Guided by Magic: how it begins

Chapter 1


            I never told anyone that I saw the Grassman steal our baby.  I was four years old, minding my newborn baby sister, Toola.  Mam had set Toola in a basket in the sun.

            “Keep the baby quiet, Sada,” Mam said. “Don’t let her holler.” 

She went into the cottage to gather the washing.

            The day was fine, bright and sunny, and I closed my eyes while I leaned on the porch rail.  It was a rare moment that I wasn’t doing some chore or other, like picking burrs out of my brothers’ socks, or carding wool for Mam to spin. 

A shadow fell across my eyelids.  I opened one eye just a slit and saw a small green man carrying a bundle.  He was hurrying along the neighbor’s wall.  Jumping down, he tiptoed up to Toola’s basket.  He set down his burden, and peered at Toola asleep in her blankets.  Then he leaned over and pinched her cheek between a long green finger and thumb.

             “That’s my sister,” I said.  

            “Oooh, yes, that’s so!  And a fine wee worka girly she is, too.  We Grassmen be making a trade today–a girly for a girly,” said the green man.  He bent down with his arms outstretched.

            “Leave her alone!”

            “Hush, little worka girl,” the green man said.

            “Mam! Mam!”  I called out.  I didn’t know if I should run for my mother or stay with Toola.

            “Oh, too bad!” said the green man.  “The noisy little worka girl must have the sneezie powder.” 

The man reached into his pocket and threw dust in my face.  In an instant, I started to sneeze and sneeze.  My eyes watered and my throat burned.  I ran blindly into the cottage. I felt my way to the water cask, rinsing my eyes and mouth over and over until the pain and the sneezes subsided.  

Out at the back of the house, with her hands in a basin of sloshing suds, Mam had heard nothing.  I blundered my way to the wash table, blubbering and wiping my eyes.

“Toola!  Toola!”  I wailed.

“What is it, Sada?” Mam scowled.  “I’m over my elbows in work here.” She pushed hair off her forehead and left a scum of soap instead.

When at last Mam believed my desperation and followed me to the front porch, the green man was gone.  In Toola’s basket lay a different baby, all pale skin and spun glass hair.  She smiled and waved her little fists. 

Mam’s face looked shocked, then furious.  I was ready to run, thinking she would knock me into next week, but she didn’t.  A dazed smile came to her lips. As Mam lifted the infant out of the basket, a strange and lovely fragrance filled the air. I breathed in the scents of cinnamon and apples, and new-cut hay.

“Well, well, what have we here?” my mother cooed, in a gentle voice I’d certainly never heard.  “Such a pretty little thing.”

“What about Toola?” I asked.         

“Toola?  Aye, but the babe is here, is she not?” Mam said. 

“That’s not Toola,” I said.

My mother nuzzled the baby’s neck, breathing in deeply.  “ A little apple dumpling, you are,” she murmured, and put the baby to her breast.

And that is how my sister got her first name–Apple.  

Guided by Magic is the second book in the Karakesh Chronicles. Sada sets out to find her changeling sister (Apple) who was abandoned in the forest by their father when Sada was eleven years old. While searching, Sada rides with Travelers, spends time in a witch’s house, and deals with slave traders. Does she find her sister?

Guided by Magic and the rest of the Karakesh Chronicles are available at


Giving Thanks

On this Thanksgiving Day in this strange pandemic year, I send out gratitude to all of you in the world who read and subscribe to the tangledmagic blog.

I’m grateful, too, for the peculiar freedom the blog provides me.  It offers a place where I can share my poems, my thoughts, and my memories without the kind of organization and pressure of a regular publishing process.

So thank you all.  May you have safe, happy holidays, and may we all see a better, healthier 2021.

In appreciation,


Six a.m.

Photo by Erik Mclean on

A man goes to work in the dark.

Halogen headlights cold and dim

He sits behind the wheel

fiddling with what

I can’t see

Cell phone?


How I remember

those dark mornings

staggering across a frosted driveway

still cocooned in a fragment of dream

grateful for the half hour commute,

time to assemble

How I sped through

the morning routine:

yoga, meditation, shower,

breakfast, making lunch.

I grabbed my school bag,

left before 7.

Now I peer out at the car

below my window

where the man shuffles and settles

I hear the motor hum

Sense the resigned breath he takes

as he shifts

into drive.

Dementia: Laugh or Cry?

Sometimes caregiving for a person with dementia becomes so difficult and absurd that the only possible response is— laugh.

Yesterday, I was cleaning out files.  The box of paper to be recycled was overflowing.  My husband wandered upstairs to check in. 

“Can I do anything to help you?” he asked, as he often does.  (I am blessed with a sweet-tempered, cooperative demented person, not like some caregivers who deal with belligerence.)

“Well, yes,” I answered.  “I need a large garbage bag for these papers.”

“Where are the bags?” he asked.  (Are you paying attention?  Most spouses would know where to find the garbage bags.)

I told him, “In the cabinet to the left of the sink.  They’re in a box under the medium sized bags.”  I illustrated the size spreading my arms.  “About this big.”

He turned to go on his errand.  Stopped.  “What am I getting?”

“A large garbage bag.”

“Where are they?”

I told him again. (By this time, I’m already thinking I should go get the bag myself.  But he wants so badly to be helpful.)

He made little grunts as he went downstairs–his arthritic knees complaining.

He was gone a while.  I moved on to thinning out the notes pinned to my bulletin board.

He came back holding—

three packages of snacks!!

Chip Ahoys.  Cheddar rice cakes.  Fig Newtons.

“Is this what you wanted?” he asked.

I looked at the snacks.  I looked at his face.  This dear man, who tries so hard, who vehemently denies his condition. (“I don’t believe it,” he says.)

What could I do?  I laughed and hugged him hard and long.

Then I took the snacks and went downstairs to get the garbage bag.

Caregiving is challenging. That’s why I value my caregiver group.  We Zoom twice a month.  These are the women who understand.  Who often can offer resources to assist with a problem. 

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

Here are two excellent resources for caregivers:

Ulster County Office for the Aging  845-340-3456

1003 Development Court, Kingston, NY 12401

Alzheimer’s Association


Everything I Cannot Bear Is Here

Photo by cottonbro on

                        inspired by Letter Home by Pamela Alexander

Everything I cannot bear is here:

1) Clutter: half-filled cardboard boxes, labeled: kitchen, art supplies, obsolete electronics, books, books, books

2) Too much company but no help

3) Stupid stuff that we keep but never use: last decade’s prescription glasses, your mother’s junk jewelry, Spanish pesos in a cloth bag, adapter plugs from Southeast Asia

4) Disorder: desk strewn with papers, notes, a motion light needing batteries

5) Unfinished projects on the sewing machine, on the daybed, on the laptop

6) Fear of icy driveways, isolation, power outages, falling, wrong choices

Musings on Silence and Hearing Loss

Photo by Pixabay on

Exactly ten years ago, I gave in to hearing aids.  At the time, the main reason was that I would be working with adult teachers of writing during the summer.  I knew from experience that adults were often shy about reading their work aloud. Without technological help, I would miss their muttered words. 

            Anticipating this trouble, I went to a local hearing aid center and invested in hearing aids.  These devices are expensive.  I pulled out my credit card because I was weary of straining to hear.

            Now, a decade later, my hearing has deteriorated.  It’s not a matter of increasing the volume anymore.  The actual words themselves are often unintelligible.  This is typical of aging ears.  The high sounds required for hearing consonants are no longer detectable.  Even if there is no other impediment, such as ambient noise, I still can’t make out the words. With this new problem, I was depending more and more on reading speech and facial expressions.  Then—enter COVID-19 and face masks.

            The impact of social distancing and face masks on seniors is a hot topic among those of us in our “golden years.”  The masks muffle voices and cover up the mouth that I watch for cues. Facial expressions are limited to forehead and eyes.  Often, I get tired of asking the speaker to repeat. I just keep nodding my head.

            For me, losing the clarity of sound is sad, and sometimes it worries me.  I mourn that I no longer hear the subtle night sounds.  Without my hearing aids, I can’t hear the owls call at night, or raindrops outside the window.  What if someone rings the doorbell?  What if there is an emergency—someone screaming for help?  I would sleep on, hearing only the low, continuous shooshing of my tinnitus.

            Coincidentally, this afternoon I heard a Ted Talk on public radio.  The speaker, Rebecca Knill, was a woman who had been born profoundly deaf, and had eventually, in 2003, received cochlear implants.  She spoke about how much she enjoys silence.  She looks forward to coming home after work and “unplugging” her ears.  “Complete silence is very addictive,” she says.

            Thinking about how silence is for me, I recalled this poem by Leonard Cohen:


            You tell me that silence

            is nearer to peace than poems

            but if for my gift

            I brought you silence

            (for I know silence)

            you would say

            This is not silence

            this is another poem

            and you would hand it back to me.

            I’m not quite sure how this kind of silence relates to physiological deafness.  Maybe it’s about the choice.  Knill chooses silence by unplugging herself.  There are times I’d like to hear when I can’t.  But there are also times I choose and prefer silence.  However, my experience of silence is not the same as the silence of the profoundly deaf.  My “silence” is more like listening to a white noise machine, due to the tinnitus. 

One thing I know for sure: the corona virus has impacted my ability to hear and my interactions with others.  Just one more COVID consequence.

What Were You Thinking?

“What were you thinking?” he said.

And I sprang a memory leak.

All those times he accused me in public.

“Why are you wearing that?”

“That’s not how to paint a wall.”

“What were you thinking?” he said.

And I told him.

A bench there.

A shoe shelf.

A place for coats.

“What were you thinking?” he said.


In front of the others.

Three times is not a question.

“What were you thinking?”

Unlocked the door between us

that has kept the peace

all these years since.

An open door for memories

to rush in.

That old familiar cringe.

“What were you thinking?”

woke me angry at 2:36 a.m.

But I am not in then,

I am in now.

And in this now,

I speak up loud today.

I say I won’t.

I say you can’t.

I say no.


Math, Patterns, and Quilts

This morning, I happened upon this video on Youtube. Generally, I am not mathematically inclined, but this discussion of infinite patterns fascinated me. Some of the language went way over my head, however, I loved how the golden mean (1.618…) appeared in the patterns. The golden mean is the proportion that shows up in famous works of art.

I am a quilter and quilters work with patterns. Most often, we sew together simple geometric shapes like squares, triangles, and rectangles to create larger designs. Circles and curves are trickier, and I’ve only attempted one quilt that involved those.

The underlying connections in the world, the spirals of shells and leaves, the snow crystals, the frost on windows, delight me when their structures are revealed.

The video about infinite patterns got me wondering if I could cut a template for dart and kite shapes, and make a quilt with an infinite pattern. This might be a recipe for insanity. I’ll think about it.

My most recent quilt: a chain.