Over the past week I have read some important books: The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor, re-read Love by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long, re-read Martin Rising by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, and Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz.
The themes of these books wash over me and taunt me. Will you be as brave and courageous as these characters and the writers and artists who created them?
This morning it seems like some kind of cosmic call to action that such racist comments were made by the President on the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. It is also my daughter’s golden birthday today, turning 12 on the 12th. She goes to her middle school 40 minutes early each day because she is afraid of the bullies who congregate at the…
With a few small changes to the previous year’s soup recipe, this is a repost from the end of last December…
I grew up in Michigan, with German heritage on each side of the family. Both of my grandmothers were good cooks and seemed to enjoy the process. I remember the wonderful aromas of “bread-baking day” at the home of my maternal grandma. My paternal grandmother occasionally offered foods that might not appeal to some children. Oyster stew, beef tongue and pickled herring come to mind. I liked two of those dishes, with the chewy beef tongue (no pun intended) being a definite “no.”
Although I enjoyed the stew with curly-edged oysters, I looked forward to herring the most. I remember a heavy crock so large that it barely fit into the refrigerator, where Grandma pickled her magic on those small, silvery fish. If memory serves me right, the end result was a light, creamy sauce, filled with thin rings of sliced onions and luscious, thick chunks of herring. Although I still have a few of her recipe cards tucked away in their hinged, wooden box, unfortunately, I don’t have that one. We ate it cold, on crackers, small rounds of pumpernickel bread, or on full-sized sandwiches.
My grandmother passed away just before Christmas when I was about ten. Every year after, my parents would buy a container of pickled herring at the market and we’d share it on New Year’s Eve. For years, I thought we just did that in memory of Grandma. Eventually, I learned that many people in Germany, along with other countries, often eat this delicacy at midnight as the year turns over, to help ensure a year of good luck and prosperity.
Another food for the holiday, black-eyed peas are displayed prominently on grocery store shelves these days. Although I’ve lived in North Carolina and now Texas, I had never tried this Southern staple that some people believe brings good fortune when eaten as the first meal of the New Year. The peas can be used in many different dishes, research showed, and I devised a recipe that works for me. The Texan variety is often seasoned with chili powder and hot sauce, but I came up with the following milder version in the form of a hearty soup:
Luck in a Soup Pot
Onion, shallot, scallion, leek, garlic, and celery (in any combination), sliced and sautéed in a deep pan.
Meat eaters, add bacon or ham (brown, or use pre-cooked).
Add approximately 4 cups of water and a bouillon cube (veggie or meat-flavored) to the pan. Adjust water for the amount of vegetables eventually used.
While that heats, chop a selection of greens: collard, mustard or turnip greens are traditionally Southern. I used what I had, which this year included cabbage.
Throw in the greens and any other soup vegetables you like. For color, I thinly sliced in a few carrots, and I also added several diced turnips. I seasoned with ground cumin and fenugreek, for my milder version. Bring it all back to a boil, then turn down to simmer until the veggies are tender.
I cooked my dried black-eyed peas ahead of time and added them into the soup pot near the very end to heat through. These “peas” are actually beans, a legume, and double as a protein and a vegetable, nutritionally. They’re also available fresh, canned and frozen.
If you like eggs, you might want to try a trick I learned a few years back with a clear-brothed spinach soup. Near the end of cooking, turn the heat back up and slide one egg at a time from a cup into the boiling mixture, spacing them out, a bit. They cook in place, much like a poached egg. Lift one out with a slotted spoon to check if they’re done.
Salt to taste. Serve with your favorite bread. Although cornbread may be most typical in the South, I plan to try it with pita, this year!
Wishing all of you a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2018!
“Are you there?” muttered the man into his pillow.
The sound wakened New Dog, who had been snoozing downstairs in his own resting place. Is he talkin’ to me?
Others had lived there with the man before New Dog’s time, but he didn’t know very much about them. He caught a whiff of First Dog on the carpet, every so often, and was sometimes tempted to chase his elusive shadow that dodged throughout the plants in the garden.
On occasion, New Dog sensed the essence of a woman moving through the house. She was always just beyond his reach when he tried to follow. These Others occasionally came up in conversation when his person talked and the dog’s ears stood at attention. The man referred to them as ‘Mr. Boo’ and ‘Sweetie Pie,’ but didn’t offer much detail. What was their story?
New Dog slept in a large crate that afforded a clear view of the eating and sitting areas. He had a comfy stuffed animal and stayed safe and warm, even as the cold winds dumped frosty white beyond the door.
A tree with little, sparkling lights had recently shown up in the sitting room, and his man had held up a stocking, stuffed almost to popping, that very night. “Tomorrow,” he had promised, with a smile.
Circling several times, New Dog rediscovered just the right spot and soon settled back into a steady pattern of breathing. The line between wakefulness and sleep turned to a blur.
What’s that? His head jerked up, and he watched another canine pass his crate on furry paws that didn’t seem to quite touch the floor. New Dog then realized that his own coat was almost the same dark shade as that of his predecessor.
First Dog kept moving, and he joined a hazy figure that appeared in the food room. He let out a quiet little “yip,” and the shadow of a woman threw him a treat. She smelled of flowers, and her smooth, dark hair was flecked with silver that shimmered in the slice of streetlight shining through a window.
Sweetie Pie? The woman’s voice was soothing and escaped into the air like music that had been silent for too long.
New Dog blinked and swiped at both eyes with his right paw. Are they really here? The misty figures still remained when his gaze returned. Maybe they’ll stay if I keep quiet. Dream or reality, he peeked at them, unmoving, from his prone position. The visitors continued their reunion of nuzzles and hugs.
After a while, his man walked down the stairs to join them, as the dancing snowflakes accelerated outside the window. Content, sleepy and cozy, New Dog had a front row seat to the movie of their used-to-be life. The couple loved and laughed. Bulbs twinkled merrily on the tree. First Dog barked and pranced. Lights on the tree became dim. The people began to argue and then cried. Their dog grew weary and still.
No… New Dog blocked out the sounds by covering his ears with front paws. Darkness overtook him.
When morning sunlight appeared, so did the solitary man, with promises of goodies from the stocking.
As soon as his crate door was opened, New Dog ran from one room to the next sniffing the floors. Not there. His man looked on in puzzlement. The dog returned to each room for another pass and searched in every corner. Gone !
He considered his options and strutted past the man holding the stocking. With no concern for lost treat potential, New Dog sidled up to the tree and peed on the trunk.
This is a great article about dedicated female librarians in the 1930s. The story originated at HistoryDaily.org and was reposted by Janet Rudolph at Mystery Fanfare. Not only is their story so interesting, but the pictures will take you back in time!
From History Daily…
In the 1930s, many people living in isolated communities had very little access to jobs, let alone a good education for their children. In Kentucky, they had isolated mountain communities which could only get their books and reading material from one source… librarians on horseback. Keep reading here!
I’m very thankful for the two local critique groups that I attend and always leave feeling renewed and inspired. One is a well-established combination of writers from all different genres. I lead the second one, which is a newer compilation of writers and illustrators for children’s literature. Each group meets in person monthly, and occasional digital critique swaps are also requested and take place in between our gatherings. Since I’ve been taking part and observing for some time, now, several aspects for effectiveness have jumped out at me and motivated the following suggestions:
*When commenting in writing or orally, try to start out with a positive, follow with suggestions, and possibly end with another positive, as time allows (“sandwich” approach)
*Point out specific sections of the pieces for examples whenever possible, instead of speaking in generalities
*Keep in mind “nerves” and any misgivingsyou may have had when you first joined the group, upon greeting new attendees
*When receiving feedback, try to listen to a member’s full comments before responding with an explanation of your thinking or reasoning (this can be difficult to do!)
*Share your successes AND your disappointments, which can help to form connections between members
*Offer critiques on a continuing basis, even during those times when your own work is not being shared
Am I ALWAYS successful in remembering to do each of these things? I admit that I’m not, but these are my goals, since I can see how these strategies work so well when implemented. Feel free to add comments with ideas you’ve found to be especially helpful in your own groups!
In the Midwest, the invigorating change of the seasons was often marked by melting or returning snows, reappearance or disappearance of greenery and flowers, along with changes in the patterns of wildlife visiting the yard. In Texas, transformations related to precipitation, flora and fauna are much more subtle to the non-scientific eye. For me, the main difference is whether or not I can comfortably open my windows. With a twenty degree drop in the temperature since yesterday, today is one of those marvelous days to open the windows wide.
This may sound like such a simple and even mundane act, but it’s an activity that many Texans, who are accustomed to such high temperatures, often seem to overlook. Indeed, many of the local apartment buildings, including my own, do not include window screens. That presents a choice to be made: leave the windows closed at all times, open them and risk unwanted flying visitors, or add some sort of protection. During my first autumn here, I remembered a type of free-standing window screen from childhood that opened like an accordion to fit various sized apertures. Where was my handy neighborhood hardware store when I needed it? Impatience had a hold on me, and ordering through the internet would have taken too long. Surprisingly, I found several at Wal-Mart, after sifting through a pile where many seemed to be damaged. I was on my way to opening my windows.
The next issue was how to make sure the new screens didn’t fall out onto those passing below, since their fit into the window opening isn’t exactly fool-proof. I found articles posted by individuals on the internet about just this topic, with suggestions that involved carpentry (not for me), Velcro, and removable adhesive putty. I went with a white version of the latter, since I was familiar with its easy and mess-free use from mounting things on my classroom walls as a former teacher. Just one little wad on each wooden end piece, while leaving my window closed a little farther than the height of the screens, and I secured them in place. Depending on the configuration of your windows, this may not be an air-tight fit, and you might still need to be on the lookout for small insects. I would certainly avoid these types of screens if I had a curious pet or young child.
Today’s cool breezes feel glorious. I can hear light traffic noises, occasional bird calls and distant voices. When opening the windows, we also put ourselves out there and share somewhat personal snippets of our lives, such as escaping cooking smells, voices, and the sounds of our favorite music, television program or current audio book.
The act of writing is a bit like opening windows. In sharing memoir and personal essays, we reveal our beliefs, feelings and memories to the world. Even in fiction, we raise the sashes that protect our personal experiences on which plots and characters are often based. We take a chance on rejection, disregard, or disagreement when opening ourselves up to the public, whether we share through a critique group, blog, website, self-publication, or if we publish in a traditional format. The potential rewards are many. Other writers and the public at large often embrace our written ideas and may offer helpful feedback, as well.
As writers, we should try to avoid being fearful of the results, take chances, and open our windows to the world beyond.
As a typical kid growing up in the 1950s, I collected the usual sorts of things, like pretty stones, smooth driftwood, multi-colored marbles, favorite books and treasured dolls. I wasn’t really much of a “pack rat,” though, and by the time I moved away from home the only parts of those collections that remained were a set of Trixie Belden mysteries and a few Barbie dolls.
As the years went by, the basis for my taste in collectible books remained much the same: heavy on the mystery and brimming with nostalgia. Most of the books I’ve sought out or have purchased after being pleasantly surprised by their appearance hold a connection to the past. When my life hit a U-turn a few years ago, and I was faced with downsizing from a house to a small apartment, my treasured book collection took a necessary but serious hit.
What remains is a selection of childhood chapter books, Golden Books related to memories but collected as an adult, author-signed novels, and a few vintage tomes that are too wonderful (and smelly) to ever discard. The largest set in the lot is my Dell Mystery Map Backs. As a child, I loved books that included illustrations of maps. Imagine my delight as an adult to discover these wonderfully “campy” mysteries with the great front cover art (although sometimes a bit lurid) and maps on the backs to match the stories. When moving day arrived, the only map backs I had parted with were a few duplicates.
Luckily my apartment has ample kitchen cupboard space, since my other main collecting activity has turned toward dinnerware, including Luray Pastels, Fiestaware, and Blue Willow. I really can’t bear to part with most of the pieces, since they were handed down to me from my grandmothers, mother, and several aunts.
The delicate scrollwork and pastel tones of the pink, blue, yellow and green Luray originated in West Virginia, near the Luray Caverns, from 1938-1961 and were made by Taylor, Smith, and Taylor Company. The set I now have once belonged to my mother’s older sister, and they often make me think of our homes in Michigan. The only piece that I use daily is the yellow salt shaker, and my favorite example that’s on display is the blue teapot. For a period of time, light gray additions were also produced, but never caught on in popularity and were then dropped. Pieces in that color are now highly collectible, and I’m happy to say that I hung on to the gray Luray platter that I bought “for a song” some years back.
Although Fiestaware, which is produced by the Homer Laughlin China Company, also of West Virginia, was introduced in 1936, my pieces are not in the realm of vintage, unless that includes a set purchased through the J.C. Penney catalog in the 1990s. I had admired these colorful, sturdy dishes at the homes of friends as a child, and when I had the chance to purchase dinnerware of my own they seemed like the logical choice. Fiestaware is available in a wide range of colors, and my set is composed of deep pastels, including turquoise. Over time, I’ve also added select pieces in red to be used as serving dishes. I often make use of the small plates and bowls while “cooking for one” and display the reds in my Hoosier-type cabinet in the fall and around the holidays.
Willow is an elaborate design that has been used on kitchen ware for hundreds of years and probably got its start as Spode transferware. Various colors have been used, and mine is all of the popular blue variety. The lovely scenes that are depicted include detailed buildings, gardens, bridges, and figures, which found their inspiration in wares that originated in China. Various companies appear to use these patterns, and my wide assortment came from both grandmothers, my father’s oldest sister and my mother. They all remembered that I had expressed an interest in those dishes as a child, and that fact makes me treasure them even more. I sometimes use the small bowls or plates and regularly display my favorites. The patterns vary and several that really catch my eye are the ones made in Holland that include camels in their designs.
No matter which type of collecting, my favorite objects will always be those that invoke a memory of the past or the air of childhood. If you were to ask my grandchildren about what I collect, they would probably say “roosters,” and I admit that quite a few of them in various incarnations do reside in my kitchen. Although only a few of them are connected to childhood, like my mother’s egg cups, I’ve had most of them for years. If the roosters could talk, they would tell stories about the history of my former life and marriage, including observations on all of the interesting kitchen renovations where they have “lived.”
As far as the Trixie Belden books and Barbie dolls that I took away from my childhood home as a newly minted adult, I still have them. The pages are somewhat discolored and brittle. The words and pictures still carry a type of intrigue and predictable comfort that I hope to instill in my own writing for children. Barbie and Ken make a curious couple, with his right arm missing and her bouffant hair somewhat worn off from the back of her head. They’re still smiling, though, after all these years.