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Slice of life

Traditions in Quarantine: Good Friday Pierogis

Today is Good Friday, which traditionally is Pierogi Making Day for my family. Since social distancing isn’t possible in my Grandma’s kitchen, we can’t be together. So instead, we text each other pictures of ourselves making miniature batches at home, gifs of dancing pierogis, or selfies of faces hidden behind colorful homemade masks.

For myself, I revisit the tradition in excerpts from a paper I wrote last year.


Family traditions take many forms. Some arise from our cultural or religious history. Others arise due to our human desire for remembrance, ritual, and fellowship. The best traditions are passed on through generations and expand from one’s family, to one’s friends, and into the wider community. My family’s pierogi recipe represents just that type of tradition. It expresses many things, including the most obvious: a mouth-watering dumpling of buttery dough and delectable spices. It also symbolizes my family’s history, culture, and our love of community. For with every pierogi that we’ve made, we’ve shared.

Considering the history of this simple dumpling, it’s no wonder that it has become a symbol of familial pride and community for Polish families. Pierogis are a national dish of Poland that have appeared in Polish cookbooks since the 17th century (“Pierogi – the Best Guide to the Most Popular Polish Food.”). Preparing these dumplings around holidays such as Christmas and Easter is a common tradition.

 

For my family, the tradition began in Busia and Dza-Dza’s kitchen on a Good Friday, years before I was born. They called around, inviting the family into their tiny kitchen to roll stiff mounds composed of butter, eggs, and flour, to crimp stuffing into round spheres of pale dough and to boil each dumpling in pots of steaming water, before carefully laying the pierogis in neat rows to dry. By the afternoon, everyone went home with heaping plates of fragrant pierogis. These fluted pockets of calorie-rich goodness would be fried in butter, to a crisp golden brown and serve as midnight snacks, the highlight of Easter brunches, and the specialty of holiday dinners. The traditional sauerkraut and potato pierogis are my favorites, while others prefer the creamy, cottage-cheese filled ones.  

As we grandkids undertook our pierogi training, we learned about the different methods of preparing them. One could crimp them with a hinged “crimper” squeezing the ends of the dumpling into a nice, fluted pattern. Or, one could press the edges shut with a fork, leaving deep creases in the dough. My older cousin still swears by the fork method as the only authentic way to make pierogis. One year my cousins and I made an apple pie version… that was stretching the dumpling recipe a bit too far! 

Pierogi Making Day repeats year after year, even as the family grows and my Busia’s tiny kitchen is packed with her kids, grandkids, their spouses, friends, and extended family, all working the pierogi assembly line. Dza-Dza supervises us from heaven, and I know he would be pleased. Last Good Friday, the family churned out over 1,000 pierogis to enjoy and share with friends who request a small order of the treat every spring season.

 

In the handwritten recipe my mom passed along to me, she wrote “Traditions such as this are a special and important part of family life and heritage.” This is the most compelling aspect about the pierogi. It is a simple dumpling, but as food often does, it brings people together. More importantly, traditional homemade foods like this are imbued with a rich history, cultural heritage, and love. As my family labors around that little kitchen table in Ohio every Easter season, we enrich ourselves, our family, and hopefully, bring a yummy sense of pure enjoyment to the community.


Be well and keep your traditions alive, my friends!

Slice of life

Traditions in Quarantine: Herbs & Bonsai Trees

It is hard to create during a pandemic. At least for me. As the VIRUS THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED hit the United States and social distancing required many of us to retreat into our homes, I began questioning myself.

Am I truly a writer?

How do I push aside the pandemic fog that is clouding my mind and tap into my muse?

Does the muse even matter when it feels like the world is crumbling?

To clear the questioning fog, I turned to another hobby: indoor gardening. Yesterday, my herb seedlings sprouted and my first bonsai tree reached out from the soil.

This little seedling was powerful enough to give me hope. Hope that tomorrow it will be taller. Tomorrow, it will be greener. Tomorrow more seedlings will lift their leaves to the sun.

It reminded me that we are together in isolation.

And we will get through this apart, together.

Book Reviews

Music & Masks: A Book Review

As a true bibliophile, my summer reading list is quite long. . . or rather, the book stack is tall. The stack may be ambitious for the summer months when outdoor projects and Hulu competes for my attention, but I happily made reading the ARC of The Orphan’s Song by Lauren Kate a priority. When the book comes out next week, you should pick up a copy for your summer page-turning adventures.

The Orphan's Song

This historical-fiction novel is steeped in the culture of Venice in the 1700s. We find ourselves at the Hospital of the Incurables, an orphanage/hospital/music school/church that maintains a rigid social structure for its wards. The girls aspire to sing in the church coro (and swear an oath not to sing anywhere else) until they marry or become nuns. The boys are forbidden to practice music and instead learn the skills of tradesmen. That doesn’t stop the young coro-member-to-be Violetta from singing to the horizon on the Incurable’s rooftop, where she meets Mino with his patched-up violin. Their first song is is broken by the missteps of youth, but it echoes in their memories as they search for family and get swept away by the masked pleasures of Venetian society.  (Seriously, there were a lot of masks—or bauta—in the book. As the bauta allowed major characters to operate with certain anonymity, it was a great plot device.)

The Orphan’s Song is Kate’s first adult historical book. (You may recognize her name from the her bestselling title, Fallen, the first book in the supernatural YA series.) As someone who hasn’t read any of her previous books, The Orphan’s Song was a pleasant introduction to the author. This even-paced novel wasn’t earth-shattering, but I really appreciated the musical references and historical immersion. I’m pretty sure I shed a tear midway through the book (you’ll know where, when you read that part) and it wasn’t predictable, like so many historical-fiction romances can be.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars. . . and I really want a bauta of my own now.

Publishing

A Foray into the World of Genre Fiction

I love fiction of all genres. Right now, I’m hauling a beat-up fantasy novel in my purse. I’ve read everything from Pride & Prejudice to Harry Potter, and I heartily agree with George R. R. Martin, who wrote in the introduction to Warriors, “Books should broaden us. . . expand our horizons and our way of looking at the world. Limiting your reading to a single genre defeats that. It limits us, makes us smaller.” Sure, it’s great to have a favorite genre. I naturally gravitate toward fantasy and historical fiction. But it’s also exciting to venture into undiscovered worlds of fiction.

To understand the breadth of genres, I researched and created an infographic detailing 5 main genres, and their associated sub-genres. Each word cloud contains elements of the main genre, and within each subgenre I’ve noted the various stylistic elements and publication examples. Of course, this is not a complete list. It could never be. Genres simply categorize publications, and provide basic plot ‘recipes’ to meet the expectations of readers. Many good stories are solidly planted within their genres, while others defy genre stereotypes. They all inspire the imagination. I hope this visual representation of genre styles serves as a beginner’s guide to the many genres of fiction. Happy reading!

Publishing, Slice of life

Turning the Tables: A Word Exploration

I recently completed a word-research project based upon the word table. The final product was a 1000-word argument that explored modern usage of this everyday word. Here is the abbreviated version.

. . . .

Table. The first thing that comes to mind upon hearing that word is a long, flat, wooden board, supported by four legs, standing in a dining room. It is loaded with memories of familial laughter, smells of good food, and the occasional spread of work-related papers across its surface. It is a mundane noun; the furniture that it describes exists in many forms, in many cultures, for many purposes. It is a common everyday object. And yet, it has become more.

We know words matter, but even the simplest of words can have a wide variety of meanings. 

The object this noun describes has become a gathering place. A place for discourse, learning, argument, and unity. It supports culture—that of culinary delights, entertaining games, artistic endeavors, and political debate—so much so that table has become a verb as well. We lay our thoughts on the table, and sweep them aside by tabling them. We turn the tables on our opponents and come to the table when we’re ready to participate in discussion again. Motions that are laid upon the table can also be negotiated at a metaphorical one. Even the shape of the table has historically represented social position. The legendary “knights of the round table” were each equally revered as authoritative figures, while the head of the table is still revered as a position of authority. All these meanings and nuances reside in the five letters that describe the four-legged object.

Oxford Dictionary defines table as, “A piece of furniture with a flat top and one or more legs, providing a level surface for eating, writing, or working at.” Besides this primary definition, I personally used table as a verb, meaning to delay an issue or discussion. Oxford dictionary attributes this definition to American English.

This would explain my confusion when I came across a BBC news article which used table in a completely different context. Earlier this month, the British Parliament “tabled a motion” of no confidence against UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Why would they delay a motion when they clearly meant to move forward with the vote of no confidence? This one word seemingly contradicted the point of the entire article, and dramatically hampered my understanding of it. After a quick Google search, I came across a helpful discussion post that explained the British-English definition of the word, which is to “Present formally for discussion or consideration at a meeting.”

Because words can have dramatic variations in different dialects, we must carefully consider words as they are spoken within their given contexts.

Which form of the word is correct? The answer is, both of them. It makes sense that the phrase, “tabled the issue” means to present an issue for review within British English, especially since Parliament uses table as a procedural term. “Tabling is the act of formally putting forward a question, a motion or an amendment in the Commons or the Lords.” Even Americans will occasionally refer to “laying it all on the table.” As tables have historically been a resting place for objects, it is equally understandable that the common American-English version of the word means, to postpone the review of an issue.

So what was the point of researching this common, everyday word? The usage of this table demonstrates even the simplest of words can have a wide variety of meanings across different dialects. Such word variances should not be taken for granted. It is important to maintain curiosity about language, and an awareness about the nuances of different word usages. It is a fact that one word, when heard out of context, can lead to confusion. Thus, the importance of context cannot be overstressed. To operate ethically within our world, we must carefully consider words as they are spoken within their given contexts, before jumping to misguided conclusions.

 

Slice of life

The Roasted Goose

You know those words or social idioms that you somehow never heard of, and you feel naive when you find them out? Someone at my workplace recently talked about “a roast” at a party. I thought they meant a literal roast, like beef brisket or roast beef. Little did I know, my own naiveté would be “roasted” if it was known. I just nodded, smiled, and hoped that my initial response of “That sounds good!” went unnoticed.

 

Every story is better when it’s personal. That doesn’t mean every story has to be a biography or memoir, but real-life grit can enhance every story. I try to remember this when life doesn’t go as planned. And as a 20-something who loves to plan, this happens a lot. Throughout my week, I step away from unit strategy meetings and emails to attend college classes. The writing classes are great, but the the required classes…. not so much.

 

My language professor uses German conversational terms in with her lectures. Besonders… es gibt… ganz…I think I am supposed to absorb the meaning of these words through repeated exposure. But I am too busy trying to see around the arms of the freshman kid in front of me who continually yawns and stretches during class. It happens so frequently that it often looks like he is raising his hand for a question. Ich weiß nicht!

 

I begrudgingly listen to other students talk about sleeping till 9am, when my own day begins at 7am. After a long day of work and classes, my dog (who forgets she is an older gal and wiggles like a puppy) is the first to greet me when I get home. Unlike the cats, who are content to lounge on my late-night homework assignments. I take my cue from them and settle in for a catnap after dinner… before bed. It doesn’t make sense, but slowing down matters.

 

I wrap up the evening by kissing my PhD-candidate husband on the cheek as he tackles a literal foot of grading before working on his own research. I wake up briefly when he comes to bed in the wee hours of the morning, and we steel ourselves to do it all over again the next day. I recognize it is a privilege to have a foot in the ‘American dream’ (if it ever existed) and another in the fast-paced world of our time. It is still a struggle to maintain the starry-eyed idealism of youth and not become jaded.

 

That’s another interesting word… ‘Jaded.’ Jaded sometimes seems like a slightly less positive word for wise. Perhaps the grit in our stories is different shades of jade. The more grit the better the story.

 

That’s what’s happenin’ folks. My nickname is ‘Goose’ because I am opinionated, klutzy, and a little bit naive. Welcome to my own personal roast.
Politics, Slice of life

The Art of Civil Conversation

In light of the ongoing national conversation, I’d like to highlight a few sections of a previous article, Mindful Political Awareness

While mindfulness is important for daily life, civility is extraordinarily crucial for our daily conversations. It is an art, not a natural reaction, that becomes easier with practice. The truths we share are readily accepted when we share them respectfully. And yes, eventually we must move beyond talking and take action. But, if we begin from a place of respectful understanding through civil conversation, our actions can have a greater impact.

 

LISTEN & EMPATHIZE

When we participate in conversations, mindfulness can help us to empathize and speak our truths in a meaningful manner. Active listening is a discipline that helps us tune out our internal monologue and genuinely hear what other people have to say. When combined with mindfulness, it becomes a powerful tool that allows us to breathe, focus, and attune ourselves to what is truly important. We start to identify the strength of our emotions, particularly when we need to disengage from heated scenarios. Not only that, but we begin to hear political arguments differently. Our minds are suddenly receptive to new information and we begin to understand even when we disagree.

SAY THANK YOU

Please. Excuse me. Thank you. We teach children that these are ‘magic words’ but we may not fully appreciate their magical qualities. One of my friends regularly engages in political discussions on Facebook, but somehow these conversations never get caustic. How is this possible? As I was struggling with cordial dialogue, I began watching how he managed these conversations. The key phrase he frequently said was, thank you. “Thank you for joining the conversation,” he would reply to commenters before subtly introducing a counter-point for consideration. This did several things. It established a respectful tone, made the participants feel appreciated, and added value to the conversation – just through two simple words. A precedent of introspection and respect sets the foundation of healthy conversation.

The politics of democracy have governed our beautiful country for 242 years. It touches our lives in many ways, and we each have a claim in the conversation. With mindful political awareness, we can maintain focus and consider other points of view.

Publishing

An Editing Philosophy

I recently established my personal editing philosophy through free writing. What’s your writing/editing philosophy?

 

Editing is the art of shaping ideas. The art of the idea has already been produced by the author, but the editor must respectfully review the art, frame the ideas, polish the rough edges, and make the author’s voice shine.

As an editor, I am the invisible helper shining a light on the author’s story. Everyone’s voice is different. I don’t want to take over an author’s work. I want to explore the words created by unique imaginations and help them express the truth of their story without impeding. I have a deep appreciation of the written word and the plethora of ideas represented by many different authors. I revel in a well-formed sentence and equally relish the moments when the rules of grammar are cleverly broken.

I am passionate in my editorial aims for unique perfection within text. The rules of the written word are as detailed as they are evolving. My goal is to collaborate with talented authors to develop their manuscripts into polished works of art.

Slice of life

Who I Am is Not My Age

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Growing up, I was a daydreamer who enjoyed reading books, climbing trees, and having interesting conversations with anyone. It didn’t matter if you were a toddler, a peer, or an awesome person rockin’ the age of 105. I didn’t care about anyone’s age… until they cared about mine.

“You’re so young!”

“You’re so mature for your age!”

That was the theme of most conversations I had with adults as I progressed from middle school to high school. When a well-meaning adult would ask my age, their demeanor immediately shifted. The assumption was, I couldn’t share their experiences. I didn’t fit into their ‘adult’ box. The conversations became static.

“What year are you in high school?”

“What do you want do with your life?”

Does any high school student honestly know the answer to this question? Sure, I dreamed about becoming a veterinarian with a blue convertible, but life has a way of changing our dreams so… let’s talk about anything else.

I quickly identified the adults I could really talk to. They would talk with me, not down to me. We chatted about our favorite movies, jobs, and our different life experiences. Our conversations sparkled.

Then I grew up. I worked an internship, achieved a full-time job, got married, and bought a house. I finally stepped into the ‘adult’ box. Little did I know, I still didn’t fit.

“You’re already married? You guys are babies!”

“You’re still in your twenties?! You’re so young! Well, you are too young to remember this reference…”

These statements sorted me into the ‘just-barely-an-adult’ box. Which was hilarious, considering my love of history, antiques, and jazz. I even watched every single episode of I Love Lucy. If there was an older pop-culture reference I didn’t understand, I could learn. But alas, I had been sorted out of the ‘adult’ box.

Currently, I have been rolled up and tossed into the millennial category where I am dismissed as a disrespectful, entitled brat. Woah! Wait a minute. Like everyone else in the millennial box… the baby boomer box…. and every box humans like to create…

I am not my age. Age doesn’t have to define us, because…

We are ourselves. An awesome mish-mash of messy experiences, embarrassing mistakes, and fantastic triumphs. And we are better because we are all different.

So excuse me, I am going to step out of my box. Can I offer you some of my idealism for a bit of your experience? Let’s have a conversation that sparkles.

Politics

Declarations of John Hancock

This copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence is displayed within modest frames against a rough brick wall. The towering expanse of a stairwell dwarfs the display and makes it appear out-of-place. And yet, it is this simplicity that makes the copy of the Declaration so intriguing… along with the fact that is has been signed recently.

Look closely.

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Among the names of our founding fathers and underneath the bold signature of John Hancock, multitudes of individuals have added their own John Hancock. The ink of some signatures have faded to pale indentations, only to be scribbled over by other signatures. Some of the signatures are written in jest, such as Mad Poet and the paw print followed by (Snoop!). But others have added their actual names. This document of immense national and historical meaning continues to inspire. The signatures of the 21st century mingle with those of the 18th.

*Please note: I do not support graffiti or any type of defacement of public or private property.*