve experienced
Said my husband,
Ever.
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and has recently opened her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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