Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Italy, part two

We're a bit over half-way through our Tuscan adventure. I'm processing all of these experiences and will have more to say when I'm home and have wrapped words around the experiences, but suffice it to say, this is lovely. We're eating all kinds of wonderful things that I will write about on my food blog when I get home - Mom and Dad, I mention that for you!

Sunday we went to Montepulciano, a lovely and typical hill town. Considerably larger than Sarteano, shops were open, people were bustling everywhere. We wandered in and out of shops, watched people and marveled at the enduring nature of stone. The medieval structures and roads were still intact as they are in Sarteano and the place has a sense of timelessness. I was especially struck by all of the walking paths, clearly a city built for horses and pedestrians.

Monday we spent in our homebase, Sarteano. It was a cold, rainy day. I, of course, went walking anyway. Within a few minutes I was completely soaked through. I wandered uphill, along streets I'd not previously explored and found myself outside of the 13th century church. Inside it was dim, cold and thankfully dry.

Sarteano Cathedral

Tuesday, yesterday, we went to Florence (Firenze), the birthplace of the Renaissance. Florence is overwhleming, especially after the quiet and still in Sarteano. The city is full of tourists, so we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by many languages, faces, bodies and rapid movement. That being said, it is a beautiful city built in 14th century and largely unchanged in its architecture in the tourist zones. We took a walking tour with a highly educated guide (though to believe him you'd think everything started in Florence. Everything.) and wandered through the Uffizi gallery, one of the best collections of Medieval and Renaissance art in the world.

Kevin and I returned home while the rest of the party stayed in Florence for the night. Today we drove around the Tuscan countryside, wandered in olive groves and explored Etruscan tombs. I love the depth of time I can find so easily in this country, the sense of stories buried under stories.

It's a glorious, warm, clear day, too lovely to spend inside. I'll post more pictures next time I'm online, we need to head away from wifi to meet our friends at the train station.

I'll write more soon.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Italy, part one

My friend, the amazing Judith Black, won first place in the 2010 massmouth Big Mouth Off. The prize was a week in Tuscany with five friends. And to my delight, amazement and honor, Judith invited me and my partner Kevin Brooks, to go with her.

And here we are, in Sarteano Italy.

It's stunningly beautiful. It is still a medieval town. The streets haven't been widened to accomodate modern cars (as we discovered when we drove to our guest house, the rental car clearing walls by an inch or two on each side), the walls stone with stories embedded, the faces ancient and lovely.

I'll write a more detailed post in a few days. You can see more pictures here. And I am so very grateful for this chance to see the world. It's good to be alive.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I'm leaving for Italy on Friday, so I'm experimenting w/ mobile blogging. Creative Commons License

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A gift for Wednesday

A friend drew my attention to this poem. I read it and immediately wept, so violently did it describe how I wish to move through the world. I needed to share it with you.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stories of where you're from

Today is St. Patrick's Day. In Boston, where I live, this is a really big deal. Even if you're not of Irish descent you may very well be wearing green today. Many people take this as an opportunity to drink a lot of beer, eat corned beef and cabbage and carry on. Those of Irish descent may use today as a chance to reconnect with their roots, to tell stories of where they came from and the history that helps make them who they are.

St. Patrick's Day is a lot of fun, but bear in mind you don't actually need a special day to remember your heritage.You can seek out then tell those stories anytime and they'll bring value into your life.

The U.S. is a nation composed largely of immigrants (voluntary or not) and those descended from immigrants. Our ancestors brought with them a rich cultural heritage in story, music, food and tradition.Those who are native to this land have their own rich heritage of stories, music, foods and traditions to draw on. If you explore these aspects of where you're from and tell some of these stories, you may gain insight into who you are now and your role in the 21st century.

You don't need a special day to tell the stories of where you're from, be it another country, your family in another time, or from just around the corner. If you take these aspects of your personal history and weave them into your own narrative, the stories you tell will have resonance for all your audiences, even if they don't share your cultural background; audiences are usually interested in stories they can relate to and empathize with. As long as your story is one people can feel connected to ("We had a hard time but we made it." "We came from far away and now we're here." "We celebrate holidays this way only once something crazy happened.") your personal history will only enrich what is ultimately a human story, just as much as it may be an ethnic, cultural or national one.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Assemblage: The luck beneath our feet

luck beneath our feet by laurapics
luck beneath our feet a photo by laurapics on Flickr.

I made this with found objects, items from a friend's mom's house, artificial grass and a brick background print, all in an Ikea shadowbox frame - it's about 6 inches square. I was aiming for a close up look at the things we pass by and overlook. I hope you like it.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, March 11, 2011

World Book Day

Today is World Book Day as designated by UNESCO. It's another one of those cool international celebrations that doesn't get much play in the U.S. To celebrate I've listed below five books that changed my life (it's hard to pick only five).
This is by no means a list of the books that have influenced me above all others, just some of those that have helped shape who I am as a reader, a writer, a teller, a person.

What books have changed you? What stories have shaped how you see the world, how you write and what you tell, how you live?

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It isn't always pretty

I love this time of year, when every day brings new hints of spring. Today I saw the noses of daffodils and crocuses peeking out of the ground. But I have to say, after a winter like the one we've just had, it's not a pretty time of year. The trees are still bare, there are piles of dirty snow lurking in every parking lot and along most streets. There is trash and worse newly uncovered as the world melts. It's not particularly appealing.

I don't care. In fact, I'm reveling in this changing landscape.

The times of greatest growth and most intense change are rarely pretty or without peril. Whether seasonal change, physical growth (remember growing pains? those really hurt!) or personal growth, when we are in the midst of it, it's hard to see the coming beauty. But it's there.

It's in the rich scent of dirt I can smell each afternoon.
It's in the green tips emerging from the ground.
It's in the red glow of the trees as their buds get ready to issue forth leaves.
It's in the mud and rainwater splashing into my sneakers.
It's in the mourning doves who have come back to my yard.

It's in our hearts when we are in the most turmoil, unsure of who we are, when we are waiting for our own personal spring. Be still. Do you hear your ice cracking? Do you hear the birds in your heart sing in praise and celebration? Does your skin feel tight, as if you are about to blossom?

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. While it doesn't seem to get much play in the U.S., this internationally recognized event is an important milestone each year. It gives us a chance to look around, see how far we have come and how far we have to go
I wanted to take a moment today and do two things for International Women’s Day.

First, as a storyteller I think we become better tellers and listeners when we tell and hear stories of all people, regardless of gender, age or nationality. Here are some of my favorite traditional stories that feature strong women and girls, the ones I can quickly recall off the top of my head. I hope you tell these stories.
There are so many others. Tatterhood and Other Tales is a good place to start.

Second, I’d like to recognize some of the amazing women in my life, those who have inspired and helped me, set examples for me and set a high bar for my vision. I’m absolutely certain I will omit women who belong here from this list. Please don’t feel slighted if I've forgotten to list you. I am blessed with many amazing women in my life.

My mom, Florence Packer. My step-daughter, Cara Brooks. My mother-in-spirit, Ruth Hill.

My friends, among them Amy, Mary, Christie, Stacy, Serene, Joy, Elsa and many others. Thank you for your kind hearts and good ears. I would be devastated without you.

My storytelling comrades, among them Norah, Andrea, Doria, Elizabeth, Fran, Regi , Marni and so many others. Keep telling, we need your voices.

Those whom I have never met, but inspire me. Sojourner Truth. Mary Oliver. Jeanette Winterson. And many others.

We are stronger when we lean on one another and do so with gratitude. Thank you all.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Oddservation - Life through a lens

I use all different kinds of things as starting points for stories - writing prompts, my own experiences, the overheard, media, etc. Sometimes I will use visual prompts.

Here are three photos I've taken in the last six months or so that might evoke stories. I'd love to know where you go with these.

As usual, I hold the copyright to the images; if you'd like to use them please see my creative commons license or contact me. Thank you!

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Giving things away - The Little Prince

As you know, I've decided to give some things away.

I don't know how old I was when I first read The Little Prince. My father gave me a copy and I fell in love. I remember reading it and sobbing at the end, my parents trying to console me that the Little Prince was happy. I thought that was a crock.

Since then I've read my way through five or six copies, rereading it until the covers fall off and the pages loosen from the bindings. Each time I read it I find it has different meaning for me, but no less than that first time. I still cry.

 I've given it as a gift. It was the most quoted book in my high school year book (It isn't with the heart that one can see rightly...). I've tamed birds and chipmunks and other small animals. I hope I could tame a fox, but I don't know. I've been tamed myself. I've drawn quite a few elephants in snakes to see who gets it. Not everyone does. I hope you do.

If none of this makes sense to you run, don't walk, to your local library and read The Little Prince. It might be in the kid's section. Don't let that fool you.

Today's give-away is a Little Prince domino set, given to me by a friend from France who went back home. It's a box full of baobobs and lambs, princes and roses, foxes and stars. Tell me why it should be yours in the comments section; make sure I have a way to reach you. I'd love to give it you.

On my other blog I'm giving away a selection of cookbooks from the 1960s and 1970s. Take a look!

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Giving things away

image courtesy of
I’ve been thinking about stuff lately. You know, stuff. The accretion of physical objects that leak into our lives, become precious and then become anchors to where we are and who we were.

I’d like to have less stuff, but I’m awfully attached to it. This worries me.

As you may know, I’ve been helping a friend clean out his mother’s home – she is a compulsive hoarder – so I have some idea of what can happen when we hold on too tightly to all the stuff in our lives. I’ve been thinking about how to get rid of some of my stuff and have some ideas.
  1. Throw it away. Rent a dumpster and have a wholesale disposal party. I know a couple who had to do this when they moved (they didn’t plan well and ended up with more than they could take with no time left to give it away or sell it) and it broke their hearts. I don’t want to do this.
  2. Sell it in the local paper, craigslist or eBay. Some of this stuff is undoubtedly valuable. I have offered some of it for sale, with mixed results. Honestly, I find this kind of selling to be generally more trouble than it’s worth.
  3. Give it away via freecycle. I’ve done some of this, but have had some frustration with unreliable pick-ups and so on. I’ll do so again, but I don’t have the time to answer 400 items about a pair of socks.
  4. Sort through it and give it to a worthy charitable organization. I can also give it away directly, offering sweaters to homeless people and books to schools. I have done this and find it satisfying; I will do so again. 
All of these methods help with most of what I want to get rid of, but they don’t help with sentimental items, those things I no longer need or use but can’t bear to just put in a bag.

This is where you come in. I’d like to give you some of the things that come with stories attached. By giving them to you, I can tell myself they will be used and appreciated. I’m going to do this here and on my other blog over the next several weeks (I’ll give away food and cooking related items there). This ties in with my increasing interest in the value of a giving things away in general, be it content, time or product.

Every Saturday I’ll post an item and its story. If you want the item please tell me in the comments section. Let me know why you’d like it, why it interests you, what you might do with it. A sentence or two will do. Make sure I have a way to contact you. I’ll pay for shipping within the U.S. Once you get the item, if you’re so inclined, post a comment and let me know how you’ll use it. This isn’t necessarily first-come-first-served. The best story gets the prize.

Just so you know, here are some of the things I’m thinking of offering here and on my other blog:
  • Old cookbooks and recipe booklets
  • Fabric
  • Jewelry
  • Beads
  • Books I have loved and would like to share
  • Paper ephemera
  • Music I have loved and would like to share
  • Etc.
If there is interest in this I think it would make a neat series. Thanks for helping me out. I’ll feel better, knowing the things I’m giving away are going to people who will appreciate them, people I have some connection with. And you will have a story and a new thing to play with. Check back on Saturday here and here for the first offering.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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