The Artist’s Corner – Talking Poetry With Poet Carrie Tangenberg, Part 2

Welcome back to The Artist’s Corner for the second portion of my interview with poet Carrie Tangenberg.  Today, we’ll continue with Carrie’s amazing insight into poetry as well as enjoy one of her original poems.

Why is poetry important?

A literary question for the ages. I can only look through my biased poet’s lens, but I think it’s valuable not just because academia tells us it is.

For me:  Poetry gave me a way to express myself early in life that did not demand absolute clarity or lots of text. I could write what I felt or wanted to feel. I could focus on rhythm and the sounds of words. It didn’t have to make sense to anyone but me, and even then, it took me a long time to be so kind to myself. I used to be quite experimental, moving from puns to invented words and concepts, creating sense out of nonsense. Poetry lets me stretch linguistic connections, explore different word combinations and uses of any given word or phrase, and discover new routes to meaning and beauty.

In general:  Poetry offers a shortcut to evoking reader emotion, making us feel deeply, recalling our humanity. Poems explore, celebrate, articulate, and enhance life, death, love, art, nature, and human connection. Poems invite different ways of seeing everyday things, different ways of thinking about life. Poetry is lyrical, musical, rhythmic, with creative phrase order, language use, lines, and “paragraphs.” Poems present puzzles and riddles to solve and enigmas to wonder at. Poetry can add a touch of class, beauty, spirit, weight, or emotion to more logical or pragmatic ceremonies, presentations, and texts.

Poetry can be challenging, not lying down easily before you just because you showed up to read it. It makes you work by being in stanzas and by making readers pay attention to details to gain meaning. It’s a useful form to renew our concentration abilities, recovering them from Tweet and sound bite, back toward longer literary forms. Among literary modes, poetry pre-dates the novel, the news article, and the textbook. It has longevity. Poetry lets readers and writers approach the depths of meaning to find a way to shine a light and share. Poetry offers greater variety of form than fiction or non-fiction does. It is a diamond of many faces. Poetry offers a niche to fit into when your work or interests don’t fit neatly anywhere else. For instance, poetry lets non-visual artists, listeners, and readers penetrate and fill the spaces between too-reasonable words and wordless music. Songs are poems, and they lend insight into and mark the passage of our culture’s generations.

Beyond that, I refer you to The American Interest online article “Why, Poetry?” by David Kirby (2007). Great stuff. Addressing poetry’s value, he asks, among other things, “Why is there a poet laureate but not a novelist laureate or playwright laureate?” It must mean something to us. Poetry is easier than it used to be, more accessible, and more diverse. New forms are invented on the Internet, and poetry culture moves forward.

As with any art or literature, not all poems work for everyone, but poetry is a unique form with so much mileage that there really is something for everyone.

What do you see as the role of humor in poetry?

As with many aspects of poetry, humor in poetry is often subtle, but there’s no rule against including the comical in a poem that doesn’t also apply to the rest of the poem or non-humorous ones as well. As long as a poem can breathe, that is if it’s of sufficient length, there can be room for humor in even the most serious. The tension between opposing emotions is something that makes art great.

Billy Collins is the perfect example of a poet who has woven humor masterfully into much of his work. See “Paradelle. Silly and/or psycho form from Billy Collins.” – from the Writer’s Digest article “List of 50 Poetic Forms for Poets.

Humor’s role in poetry varies and can be manifold. It can be an effective method of emotional contrast for emphasizing a concept or point, or for deepening a dramatic effect. It can help some readers better relate to a poem’s message. It can be pleasurable in its own right. Then, there are the forms of poetry designed for or generous to humorous content: limericks, rhyming couplets, parody, and others.

There are also poetic forms, such as the elegy, that are meant to be serious. In the end, the poet should aim to match form to content and mood. For a simple example, if a humorous shape emerges from a concrete poetic image, the reader expects funny content.

What is the relationship between your speaking voice and your written voice?

We both tend to be long winded. I’ve always been a formal speaker and an even more formal writer, using words often beyond the understanding or comfort levels of readers and listeners, who in my experience tend to be young or struggling students. But because I dabble in so many different genres, forms, and purposes with my writing, I’m still trying to find a cohesive voice for each. In some ways, just as novelists must put themselves in different frames of mind to get into different characters, a poet can use the poetic space to explore different perspectives and different voices from different characters. The narrator/speaker is not always the author in either poetry or fiction, and they should not be equated. Qualities of an author’s history or personality may echo through his or her work, but not all poetry or fiction is fully or even partially autobiographical.

I think, though, that it is a rare person who is able to speak the same way to every other person encountered in life. Because of this, even our speaking voices are not internally consistent, let alone matched up perfectly with our written voices. On one hand, you wouldn’t want to speak to a stranger the same way you speak to your child or partner. On the other, even when we try to “be ourselves,” we unconsciously hide and reveal, emphasize and downplay, different parts of ourselves depending on who we interact with, our comfort levels, intentions, vulnerabilities, experiences, habits, and modes of being—recreational versus professional atmospheres, for example. People not only can change but do, quite often from moment to moment, in how they represent themselves. It may be dishonest at times, but just as truth can be subjective, so can our identities be flexible. People rarely walk around unfiltered. There’s always a hidden and a visible self. Self-control, invaluable to civilization, means suppressing our first impulses, and that’s a kind of lie, too.

Do you belong to a writing group or community of poets with whom you share your work? Has this been beneficial?

I’m in a writing group, but it’s multi-modal and focused on fiction. Luckily, there are a few members who are also poets, which can add a layer of insight that those less familiar with poetry may not be able to offer. It’s always good to have an outside perspective to consider during revision. With the group, I learn things that apply to all my writing, including poetry.

What do you believe is the measure of success for a poet?

That’s an excellent question. The short answer, unfortunately, is the unsatisfying “It depends.” In this day of self-publishing at the drop of a hat, it’s not the ability to self-publish or be “published.” It’s not solely the ability to get the words on the page with confidence. It’s not necessarily being held in high esteem by authorities with clout, or receiving poetry awards. It’s neither self-defined nor externally defined alone. I suppose it could be a blend of self-perceived success, some degree of circulation of one’s poetry amidst the masses, and some acclaim as a result of that.

If you don’t feel successful, that doesn’t mean you aren’t, but success in poetry can rarely if ever be defined by financial reward or income sustainability. It’s a long-standing sad joke among poets that this just doesn’t happen with poetry alone. A writer has to diversify. Focus on non-fiction of various kinds, including researched biography, instruction books, a cultural niche, or journalism than to rely on poetry for lucrative ends. Once the poet accepts this reality and still commits to the work of writing verse as part of the repertoire, the aim is to continue to develop as an artist, to advance your craft beyond what it was yesterday. If you can do that, and know that you have, you are succeeding as a writer.

What advice do you have for aspiring poets? Do you believe writing poetry can be taught or is it strictly an inherent ability?

Certain principles and several specific forms of poetry must be taught, but writing good poetry also requires innate orientation to the music, cadence, rhythm, sounds, imagery, lyricism, phrasing, or forms of poetry. It requires a thorough understanding of the effective use of language to communicate, to suggest, to imply, and it requires knowing what not to write and how not to write. It requires study, whether self-driven or received in a top-down fashion, as in college or an MFA writing program. True poetry rarely just happens, though I suppose it has occurred and remains possible in that rare individual.

I come from a verse writing education where my professor encouraged further study of certain aspects of my work beyond the scope of my courses. However, I believe a poet can emerge without formal higher education. Poetry is one of those modes of writing with so many variations in approach and form that experimentation and innovation may actually be more readily achieved in poetry than in long-form fiction, for one.

Consistency and cohesion within a poem are key. You can break the rules, but do so across the poem without restoring them at any point. For example, if it’s going to be a poem with end rhymes, you must carry that through to the end. If the first lines are not rhymed, suddenly starting to rhyme part way through is jarring to the reader. If you don’t apply techniques consistently across a piece, you’ve probably written at least two different poems or parts of poems, thinking they’re one when they’re not.

Poetry is all about patterns and the communication of the parts with each other. This is more important in a short form of writing, including short stories, than in longer forms, though novels still do better with some discernible shape—the rising action, conflict, climax, etc.—than without it. If a poem is poorly organized or incoherent or disjointed, it’s really, really noticeable. You can more easily get away with a little nonsense or minor error in a fiction manuscript.

How would you recommend someone reading poetry for the first time approach a poem?

Any poem of significant length, complexity, or difficulty should be read in phases for its layers. First, read it for the basic idea, and then read aloud to listen for its music. Poetry is designed to be read aloud. Next, read it over and over again with a different focus each time, including: (1) prosody, or the elements of versification and metrical structure, (2) meter-related rhythm, (3) form, including stanza division and line breaks, (4) rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and other sonic devices, (5) use of literary tools such as personification, metaphor, and simile, (6) point of view and speaker vs. author, (7) relationship of title to poem, etc.

Form should reinforce meaning, support and not work against it, so the more you learn about how a poem is constructed, the closer you come to understanding its message. Sometimes, form can be a large part of message. Poetry is a mode not infrequently used in a self-reflexive way, with poems about poetry, to express poetic principles in structure and words. Finally (or first!) and most important of all, try to pinpoint what you like and dislike about a poem and why. This will inform your reading choices, increasing your enjoyment in the future, and help you learn more about poetry and how to write it.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should one have to work hard to “solve” the poem?

A poet should not make it her primary or even secondary aim to impede the reading of her poem. I don’t believe in purposely self-defeating behavior. If you’re reasonably intelligent and you’ve read a poem repeatedly, discussed it, studied it, and still can’t figure out the major strokes, it’s not worth any more of your time. It’s probably unnecessarily difficult.

However, because there are layers to any good poem that’s not a couplet or simple Haiku, most poems can be appreciated at multiple levels. Something I enjoy most about poetry and any art form is the richness that allows the audience to discover something new with each return to the work. In academia, poetry reading and study involving sustained, diligent effort markedly increase your chances of fulfilling whatever analytical requirements your instructor has assigned. In pure enjoyment especially, however, poetry is in the eye of the beholder. Like all art, it is subject to matters of personal taste. It’s a subjective enterprise and a personal study. If you’re not required to work hard to solve it, why strain?

What do most poorly-written poems have in common?

A bad poem can be bad—or have bad sections—for many reasons. It states the obvious, confuses concepts, turns personal grievance into whining, stops at surface-level emotions and ideas, employs clichéd imagery, demonstrates careless word choice, uses length as a crutch to seem important, applies techniques inconsistently, ends after the first draft, abandons form for content, or, conversely, abandons sensible content to show off a certain structure—or all of the above.

If you start with free verse, let it remain free. Start with metered verse, and it should probably conform to the meter your first lines set, though some poetic forms deliberately shift meter across the poem. Unless your specific purpose is to explore the different effects deliberate shifting between formalism and free verse has on the structure or ideas, pick one or the other and stick to it.

Examples of excessive structural worship include using rhyme in a forced way, writing a sonnet with hackneyed imagery and stale word choice, writing in meter with awkward rhythm (i.e., bad meter), breaking lines in awkward places just keep lines neat, or only ever breaking lines at sentence endings.

There are still other ways poems can be poor in quality, but I think those are the main ones.

What do most well-written poems have in common?

The bottom line is that quality poetry, and any writing, is earned. Achieving quality in most things demands study, careful craft, practice, revision, and polish—and those efforts show in the final product. Beyond the opposite of all of those traits described in the previous answer, freshness and originality, masterful vocabulary, applied nuance, and skilled balancing of all aspects set great poems apart from the herd.

Who is your favorite poet?

Too many to list, but here are the main ones: Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Judith Wright, John Keats, Walt Whitman, W. B. Yeats, William Wordsworth, Amy Clampitt, Philip Larkin, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Billy Collins, Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens, Wislawa Szymborska, Matthew Arnold, Wilfred Owen, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, e. e. cummings, Robert Frost, Louis MacNeice, Marianne Moore, Rita Dove, Theodore Roethke, Adrienne Rich, Derek Walcott, Hugh MacDiarmid, W. H. Auden, Christina Rossetti, Robert Burns, Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and many 20th- and 21st-century songwriters.

Other poets I enjoy: William Matthews, Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Hirschfield, Carolyn Kizer, Mary Jo Salter, D. H. Lawrence, Henry David Thoreau, Dylan Thomas, Robert Pinsky, James Merrill, Richard Wilbur, Kenneth Koch, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Donald Hall, Ted Hughes, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Blake, and Elaine Feeney.

What is your favorite poem?

That’s a bit like asking someone to pick a favorite moment in life or art. Some of those I’m most passionate about, which I highly recommend everyone reads, would be:

American trailblazers: “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman; Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death,” “A Route of Evanescence,” “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers,” “My Life had stood a Loaded Gun”

Best war themed: “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen (WWI) and “First Snow in Alsace” by Richard Wilbur (WWII)

A downright favorite: Amy Clampitt’s “Beethoven, Opus 111” and “The Sun Underfoot Among the Sundews” (love, love, love Clampitt!)

Quintessential Romanticism: “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth and “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

A. E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young” and Countee Cullen’s “Heritage”

Love breaking the rules: “since feeling is first” by e. e. cummings

Pure contemporary, comic enjoyment: “Forgetfulness” and “I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of Three Blind Mice” by Billy Collins

Self-reflexive poem about what poetry should be: “Ars Poetica” by Archibald MacLeish

A good feminist spin-off: “Eve to Her Daughters” by Judith Wright

20th-century metrical verse: “The Sunlight on the Garden” by Louis MacNeice and “One Art” (a villanelle) by Elizabeth Bishop. Most poems by Elizabeth Bishop.

Comparing fish: “The Fish” by Marianne Moore and “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop

Oh, the sounds: “Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke and “Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W. B. Yeats

Avant-garde, nature, ephemeral love & line breaks: Book I of Asphodel, That Greeny Flower by William Carlos Williams and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens

A favorite Scots poem: “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns

Epic post-colonial poem: Omeros by Derek Walcott (having some French will help)

Best (only?) nonsense poem I know: “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

Philip Larkin: “Church Going,” “For Sidney Bechet,” “An Arundel Tomb” & “Talking in Bed”

Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying,” “Tulips,” “Ariel,” and “Daddy”

Men of Ireland: “When You Are Old” by W. B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney’s “Punishment”

What kind of work are you most drawn to reading yourself? Do you find yourself reading work similar to your own or completely different?

With writing, I think like attracts like. I seek out what I want to emulate, and I try to emulate what I find most precise, original, musical, and beautiful.

What book are you reading right now?

A book club book: The Good Earth, itself written with lyrical, rhythmic prose by Pearl S. Buck. I’ve recently collected some books of poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Wislawa Szymborska, Judith Wright, and Elaine Feeney. I received A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver as a gift, but I haven’t been as impressed with her work. Also on my bookshelf are almost all of Billy Collins’ poetry, an old complete works of Emily Dickinson, poems by Rumi, and the Norton Anthology of Poetry, 4th edition, along with many other books of and about poetry.

Do the Internet and social media contribute to the well-being of poetry?

I believe so, though I couldn’t say how at the moment. Or, rather, I can’t tell whether the net effect is positive or negative. But like any major cultural force, it does have impact on art. So much is more readily accessible than before this digital information age. Quoting is a pastime for many. And yet, the impulse to speak constantly to others, to comb and scroll and scan through endless talk must also diminish the preciousness of words. We increasingly employ the short form in communicating with one another—the sound bite, tweet, Facebook shout-out, Instagram posting—but that doesn’t make it poetic, any more than reading print copies of novels makes us necessarily more poetic.

Where can one find you on the Internet?

Blog: “Philosofishal

Twitter @Carrielt37

Facebook: Carrie Tangenberg

LinkedIn: Carrie Tangenberg, Writer, Tutor

Do you have any non-poetry/writing creative outlets?

My most prevalent non-writing hobby would probably have to be photography. I like to draw occasionally. I’ll paint a picture every once in a while, but not without guidance; I’ve enjoyed a couple of those wine and painting events. I love color in general, so I dabble in home decorating, gardening, coloring books, and the occasional craft project.

Please share an original poem.

“Ode to Cantwell” by Carrie Tangenberg © 6/9/01, revised 4/10/16, 11/3/17

First composed at Cantwell Cliffs, Hocking Hills State Park, south central Ohio

Ferns cry up the greenest

moss-kissed stones I’ve seen.

Fellows dress in fringe,

and cascade merriment.

 

Velvet mats outdo

a frond-sprawl of delight—

in one vale, fresh spinach,

another, shamrock shake (or

is that lichen?), then lime

green Jell-O, young

avocado—ever glad

in rained-soaked shade.

 

If trees are chefs and servants,

then falls of ale ensconce

a vast buffet, inviting

calls to Cantwell Cliffs.

 

No hearth yet in view,

we walk, my love and I,

grasp at crags and creases.

A share of these replaces

clasping hands—too fraught,

despite appeasing warmth.

 

Plump rock faces, deep-

set stoned eyes, cliff chins,

talus noses, unkempt

joyful, bearded jaws

of giant height (or depth),

bouldered, flaunt their black-

and-green tartan patterns,

like heady Guinness pints

wrapped in Beltane bands.

 

We lurk the upper lip

and scarce escape the teeth.

 

One walking stick—scepter-

shaped, a hovering torch—

guides a canty man

askance our emerald path.

Swift, glad and keen,

earthen steps from rod to

root, his wordless cant:

 

“I am the fateful ambler,

chief of my migration,

god of my life and strife.

I come here to be, to pass,

to climb, to stir green trails

to sight and sense, imbibe

and feast in any weather,

hearth or no, till I’m full

and satisfied. I’m noble

but free, for I leave it all

here, fulsome as before.

 

“Though I look not behind,

I know return is rare.”

 

Serrated plumage wags

at slightest breath of man.

Untrod, the mosses cling.

Ebullient, verdant things.

The Artist’s Corner – Cooking With Priscilla Smith

I’ve mentioned before that I have a tendency to feed the characters in my stories.  In fact my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, is replete with the mention of food prompting the sharing of recipes.  So when I began The Artist’s Corner, it made sense to feature someone who enjoys the art of cooking as much as I do.  I don’t believe Priscilla has ever cooked for a fictional person, but if she did, they would enjoy her talent as much as the real people for whom she cooks.

Hello and welcome to the Artist’s Corner.  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Well, I’ve been married for fifty-one years, and I have two children and two grandchildren.  I have enjoyed being a homemaker for the better part of my marriage.  I was heavily involved in raising my family and my children’s schooling, but I also worked in the banking and legal industry as well as a volunteer at the fire department.

How/when did your love of cooking develop?

I learned to cook under my mother’s instruction, but growing up in West Virginia didn’t expose me to a variety of foods.  My basic cooking skills didn’t develop until my high school home economics class in Ohio.  My final project was to collect recipes, and I gathered some good ones, but they were basic.

I honed my skills through my relationship with my oldest brother’s wife.  Inta is Latvian, and she introduced me to other foods and methods of preparation.  I fell in love with cooking and realized I could do this, too.

Do you consider the food you prepare art?

All of it.  From the first steps of preparation to the finished meal is the creation process resulting in edible art.  That’s why I take pictures of it and put it on Facebook!  At first I thought just the fancy stuff and my baking was art, but I realized it all is.  The quality of the food contributes to the finished product.  Homemade food is art with love infused.  In fact, something as simple as fried green tomatoes when made with good ingredients and love are impressive.

And don’t forget that the table setting is part of it.  Presentation plays an important role.  You eat first with your eyes, then your sense of smell, and finally with your mouth.  Sure, it’s the same food when you hastily prepare it and eat right out of the pans, but beautiful dishes, large platters, place mats, candlelight, napkins, silver, and crystal:  all this enhances the food.  You make it worthy of being presented in a magazine.

Do you put yourself into your cooking?

Absolutely.  How I season, what I choose to cook for a particular meal, how I approach the preparation process:  this is me infusing myself into the food.  I love to cook what I enjoy eating for other people.  It’s a small expression of my personality that I can share with others.  And you really can’t go wrong when you’re cooking something you like to eat; it’s like giving a present of yourself to someone.

My accent is on good, solid food.  Not necessarily fancy, but I’m not afraid to try something new.  Thai food has been of interest to me lately.  But if asked to prepare something that I’m not particularly fond of or have never made, I’ll still make every effort to please whoever I’m feeding.

I don’t consider myself a chef by any means, but I consider myself a cook, and a good one.  I have training in life experience with cooking.  My education comes from searching through cookbooks, vintage recipes, online, and word of mouth which usually provides the best recipes.  And I can never leave a recipe alone; I always tweak it!  Sometimes my recipes are never the same twice, but they’re always good.

What other cooking experience have you had?

On a whim, I took a cake decorating class with women from a craft club I attended years ago when my children were young.  A bunch of us went.  I fell in love with the art of cake decorating and started making my kids’ cakes, cakes for neighbors, cakes for family functions.  I realized I could channel my talent into a small business.  With a lot of practice, I worked my way up to wedding cakes and was quite successful.

Did your non-cooking work experience lead to the pursuit of cooking?

Not exactly, but cooking for my family fed my interest.  I’ve never even been a waitress, but I’ve been involved with hosting tea parties (in my home, at church, and in other people’s homes), guests breakfasts for Pastor Appreciation, luncheons honoring staff or administrators at schools, catered wedding receptions, wedding showers, baby showers, conference luncheons for two hundred people at churches, a week’s worth of meals for an equestrian group with special dietary requests, and company Christmas parties.  In each instance, I worked with my client(s) to create a full menu that would be visually pleasing and delicious, and then I prepared the food.

What or who is your inspiration for cooking?

Julia Child, Ina Garten, and Martha Stewart—they cause me to rise up to their standard of cooking.  I love watching them and reading their cookbooks.  Factor in Graham Kerr and Justin Wilson.

What do you enjoy cooking?

It would be a lot quicker to say what I don’t enjoy.  My favorite things to cook are my childhood comfort foods which are brown beans and cornbread, meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  Simple desserts like Crazy Cake and fudge.  Really, it’s hard to say any one thing since I like to make big meals and serve people.  I love to make pasta, beef roasts, chicken in many forms, roasted vegetables.  I love baking pies, breads, cookies, and cakes in that order.

Do you still cook for others as a business?

No, now it’s all for pure pleasure.  Well, actually, I’d take small jobs for close friends or family.  I’ve done everything I want to do business-wise with cooking.  I could turn all my handwritten recipes into a cookbook.  I could see a market for it based on people’s positive reaction to The Pioneer Woman and Paula Deen.  People like well-prepared, basic food that tastes good and isn’t difficult.  Food you already have in your cupboards.

Have you ever competed in a cooking contest or bake off?  If so, how did you do?

I baked for competition once.  When I was a young mother, I made candy apple pie for a local grocery store’s competition.  I took second place and received a ribbon!  I love watching the competitions on television and thinking, I could beat Bobby Flay, but cooking shouldn’t be under pressure or about throwing food around.  I’m not going to cook octopus, but if Bobby and I competed at potato soup or chili, I know I could take him down in a heartbeat.

How have you shared your cooking skills?

Lately, I’ve been teaching a young girl how to cook because she’s homeschooled.  Her mother asked me if I’d teach her to bake cupcakes and cookies because she’d tasted my stuff.  We slowly progressed into pies (double crust and with meringue), and she’s made palmiers, pudding, and angel food cake.  Next she’s going to make cheesecake.  We keep progressing with more and more difficult techniques.

What’s your opinion on the removal of Home Economics from school, specifically cooking?

It’s sad because young people don’t know how to cook.  They come home from work and buy something frozen or already prepared.  And I’m not talking about just girls.  Boys need to know how to cook, too.  My one grandson is prime example that boys can learn how to cook.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but they need to learn how to feed themselves.  Breakfast and dinner are essentials because that’s usually when they’re home.  Lunch is often eaten out, so they need to learn how to choose wisely.

How is what you cook for yourself different from what you cook for other people?

If I’m making a grilled cheese for myself, I’m going to grab a couple slices of bread from the fridge, use American cheese, and the fanciest thing I’d include would be a slice of tomato.  But if I’m making grilled cheese for someone else, I’m going to use seven-grain or homemade sourdough bread, gruyere, fontina, or a combination of exceptional melting cheeses, spread one side with Dijon mustard, and put a slice of roasted red pepper on that baby.  Still grilled cheese, but see the difference!

No doubt you’d work presentation into this simple fare?

Absolutely!  And it’s not just dressing up ill-prepared or tasteless food.  Make no mistake; it all starts with delicious food, quality ingredients.  Even how you refer to it is important.  Simple things like cutting the crust off toast or sprinkling chopped green onions over an omelet and serving it on pretty dishes can go a long way to turning the eggs and toast you always have for breakfast into something special.

What’s your favorite meal to cook?

Passover.  I love cooking for Passover.  When I’m cooking the Passover meal, the whole experience becomes holy.  Of course the Seder is beautiful; it’s for Adonai.  It can be quite long, so people are getting hungry.  You’d better serve them your best, and I do.  What I hope they know is that I’ve given my best to them because of my love for Adonai.

What’s your dream meal?

To have lunch with Martha Stewart, but I prepare the food.  There’d be a salad involved, probably a soup and sandwich combination.  The time of year, whether spring or fall, would influence the menu.  And I’d make homemade pie, probably lemon meringue because my crust is excellent.

What’s your biggest complaint with cooking?

The cost of good ingredients can be prohibitive.  One meal could be outrageous.  I’ll buy organic when it’s feasible.  My concern isn’t just for myself, it’s for everyone.  We live in a country that wastes too much food.  The GMOs bother me, too.  Whole foods and organics should be available at reasonable prices to everyone.

So do you have a recipe to share with us?

You know I do!

Homemade Potato Dumpling Soup

6 – 8 Redskin or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced

3 – 4 ribs of celery, sliced

Medium sweet onion, chopped

4 eggs, beaten

1 ½ c flour

½ t salt

Stick of butter

4 – 6 cups chicken broth, homemade or canned (enough to cover, depends on the size of your potatoes)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 quart half-n-half

Place the potatoes, celery, and onions in a large pot and cover with the broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cover while you’re making the dumplings.

Combined the eggs, flour, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir thoroughly to make a thick batter for dumplings.  Take a large spoonful of dumpling mixture and cut off pieces with a butter knife, dropping them into the hot soup.  Add a stick of butter.  Cover and let the dumplings cook for 5 – 8 minutes.

Turn the heat off and add the half-and-half until there is plenty of liquid around the ingredients and the soup looks creamy.  Taste to see if you need more salt, then season further with salt and pepper.

My family likes to top the soup with small chunks of Havarti, let it soften ever so slightly, and then eat it!

Don’t Drive So Fast That You Miss Life

I wish I had listened when people told me to remember these days.  They were speaking of the days when my son, Joshua, was little.  And I did remember quite a lot; I have the scrapbooks and an entire room devoted to the production thereof as proof.

There was a time when I just wanted a few more moments of sleep, to eat my meal while it was still hot, or to sit down and read a book or watch a movie in the silence and peace I used to enjoy prior to a child.  As recently as yesterday when I sent Joshua to the school on his mountain bike to pick up his work permit so I could shower in preparation for taking him for a haircut so he’d look great for the picture on his temps then down to the BMV to get said temps then running home to make lunch before hubby left for work then cleaning up and staying put so Joshua could finish mowing for his dad and using the time to write a thank you note, put in laundry, and type up a synopsis for my current WIP then rushing off to buy pants for the job he started today, I thought to myself how much I want my life back!

Prior to that was all the running to obtain a birth certificate for the job and temps and work permit (I told him to have this stuff finished before school let out for the summer) as well as the three days it took him to get himself in gear to do everything listed above (I’m trying to be a hands-off parent as he matures).  There’s a DVD of Persuasion on my countertop begging to be watched, a book to be finished, and don’t even get me started on how I haven’t written anything toward my current WIP or my blog pretty much since school ended.

This summer has been crazy.  And really, I’m not complaining, but I wish I people who had said remember these days had also warned me that although children become more independent as they get older, in many new ways they are still quite dependent.  What I used to do for Joshua was contained to our little world, our home.  Now I’m pretty sure I’m trekking across America several times a week getting, taking, and doing for this kid.

My joyous internal screams were probably felt as shock waves in most of Ohio when Joshua told me he had job orientation from eight to three on Thursday and Friday.  What?  I’ll have two whole days to write and read?  Thank, Adonai; truly You are merciful.

Josh woke me at seven thirty to take him to work (Recall, he only has his temps since yesterday, and tonight will be the first night of driving lessons).  I asked all the motherly questions from did you take your allergy pill and brush your teeth to do you have your ID badge and lunch packed?  My questions were greeted with one-syllable, monotone affirmations.

I drove him to work and stopped a little way from the front doors so as not to embarrass him.  And then I watched my baby walk away.  And I wanted to jump out of the car and convince him to come home with me where I’d make him all his favorite foods, and we’d watch all his favorite shows, and then go to Kame’s to look at hunting gear, and visit Sweet Frog for yogurt, and if he was still hungry (which teen boys always are) we’d go for burgers or pizza.

Yes, this summer has been crazy.  I’ve hardly written at all since May.  When I pulled into the garage after dropping off Josh, I looked beside me and saw his lunch on the drink holders where he’d forgotten it.  I’ll be taking that to him around noon.  If I’m lucky, tonight after his driving lesson, we’ll go for a drive with me at the wheel.  It’s a habit we started in the evenings as the sun is going down.  We just pick a direction and drive until it gets dark or we’re tired.  Josh and I talk about everything during these drives, and the other day he told me how much he enjoys them.  I don’t believe he realizes that as I drive he places his hand lightly over mine where it rests.

I know things will calm down once school starts at the end of August.  My routine will be restored, and my writing will flourish.  For now I’ll set it aside because I wouldn’t trade publication with the best publishing house in the world or my book selling millions of copies and being made into a movie for the moments I’m collecting and turning into memories.

Sobering Thought

In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, one of my characters struggled with alcoholism. He was normally a social drinker but turned to alcohol when negative situations began to dominate his life. He made the mistake of believing he could control the circumstances and then buried the results deep within rather than revealing them and seeking help from those who loved him.

This was one of several delicate subjects I addressed in my novel, and I took care with how I presented it. My knowledge of how alcoholism affects the lives of others is secondhand, and I didn’t want to come across as preaching. Still, I’m all about giving back and helping when and where it’s necessary. Even though this isn’t about writing, if I can direct someone toward the help they may need, I will.

The obvious place to begin my research was with Alcoholics Anonymous, the international, mutual aid fellowship founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. The AA website answers many questions about alcoholism and helps one locate a nearby meeting. The beauty of looking them up online is the added layer of privacy one may need when taking the first step in dealing with a crippling addiction.

As I writer, I had the final say in my character’s outcome, the details of which I’ll keep hidden until the publication of my book. For anyone struggling with alcoholism, you have the final say in how drinking will affect your life. Write a happy ending.

Don’t Get Crabby With Me

dont-get-crabby-with-meI’m very excited to present today’s post for Edible Fiction in regards to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Although I won’t be making this recipe because the main ingredient has yet to come in season, I couldn’t resist sharing. My research on blue crabs yielded a wealth of knowledge and an enthusiasm for the dish, so I decided to post for two reasons: 1) You’ll want to be prepared for the blue crab season, and 2) Depending on where you live and/or your finances, you may want to turn this into a vacation.

In June of 1925, John Welles and his Aunt Prudence were planning his high school graduation party. They did so over a dinner of blue crab. When I initially wrote this scene, I assumed because they were on the coast, Maryland specifically, they would have eaten crab legs, and I stated as much. Please forgive my inlander ignorance. I corrected my mistake because I am a stickler for details in writing (Who Is In Your Details?). Research on this subject prompted a quick edit from crab legs to blue crabs and a visit to my local fish market, Klein’s Seafood.

I visited Klein’s to see what a semi-landlocked gal like myself could do.  I say semi because my state borders one of the Great Lakes, but alas, there are no blue crabs coming from this water source.  Fear not, fellow Ohioans, Klein’s receives blue crabs from the coast.  Seafood shops can have the crabs shipped live, but as one shop employee explained, many die during the trip and no one wants to buy the dead crabs.  So, Klein’s orders their blue crabs already cooked and ready to go.  Since I couldn’t purchase blue crabs to prepare for you, I decided to offer the next best thing.  I also dined on a white perch sandwich with lettuce and tartar sauce and six of the tastiest hushpuppies I’ve ever had, but I digress.

I could write an essay on blue crabs and the preparation thereof based on the articles I researched, but it would be easier and more thorough to direct you there. Don’t think me lazy; I simply don’t want to miss a single important detail regarding blue crabs. Once you read the articles, you’ll see why I suggested a vacation to Maryland. Not only is Maryland a wonderful place to visit for the historical aspect, the seafood restaurants featuring blue crabs and other produce from the ocean are worthy of a visit, too.

dont-get-crabby-with-me-2The first article, Maryland Crabs: A Guide to the East Coast’s Essential Summer Feast by Eater DC contributor Jamie Liu from June 5, 2015, provides an in-depth explanation on blue crabs from the how to the where of the blue crab season. I found this one to be easily understood and good for a blue crab novice such as myself. The restaurants mentioned were a combination of old and new establishments and ownership, but all had history with the Maryland crabbing industry.

And because I’m a conscientious writer against the overharvesting of natural resources as well as someone who loves the science behind anything we eat, Brenda and Glenn Davis’s article on the Life History & Management of Blue Crabs is most beneficial.

Also from Eater is this post, Eight Maryland Crab Houses Worth the Drive, by Tim Ebner from August 19, 2016. Complete with restaurant names including a brief description and address, directions, and a map, you can’t go wrong with this tidbit of information for planning your tour of crab houses whether you’re a novice or expert in the knowledge and eating of blue crabs.

Perhaps you’re thinking this is overkill just for one mention of blue crabs in a novel. Maybe, but I’d rather be accurate with my information than make a glaring error. Besides, if it sends people to Maryland for a visit, or even more to my liking, encourages them to buy my novel, so much the better.

Enjoy!

 

Suits Me to a Tea

suits-me-to-a-teaI remember the first time someone asked me if I wanted regular tea or sweet tea. I was a teenager on vacation with my parents in North Carolina. I thought the best thing that would happen to me that week was endless basking in the sun and swimming in the ocean. Who knew that a counter person working the register at McDonald’s could bring such happiness to a Northerner from Ohio? Even better, the delicious beverage was served at every restaurant we visited during that trip. My family had discovered sweet tea and drank it by the gallons that week. We even purchased large cups of sweet tea to drink on the way home. The restaurant wasn’t out of sight before it was consumed.

Flash forward a couple of years to the advent of sweet tea reaching McDonald’s in Ohio and other restaurants as well. We Northerners were elated, but we had a few things to learn: keep your sweet tea refrigerated so it doesn’t grow bacteria and don’t try to pass off that junk in the beverage machines as sweet tea.

All this to say that sweet tea factored in to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, the first time John met Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby at the University of Maryland. John had been invited to visit Sam’s home along with Claude. While he instantly liked amiable worrier, Sam, John’s initial opinion of Claude was reserved at best. Claude sneaked bourbon into the sweet tea without John’s knowledge. When John took a large swallow, he choked on the presence of the strong alcohol much to Claude’s entertainment. The conversation that followed would either make or break their tentative relationship.

There are many recipes out there for sweet tea and the history is quite enjoyable to read. I had no idea that iced green tea was the original favorite. The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. Of course, you can always put a splash of bourbon in yours; just remember to warn your guests first.

Sweet Tea

¾ c sugar (I use raw)

¾ c water

suits-me-to-a-tea-2Place the sugar and water in a saucepan, stir thoroughly, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil the mixture for seven minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the heat so the syrup doesn’t scorch. You should attain a gentle, rolling boil. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool.

10 cups water, divided

6 regular-sized tea black tea bags

1 pinch baking soda

Ice

Lemon slices (optional)

In another saucepan, bring three cups of water to a boil. Remove the pot from the range and place on a trivet. Add tea bags and baking soda, and steep for six minutes. Do not squeeze the tea bags when removing. Add the simple syrup and stir. Allow to cool to room temperature.

When the tea/syrup mixture has cooled, pour into a pitcher and add the remaining seven of cups water. Serve over ice with lemon slices if desired.

Enjoy!

I May Be That Mother

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Next stop: Red Belt

You know the one:  she’s jumping up at sporting events, bawling out coaches and other players, encouraging get in there and kick the other kids’ butts. Yeah, that’s me. At least my kid doesn’t play a team sport, but if he did…

What my kid does is take karate at the Dale McCutcheon School of Martial Arts in Uniontown, Ohio. He started in grade school when he received an invitation for a two-week free trial from a former classmate. At first, Joshua was anxious, but his friend and another buddy would be there with him. You should have seen them in their fresh white karate gis, belts tied haphazardly around their thin waists. Joshua looked nervous in the picture I took the first day; you can tell from his cheesy smile.

That was umpteen million years ago. Today, Joshua is a freshman and testing for red belt. The test will be at least four hours, possibly longer. Even as I type this I can feel the anxiety building in me, tears welling in my eyes. I don’t think I can watch this time. Brown belt testing was hard enough. Five and seven-man attacks are the worst to watch.

I remember flying out of the observation room, storming down the short hallway, standing with my toes pressed against the mats, screaming, “Punch ‘im, Joshua! Punch ‘im in the nose! That’s it, baby, hit ‘im harder, HARDER! Knock ‘im into next week!”

The only thing that kept me from flying onto the mats to join my kid in battle was the respect I have for the black-belt instructors, the school, and karate in general. When I returned to the observation room, another parent asked, “Are you all right, Momma?”

In my defense, I don’t do it because I think the whole process is unfair or that my kid is getting picked on. I also realize this isn’t about me.  But ask yourself (not you, dads): How would you react when five to seven larger kids are jumping your kid all at once? So, yeah, I don’t think I’ll be going tonight.

UPDATE: My mother called to say she thinks we should attend this evening up to the point when they conduct attacks. Then we’ll bail out to McDonald’s for coffee and torture ourselves imagining the worst.

Picture Perfect Love

Welcome to my first installment of Read & Relax.  The story I’ve chosen to share with you was written for a contest at the Faded Velvet antique store located, at the time, in Hartville, Ohio.  The owner, Donna, posted an old, sepia-toned picture on her Facebook page and challenged participants to write a story about the people in it.  I won the contest and received a gift certificate to the store which I used to purchase a beautiful cut glass pitcher.

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I now own the photograph thanks to the generosity of a best friend.  The original isn’t a tintype, but since I have always been fascinated with the tintypes my mother owned, I decided to make it one for my story.  All that is known about the couple in the picture is they lived on a farm in Massillon, Ohio.

So, make a cup of English breakfast tea, sit back, read and relax.

Picture Perfect Love

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