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MY MOTHER’S HANDWRITING
by Julia Wendell

Individual as DNA, it spoke to me
from fridge notes, Christmas tags,
and report cards I took back to school,
with her hurried scrawl at the bottom.

Even now, the ache when I find her
half-cursive, half-print,
as unique as her voice was
sonorous and youthful, even as she aged.

But she is nowhere more present
than in her stash of recipe cards marked
Vegetables and Salads, Meat and Poultry,
as if she’d just penned the headings yesterday.

I scan the green cardboard box
for something yummy and familiar,
reading her hand-me-down script,

more alive than the cherry tree blooming
outside my window, more permanent
than my own body
that once slipped out of hers,

my half-breed penmanship reduced,
like anyone’s, to scribble in the end –
the way we sign our names,
caress a cold ankle or pull up a sheet,

the way we say goodbye
or fix a perfect salad.
She returns to me in fading ballpoint pen:

Press the garlic into the sides
of the wooden bowl.
Add tons of garlic and Parmesan cheese.
Toss and serve. I savor
every dash.

~ posted by permission of the author (Take This Spoon, 2014).

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It wasn’t until I moved to Virginia that Margaret started sending me recipes in the mail.

I requested a few local favorites so I could share a taste of Hawai’i with my new neighbors: Hot Shrimp Dip, Sweet Bread Pudding, Butter Mochi, Korean Kalbi, Cucumber Kimchi, Teriyaki Chicken.

Every so often, she’d send me a surprise recipe or two — a curry vegetable dip I just “had to try,” the Waioli Tea Room Fried Chicken recipe making the rounds at work, a new pancake recipe her sister Ella couldn’t stop raving about. Some were typed on her snazzy IBM Selectric, but most were written in her generous speedy script — breezy handwriting that artfully pinned down chopped parsley, dill weed, yogurt and grated red onion before they had a chance to flit away.

These occasional exchanges, short for, you’re too far away for me to cook for you but since I’m your mother I must make sure you don’t starve to death, took the place of actual letters, which were my Dad’s forte. Busy Margaret was more about random notes, lists, a line or two in a greeting card and hastily jotted recipes, some giving rise to good stories about making, eating, sharing.

I was thrilled to find Julia Wendell’s poem at Alimentum. Talk about someone taking the words right out of your mouth! I’ve always loved studying handwriting, delighted with how size, slant, speed, shape and pressure can reveal mood and personality. Now, when I chance upon an old recipe card, Margaret returns to me “in fading ballpoint pen.” I look harder at her scribbles, hoping to hear more.

“My Mother’s Handwriting” is included in Julia’s brand new chapbook, Take This Spoon (Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2014). I’ve been slowly savoring each and every food poem and yes, there are family recipes. Julia’s a new-to-me poet; I like her intimate conversational style and use of telling detail to reveal hard truths about family dynamics, personal demons, and the complex relationship we have with food. Wholly accessible with startling emotional resonance, these beautifully crafted poems are not to be missed. But I’ll let Julia herself tell you more about them, since she’s agreed to drop by soon for a chat. Stay tuned!

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♦ CHILI (BEVERLY HILLS RESTAURANT) ♦

This is one of Margaret’s ‘survival recipes’ that I’ve made several times with my own variations. She sometimes whipped up a batch during the week and occasionally served it at beach park picnics. One time she couldn’t figure out why it didn’t taste quite the same. That’s what happens when you forget the beans. :D

  • 1 lb. pinto beans (soak overnight)
  • 5 cups canned tomatoes
  • 1 lb. green (bell) peppers, chopped
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons salad oil
  • 1-1/2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2-1/2 lb. lean ground round
  • 1 lb ground pork or Italian hot sausage
  • 1/2 cup chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seed

1. Wash beans, soak overnight, then cook until tender.

2. Sauté green peppers in oil.

3. Add onions and cook until tender. Add garlic and parsley.

4. Sauté meat in butter 15 minutes; add meat to onion and pepper mixture, stir in chili powder, then cook about 10 minutes. Add beans and rest of spices. Simmer, covered, about an hour.

5. Cook an additional 30 minutes uncovered. Skim fat from top before serving.

Note: Recipe may be halved. Substitute vegetable oil for butter and ground turkey for pork to cut down on fat calories. You can also use canned pinto beans in place of dried.

*   *   *

Julia Wendell grew up in the Allegheny Forest of northwest Pennsylvania. Educated at Cornell University, Boston University, and the University of Iowa, Writer’s Workshop, she left her mid-careers as teacher and editor for the world of horses and three-day eventing. Her children John Logan (a classical sitarist) and Caitlin Saylor (an actor/playwright), grew up with their mother and her husband, poet and critic, Barrett Warner, on their horse farm in northern Baltimore County, where Julia and Barrett still live and work. Julia is enamored of jumping horses over immovable obstacles while galloping cross country.

For more info about Take This Spoon and her other chapbooks, poetry collections, and memoir, visit Julia’s Official Website.

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poetryfriday180Casual poet and serious slurper Diane Mayr is hosting today’s Roundup at Random Noodling. Don your best bibs, polish your chopsticks and feast on all the poetic delights being served up in the blogosphere this week. Bon Appétit!

 

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wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Drop by for some yummy Coffee Bars and check out what deliciousness the other bloggers are sharing this week!

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Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

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photo by John Cohen (1970)

Throw me a bone: we’re going to the dogs today in honor of Bob Dylan’s 73rd birthday tomorrow. Ruff!

So, am I the only Dylan fan who’d never heard “If Dogs Run Free”? A 50′s beatnik send-up embellished with Al Kooper’s jazzy piano riffs and Maeretha Stewart’s sassy scat-singing, this oddsauce number was included on Dylan’s album NEW MORNING (1970).

Actually it’s kind of silly to call anything the Archbishop of Anarchy has done “odd,” given his penchant for innovation, reinvention and doing whatever he durn well pleases. Yet this one is indeed unlike anything else in his vast catalog of 600+ songs. It’s spoken word, very Jack Kerouac, black berets, smoky coffee house. It’s so laid back you end up in front.

Hear for yourself:

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IF DOGS RUN FREE

If dogs run free, then why not we
Across the swooping plain?
My ears hear a symphony
Of two mules, trains and rain
The best is always yet to come
That’s what they explain to me
Just do your thing, you’ll be king
If dogs run free

If dogs run free, why not me
Across the swamp of time?
My mind weaves a symphony
And tapestry of rhyme
Oh, winds which rush my tale to thee
So it may flow and be
To each his own, it’s all unknown
If dogs run free

If dogs run free, then what must be
Must be, and that is all
True love can make a blade of grass
Stand up straight and tall
In harmony with the cosmic sea
True love needs no company
It can cure the soul, it can make it whole
If dogs run free

*

*finger snaps*

 So deep, Daddy-O.

 

And there’s more. This song was recently made into a picture book illustrated by Scott Campbell, who took the “kids love dogs” theme and ran amok with an animated visual narrative. Celebrating the free-spirited joys of childhood and championing fearless individuality, there’s not a beatnik or beret in sight — just lots and LOTS of dogs.

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Since moving to Virginia, I’ve become quite the Presidential buff. It’s easy to do since eight Presidents were born here, and I bump into fascinating history wherever I turn.

That’s why I get excited whenever a new children’s book comes out profiling a single President, or, as in the case of Marilyn Singer’s fabulous new poetry collection, all 43 of them.

In Rutherford B., Who Was He?, Marilyn introduces our fearless leaders in chronological order via succinct, thought-provoking poems, blending critical facts, historical references and fascinating human interest tidbits.

All but eight (grouped together for spirited discourse) are featured in single poems. With just a few masterful strokes, she highlights the subject’s claim to fame and illuminates character and personality, so we can better understand the why’s and wherefore’s. She does not shy away from foibles, failings, controversy or scandal, and I love the sense of continuity from one administration to the next, giving us a broad sweep of Presidential history from Washington to Obama.

Paired with John Hendrix’s witty, exuberant caricatures and crackerjack hand-drawn typography, these verses pulse with verve and vigor — a showcase of poetic forms (a Nixon reverso!) with clever, innovative rhymes that truly bring our Presidents to life.

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“If I had a flower for each time I thought of my mother, I could walk in my garden forever.” ~ Anonymous

Welcome to Poetry Friday at Alphabet Soup!

I’m happy to be back and hosting the Roundup this week. Please help yourself to some strawberry shortcake and green tea.

I made the shortcakes with Bisquick in honor of my mom. We grew up on these, along with Bisquick pancakes and waffles. It’s nice to remember those carefree days before trans fats became a no-no. Care for an extra dollop of real whipped cream? Only the best for you. :)

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🌷 MAY FLOWERS 💐

SONG OF THE FLOWER XXIII
by Khalil Gibran

I am a kind word uttered and repeated
By the voice of Nature;
I am a star fallen from the
Blue tent upon the green carpet.
I am the daughter of the elements
With whom Winter conceived;
To whom Spring gave birth; I was
Reared in the lap of Summer and I
Slept in the bed of Autumn.

At dawn I unite with the breeze
To announce the coming of light;
At eventide I join the birds
In bidding the light farewell.

The plains are decorated with
My beautiful colors, and the air
Is scented with my fragrance.

As I embrace Slumber the eyes of
Night watch over me, and as I
Awaken I stare at the sun, which is
The only eye of the day.

I drink dew for wine, and hearken to
The voices of the birds, and dance
To the rhythmic swaying of the grass.

I am the lover’s gift; I am the wedding wreath;
I am the memory of a moment of happiness;
I am the last gift of the living to the dead;
I am a part of joy and a part of sorrow.

But I look up high to see only the light,
And never look down to see my shadow.
This is wisdom which man must learn.

(1914)

*   *   *

Mom, me and my brother Newton. She let me call her Margaret :).

Besides being a good cook, my mother was an avid gardener who had an extensive knowledge of tropical plants. Monstera, hapu’u, red ginger, heliconia, plumeria, anthuriums, bird of paradise — she knew them, grew them, filled ceramic vases with blossoms and cuttings. She inherited some of my grandmother’s orchid plants, which thrived under her loving care.

When I complained once about disliking hot weather and the searing Hawaiian sun, she said, “You’re like a greenhouse orchid.” Quite true when considering my finicky personality and love of climate control, but I still took it as a compliment. :)

I am the memory of a moment of happiness;

She was surrounded by pink kalanchoe, white orchids and purple hydrangea when she died. The day before, she had turned in her bed to look up out the window at the beautiful blue sky and the stretch of ocean where she had enjoyed happy fishing days on my brother’s boat. I thought of a line from my favorite Truman Capote short story: “As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”

But I look up high to see only the light,
And never look down to see my shadow.

She was honored at her memorial service with standing wreaths and sprays of white and yellow chrysanthemums, white gladiolus; pink, white and purple dendrobium, pink roses and carnations, and pink and orange stargazer lilies.

I am the last gift of the living to the dead;
I am a part of joy and a part of sorrow.

Writer friend Candice Ransom says that a white carnation signifies your mother has passed. I will be holding mine close on Sunday, savoring the fragrance of good memories.

If you’ve lost your mother too, these are for you.

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🌹 THE ROUNDUP 🌻

Please leave your links with the ravenous but reliable sausage connoisseur Mr. Linky. Don’t forget to put the name of your poem or title of the book you’re reviewing in parentheses after your name. Thanks for joining us today — enjoy all the poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere!

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♥ A Special Note from Jane Yolen ♥

I send out a brand new poem every day to subscribers, and the only thing I ask in return is that at month’s end, they either buy a book of mine or borrow one from their local library and read it.

Since I have 350 books out, that should be a piece of cake! More numbers, this is my second year of doing this for subscribers, of whom there are now over 400! It’s also my fourth year of writing a poem a day. Most of the poems I send are adult poems, but occasionally there are new children’s poems as well.

To get on the list, send me an email request: janeyolen (at) aol (dot) com. If the request comes before May 10, I will catch you up on the first ten May poems. After that, you will be started on June 1.

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Happy Mother’s Day to all. What kind of flower is your mother?

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Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

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Happy April and Happy National Poetry Month!

Looking for some cool ways to celebrate? Check out Poets.org for all kinds of great resources for teachers, students, librarians and poetry lovers of all ages.

This year, the Academy of American Poets is introducing a multimedia educational project called Poet-to-Poet that features seven videos of award winning poets on the Board of Chancellors reading and discussing one of their poems.

Students in grades 3-12 are invited to write their own poems in response to any of the videos and email them by April 30, 2014. All poems will be considered for publication at Poets.org during the month of May. There’s also a set of Lesson Plans aligned with the Common Core for teachers wishing to use Poet-to-Poet in their classrooms.

Check out “30 Ways to Celebrate Poetry Month,” “Poem in Your Pocket Day” (April 24), and the April 2014 Events Calendar. You can also download a free Poetry Month poster.

Now, here’s a list of what some kidlit bloggers are doing. If you’re also celebrating Poetry Month with a special project or blog event, or know of anyone else who is, please email me: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com, so I can add the information to this Roundup. Thanks!

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2014 KIDLITOSPHERE EVENTS

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2014kidlitprogpoem

🌻 Irene Latham at Live Your Poem has recruited 30 poets for her third annual Kidlit Progressive Poem. This is a wonderful community writing project where a poem travels daily from blog to blog, with each host adding a line. Charles Waters is contributing the opening line today. More details and full 2014 Roster can be found here.

maryicon

🌍 At A Year of Reading, bask in “Our Wonderful World.” Each day this month, Mary Lee Hahn will highlight a human-made or natural wonder of the world (selected from a variety of lists) and use it as inspiration for an original poem. So a poem a day and a wonder a day — though we all know poems are wonders themselves, right? Mary Lee invites readers to help celebrate her chosen wonders by leaving a poem or blog post link in the comments. Click here to see the wonders she’s chosen. I am especially fond of #28. :)

🌹 Jone MacCulloch will be sharing student poetry daily at Check It Out. She’s also once again doing her annual Poetry Postcard Project, where her students send out illustrated poetry postcards to anyone requesting them. Sign up HERE if you’d like to receive one. At Jone’s personal blog, Deowriter, she’ll be posting original poems each day.

🌸 The always inventive Laura Purdie Salas presents Riddle-ku at Writing the World for Kids. Each day, she’ll post a riddle haiku about a common object with two photo hints/clues and the answer, just right for sharing in the classroom. Kids ages K+ are bound to find this project totally riddle-kulous! :)

 

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