Happy Birthday, Eric Carle

In honor of renowned children’s book author-illustrator Eric Carle, born June 25, 1929, I offer my homage to his classic “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”:

The Very Busy Manager

There was once a very busy children’s librarian. She sang songs and performed fingerplays. She visited schools, told stories and promoted Summer Reading. She did the hoky-poky and turned herself around and, when the opportunity arose, she spread her fairy wings and became a manager.

On Monday, the toilet overflowed. She called Facilities and left work at 5:05 p.m.

On Tuesday, she held a staff meeting. She got in early at 7:30 a.m. to prepare.

On Wednesday, The Friends of the Library book sale ran until 6 p.m. and made $251.25.

On Thursday, she attended the Library Board Meeting. The Board debated polices until 9 p.m. before deferring the vote for one month.

On Friday, the Union filed a Grievance. She brought the contract and files home with her and read in bed until midnight.

On Saturday, she had one lost preschooler, two staff absences, three roof leaks in the 300’s, four incidents of vandalism or theft, five teenagers arguing until the police were called and six broken machines: a clock with a run-down battery; an overheated electric pencil sharpener; downed telephones; glitchy circulation scanners; a photocopier paper jam; disrupted internet; and a crashed server. That night she had a glass of wine and went to bed early.

On Sunday, the Library was closed. (It was Summer.)

On Monday, the sun shone brightly. The computers and plumbing worked; a Board member brought flowers; a patron wrote a thank you note; she amicably shook hands with the Union representative over coffee; and a college student came back to show his A+ paper.

She realized she wasn’t a very busy children’s librarian anymore. She was a very busy manager! But as she sipped her coffee and reread the thank you note, she remembered the student’s A+ paper. She was a very proud Librarian.

carle caterpillar


Eric Carle biography.

The Official Eric Carle website with Very Hungry Caterpillar coloring page.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

A video interview with Eric Carle from Reading Rockets.

Too cute! The Very Hungry Caterpillar children’s birthday party planner from Pottery Barn Kids. Check out the lantern and recipes.


“The Very Busy Manager” was originally published in July 2010 in the Vol. 7, Number 7 issue of Library Worklife e-journal. Copyright by the author.

Image: Cover to Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Promotional usage constitutes Fair Use.


John the Baptist’s Sunburn-Soothing, Fairy-Dispelling Plant

St. John’s Wort is named for John the Baptist: the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist occurs on June 24, and it is now, in mid/late June that Hypericum perforatum is in full bloom.


The Nativity of John the Baptist is noted on this date because, according to the Annunciation of the Angel to the Virgin Mary which is celebrated on March 25, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth “has herself conceived a a son . . . [and she] . . . is now in her sixth month.” Nine months being the standard pregnancy term, voila St. John’s Birthday is set three months later in June. (Or six months before Christ’s birth at Christmas, if you prefer).

St. John’s Day is also associated with the summer solstice, which has recently passed on June 21. From now until the winter solstice on December 21 (for those of us in the Northern hemisphere), the days get shorter; there is a little less sunlight each day. So too, when John’s disciples asked him if he was jealous of Christ’s ascendancy, John famously replied, “He must increase and I must decrease.” The sunlight of John the Baptist is decreasing as we prepare for the coming of light into the world with the Nativity of Christ which follows a few days after the winter solstice.

St. John’s Day is a public holiday in Quebec, Canada (St. Jean-Baptiste Day). The Eve of St. John the Baptist was often celebrated throughout Europe with bonfires. Wikipedia has three whole pages devoted to this midsummer celebration—one for the evening festival with customs across the globe, another for the daytime revelries, and a third for the Canadian legal holiday. It was an ideal day for picking herbs . . . including St. John’s Wort.

st jhn wort2

St. John’s Wort is a hardy perennial native to Europe and Western Asia, now naturalized in North America, known for clusters of five-petalled scented yellow flowers. The flowers, mixed with alum, make a yellow dye for wool, or when mixed with alcohol, yield a violet-red silk dye.

St. John’s Wort may not be a miracle herb, but it is close. Ancient Greek herbalists and medieval apothecaries used it to dress wounds and salve sword cuts. Like arnica, in lotion or infusion form, it eases bruises and sprains, especially those accompanied by swelling, and may also be used to treat varicose veins. Like aloe, a macerated oil of St. John’s Wort soothes sunburn.

Its most famous use is as an herbal anti-anxiety or anti-depressant. Once only available in natural food and herb stores, now most chain drug stores carry capsules of St. John’s Wort in their vitamins and supplements aisle. Any readers suffering from depression should of course first consult their physician and seek professional medical advice. From my own experience, St. John’s Wort helps elevate the mood if somewhat downcast, but is ineffective in addressing more serious psychological malaise.  St. John’s Wort often causes hyper-sensitivity to the sun, so wear sunscreen if taking it.

Folklore concerning St. John’s Wart is numerous. Pre-Christian pagans used it to cleanse rooms and drive away evil spirits. Anna Kruger, in her book An Illustrated Guide to Herbs: Their Medicine and Magic calls it “an herbal exorcist.”  After the coming of Christianity to Europe, the plant was believed to bleed on the anniversary of the Beheading of John the Baptist, commonly observed on August 29. Although its flowers are yellow, when crushed, they appear to ‘bleed’ red.

Natives to the Isle of Wight believed stepping on the plant at dusk would result in a terrifying overnight ride on the back of a fairy horse. Alternately, noted fairy folklorist Katherine Briggs cites St. John’s Wort as an herb, like the four-leafed clover, which can dispel the glamours of fairies as well as spells of evil spirits.

Someday I’ll grow this versatile plant in my own backyard herb garden. But I wonder, will it disperse the fairies from my yard? Or merely enable me to see them better?



St. John and the Annunciation: Luke 1:36

“He must increase; I must decrease”: John 3:30.

General info and folkloric references: Kruger, Anna. An Illustrated Guide to Herbs: Their Medicine and Magic.  U.S./Great Britain: Dragon’s World. 1993.  (This book is based in part on Maud Grieve’s A Modern Herbal, 1931, Penguin 1980).

Medicinal reference: Bremmes, Lesley. The Complete Book of Herbs: A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs. N.Y. Viking Penguin, Dorling Kindersley, 1988. (Out of print. Sorry).

Invaluable fairy-folklore resource: Briggs, Katharine. An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. N.Y.: Pantheon, 1976.


Extra: Gardening with St. John’s wort: advice from Fine Gardening Magazine.

Note: This information is presented for entertainment purposes only.

Please consult your doctor for all medical conditions.  

Photo credits: Upper: Joshua Mayer through Flickr/Creative Commons

Middle: B. Vasily through Flickr/Creative Comons

The Cuckoo Song


Sumer is ycomen in,

Loude sing cuckou!

Groweth seed and bloweth meed,

And springth the wode now.

Sing cuckou!

Ewe bleteth after lamb,

Loweth after calve cow,

Bulloc sterteth, bucke verteth,

Merye sing cuckou!

Cuckou, cuckou,

Wel singest thou cuckou:

Ne swik thou never now!

–Middle English, anonymous

Summer has come in;

The cuckoo sings loudly!

Seeds grow and the meadow blossoms.

The wood springs new.

Sing cuckoo!


The ewe bleats after her lamb.

The cow lows after her calf.

The young bull leaps; the buck darts.

Merrily sings the cuckoo!

Cuckoo, cuckoo

Well do you sing,

Never stop singing.

Inexpertly translated by author from notes in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 1


For Further Reading

An in-depth discussion on translation/meaning/interpretation (from people who have too much time on their hands, or far more interest and knowledge than I.)

Listen to the sound of a cuckoo.

Cuckoo facts.

Cuckooland Museum, a museum about cuckoo clocks.

Word meanings: Cukoo, cuckold, and kooky.

Note: the cuckoo is like the American red-breast robin, a token of Spring, arriving and singing in the British isles around April.  “Sumer” may as equally refer to Spring as well as Summer, just as in America, summer ‘starts’ on Memorial Day weekend before its official calendar and astronomical date.

Picture credit: From Creative Commons Europeana collection, from a manuscript in the National Library of Netherlands, circa 1350.

Irish Books and the World’s First Copyright Case

KellsFol027v4Evang book of kellsSt. Columba loved books. When he journeyed to the tomb of St. Martin of Tours, he brought back as a relic a gospel book which had lain with St. Martin for over one hundred years. And if you’ve ever seen the great Book of Kells, housed in Trinity College, Dublin, with its intricate Celtic knotwork, stunning details of the four evangelists, tiny images of creative genius—funny faces, stretching animals, two mice sharing a communion wafer—who could blame him for his love of books, especially those made with the superb craftsmanship of the Irish monks? A sister text, since lost to history, The Book of Kildare, was described by 12th century geographer Gerald of Wales as being so beautiful that it must have been “the work of an angel.” In those days, monasteries were publishing houses. St. Columba founded dozens of monasteries, including one at Kells.

At that time, books were hand-written, almost exclusively by monks, and unlike the hyper-pious continent, which tended to destroy anything un-Christian, Irish monasteries collected pagan Greek and Latin literature, which very well otherwise might have been lost forever. Voracious readers and scholars, the Irish collected it all.  Books were most frequently copied onto parchment, made of dried sheepskin, and in Ireland, sheep were (and are!) abundant.  Indeed, the shape of the modern book, more tall than wide, was based on the size of sheepskin.  The most important books were copied onto white Vellum, made from the calf.

Books—one book, a holy book—were St. Columba’s downfall. He coveted. He envied. He desired his master’s psalter. He had no Kinko’s, no Staples superstore, no recourse to Amazon.com to order another copy. He did it the old fashioned way, borrowing the book from his mentor St. Finian and copying page by page, night after night, until he had his own copy.

Perhaps he should have asked. (Perhaps he had asked and had been refused.) Either way, St. Finian considered it theft and appealed to King Diarmait.  King Diarmait thus considered the first copyright case in history. His ruling is famous: “To every cow her calf; to every book is copy.” As a child belongs with her parents (excepting abuse), a calf belongs to its cow, and a copy of a book is retained by the one who owns the original.

Long story short, an accidental killing led to war, some say at St. Columba’s urging, between Columba’s clan (not the churchmen; the tribe from which he came, the Ui Neills, whom today we would call O’Neills) and King Diarmait.  Columba beseeched God on behalf of his people while Finian prayed for the King who granted legal judgment in his favor.  Over one thousand warriors died in battle. For his penance, St. Columba exiled himself from his beloved Eire, travelled to Scotland, and founded the noted community at Iona, which flourished for centuries. In his travels through Scotland, reportedly he drove away the Loch Ness Monster with the sign of the cross. A few centuries later, in 804, monks from Iona fled to Kells for protection from raiding Vikings. The Book of Kells was probably created in Iona and taken to Kells for safety.

St. Columba, lover of books, founder of monasteries, died June 9, 597 and his feast day is celebrated on June 9.  The Scottish name Malcolm (Máel Coluim) means disciple or servant of Columba. He is also associated with a monastic rule (including this piece of good advice: “constant prayers for those who trouble thee”) and two or three Latin poems or hymns. Along with Patrick and Brigid, he is part of the triumvirate of patron saints of Ireland.

Oh, and that whole war bit above: probably, or at least possibly, a legend. Other sources claim the love of spreading God’s message of good news, and not a penance for untimely deaths, led Columba to Iona. But it makes a good story.

If you can’t found a monastery, write a poem, or banish a monster today, honor St. Columba by respecting copyright.  For one day at least, avoid pirated DVDs and illegally copied music, cite your sources, and practice MLA style.

For further interest

The Book of Kells online, from Trinity College, Dublin.

 Awesome video about The Book of Kells (with a wee bit about St. Columba). Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6Part 7. (Imperfectly edited but otherwise well done.)

The Iona Community is an ecumenical Christian community located in Iona, Scotland, which works for peace and social justice, rebuilding community, and renewing worship. Their symbol, the Wild Goose, is a Celtic symbol representing the Holy Spirit.

Closer to home in Southbridge, MA is St. Columba of Iona Orthodox monastery. Anyone want to take a pilgrimage with me?

Register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright office. . . just teasing. You know you don’t have to do this, right?Copyright exists from the moment the work is created” (from their website). For the dedicated, their article on Registration For Online Works is worth a glance.

St. Columba and the Loch Ness Monster info.

References  (I did not follow MLA style in writing this blog.)

Irish monastery libraries and the making of books (p. 158-168) and St. Columba’s copyright war (p.169-171) in Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization. NY: Doubleday, 1995.

Another view of events preceding St. Columba’s pilgrimage to Scotland from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

An objective/scholarly print source: Johnston, William M., ed. Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Vol. 1 A-L.  Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000. p. 319-321,

More details about St. Columba from Orthodoxwiki.

Photo credit: The Book of Kells folio 27v Symbols of the Four Evangelists, from Wikipedia Commons.

Note: Do not confuse St. Columba ( also called Columcille) with his disciple, Columbanus.

A Bird in the Hand . . .

Glendalough 001I was sick for much of the Spring, and now that the deck furniture has been taken out and scrubbed, we are feeling the first true heat of the summer, too warm to do my writing outdoors, too bright to see the screen of my laptop.

Still, I like the idea of writing outdoors, even if I can’t quite manage it myself.

An anonymous Irish monk liked it too, inscribing a brief poem written in old Irish on the margins of the Latin grammar text he was copying:

A hedge of trees surrounds me, a blackbird’s lay sings to me, praise I shall not conceal.

Above my lined book the trilling of the birds sings to me.

A clear-voiced cuckoo sings to me in a grey cloak from the tops of bushes,

. . . well do I write under the greenwood.

The blackbird brings to mind St. Kevin of Glendalough (not the author of this poem). He was said to be so calm and peaceful in prayer that a blackbird lit upon his outstretched arm like the branches of a tree. The bird laid a nest in his palm and for all of Lent, Kevin remained still in prayer. The bird fed him nuts and berries, and the eggs hatched by Easter.

Behind my house, the crows carouse, rowdy as teenagers, cawing their gossip in the tall tree all afternoon.  The sparrows in my garden peck insects from rich soil and take refreshment in my sprinkler, flitting jumpily at the rattle of my hand on the doorknob as I look outside.

My thoughts are crows and sparrows, cawing noisily, flitting restlessly.

How much inner peace does it take to quiet a crow? How much reassurance calms a sparrow? How much patience guards a nest from egg to hatchling? I have none of these gifts.

I have a laptop and a spare bedroom overlooking the back yard where I write and pray. This time of year, thick leafy veils nearly obscure my neighbors’ houses, offering my suburban home the illusion of countryside, an indoor glen.

I can offer you well wishes:

May your writing be green and fertile.

May your prayers be deep and focused.

May your thoughts be calm.

May your life yield compassion to blackbirds and all of God’s children.

St Kevin

For Further Interest

More about St. Kevin, from the Glendalough Hermitage Centre in Ireland.

St. Kevin’s Day info.

Another blackbird tale, by Lord Dunsany, available through Sacred Texts online.

The monk’s poem quoted above: “The Scribe In The Woods” in Davies, Oliver & Fiona Bowie, ed. Celtic Christian Spirituality: An Anthology of Medieval and Modern Sources. N.Y.: Continuum, 1995, p. 29. Available through Amazon (a different edition than my own).

Photo Credits

Above: Glendalough, Ireland, 2003. By the author.

Middle: Postcard of St. Kevin purchased in the Glendalough gift shop.

Second Singlehood: a tale of Divorce

My apologies for my hiatus. After some annoying sickness and minor surgery this spring, I’m doing great and back to writing.

To tide you over until my next post, please visit Transient Magazine to see their Winter 2012 issue and read my personal essay “Second Singlehood” (p. 28) to learn of the unexpected travails of becoming divorced.

CJ pool wedding 004

One of my favorite wedding photos, even if not technically the best. All rights reserved. No reproductions. My hair is messy and I’m tired. Contacts are out and I’m wearing my flats. But we had fun.