The occasional observations of Carolyn Kephart, writer

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Because The World Is Wide

I grew up nomadic, and autumn never fails to bring out the wayfarer in me. I've quoted this poem before, but it's even more poignant now that years have passed. Of its several quatrains these are the ones that resonate:

"There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir; 
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name." --Bliss Carman, A Vagabond Song (

For a long time I've wanted a gypsy wagon (in Romani a vardo) to transform into a writing retreat. I found the dream version, pictured below, on Pinterest. The red hat on the left above the tea table brings to memory last week's visit with a dear friend who wore a similar chapeau as we sat under the deck umbrella on a perfect cloudless Thursday afternoon, sipping Aperol Spritzes, nibbling snacks, exchanging long-delayed birthday presents (we're both Virgos, the same age, and love odd pretty things) and reminiscing about our decades-long, always-joyous association. I can imagine us taking tea in that picture, with perhaps a dainty crystal glass of Chambord or St. Germain on the side. Wishing everyone the joy of knowing someone for many years, always surprised by new shimmering facets.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Princeps Militiae Caelestis

Prince of the heavenly host

Today is Michaelmas, commemorating my favorite angel. I used to often stop to admire him during my long-ago visits to Trieste, where his magnificent mosaic image adorns the facade of the Serbian Orthodox church. The feast of Saint Michael marks a time of transitions, summer into fall into winter, reflections on the past and musings on the future. I hope to do more with my life now that time is growing short, and look forward to resuming travels abroad since I got my Covid booster shot today. Trieste will probably always remain a memory, but there are so many places I've yet to explore, so much I want to read, and write. Be well, friends.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Respice Finem, or A Little Mirth

No, I'm not being morbid, but these are difficult times. For now, I'm lucky to be in a safe place and enjoying the blessings of health and it's April Fools' Day, so I ask my friends here to read these words of Lord Dunsany and think kindly of this writer if they would, which I will sincerely reciprocate.

"I will send jests into the world and a little mirth. And while Death seems to thee as far away as the purple rim of hills; or sorrow as far off as rain in the blue days of summer, then pray to Limpang-Tung. But when thou growest old, or ere thou diest, pray not to Limpang-Tung, for thou becomest part of a scheme that he doth not understand.

"Go out into the starry night, and Limpang-Tung will dance with thee who danced since the gods were young, the god of mirth and of melodious minstrels. Or offer up a jest to Limpang-Tung; only pray not in thy sorrow to Limpang-Tung, for he saith of sorrow: 'It may be very clever of the gods, but he doth not understand.'"

Be safe, dear ones.
With thanks,

Note: All of my publications are now either free or as close as may be at Amazon and Smashwords.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Red Eminences

Today is the birthday of Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu, prelate and soldier (1585-1642). Accomplished, intellectual, multifaceted and fanatical, the Red Eminence was the main inspiration for one of my favorite characters, the scarlet-haired Yvain Essern, Earl of Roskerrek, otherwise known as Redbane in my Ryel Saga.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

September Song

"Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time for the waiting game." --September Song
Well met once more, makers and readers. Having successfully navigated yet another year (my birthday was on the 1st), I've been giving thought to Things That Matter. For various reasons (time, trends, thronged and shrinking markets) I'll no longer be submitting much of my new short fiction to magazines, but posting it on my website and for free at Smashwords, where my other yarns have accrued thousands of views to my happiness. Work on the non-fantasy novel continues, but I still harbor a sentimental fondness for the Ryel Saga and hope to upload some passages from the sequel to my site in coming days. Soon, I hope, before the leaves flame. 

Thanks and good wishes, 

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Brown-Baggery, or How I Corralled My Clutter

Time's winged chariot rumbles on, and the ruts of its wheels have marked yet another of my existential anniversaries (September 1, which was New Year's Day for the Byzantines and is for myself as well). Along with what seems an inordinate aggregate of birthdays I've acquired a concomitant plethora of chattels, and am reminded by my ever-diminishing mortality that by now it's better to amass memories than clutter. To that end I've made my personal new year's resolution to do more and better with what life yet remains, and to consign the needless knickknackery of ill-considered impulse buys and unappealing heirlooms to storage bins in preparation for eventual downsizing. But the tedium of so much emballage was angst-making, until the recent epiphany of a quick, easy and cheap solution that I'm glad to share with anyone out there who's burdened with a heap of idle items best left safely stowed and unseen.

Brown paper lunch bags are readily available in both large and small sizes at most supermarkets and discount stores. My simple method is to write a brief description of the clutter-maker on whichever bag fits best, using a permanent black marker; slide said tchochke into the bag; fold the top of the bag and crumple the paper lightly around the gewgaw; finally and with a sigh of relief place the package in the bin along with its fellows. No swathes of newspaper or plastic or tape, no risked breakage in the event of fumbled unwrapping, no labels to stick on or fall off. The paper's sturdy wrinkles cushion most objects with no need of further protection, but especially fragile items can be double-bagged for greater safety, with a bit of tissue paper or bubble wrap if absolutely necessary.

Life should always be easier. This helps.



Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Beautiful Soup

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup! ~Alice in Wonderland

"You know, you really shouldn't take this secret to your grave." 

Of the many compliments I've received from everyone who's ever tried my homemade tomato soup, that one resonated most. While the Now is with me I'd like to make the following contribution to global happiness. Fiction fades, but everyone eats.

Like so many other American children I grew up on Campbell's tomato soup, only to avoid it in adulthood because my by-then experienced and impatient tastebuds craved something more authentic. One lucky day several years ago I managed to concoct my own version. Here are the instructions, step by step. Serves four or thereabouts. 

Ten-Minute Tomato Soup

1. In a large stainless saucepan make a roux by whisking over medium heat two or three tablespoons of butter with a quarter cup of flour, gradually adding a cup or so of milk. A few lumps won't matter.

2. Microwave a chicken bouillon cube in a half cup of water for a half a minute and stir it into the roux.

3. Dump in two cans of  stewed tomatoes. I've always used plain, not Italian or Mexican, but someday I might go wild and give them a try.

4. Smooth everything to a bisque using a hand blender. Add a bit more milk, or half and half if you like it richer (I do). Heat to a boil and serve.

That's it. 

Grilled cheese sandwiches are pretty much mandatory accompaniments. I make mine just the way I remember them from my time as a kid, only I use Cabot Sharp instead of Kraft Singles, real butter instead of margarine, and homemade bread instead of Wonder. Regarding the bread, I can't recommend enough the fabulous artisan no-knead recipe from King Arthur Flour, which I discovered only recently and deeply wish I'd known about all those sticky, messy, laborious ages ago.

Bon appetit!

Roses, Gems, and the Grace of a Dancer

Note to self: blog more. It's been an unconscionable while since your last post, and you always have some random observation to make that someone will chance to read and hopefully enjoy.

As I noted on Facebook today: April is National Poetry Month, but has only been so since 1996; T. S. Eliot can't be blamed for deeming it the cruellest month in 1922. For me, poetry is the breath of life, and I'd never have become a writer without having grown up amid the beauty of words perfectly woven. I'll celebrate with this haiku since my nickname is Kari, and in Japan kari is the name for wild geese, which symbolize transience. Yosa Buson lived from 1716 to 1784, and was one of the great poets of the Edo period. 



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October Songs

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name. 
(From "A Vagabond Song" by Bliss Carman, Canadian poet [1861-1929])

October's at once my favorite and most dreaded month. I love its gold-drenched splendor even as I sorrow for the end of summer's pleasures and the onset of winter's privations. Since nomadic cultures have always enthralled me, Carman's lines came as a piquant surprise when I discovered his poem a couple of weeks ago. Most of what I've been watching and reading lately deals with wanderers; just now it's documentaries about the roving tribes of today's Rajasthan and the steppes of Central Asia, and memoirs by Himalayan explorers from Queen Victoria's time. Given such exotic reality, writing fiction has been difficult.

Others, however, have been spinning wondrous yarns, in particular my friend Ilana Teitelbaum (pen name Ilana C. Myer) whose debut epic fantasy Last Song Before Night is fresh off the presses and reaping richly-deserved critical acclaim. Synopsis and first chapters can be found here, and clicking the lovely cover links to An enchanting world awaits.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Matters of the Heart

I've been away a while, but hope to be posting with greater frequency than has been the case for the past few years. The following is not just an explanation for my absence, but a cautionary tale.

About three years ago I wanted to lose a few pounds and started cutting back on carbohydrates. Besides avoiding sweets and limiting starches, I began using saccharin in my coffee instead of sugar. The flat tinny aftertaste was unpleasant at first, but I soon got used to it. Other than that, I steered clear of anything artificially sweetened.

I only drink coffee in the morning and limit my intake to two cups, and thus used four pink packets a day except for occasional temporary switches to yellow packets (sucralose) or blue ones (aspartame) during travels. About half a year into this regimen I started feeling short of breath whenever I exerted myself. It progressively worsened, until by the third year even climbing stairs and doing routine chores was making me feel faint and dizzy. Near my house is a little lake that I've walked around twice a week with my husband for a decade, and during the past two years each time had become more difficult than the last. By August of 2014 I had to halt every few minutes and lean against a tree because my heart was battering so hard that I thought it'd burst out of my chest like John Hurt's hatchling in Alien.

At first I thought the culprit might be the Lovastatin I'd been prescribed the year before, but the symptoms didn't lessen when I quit taking it. Finally, in the fall of 2014 I decided to consult heart specialists. They put me through an extensive battery of tests, but found nothing they could pinpoint as the cause of the problem. Maybe the trouble was pulmonary, they suggested; but lung specialists found nothing amiss. A thorough general checkup revealed no issues of consequence. According to all measurable data, my health was good.

But I knew I wasn't well, in ways that went deeper than just my body. For three years I'd become increasingly reclusive and withdrawn. I no longer felt like entertaining, socializing, traveling. I struggled to finish my novel Queen of Time, then couldn't summon the energy to promote it. I let my online presence dwindle to almost nothing. Great chances came my way and I passed them up. Worst of all, I neglected beautiful things and they disappeared.

Then sometime around last November I decided to quit using artificial sweeteners and go back to sugar. Within a month I started feeling better. Lately I've been striding around the three miles of the lake path with effortless agility, never stopping once, never gasping once. I'm cleaning up my house and rediscovering my friends and getting out more. Last week I finished and submitted a short story and moved on to another, with more and bigger projects to come. Lost time is gone forever, but I'm doing all I can with Now.

Other than switching to saccharin I made no significant changes to my lifestyle during the interval I've described. I don't think it helped me lose weight; cutting out sweets and starches did. I'm aware that millions of people take saccharin with no ill effects and that it's deemed safe by the FDA, which is why I began using it in the first place, but I believe beyond a doubt's shadow that had I not stopped, I might not be around now to write this.

So it's good to be back. My next entry will deal with cheerier things.



Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Bit of DIY - The Simplest Possible Padded Hangers

It's been ages since I last blogged -- certainly not for lack of material, since I've done all sorts of interesting things since my last post. I'll get to those very soon, but I'd like to begin with a lifehack that  I came up with last week. If it's elsewhere on the Internet, I have yet to find it.


I own a lot of haori jackets and kimono, most of them vintage. The traditional way to store them is carefully folded in boxes, but wanting easier access I hung them in my closet. To my dismay, the hangers created ugly points at the garments' shoulders that over time might easily damage the fragile fabric. Sweaters and nicer blouses were likewise threatened. The only way around the problem was padded hangers, but long searching revealed that they were costly to buy, while do-it-yourself sites disheartened with elaborate instructions that involved sewing, knitting, or intricate wrapping.

But then, epiphany. While spring-cleaning the basement I came across the perfect item for my purpose. Estimated time of construction: a minute or less per hanger.

STEP ONE: Get some coat hangers. For optimal results they must be plastic, but needn't be fancy.

STEP TWO: At your local hardware store, buy some tubes of 1-inch foam insulation that plumbers use to keep pipes from freezing. It's dark gray and comes in four-foot lengths or thereabouts, with a seam running down it. The price should be around a dollar a length.

STEP THREE: Slit the tube seam with scissors. Fit the foam over the hanger, leaving an inch or so of it sticking out past the plastic. Make a hole in the middle of the tube with a ballpoint pen to receive the hanger's hook, fit the rest of the foam over the other side of the hanger, and shorten with scissors. Proceed to do the same with other hangers until you're out of tube; you should be able to make three per length. I ended up with about a foot left over from each tube, which I used with another leftover foot to cover another hanger.

For especially sensitive garments, perforate and drape an expendable handkerchief over the hanger, thus avoiding the need to cut and sew. (The one pictured already had a few holes in it.)

That's it.  The foam doesn't stain, weighs almost nothing, and costs about a quarter a hanger. Pointy shoulders banished!


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