The Secret Lives of Old Quilt Tops: Everyday Magic, Day 927

I find them irresistible: hand-sewn old quilt tops dreaming of a real  life, a little like the Velveteen Rabbit before someone loved him to death (and rebirth as a real rabbit). Although I don’t possess the super power of finding a parking spot on Massachusetts Street at lunch time, I do have a knack for glimpsing incomplete quilts hanging on the back of a folding chair in a thrift store, or slung over a clothes line at a yard sale. If they’re not moth-tattered to shreds (have plenty of those quilts already at home), the colors please me, and the price is right, I tell them, “you’re coming home with me.”

Years ago, I fell in love with a massive quilt of stars hand-sewn by an old woman at her garage sale. “It’s made from those cloth sacks flour and sugar came in,” she told me, teaching me how many staples used to come in very useful packages. She said she had made it one winter in the 1930s

when she was very depressed, and she didn’t want it around anymore. I happily paid her for it, and since then, it’s filled a wall in our home, reminding me how we’re always recycling one another’s stories and efforts. Also,  her dozens of six-pointed stars are, even if made in a time of doubt and despair, are to my eyes and faith, Jewish stars that remind me of community and spirit.

Six months ago, I found my latest adoptee in a massive thrift store — which recently absorbed an old Duckwalls (kind of like a Woolworths store but with more snow shovels for sale) — in downtown Council Grove, a thriving central Kansas town with a population of about 2,000. Council Grove is known for the Hays House, the oldest restaurant west of the Mississippi, purveyor of fine fried chicken, and the spot where Ken and I got engaged in three sentences: “You want to get married?” “Do you?” “Let’s order dessert.” We were back in Council Grove last summer on our way elsewhere because, fried chicken. After we rolled out of the restaurant, we wandered through the thrift store, and then I fell a little in love.

I tend to pick up quilts, look them over well, tell myself I have too many projects and put them back down, wander for 10 minutes, return and repeat the process a few more times, and if I’m smart enough at the moment, take the quilt to the register. Luckily, I was smart enough, and after some months of the quilt top sitting in a pile of other projects not getting anywhere fast, I made it to the fabric store for some backing, then set it all up for another season.

On Saturday, feeling just better enough from a virus to want to do something with fabric sporting the color pink, I sewed on the backing after a frustrating time of laying all the materials on the floor to line everything up before a cat or dog would pounce on it all. Sunday, after opting for the cheapest and easiest way to bind a quilt — with ties instead of quilting — I bought some matching embroidery thread. That night, between checking the Superbowl scores because I wanted my beloved stepdad’s team, Philadelphia, to win, and watching a quirky Australian film about a giant satellite dish and the first moon landing, I finished up the quilt.

Now this cheery quilt is lounging on our bed dreaming of something I can’t fathom. All I know is that someone cut out hundreds of yellow, green, and pink diamonds, then painstakingly sewed them together to make this star within a star, which is also her story within my story. I’m sleeping under the layers of someone else’s toil, troubles, hopes, and harvests. I can only wish that all who sewed these forgotten quilts are resting in peace, and that the  quilts they left behind know they’re found, loved, and giving people like me warmth, delight, and cover.

Miriam’s Well

Get your Copy of Miriam's Well: A Modern Day Exodus here.

A novel released on Passover (March 30) 2018, Ice Cube Press.

ISBN: 9781888160970, $21.99, 586 Pages (including recipes). Click here to get your copy (free shipping).

In this modern day retelling of the Exodus, Miriam wanders the political and spiritual desert of a changing America, torn between her roots as the Jewish daughter of a Black father and white mother, her yearning for home, and her brothers Aaron and Moses. Beginning in the middle of the 1965 New York City blackout, when stuck in the pitch-black subway somewhere in the East River, Miriam's family encounters a mysterious rabbi, who persuades the family to go to Israel where the family is caught in the 6-Day War. The losses from the war break apart the family, scattering Moses to western Kansas to live with evangelical Christians, Aaron to New York City to practice corporate law, and Miriam all over America. An astonishing cook and singer, Miriam has a knack for showing up to feed and help people at at landmark events, including People's Park during the Summer of Love, the Wounded Knee encampment in South Dakota, the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, the Oklahoma City terrorist attack, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. As she seeks the promised land, she shows her people, and eventually herself, how to turn the chaos and despair of our times into music, meals, and miracles.

See the Readers Guide here

The novel also includes over 35 pages of real recipes from the fictional cooking and baking Miriam does throughout the book, including delicious dishes from Nancy O'Connor's The Rolling Prairie Cookbook, Jayni and Frank Carey's The New Kansas Cookbook, Janet Majure's Recipes Worth Sharing, and Meg Heriford of the Ladybird Cafe.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's retelling of Exodus is a sprawling tapestry, woven of all the threads of a modern-day Miriam's ancestors, and her own present and future. From the Badagry Point of No Return and a sukkah in the Sinai Desert to a series of camps, communes, and cafes all across America, Miriam's Well delves into the mystery of how we find our place in the world, within our families, even within ourselves. ~ Bryn Greenwood, New York Times bestselling author of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

I fell in love with Miriam’s wisdom and her sweet engagements with the people she meets along her lush and vibrant travels. I was plunged to the depths of her nightmares, soared with her song, and emerged blessed to have made the journey with her. Miriam’s Well is the latest terrific book by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.  ~ Jocelyn Cullity, author of Amah & the Silk-Winged Pigeons

Miriam’s Well is truly a hearty feast, and a song of life’s bounty, of its “fragile miracle,” of its sorrows and its cycling, its joy, its mystery, its sorrows, its journeying. The vibrantly moving and compelling storytelling is immediate, intimate, and resounding; bringing us into a complex weaving of tales, told and untold, from the Biblical epic to the painful legacy of United States, which frame the story of one brave woman with an inexhaustible well of caring. Daughter, sister, lover, neighbor, friend, mother, Miriam is one extraordinary ordinary woman whose life is emblematic of our absolutely interdependent web of relationships, physical and metaphysical, over the seasons of a lifetime and the histories of our own time. In Mirriam-Goldberg’s rendering of the web of story that is Miriam’s, Aaron’s, Joseph’s, Moses’, and our own, we are brought into the gift of tenderness and compassion in heartening human response to our historical conundrums. The work is big hearted, embracing, and wonderfully embodies love’s plenty and the power and the beauty of the story, the song, the telling, to remember and transform us. ~ Gale Jackson, author of Put Your Hands on Your Hips and Act Like a Woman: Song, Dance, Black History and Poetics in Performance

Miriam’s Well is a page-turner that gently pulls the reader into the heroine’s quest while also chronicling the country’s cultural revolutions, gastronomic recipes, political causes, women’s communes, spirituality, the AIDS crisis, Oklahoma and Twin Tower terrorist attacks. A compelling writer, Mirriam-Goldberg’s Miriam’s Well captures a quintessential American story, its multitude of nations, of immigrants and indigenes, in the quest towards a meaningful national identity.  ~ Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka, Professor of Theatre, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Kansas

This startlingly insightful and quietly confrontational novel by poet Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg courageously inserts the biblical prophet Miriam into many of the most daunting and provocative ethical conflicts since the early 60's civil rights revolution, as though we are Israel after the Exodus from slavery and before the Promised Land. Mirriam-Goldberg’s story calls on readers to consider "Have I done enough?" and "What is it that the Lord requires of you?"  A surprising page turner featuring multiple plot twists and turns, the moral challenges and clarity deserve more than attention, they demand debate. Do yourself a favor and share it with friends. ~ Rabbi Mark H. Levin, author of Praying the Bible

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg brings back the charged days of the 1970's revolutions and their aftermath in the decades to come in her novel Miriam's Well. For those of us who lived through those times, the book is a reminder of their importance.” ~ Thomas Pecore Weso, author of Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir.

With this novel, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has extended her considerable poetic talents to the  narrative form, giving us sustenance for the body (her character's recipes) as well as inspiration for the spirit and the mind.  A masterful adaptation of Biblical wisdom to the challenges of the modern age, entertaining while informing all along the way.  And the storyline provides a marvelous overview of the cultural inflection points in 20th century American history along with an unforgettable character experiencing them.  This is one not to be missed!  ~ Mark Scheel, author of A Backward View: Stories and Poems

Podcasts & Videos

Kansas Public Radio Presents with Kaye McIntyre: Interview (see second podcast listed)

The Exodus, Midrash, and Miriam's Well: Podcast with Rabbi Mark Levin

Miriam's Well: A Modern Day Exodus

Finding the Promised Land in the Exodus of Our Times: Podcast with Rabbi Lori Wynters

Miriam and the New York City Blackout (excerpt from Chapter One)

Miriam's Well in the News

"Thoroughly Modern Miriam" by Jennifer Leeper in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle

Lawrence Magazine feature on Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (and click on + under image to make it bigger)

Eliza Gale's Interviews

Blog Posts

Recipes From (and For) the Journey

Making Stuff Up From Mrs. Potato Head to Eat the Earth

When Miriam Finishes Wandering the Desert

Please Help Me Find Cover Art for Miriam's Well

More

Miriam's Well newsletter special edition (with a great recipe for rugalach)

Miriam's Well Excerpt

See the Press Release Here

Book Tour!

Here's the list in progress of upcoming events that will take place over the 18 months of the book tour. Please visit my events page for details. All events are open to the public. Want me to come to your community? Please contact me here.

Nov. 15: Lawrence, Kansas - Special Event: Osher Institute, University of Kansas: 7 p.m.:  Sponsored by the Osher Institute, a reading, discussion, and reception featuring recipes from the book.

Dec. 11: Kansas City, MO - Read Local at the Plaza Library6:30 p.m. 4801 Main St., KCMO - reading and discussion of Miriam's Well.

March 14: Hutchinson, KS -  Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Hutchinson Community College: details tba.

March 21-22: Emporia, KS -  Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Emporia State University: details tba.

March 29: Springfield, N.J. - Reading at Sha'arey Shalom: evening., 78 S. Springfield Ave., Springfield, NJ.

Past Events:

April 28: Lawrence, Kansas -- Book Launch sponsored by the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, Lawrence Public Library, The Merc, and the Raven Bookstore.

June 23: Topeka, Kansas - Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash & Personal Mythology to Revision our Lives: 2-4 p.m., Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 SW 10th St., Topeka, KS. A writing workshop based on Miriam's Well to unearth, explore, and revise our life's myths. More here.

June 23: Topeka, Kansas - Miriam's Well Book Launch & Havdalah Service7 p.m., Temple Beth Sholom, 4200 SW Munson, Topeka, KS. Join us for a reading from Miriam's Well, short Havdalah service ( to welcome in the new week) and reception. More here.

June 30: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash & Personal Mythology to Revision Our Lives and Miriam's Well Reading10 a.m. Temple B'Nai Israel, 4901 N. Pennsylvania  Oklahoma City, OK 73112. Workshop and reading followed by lunch featuring recipes from Miriam's Well. More details here.

June 30: Wichita, Kansas - Miriam's Well ReadingWatermark Bookstore, 4 p.m., 4701 E. Douglas, Wichita, KS.

July 8: Prairie Village, Kansas - Miriam's Well Reading & Brunch:  Cafe Ohev at Temple Ohev Shalom,  5711 W. 75th St., Prairie Village, KS 66208. Brunch and a reading. More here.

July 13: Minneapolis, Minnesota - Miriam's Well Reading and Party: 7 p.m., Mojo Coffee Gallery -  2205 California St., Minneapolis, MN 5541. Reading with delectable treats made from the novel.

Aug. 3: Lincoln, Nebraska - Miriam's Well Reading and Reception5:30 p.m. at the Burkholder Project, 719 P Street
Haymarket District, Lincoln -- part of First Fridays.

Aug. 4: Lincoln, Nebraska - Miriam's Well Reading & Reception:  4:30 p.m., Francie & Finch Bookstore, 130 S. 13th Street, Lincoln -- featuring q & a, and a reception with recipes from the novel to try out.

Aug. 26: Overland Park, Kansas - Writing the Tree of Life workshop 11 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Jewish Community Center's Day of Discovery.

Sept. 6: Pittsburg, Kansas - Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Pittsburg State University,  8 p.m., Governor’s Rm of Overman Student Center, Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, KS.

Sept. 13: Topeka, Kansas - Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Washburn University. 4 p.m., Carole Chapel, 1840 SW College Blvd., Topeka.

Oct. 3: Kansas City - Miriam's Well KC Launch at Function Junction 5-8 p.m. featuring short readings from the novel at 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30. The event features Susan Hancock singing some of the songs Miriam sings and friends of Function Junction baking and cookies some of the recipes from the novel, plus there'll be wine and a 10% discount on Function Junction goods and Caryn's books.

Oct. 10: Burlington, Vermont - Miriam's Well Reading & Writing Midrash Workshop: 7 p.m., Congregation Ruach Hamaqom, a renewal movement synagogue, 168 Archibald St., Burlington.

Oct. 11: Montpelier, Vermont - Miriam's Well Reading 7 p.m., Kellogg Hubbard Library, 135 Main St., Montpelier, VT. Sponsored by the library, Temple Beth Jacob, and Bear Pond Books.

Oct.  21: Lawrence, Kansas - Writing Jewish SymposiumSponsored by Jewish Studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland, Lawrence, KS. part of a day-long symposium featuring Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Renee Perelmutter, and Rena Rossner, and recipes from Miriam's Well. More here.

Oct. 23: Atchison, Kansas - Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Benedictine College. 4 p.m., Gangel Seminar Room in Ferrell Learning Center, Benedictine College.

Oct. 27: Madison, Wisconsin - Miriam's Well Reading & Havdalah Service: 7:30 p.m., Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound St., Madison, WI. Please join us for a reading from Miriam's Well followed by a short Havdalah service (to  welcome in the new week) and reception. More here.

For Book Clubs

Would your book club like to read Miriam's Well? If so, just have your club buy six or more books (free shipping!), and Caryn will visit your club via video or phone conferencing or, if you're near where she is, in person. contact Caryn here. 

Losing and Finding My C’hai (Which is Not a Dala Horse): Everyday Magic, Day 915

At breakfast at the Swedish Country Inn in Lindsborg, Kansas, someone said she liked my tiny gold Dala horse necklace. It took me a moment to realize that the C’hai — the Jewish symbol for life, luck, the auspicious number 18, and also the Hebrew letter C’hai — looks just a little like the Swedish Dala horse, a symbol of Swedish hospitality. I explained the C’hai to her, then dug into some Swedish meatballs, pickled herring, and rye bread.

Ken and I having decided to spend some time in this charming town after a gig in  equally lovely Glasco, Kansas, where I got to see one of my favorite Dala horses in Lindsborg. Every few feet there seems to be another Dala horse painted in wild and artsy ways instead of in traditional red. As someone who loves language, even punctuation, talking on the phone, and the Dalai Lama, my Dala of choice is the Dala-Lama-Tele-Comma. I rode the mighty steed nowhere before we went for dinner.

A day later, back in Lawrence, I was taking off a scarf while driving and accidentally snapped my C’hai off its chain. I caught the C’hai, then had to decide where to put it until I got it home and could put it back on my necklace. I considered my pocket, but decided against it. Small objects that go there often end up in the laundry where they travel to a place beyond human contact, the island of self-liberated socks. So instead I put the C’hai in a plastic bottle cap on a flat surface in the car and drove on.

Once home, wouldn’t you know it? The C’hai (and bottle cap) were gone. I took apart the car, pulling out rugs, removing a great many cough drop wrappers and pencils from under seats, and searching in every nook and cranny I could find on the car floor, alternating which door I opened to see how far the C’hai had flown. With a video meeting for work looming, I eventually had to stop and go inside for an hour, but as soon as I was done, I went back to the car.

I was worried more than about losing the jewelry. My mom had given me this C’hai when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, and I’ve worn it almost all the time since then, a talisman remembering me to life in my mind. What would losing it mean? I told myself it was silly to think a vanished C’hai meant cancer would return, and perhaps I had arrived at the time when I no longer needed to wear the C’hai, but I also know my rationalization was as shaky as my magical thinking.

When I opened the passenger door, there, right on the floor and in plain sight, was the C’hai, having dropped out from a floor carpet I had shaken. A C’hai may not be a Dala horse, but it turns out to have its own legs.

An Expansive Kansas Road Trip in a Concise Time: Everyday Magic, Day 910

You can drive a long way in Kansas and never leave the state, like 340 miles west from my home to western Kansas, and still be a ways from a state border. That’s just what I did to give a Kansas Humanities Council talk on wild weather in poetry, photography and our lives at one of the great community jewels-of-a-library, Pioneer Memorial Library (astonishing array of programs for all ages, and even a coloring night!)

The trip was fueled by coffee, of course, plus, because I’m trying to give up my M&Ma-and-Cheetos road trip habits, an entire box of Nut Thins (don’t judge me), hummus, a perfect Pink Lady apple, and an over-ripe banana. Getting over a cold necessitated a lot of over-the-counter meds and turmeric interspersed with those great Ricola cough drops. Between miles 107 and 200, I believe pretzels were involved while blasting podcasts of “This American Life” or singing loudly to “Now I Have Everything” from Fiddler on the Roof.

The view from my hotel room

I love the open road, and there’s few better ways to experience it than to drive to western Kansas where the locals consider it a little jaunt to go 50 miles, and where the sky widens and deepens all directions. The traffic is often non-existent, and it’s easy to get lost in all that open space, speed, and splendor of sky. I also love western Kansas where my mind relaxes, and the air is brighter, cooler, and often clearer.

The downside of losing track of things is that, instead of remembering to fill my tank in Hays, I got too caught up a podcast about a prison nurse falling in love with an inmate. Just as my caffeine- and cold-medicine-induced panic was about to rise, I saw an exit leading to a clearly abandoned gas station. The sign had been hollowed out from years of wind, and the building’s windows were whitened from the inside to block out viewing. But something cialis no prescription next day told me to take the exit, where I found a red sign that said “Credit Card Pumps.” I pulled out my credit card, and took my chances. When the gas started flowing, I lifted my arms to thank the god of abandoned gas stations.

But then, when a person is lucky, that’s what expansive travel can be. “Ask and it shall be given” came true for me throughout this little jaunt, such as when I realized I desperately needed a bathroom, and lo and behold, a rest stop appeared, which I had never noticed in the 213 times over 30+ years I’ve done this drive before. Or dinner, which can be dicey in rural communities on occasion when the only restaurant open is a gas station that sells stale pizza. I lucked out with one of the best Midwestern official fried chicken dinner (which always includes mashed potatoes, corn, and a roll) at the Welcome Home cafe (dinner also included a superb salad and fruit bar).

Wanting to stretch my legs after filling my belly, I wandered near the restaurant, which was in a kind of antique-mall-meets-strip-mall-meets-car-dealership, and I came up to what we know in Kansas as Wheatus Jesus, the haunting billboard I’ve seen from 75 mph for years but never stood beside. It’s very impressive, and so is the big field nearby at sunset. Right there, for a reason I couldn’t fathom, there was platform overlooking the field, but the steps to it were blocked by big pots of cherry tomatoes in the middle of a sunflower forest. I was going to climb the stairs to the forbidden platform, but my first step in set off some growling creature, so I jumped back just in time to remove a bunch of sticktites.

Now I’m home, the miles behind me, and the quiet of home all around me. Once again I’m glad to be home, but I’m also glad to have gone.

Save the Humanities!: Everyday Magic, Day 894

Photo by Stephen Locke, used with permission

The kids were already in the front seats when I arrived at the Coffey County Library branch in Gridley, Kansas to present “Kansas Weather in Life, Literature, and Photography,” a Kansas Humanities Council (KHC) program. In this town of 341 people, the library is the place to be, and not just for kids. By the time I began, people aged 9 to 90 filled seats, ready to take in Kansas poetry and photography (via Stephen Locke) about how our extreme weather shapes our lives and builds our character. We also shared their stories of communities coming together in the face of wild storms, close calls, beautiful vistas, and what our weather tells us about who we all.

One of many KHC programs, Water/Ways focuses on the impact of water (and by extension, weather) on our history, traditions, daily lives, and in the face of climate change, our very future. Such programs also bring together communities, helping us find the essential dialogue, diversity, and unity that is the bedrock of democracy.

Now a wild storm is threatening all of America, especially far-flung rural areas where there is little to no funding for arts and humanities programs except from state humanities councils. With the current U.S. president calling for eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities, programs like the one I just did, that bring together people to share stories of hard-won wisdom and emerging visions, would vanish. As well, we would lose initiatives such as KHC’s “Migration Stories” on the experience of Africans in Midwestern communities, “Freedom of Speech in Kansas” on the importance of free speech,  “FLIKS” promoting short documentaries on unique stories in our state, a vibrant speaker’s bureau, a long-standing book discussion program that has reached people in every corner of the state, and the state poet laureate program (which is completely funded by private donors).

I’ve had the honor of being roving scholar with KHC since 1994, as a book discussion leader, speaker’s bureau presenter, and the 2009-13 Kansas poet laureate. Living in a 400-mile-wide state, I’ve rambled many miles to talk about everything from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God to David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars, books that give us intimate portraits of American history, from African-American communities in the Everglades in the 1920s (Huston), to Japanese-American communities before, during and after internment in the 1940s (Guterson). Such discussions help all of us grapple with our collective identity as Americans.

I’ve driven through snowstorms and ecstatic displays of lighting, up and down the Flint Hills by starlight, and across the high plains on startlingly bright mornings to meet Kansans of all ages eager to talk about what the humanities tell them of how to live with greater verve and meaning. In traveling far and wide to also talk about books with Jewish content, such as Alfred Kazin’s Walker in the City, I’ve shared traditions and history of my own faith, and by extension, participated in powerful interfaith dialogues about life and literature.

I’m a humanities scholar because I believe in face-to-face dialogue, community-building that includes many perspectives, and intergenerational exchanges about lessons learned or ahead of us. I love how humanities councils enable us to mek connections between urban and rural residents, and people of various faiths, ethnicities, and histories so that we can truly engage in forming “a more perfect union,” as stated in the preamble to our constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

To keep forming that more perfect union–along with safeguarding justice, tranquility, liberty, and yes, even prosperity–we must save the humanities, which provide us the gathering ground to more deeply understand our birthright along with ways to learn how to better be true to ourselves and our communities.

If you believe in the humanities–in other words, please contact your legislators today. Here’s a link to find contact information. And join us at humanities programs wherever you live: here’s a link to find your state humanities council. It’s so easy to tear down programs that give us greater vision, and so hard to build such programs. Let’s not lose what helps makes us more human.