The poetry of mac and cheese

from Food Babbles blog: http://foodbabbles.com/jarlsberg-macaroni-cheese/

Up at the ungodly hour of 5am on Sunday morning, I began reading the food issue of Room magazine, savouring the blissful silence at that time of darkness, and I suddenly got this craving for the perfect Mac and Cheese recipe (which I don’t have) because I almost never eat it.  Then after reading some great pieces in this food-focused issue 40.1 (Psych Ward Grub by Lucas Crawford, Snap Dragon by Sylvia Symons, Your Body the Fire by Rachel Jansen), I felt the urge to write a poem.  It left me wondering what the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe might actually be. I found one at the bottom, after my poem, but no guarantees it’s the ultimate.

Mac and cheese love

If it’s going to snow in Vancouver in March (for God’s sake)

I need to find a perfect macaroni and cheese recipe,

buttery smooth and steaming into existence a non-existent family.

Don’t forget the wieners.

Call forth childhood

when we’d eat them handed to us

by a fat man behind the meat counter,

blood specked phonetics on his white apron.

We’d pop the wieners round, packed firmness

chewy and fun inside our mouths,

my brother and I grossing each other out,

we’d open wide

revealing the gnarly, half-chewed mystery bits

when our mother wasn’t looking.

 

This time, maybe I’ll use white cheese, not cheddar

Snow Geese, not crows

clouds, not cream,

hold the gull droppings,

oregano as evergreens

parmesan, not pigeon

and finish with a delicate, breadcrumb topping,

like brown birds dotting a frozen lake from a distance.

 

I’m thinking now back to the time I made my version from memory

for you (lacking)

and you were mad

because (I now realize), you were actually hungry, the

way most of us never are any more (in the West)

for a good

meal, (with meat),

subtle flavours requiring conversation to identify,

the kind of dishes you’d always concoct for my visits

on your two-burner hot plate,

you, Jamie Oliver, you.

Nothing like what I had plated, something

to turn your nose up at

as if my making such a thing,

(suburban, mundane, less-than),

meant I didn’t love you the way

you’d imagined I did.

 

And with that, it may (not really) have been worth getting up at 5 am yesterday.

Check out this blog for their recommendations for making amazing homemade mac and cheese or if you’re holding out on me, and you already have the very best mac and cheese recipe, tell me what I have to do to receive it from you, point me in the right direction.

May your week be full of culinary surprises (in a good way)!

Writing for 5: Week two writing prompt. Join in!

photo by Renaud Camus, Creative Commons, click image for details

Thank you so much for dropping by,

Welcome to Write for 5 week two. This is how it works. I post an image and we write for five minutes and then post our results in the comments up to 9pm on Sunday.

I decided to stick with just one image this week (above), not three like last week.

Take as long as you like to look at the bed above with that beautiful light on the pillows. When you’re ready to write, start your timer.

We have up until 9pm on Sunday, Mar. 5, to post what we’ve come up with but go ahead and post whenever you feel like it.

Our writing can take any form: poetry, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, experimental or erasure poetry, dialogue or whatever you like. Go for it.

If you have any questions, I’m going to be away from the computer most of the day but I’ll get back to you on Sunday morning. Let me know if you have any technical issues with posting.

I am so looking forward to reading what you come up with so don’t be shy.

And as I said yesterday, someone will get a book sent to them from me with a personal note for participating.

Thanks for playing. I hope you enjoy it!

Write for 5 links past to present

gayle mavor photo taken in Thailand, 2013

I recall her from elementary school and my childhood birthday parties. Pin the tail on the donkey. Pennies in the cake. Musical chairs affairs. She has beautiful eyes. Brown sparkly ones. And a bubbly personality.  At our parties, there’d be my twin brother at one end of the table. Me at the other. King and queen. Two cakes. Our mum really did make our birthdays special when we were young.

I have this photo in an album to prove that it happened once as if I’m looking at other people, as if it’s got nothing to do with me. I wonder if other people feel that way when they look at photos of themselves from so many years ago.

I hope she doesn’t freak when she sees this photo. She’s the one in the blue dress. Dark hair. Right-hand side. A silly red birthday hat on her head.

Thanks to Facebook, she’s now words on my computer screen that pop up every day. I guess in a way she’s more in my life now than she was then. Thank you Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

I was really pleased that she participated in the first Write for 5 writing exercise where we write to an image for a timed five minutes. You can look at what image she chose, and introduce yourself to Mrs. Handicott in her submission in the comments off that blog post..

From what I’ve gleaned on social media, Jo-Anne is a more devoted coffee lover than most on the West Coast. I’d actually think she might make a pretty good guest on Comedians in Cars getting Coffee. I mean, there are regular people who could be as funny as most comedians off stage based on what I’ve seen on that show.

She’s also an avid reader, of course, and during the day while she dons her grownup attire and works as an HR Advisor for the Alzheimer’s Society of BC, you’ve got to know that when she’s in a meeting and she gets that faraway look in her eyes, it’s because she’s actually plotting her next flash fiction or poem.

Visit her blog, Going for Coffee and introduce yourself, preferably coffee in hand. Thanks so much Jo-Anne for taking part.

Only three more days until Saturday when the next Write for 5 begins at 8:00 am PST. I’m searching for just the right image and tomorrow, here, I’m going to muse about the magic of how it’s even possible to go from image to words on a page and how that spark happens for me. I’d be curious to know how it happens for you. Get mindful and pay attention to that process if you’re curious.

At a book launch yesterday in Vancouver, I ran into a friend and her husband. She was in the only writing group I’ve ever been in back in the mid-1990s. The past as present. It’s all around.

Smart girls love multitasking, and writing prompts

One of the women that submitted a short Write for 5 piece last weekend was someone I went to high school with. Her name is Marjorie Sayer. I remember her as being super smart, possibly the smartest person who went through New Westminster Secondary School at the time, (or maybe to date), very enthusiastic, and a lover of the sax which she played in the high school concert and jazz bands.

I haven’t been in touch with her very much since that time which is why I’m even more honoured that she would take the time to join in.

I love how she explains on her blog that math and physics are wonderful preparations for creative writing.

One of the interesting things I could glean from her website is that she’s written a book for Grades 4 and up called The Girl Mechanic of WanZhou. Here’s a link to a book review off a blog called Making it Sweet.

I found this particularly interesting because when I worked at UBC Computer Science 10 + years ago now, the Department was, and still is, focused on increasing the participation of girls and women in learning and teaching about computer science, and they have done a great job of that in on-the-ground representation of female undergrads, grad students, instructors and professors.

They even have a program there called GirlSmarts. I came up with that original name which they’ve changed to GIRLSmarts4Tech. The curriculum was originally created by Professor Anne Condon and managed by Michele Ng under the inspiration of Maria Klawe, current President of Harvey Mudd College.  (I hope I’m accurate in this representation of how GIRLSmarts originated).

I thought to myself, Marjorie would be such an excellent fit for them as some sort of guest speaker. I haven’t told her that and I haven’t reached out to Michele to perhaps investigate the possibility of the pairing in some way.

Many people will be like, meh, writing prompt, been there, done that. There are a million things competing for time. I get that.

But if you feel like it, you can join in this coming weekend March 4th at 8:00 am to March 5th at 9:00 pm to challenge yourself with Write for 5.

Happy Tuesday, the day of the week that gets kind of left out. Personally, I’ve always really liked Tuesdays, and smart girls.

Join in. Write for 5 for fun

Dear friends,

Thanks for joining in today in this little experiment: Write for 5.  

I will say, it was a wee bit of a challenge choosing a single image! So I decided to choose 3. Pick just one to write about.

Whenever you’re ready, start the timer. (We won’t include choosing/examining the photo in the 5 minutes of writing time. Take your time for that.)

Write for 5. That’s how it’s going to work. At least for this first time.

We can complete the Write for 5 exercise any time this weekend so if it doesn’t work right this minute, then later. But if you’re just procrastinating, don’t! Do it now if you can!

We’ll all be brave and agree to post our Write for 5 submission in the comments of this post when we’re done.

I’m arbitrarily choosing 9pm on Sunday, Feb. 26 as the cutoff for submitting to this week’s Write for 5.

The first person to post their Write for 5 result gets a subscription to Geist Magazine (6 issues) courtesy of me for one year.

I’ll respond to some of the writing throughout the week on the blog and we’ll do it again with a new image next Saturday. That’s the plan. The universe may have other plans. We’ll just see. baby steps!

If you want to say anything about the experience for you, that would be interesting. Only if you want to.

Go!

Using Imagery as Writing Muse

Rummaging through some papers, I found this image from a magazine stapled to something I had written on July 18, 1998.

I was in a writing group then that met monthly – or tried to –  and re-reading it brought me right back into the small living room in the house where we’d meet. It was an old house, up rickety stairs, rooms all chopped up.

I was thinking how much fun it used to be to sit in that group, a bunch of magazine pages ripped out haphazardly, each of us taking turns choosing which image to pick so that we could scribble away during a timed writing exercise, letting whatever words come to us as they came. It was a form of writing meditation.  I think 5 minutes was what we settled on back then.

I was thinking how much fun it would be to let other writers look at a photo on the blog and see what they could come up with. It’s kind of a nice idea, a way to share. And then, you could post what you’d written after your own timed five minutes at home. No cheating!

If you feel inclined to try and time yourself and write to the above image, and then add what you ended up writing into the comments, it would make things a million time more interesting around here. I could then add a new image every week with whatever I’d managed to come up with in my own timed 5 minutes.

Here’s what I wrote back then although I will admit, I changed a few things after sitting down to type it out before posting it here. I changed her name. I decided this woman was Turkish and so Isabella didn’t seem like the right name.

Gülçin, a name bestowed eighty-nine years earlier, reveled in the spicy warmth of the nicotine as it streamed through the shriveled opening of her throat, lingered for just a few seconds, and was then expunged, pushing its way against the afternoon’s hot wind like an apparition.

She was safe in her chair, her favorite place. That same chair that had balanced her when the roundness of her thighs had not crept round the wooden corners of the frame but had fit snugly, like foam, atop the smooth wooden cup of the seat.

Her cane, carved by her grandfather over a few months the summer she turned eight, had been her most constant companion in the last few years. She had remembered him sitting near the red rocks, and bits of grass at the cliff edge near their home, the sparkling sea like a rug as far as the eye could see to the horizon.

She’d sit on her porch, perched above the dusty street in that town she’d lived in since she’d married more than 70 years ago now, and she’d watch the youth pass by in the way a factory foreman might watch assembly line workers. She never barked out orders or even greetings. 

When a neighbor or familiar face passed, she’d remove the cigarette and blow the smoke between the space where her two front teeth used to be and in that subtle shift, they’d know they’d been acknowledged, they’d been seen. And it was enough.

Most of the time she would not even notice the strays barking, the wrestling of small boys whose bare feet raised the dust to feather their ankles, or the bustle of women, beautiful full girls, and slap-dashed-together mothers hurrying back from the market in preparation for another day of the cooking, washing, feeding, cleaning cycle. She was there and she wasn’t. She was with all of them and she was with the images of her past that greeted her just as real as company, adding excitement and grief, love and energy to what would turn out to be just another 12 hours, like the 12 hours before that, wrapped in heat and routine.

 She’d think back to her best friend as a child and the hours they’d spent playing in the back alleyways, listening to adults they knew only by the first names their mothers used to refer to them as they gossiped. Mostly they watched. Anything to escape the one room they each shared with three generations who had perfected the familial folk dance, weaving around each other, ducking anger, ignoring bodily functions and even the tears everyone would have preferred to have kept hidden if they’d had the luxury of privacy.

Usually around midday, she would sometimes feel the phantom lips of her deceased husband as if they were grazing her forehead. A tear-dropped wet bead of sweat would seep from beneath her white headscarf and slip over the band of folded skin that decorated her chest like a handmade necklace.

She had loved the memory of his lips. Not just because they had become as familiar as her own but because they embodied everything they had shared together; framing the rite of two-as-one even though he’d been gone for decades.

Elevating the Ordinary

Creative Commons photo

One of my intentions this year is to do something that lifts the day out of the ordinary every single day. It doesn’t have to be anything big and let’s face it, most of what I find interesting doesn’t typically cost a lot of money. It’s usually related to the Arts or being in a natural environment or dredging up questions and memories, if not stuff, at thrift shops.

It might be as simple as going to a different library. It could be cooking a new type of soup. Maybe I’ll visit a natural space in the Lower Mainland that I haven’t yet been to, or have been to and would like to visit again. I merely have to find enjoyment in the thought of doing it and then, here’s the tricky part, I actually have to follow through on those original intentions.

So yesterday on CBC Radio when I heard that it was PWYC (PayWhatYouCan) Wednesday at The Firehall Arts Centre and that there was a play there called And Bella Sang with Us by Sally Stubbs, I walked to the train for the requisite 35 minute sit into Vancouver and got off at the Chinatown station.

I walked down past T&T, past the Sun Yat Sen Garden, up past the Chinese grocers and herbalists and turned left at Gore Ave crossing Main Street, then walking back across the street to The Firehall.

The play is a glimpse into the lives of two female constables showcasing a part of Vancouver’s early history that I knew nothing about. That alone made it interesting. The cast was really good and the script was interesting.

I sat down and a woman sat down beside me in a small audience of mainly retired folk. It was 1pm. We chatted a bit, enough for me to learn that she’d recently graduated from Photography at Emily Carr. That little bit of info was enough for me to know I wanted to chat more with her.

After the play was over, we talked briefly before she asked if I’d like to go for a walk if we picked up her dog in her nearby co-op. So, we walked a little deeper into Strathcona and she returned with a curly-haired poodle named Bodhi. He was more than ready to get some fresh air.

We walked into Strathcona Park, passed a professional dog walker, watched as some other millennial dog walkers chased Bodhi around. “He loves to be chased,” she said, as we watched him scurry the way happy, fast moving dogs run, back slightly arched as his little legs took him on a big excited swath of a circle, the smile on his small black lips almost discernable.

We continued down a street near Union Market and then back up a street past Strathcona Elementary. Another woman walking a small cream-coloured poodle stopped to let the dogs interact before continuing on her way.

“Do you know who that is?” asked my new acquaintance.”

“No, but she looks familiar,” I said.

“That’s Daphne Marlatt. She lives around here.”

“Oh, I love Daphne Marlatt’s long poem on Steveston,” I said, a poem I’d read years ago and I’ve never forgotten its effect on me at the time, way back in the early 1980s. Long poems still amaze me in their complexity.

We talked about the challenge of being the age we are and finding work. We talked about art and photography and we made a plan to meet again, to revisit the Walker Evans exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery before it ends on January 22nd.

And there you have it, a fine example of elevating an ordinary day.