Sunday, May 26, 2013

Poems for Ordinary People - guest blog

I love the book Poems for Ordinary People by Carol Allis. So does my sister, Monette Johnson, who turned me on to Carol's poetry a year ago, at least, when Carol's book was published. She offered then to write a guest blog, but I said, oh no, I love Carol's  poetry, and poetry in general, and I will do it. Well. I didn't. My feelings about poetry are complicated. I have a long history with it. I love it. I hate it. I want it. Anyway. Here's a lovely piece written by my dear sister. I hope you enjoy, and that you consider installing Carol Allis' book in your library. Mary K. 

By Monette Johnson
If you're like me and mostly avoid poetry because you find much of it esoteric, pretentious, bewildering and just plain don't get it, meet Carol Allis. 
Carol writes "Poems for Ordinary People" as her first book title announces, and there's not an esoteric, pretentious or bewildering line to be found. Her poems speak to ordinary folks like most of us --

ordinary poets
Is there poetry for ordinary people
You know
Waitresses and nurses
People who clean floors and fix roads
And string cable and make sandwiches
And sing good-night songs
And go off to work every day
To pay for groceries and bicycles
Just ordinary people
Who hear the rhythm and music
Of ordinary life every day
Who don't have time
To ponder navels
Dissect complex phrases
Or analyze a line to death
People who think in poetry every day
But don’t have time to write it down
And not much time to read
Catching lines on the fly
That kind of poetry

Carol Allis
Carol grew up in a household where poems were read regularly at her grandmother's dinner table. She started writing them herself after her father gave her a manual typewriter when she was seven, teaching herself to type using both index fingers (a method that serves her well to this day).

I've known Carol since the 1980s when I hired her to work as a writer in the hospital Public Relations Department I headed. She was a late applicant because of a bureaucratic screw-up by the County Personnel (before we all became human resources) Department which had informed her she failed the writing test.

Testament to her persistence, she challenged their results ("I've never failed a test in my life.") and sure enough, they'd made a mistake. I knew within two minutes of starting her interview that she was the right person for the job. What I didn't know until reading her inscription in my copy of her book ("Thank you for mentoring me in my first writing job; you helped me believe in myself.") is that, well, it was her first writing job.

Didn't matter a bit.  Not only was she the best writer I ever hired, she was the fastest and most productive. I believe she invented multi-tasking before it became a catchword.

Even though we worked together for five years, I didn't know she wrote poetry until a year or so before her book was published when I read some of her poems online. My first thought was damn, these are good, hope she finds a publisher.

Fortunately the North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., St. Cloud, Minnesota, came through and published the book late last year. Readings at area bookstores and book clubs ensued with the books selling out at each location. (She began taking more copies to each reading.)

Her book is divided into topics: Ordinary Poets, Outrage, Love, Family, Thinking too Much, Hurting, Hooked, Loss, Respite, Reflections, and The Light Side. When I started writing this, I paged through and re-read a number of poems at random. Despite having read them before, I found myself choking up over several, smiling at more.  Here's one of the smilers:

body parts
Write a poem
About a body part
(the assignent was)

I thought and thought
Which part?
Which one is my favorite?
Some of mine
Haven't been used lately . . .

Tennis muscles
Racquetball ligaments
Torn hamstrings
Hairline-fractured ankles
And . . . other parts . . .
Parts that go unused
When love is on the skids . . . 

Well, one thing's functioning
The heart beats on
Despite the varied struggles
Of injured, aching, waning
Body parts
And the brain, of course

But here are all these other body parts
Waiting for jump starts

Carol retired a couple of months ago from her job as a public information officer "translating governmentalize into words ordinary people can understand."  Now she can spend more time translating life experience into the kind of poetry ordinary people can understand.

For more poems:
The book is available at

Read one of my favorites from Carol's book. MK

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Spring Smoothie - A Sorta Low-Carb Breakfast

I've developed a major taste for breakfast smoothies. Why didn't I catch on to this easy, delicious and nutrient-packed meal-in-a-glass earlier? Better late..., as the saying goes. I have the luxury of not having to charge off to work or feed kids or pack lunches—retired, ya know—but smoothies are an excellent and relatively carefree answer to making sure everybody gets out the door with enough fuel to last until lunch without the mid-morning crash created by the typical bowl of cereal.

For low-carbers, smoothies are the bomb. You can omit bananas and use just berries and/or cantaloupe for fruit. I've been doing the low-carb thing for so many years I kinda just know what to eat and what's off limits. I'm not trying to lose weight (except by cutting way back on drinking wine) so I throw a frozen banana in for sweetness and texture. What the hell. A half of a banana isn't going to plump me too much. We are enjoying fresh strawberries now, and will until fall, but frozen berries from the store are perfectly fine.

Kale in smoothies? You betcha. I load it up and defy anyone to detect it.
It does add a green tinge and TONS of vitamins and minerals and fiber. I am sad for
the day, coming soon, when kale will be out of season in our garden.
 But wait! We'll have chard! 

Two coffee cups full of smoothie goodness. More awaits in the blender.

A cracker or two spread with peanut or almond butter goes
great with smoothies. These are tasty and ridiculously low-carb.
Two crackers = 13.1 g carbs and 3.8 g fiber.  
This smoothie could be enjoyed any time of the year, it's just that we have so much KALE and the strawberries are coming on and well, it is May, so this a spring smoothie. And it is breakfast several days a week, enjoyed with two rye crackers spread with peanut or almond butter.
Spring Smoothie
As usual, this "recipe" is a guide. Use what you have and what you like. A lot of smoothie recipes—and there are THOUSANDS online, list four or five ice cubes as ingredients. I'm not sure why. I'd rather toss in some frozen fruit. I've never found water to be particularly satisfying.
This amount serves three easily. I don't have a big enough blender for a crowd. I don't precisely measure anything—these are approximations. That's the great thing about smoothies. You can make them up as you go along and correct after all is blended. Have fun! And remember to add kale, spinach, chard, or another nutrient-packed green. Don't tell anybody and see if they can detect it. Bet not.


2 cups, more or less, berries: black, blue, straw, rasp, and maybe some stone-free cherries thrown in for sweetness

1 RIPE banana, frozen is best
1 small handful of raw walnuts, almonds, cashews or other nuts
2-3  cups of torn-up kale, stems removed
1/2 - 1 tsp vanilla to pump up flavor
2 cups coconut, almond or soy milk* approximately, or a combination thereof
1/2 cup half and half (skip if you're calorie adverse. Add ice cubes instead! Or more coconut milk.)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 scoop protein powder, I use vanilla-flavored whey protein and/or organic pumpkin protein, a local product that I discovered at the Growers and Crafters market in Grants Pass, OR.
1-2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup or honey. Substitute equivalent stevia powder or other sugar substitute to save calories/carbs. Adjust to taste.

*I've recently been advised by a healthcare practitioner to eliminate dairy products. I have not complied all the way, but have cut back by using these alternatives. I like them!

If you're using frozen fruit, put some in the blender at night to thaw and add the rest  in the morning. Toss in the banana, pour in the liquids and yogurt and kale and protein powders and everything else and blend thoroughly. Serve in cups or bowls. Refrigerate leftovers and use within a couple of days.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spring Bounty for the Eye, Heart, and Palate

The first strawberries of summer harvested today! The lacinato kale cut back to the nub a week ago has rebounded
with another big surge, and it is as delicious as ever. It has to be pulled out this week though to make way for summer crops. I'm accumulating asparagus for a few days with an eye toward pickling.Those berries? Breakfast. 
I never tire of these purple irises—fragrant, resilient, and reliable. They've
been delighting the senses for about 30 years. 

A new dogwood blooms as a 30-year-old rhodie climbs the roof.

Giant lupine in front of the house. Unfortunately, black aphids love
these, and last year I pulled a couple plants. I'm keeping my eye
on this last one, ready to do battle.

The last of the 2012 spaghetti squash baked today. It's hard to believe
it's lasted eight months. Last fall PK swabbed the keeper squashes with
a bleach solution and also wiped down the storage area. Hooray!

Tonight's dinner: Spaghetti squash topped with 2012 marinara sauce and May 8, 2013 garden
bonanza: bok choy, broccoli, kale, and, from the grocery store,
sweet yellow peppers, all sauteed in olive and sesame oils with minced garlic and ginger and
seasoned with ginger/lemon flavored sea salt.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Transition Time - Spring to Summer in the Garden

Lacinato kale, and every other green thing, goes crazy in the cold frame during April, but by mid-May, it's starting to go to seed and the time has time has arrived to make way for summer crops. The cold frame keeps us in lettuce, spinach, kale, and chard from late January. Soon we'll move the cold frame out and plant this sunny spot with some heat lovers currently incubating in our solarium/greenhouse. Last summer it was peppers Maybe basil this year.
Spring is tricky here in Southern Oregon. Sometimes we think it's arrived in February as temps rise and and shorts are busted out of storage. But then it gets bitter and gloomy and wet again until the next untrustworthy reprieve in March. In April, bluster lingers, but longer days and warmer temps bring out the buds. By May, all heaven breaks loose. The birds, the perfumes of young grasses and blooms, the kisses of warm breezes, the shocking and stunning wildflowers, the trees heavy with color and fragrance—make it really hard and stupid to be in a foul mood. If you can be depressed on a sunny May day, you must be in a dark room without windows. Go outside!
Romaine lettuce and spinach co-mingle as they reach maturity.
Can there be a downside to have all those fresh greens growing on
the sunny south side of our house?
Yes, there is a downside. Most of the greens, especially the spinach,
must be washed and put thru the salad spinner. It is way easier to run to the grocery
 and buy the washed organic greens in the big plastic boxes. Not quite as tasty, of course,
and also not as "substantial." Homegrown greens have more heft, thicker leaves.
I used to blanch and freeze excess greens. Now I use them in smoothies.
I learned just this week that kale can be frozen without blanching! Big news.
We'll have some in the freezer when the strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and
blackberries start spilling off the vines and bushes as early as next month.
The garden is bare, except for some broccoli (not in the photo),
and the just-planted onion starts. The tablet holds our garden
plans. We keep track every year so we don't make the mistake
of planting onions where they were last year, or winter squash
where the hideous squash bugs  created an insect horror show in 2012.

Speaking of onions, we buy them as tiny starts
from a Texas outfit. We ate the last of our keeper onions
in March! Many were softball-sized.

In the meantime, heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers.
eggplants, and basil are practically jumping out of their pots
in the solarium. Even though it's May, we are still likely to
have a hard frost, so we must be patient. And hope we don't get
an infestation of white flies or aphids or some other horrid pest that
loves nothing more than destroying tender young plants. Of course
putting them outside exposes them to the ravages of finches.
It's always something.  The best thing, though, is that it is most definitely spring.
Condolences to my Minnesota sister and friends who saw another five inches of  SNOW
just a few days ago.  May your spinach survive and your kalepush through the drifts.