What feeds us

“This book is for everyone who wants to learn to cook, or to become a better cook….

By cooking your way through these lessons, tasting and learning from your successes (and your mistakes), you will get to know some fundamental techniques by heart and you won’t have to look them up again. This will enable you to cook with ease and confidence, inspired by recipes–rather than being ruled by them–and free to enjoy the sheer pleasure of preparing and sharing simple food with your friends and family.

Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution, p. 4-5

“You don’t need a thousand brownie recipes, you just need one great one. And if you dedicate yourself to mastering a short list of recipes, you can dramatically improve your cooking skills and your confidence….

Even if you only master 20 recipes in this book you will have earned the right to call yourself an accomplished cook.”

Editors at America’s Test Kitchen, 100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials, p. 1

In my first year of teaching, I was assigned a course called Expository Writing. I was so excited to teach this class; a pedagogical revolution was underway, and I was ready to dive headfirst into teaching in a radically different way from the one in which I had been taught. Fresh from college and steeped in theories of writing workshops and teaching writing as a process, I spent hours designing a course in which students would find their own subjects, explore their own ideas, and develop their own ways to express their experience and their emerging understanding of the world. I would release them from the kind of stifling, arbitrary restrictions that had characterized my own secondary writing instruction (best exemplified by the formal 5-paragraph essay, in which I’d been drilled), as well as from instructional practices that were now well-known to be ineffective for developing authentic writers. I knew that if I gave them the right ingredients (time, good models, authentic strategies, permission to make mistakes, and encouragement to tell their truths), they could all be good writers, and they would all find they had important things to say.

I was surprised by the resistance I encountered. Not all prisoners, it seemed, wished to walk out of their cages. Many students found the things I tried to give them unsettling, unnecessary, inefficient, or just plain wrong.

“How many paragraphs does this need to be?”

“How many sentences do we need to have in each paragraph?”

“If there aren’t any points for the free-writing, why do I need to do it?”

“What should my three points be?”

“Why do we have to write all these words that aren’t even going to be in our essays?”

Despite their resistance–which I met with energy and optimism and strong resolve–I was eager to collect their first set of essays. After encountering three or four that began with, “Since the beginning of time…” I rifled through the stack and discovered that at least half began with the same phrase. “What the hell…” I muttered and took myself off to the department chair, who explained that those students were likely the ones who had taken Honors Sophomore English from Mr. C, who had formulas not just for whole essays, but for each paragraph within an essay. They had spent an entire year perfecting the 5-paragraph essay.

To make a long, painful story short, I discovered that there is no such thing as a peaceful revolution, and that a first-year teacher from out of state with idealistic, unfamiliar, and suspiciously liberal ideas was no match for a traditional, charismatic, experienced, and wildly popular one who simplified writing to a recipe that any student could master through compliant diligence. I knew some things about writing, but nothing about departmental politics, teachers, or the values differences at the root of a philosophical divide that has been a prominent feature of almost every English department I’ve encountered.

Three years later I was involuntarily transferred to a middle school.

Several years ago, after my kids left home, I decided that it was finally time that I learn how to cook. I’d never progressed much beyond the culinary skills I’d developed while in college (supported mostly by a Campbell’s Soup cookbook in which every recipe required a can of said soup) because first my husband did all the cooking and then I got through single-parenting with what I called “survival cooking,” which featured a great deal of jarred spaghetti sauce, pre-made pizza crusts, and hamburgers. To help myself learn, I bought two books: Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food and 100 Recipes from the editors of America’s Test Kitchen.

In my first attempts with both books, I developed a new empathy for my students who had clung to the 5-paragraph essay and resented my attempts to take it away from them. Alice told me that I didn’t need culinary training, special foods, or a lot of specialized knowledge to be a good cook. I just needed my five senses, quality food, and a few essential techniques. She told me that I would learn by trying and tasting. But, when I tried to roast vegetables the way she told me to, they came out both charred and too tough to pierce with a fork. My vinaigrette was oily, flavorless, and so much more hassle than the bottled dressing in my refrigerator. I appreciated her vision of cooking as a “delicious revolution” that “can connect our families and communities with the most basic human values, provide the deepest delight for our senses, and assure our well-being for a lifetime,” but I was working full-time and couldn’t get to farmers’ markets for fresh ingredients every day or make every part of my meal from scratch or muddle through a series of failed dishes for the sake of learning. I was hungry and needed to eat. Like, now.

Like my students, I wanted recipes that worked, and I had more success with 100 Recipes. Everything I tried from that book turned out really well. True, most things took a significant amount of time and dirtied a lot of bowls and cookware, making the recipes impractical for everyday cooking, but I knew I’d end up with food that tasted good. Although I didn’t really agree with it, there was strong appeal in the editors’ assertion that if I could master 20 recipes, I could consider myself “an accomplished cook.”

Over time, I settled into strategies that worked reasonably well for my life with the resources I had. Sometimes I’d make a 100 Recipes dish on weekends that would generate leftovers to get me through a few days of the week. I looked for other recipes that weren’t as laborious for weekdays and developed a decent collection of them in my Pinterest account. I started making weekly meal plans and shopping each week for the ingredients called for in the recipes I would be using. I mastered a few basic techniques (still can’t figure out roasting vegetables, but steaming them is easy), and was glad to be eating better, healthier food than I ever had in my life.

After awhile, I rarely took Alice down from my shelf of cookbooks, and I began telling myself a new story about my students so that I could tell myself a new one about food and cooking. Maybe when it came to cooking, I began thinking, I was not unlike my former students who didn’t want to experience writing the way I had wanted them to. Maybe they felt about literary writers the way I felt about those I thought of as pretentious foodies. Maybe they were no more interested in creating with words than I was in doing so with food, and maybe that was OK. Maybe they felt incapable of doing anything with words that might both feed their soul and meet demands from teachers, bosses, or other bureaucratic powers. Maybe they were. We all have different passions, needs, and resources with which to meet them. Wasn’t I getting through life pretty well with good recipes and enough skill to execute them–and can’t many people get through life with a similar level of writing competence?

Then, the pandemic hit.

Things I’d been able to rely on finding in the grocery store weren’t always there, and we were advised to make as few trips out as possible. We were advised to stock up on staples, just in case. (Of what? Who knew? Not me.)

For the first time ever, I wondered what I would do if I couldn’t get the things I’d always counted on being able to get and didn’t know what to do with what was available. What would I do if I didn’t have all the ingredients my recipes needed? How do you plan for and buy a month’s worth of meals when produce is only good for about a week? How do you make bread? What if we couldn’t get vegetables? What does one do with dried beans, anyway? How do you preserve food when you can’t buy a chest freezer (because they’ve become scarce as toilet paper) and don’t know the first thing about canning because you’ve always been afraid you’d blow up the kitchen if you tried it?

I’d like to tell you that in the intervening months, I’ve figured out the answers to all those questions. I haven’t. I’ve muddled through, doing large discount grocery store runs once a month or so, supplemented with more frequent trips to a small, local produce market. I’ve baked some loaves of basic bread and pizza dough, but I’ve never figured out what to do with the dried lentils that I bought last March because I read somewhere that a well-stocked pantry should have them. I’ve wasted far too much food because it went bad before I figured out how to use it. I’m functional with a good recipe, but I don’t have a deep enough understanding of why recipes work (or don’t) to improvise well or make pleasing food without them. I’m too often missing one or two ingredients I need to make a good dinner.

Over the winter holiday break, when the quiet, easy days allow so many things to seem possible, I revisited Alice Waters. In her introduction, she shares 9 principles of good cooking, which seem to me not that different in function from Christianity’s Ten Commandments or Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path or AA’s 12 Steps:

  • Eat locally and sustainably.
  • Eat seasonally.
  • Shop at farmers’ markets.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Conserve, compost, and recycle.
  • Cook simply, engaging all your senses.
  • Cook together.
  • Eat together.
  • Remember food is precious.

Is it a stretch to connect food principles to spiritual ones? I don’t think so. Food is the most basic of our needs, and how we meet that need impacts nearly every facet of life in our families and communities–how we work, manage resources, and interact with each other. In Waters’s list, I see a path to a higher version of myself, one I might strive for, even as I know that, at times, I am sure to fall short.

Because, I am surely going to fall short. Re-reading her food principles, I felt resistance rising almost immediately. What a lot of privilege is assumed in this list! Shop at farmers’ markets? What about people living in a food desert without transportation? Plant a garden? What about people living in apartments, with no land to call their own? Then I remembered a children’s book I love–Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, about the former basketball player turned urban farmer –and I get more personal and local (me, and the life I’m able to live) to identify the real source of my resistance: Every one of her principles, if I were to live by them fully, would require new learning, habits, and ways of being. Can I do that? Do I need to do that? What would I have to give up to do that? How do I do that?

I don’t know. These kinds of things–the things I know I need for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being–always feel within reach when I am on a break from work, but just two days back and I am again in the throes of migraine and broken sleep. Dinner Tuesday night is yogurt and a bag of microwave popcorn. And then all hell breaks loose in the capitol.

Over the years I taught, my stance toward the 5-paragraph essay shifted as I tried to figure out how to be a better teacher for my students. Some years, I even tried teaching it the way my colleagues across the philosophical aisle did. The last few years, I landed on a compromise that seemed to work for all of us: I taught my high school students that it is a tool that can be useful for standardized tests and a scaffold that can help them understand basic principles of expository structure, but it is not an end in itself. I dubbed formulaic prose bloated with abstractions and cliches “McWriting,” a characterization palatable even to those who prized it. We talked about how all of us, sometimes, love a fast food burger, even though we know it’s nutritional crap. How sometimes, we just need to kill our hunger and we don’t have a lot of time, energy, or money to cook a beautiful meal.

“Hah, Ramstad!” a student crowed one day, waving a paper in front of me. It was an assignment written for a different teacher. “Total McWriting and I got an A!”

“Well,” I said, “at least you know what it is. I guess I’m glad you know when and how to use it.”

He grinned.

“And when not to,” I added, a statement more of hope than fact. He shook his head at me and went to his seat.

I knew that he didn’t see himself as the kind of writer I hoped he might become, but I never lost belief that he could. I never lost belief that he should. While in the classroom, I never gave up on my students as writers the way I gave up on myself as a cook. I never lost my belief that they needed to be able to tell their stories from scratch. When I told my students that everyone has the capacity to be a good writer, I believed it. When I told my students that stories–the reading and writing of them–have the power to save lives, I meant that, too. The stories we listen to and tell ourselves have everything to do with why and how the world is what it is. These are things I still believe, to my core, which leaves me, at the end of a week in which those who lack the ability to tell true stories from false have wreaked formerly unimaginable havoc, in a place of wondering.

How did I get to a place where I could stand in my kitchen and tell myself a story in which it didn’t matter if my students couldn’t tell their own or understand enough about others’ to see into and through them? Was I wrong to search for some middle ground; did my acceptance of McWriting for some situations undermine every other message I gave about the value of telling stories true? What skills do we all need to sustain life in situations for which there are no formulas guaranteed to save us? What kind of stories do we need to live and tell to get to a better place?

19 thoughts on “What feeds us

  1. Ally Bean says:

    This is an interesting essay. When you figure out the answer to your last question, please share it here! I majored in English Lit at a liberal arts university but never once had a class in free writing or any theories of writing workshops. That which we learned was based on history and the classics, and as such there were established formulas, much like recipes, about how we wrote our research papers. We were told we were being prepared for graduate studies or for the business world, and therefore didn’t need to know how to write more loosely. Writing letters to friends and blogging taught me how to relax into writing. Thank goodness.
    Ally Bean recently posted…A Simple Hello: Ms. Bean Goes For A Car Ride AND Returns To BloggingMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I was an English major, but my emphasis was on writing, not lit. I will never forget my first essay writing class. We got to use the word “I”! It felt like heresy. We read Joan Didion (and a lot of others, but she is the one who changed everything for me), and writing was never the same again for me. The skills I learned in that class made me a better academic writer. I guess I just wish we could do a better job of teaching writing in general. When we teach it only as a formula, we remove the best part of it–exploring and discovering what we know and think. I know there’s some muddy middle ground and the answers need a lot of nuance. We aren’t doing too well with answers like that these days, are we?

  2. Kate says:

    I am a pro at McWriting. It got me an A on every Russian Lit in Trans paper, my Philosophy exams, and almost every other single paper I wrote in college. I wish I was more of a storyteller. I wish I was more of a cook too. To stretch the metaphor, I can get an A, but I need a recipe for most things.

    Your essay has me thinking about innate skills (my niece who is a whiz in the kitchen, or you, who can tell a story, or Jesse who can tinker until the broken thing works again) and learned. The scaffolding comes in handy for those of us who may not have the natural gift, but to grow we have to practice, and experiment, and fail and move away from it – or we become dependent on it. Definitely shows me the importance of scaffolding and play and failure and the importance of good scaffolding.

    But it also makes me wonder about interdependence. Maybe we aren’t all supposed to learn it all? Maybe what we need to be learning is how to be in community where the gifted storyteller can tell our story and the one who makes the most glorious bread can feed us? I don’t know. Maybe that’s exactly what you were saying?

    • Rita says:

      I am in 100% agreement about scaffolding. We educators talk a lot about that. But what happens if the scaffolds are never removed, or we never identify them as scaffolds? What happens when we decide that some need scaffolds when they might not? What happens when the scaffold make the task so easy/risk-free/boring that it kills learning? These are the questions that make me grind my teeth (pretty much daily). At the same time, I recognize what you’re saying (and finally heard my students who said the same thing): McWriting works in a lot of settings. That makes me grind my teeth, too. (Chewing through my third or fourth mouth guard; just got a new one last spring.)

      Your last question is really at the heart of this piece. (Or if not the piece, my thinking.) Where are the lines between self-sufficiency and interdependence? Or where should they be? I can get along just fine with my limited skills when others are taking care of their parts in our big social web. But what happens when the web falls apart? And, how much do we all need to know for the web to hold? We’ve got a whole lot of chaos right now because (I believe) too many of us don’t understand how stories (using that term very broadly) are constructed. I don’t think we can all learn it all, but I’m wondering how much we each need to learn. And how big our communities need to be.

  3. Marian says:

    “I discovered that there is no such thing as a peaceful revolution, and that a first-year teacher from out of state with idealistic, unfamiliar, and suspiciously liberal ideas was no match for a traditional, charismatic, experienced, and wildly popular one who simplified writing to a recipe that any student could master through compliant diligence.”
    I think you could substitute “first-year teacher” and “writing” with pretty much any other occupation/label and activity, and you’d have a sadly accurate picture of the way the world works, Rita. Funnily enough, this post hits upon nearly every idea that’s crossed my mind as we’ve made our way through this pandemic. (Food, provisioning, work, time, privilege, necessity, storytelling…) My latest idea for a blog post was to talk about the fact that we’ve just passed the ten-year anniversary of our move back to Canada from the US, and to include a bit on what it is to be an outsider—what outsiders can see that insiders can’t, but also the barriers that outsiders face in not only trying to effect change, but also in simply trying to be part of a community.

    Like Kate, I am a pro at McWriting and also require recipes for nearly all of my cooking and baking. I also wish to be a better storyteller and a better cook. One of the courses I had to take for my editing certificate was Advanced Writing for Business and the Professions, in which I (finally) got to learn about writing processes and writing theory. What an eye opener! But although I learned precisely why my writing process is so painful and inefficient, I still find it difficult to put what I learned into practice. It’s hard to put aside a lifetime of teaching that tells you to focus solely on the product.

    Kate’s last two paragraphs also resonated with me. Where she wonders about innate skills and interdependence, my thoughts—especially when I read your words about the boy who bragged about getting an A for his McWriting—went to personality. Although I think stories are vital—that they are what make us human—and that people should have the skills and opportunities to be able to tell their stories, I don’t think this is something everyone wants to do. I also know that even if everyone did want to be a storyteller, we’d be faced with another problem; the world also needs listeners.

    After the events of this week, I wondered if you would be able to write, Rita, and my heart aches when I read your last paragraph. I have spent years—maybe my entire life—thinking about principles and being quietly (or, at times, not quietly) outraged when I see people not living up to the core principles I think we should all be aiming for. A couple of months ago I told my older son that when it came to doing the “right thing,” I was often idealistic to the point of self-harm. But I think the only reason I’m able to stick to my principles is because I am lucky enough to have the privilege and safety of doing so. Your last paragraph holds self-recrimination, and I’m not sure you’re being fair to yourself. The phrase “needs must” has come to mind. After all, we all have to find some way to navigate the society we live in, and if we’re so principled that we lose our seat at the table—if we win the battle but lose the war—then we really are no further ahead.

    Sending you (and Kate, and all the other Americans who read and comment here) love during this difficult time.
    xo Marian

    • Rita says:

      There’s so much in what you’ve said here, I’ve had a hard time knowing where to dive in (and I’ve got a meeting starting in ten minutes, so I expect to only scratch the surface).

      I don’t think I would say that everyone needs to be a story-teller, but everyone needs to understand how story works–to protect them from the impacts of those who do and use story against them. That is at the heart of what is happening in my country right now (and in others). And everyone should have the ability to tell their stories (just like we should all have the skills we need to feed ourselves). Deciding that some people don’t need those abilities puts us on a slippery slope. I’ve seen it over and over and over in my years as an educator; we decide that some things aren’t meant for/necessary for some students, and it’s a means of denying them agency and power. It isn’t right.

      I absolutely believe what you’re saying in your last paragraph. To act as if we can all make the same set of choices is to be blind to privilege and power. I tried to touch on that, but maybe I should have been more clear. These are questions I’ve been thinking deeply about as I try to reconcile my core values about education with the current state of it (which so often violates my values) and my role in creating/upholding the current state. Is it better to stay in it than to abandon it? At what cost? At what gain? What do we owe each other and ourselves? How do we best serve?

      Sending love to Canada. I know the shitshow here doesn’t only impact us.

      • Kate says:

        I wish we could sit down over tea and talk through this – there is so much in the post and comments. The discussion on people needing to know how story works – if only to be protected it being used against us – is something that’s come up again and again this month.

        Marian’s comments about needing storytellers but also listeners resonated with me. I think about how I was taught to look for bias in word choice and point of view, how to decipher fact from theory from opinion. If I’ve learned anything in the last five years, it’s that many have either not been taught or did not learn that same lesson. I also think many fall into the latter category not because of a failure on the part of our education system, but by choice. It takes work to question the stories you’ve been told your whole life and there are a whole lot of privileged people who don’t want to do that work because they know what it costs. (Maybe that’s just me being cynical, but I also think it’s me being realistic.)

        • Rita says:

          I also wish we could sit and have a long conversation. I so appreciate all who share their thinking here. It’s a clunky way to “talk,” but it sure pushes my thinking.

          I really don’t know about the whole of our educational system; I don’t have that birds’ eye view. I know that the one I work in isn’t doing nearly enough–and I’m not denigrating teachers with that. There are systemic issues. Too many to start listing them. There are also cultural issues, and personal ones, too. It is work to be well-informed, and I’d argue much more work than it’s ever been. I’d like to argue that it’s our duty, as citizens in a democracy, to do that work; unfortunately, we’re in a time where the idea of duty to others doesn’t feel very fashionable. And you’re right about that work being painful–both individually and collectively. There’s no going back to the pre-Trump world, and there shouldn’t be. But damn if I don’t really miss my old illusions sometimes. They felt good, didn’t they?

  4. Barbara says:

    There’s so much here to unpack. I’m not a writer. I’m a preschool teacher who writes a daily class blog. I often use formulas because I’m writing while the children are “resting” and time is short. I find my best blogs are the ones where I go off formula, though.

    My secret for roasted vegetables is to toss them with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper and roast at 425. The harder veggies like Brussels sprouts, carrots, sweet potatoes take longer. I usually check them after 20 minutes and they usually need 5-10 minutes more. Softer veggies like asparagus or string beans are usually done in 15-20 minutes depending on their thickness. Eventually, you will be able to tell they are done by the smell.

    • Rita says:

      Well, I have to say this: I aspire to be someone who doesn’t need a recipe to cook, but I’m pretty sure I will always need recipes to cook. And, in truth, I probably have “recipes” for writing–they are just so internalized at this point that I don’t even recognize them as such. I don’t think I’d argue that formulas for writing are bad; sometimes they are really helpful. Maybe my argument is against having only formulas–for writing and for cooking.

      I think oven temperature must be a key factor in roasting–I think I’ve often had it too high. And, getting the right mix. Knowing how long it will take is another. They usually get ruined when I put them in too early with respect to the other things I’m cooking. I will keep trying, because I sure do like them when they’re done well.

      • Barbara says:

        I think you’re right about formulas being ok as long as they aren’t the only thing you use. It’s true about teaching, too! I’ve had colleagues that teach apples every September and pumpkins in October and so on regardless of the children’s interests. One silver lining to the pandemic is that we’re doing things much differently and it’s showing us the formulas we want to keep and those we can let go.

        Another trick I use with roasted veggies is to turn the oven off and let them sit in the hot oven until everything else is done. Or, if sharing the oven, take them out while everything else finishes and pop back in at the end to reheat.

        • Rita says:

          It’s so true of teaching! I don’t think I ever taught anything exactly the same way twice, so I guess I lean toward revision. But I agree.

  5. TD says:

    There’s so many questions here in this post and in the conversation that follows, Rita. I think all good questions that allows ourselves to pause, reflect on our own core values, make changes to our core values as we adapt and age, as well as coming to an understanding that people are all unique on their own journey through life.

    The only story that one truly knows is the story of ones own life. Even with that statement, there’s something about our own life we will never know. Our perceptions of ourselves are just that how we view our inner being and outer shell. Others will see us differently from the perspective of the journey of their own lives.

    I’m not a writer, so I’m not sure if my words as I organized them makes any sense to anyone other than me.

    I still have a vivid memory of being ask to walk up to my third grade teacher’s desk in front of all the other children my age in the room. The teacher handed me the writing assignment that I wrote the best to my understanding of the subject matter that was what Easter meant. I did write the very that I could. The teacher said to take it to my parents and told the class that I received an F. At that time in my life I didn’t have any understanding what that meant as usually there would be an A or a B on top of the page. I did actually what the teacher instructed me to do and gave the paperwork to my mother who took responsibility to transfer me to another teacher in a better environment at the same school. Teacher’s can impact children both in the negative and in the positive. To this day I am a failure with writing assignments and find it difficult to tell my story of my own life.

    So my point is this: All of these questions about your own core values are yours to answer as you are the one who actually knows all of your truths.

    • Rita says:

      I’m so sorry you had that experience with a teacher. Sometimes I think I write the way I do because I had such positive, affirming teachers very early on. I’m so grateful for them. It’s really something, isn’t it, how our first experiences with something can sometimes shape how that thing is for us for the rest of our lives? I’m glad you had a parent who could advocate for you and get you in a better environment. A teacher who would humiliate you in front of your peers is one who would likely be cruel in many other ways, too. I’m glad you write here–I always enjoy getting to see your thoughts. Hope you are doing well in this very troubling time.

      • TD says:

        Thank you,Rita for telling me that you are glad the I can write here joining the conversations. As you were encouraged by teachers with positive encouragement with your writing, I had several great teacher’s who encouraged my creativity with the fine arts, needle arts, gymnastics, swimming and racket ball. My mother believed in allowing all her children to be free thinkers. She completed two years at university studying journalism… and then the children came. No birth control yet during her days, so life becomes.

        As far as what is currently going on with all this troubleing times, I was been watching CNN actual real time process. It is really an education as well as heartbreaking. I remember going to watch a session when I was a child with my parents.

        One of my single women 66yo works as a nurse, told me that she was so cold that she was sleeping in her coat. She said she has light covers. We are having hard freezes. I told her that I had an extra cotton blanket that she could double and it was stored in a plastic covering that I would put it on my front porch if she wanted to use it. People are in hard times! And yes she did come get it immediately and was so thankful. So I gifted it to her. I help those with what I can.

        As far as the COVID, I am keeping myself completely away from in-person contact with people. Neighbors here do not wear masks nor practice distancing. They attend church and visit with children and grandchildren. When I am out in my yard,I mask. My neighbors are kind and they do understand and respect my “COVID Phobia”. I’m keeping in touch with them by telephone. I’m in a hardship situation, but I’m mentally doing better adjusting to life as it is now. Working through my own core values of what to keep, change or let go completely. So I there with you on that!

  6. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    You guys are making me feel very inadequate. I CANNOT HANG WITH YOU. 🙂
    I have never taken a higher English class than English Composition. There. I said it. I know it shows in my writing. So when I read your writing (and those comments above), I feel like I am reading another language.

    I will tell you that I understand what the pandemic has taught me about taking time to enjoy the simple things. I will also tell you that Ella and I have a tradition of baking her birthday cake together every year. Usually it comes from a box mix but this year we made it from scratch and it was so much better.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…Creating Idiotic Canva and Pic Monkey Graphics Is Why I’ll Never Get a Million FollowersMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      You do too get to hang here. I’m so grateful you do. One of the things I most appreciate about your writing is a thing I always found very difficult to teach: voice. Perhaps the most defining feature of what my students and I came to call McWriting is lack of voice. Permission to write in my own voice–not granted in academic writing until college–was the thing that changed everything for me. I’ll never forget the comment I got on my first college essay: “Where are YOU in this? You sound like a textbook.” I’d written the whole thing in a very formal third person voice, just as I’d been taught to do in high school. Maybe it’s a good thing that you didn’t take more writing classes; maybe that is part of what has allowed you to keep your voice? I think voice is the thing I most wanted to see in my high school writers, and it just killed me that it had already been drilled out of so many of them. YOU DO YOU. Please.

      About cake, I’m sure I’ve shared here that I was in high school before I realized that you could make cake without a box mix. (I was so oblivious to so many things that should have been obvious.) I love thinking of you and Ella making that cake together. Making a cake from scratch is on my list of whimsy-following things to do. Maybe I need to move it further up the list. That might be a very good thing to do in this very bad time we’re living through.

  7. Becca @ The Earthling's Handbook says:

    I agree completely about the 5-paragraph essay being a useful scaffold but hardly the only way to write! Many of my long articles are built on that scaffold: “What are the 3 main ideas? Mention all of them near the beginning and again near the end. Each middle section should stick to one of those ideas.” Sometimes it really is the best method. But it’s important to be willing to recognize when a topic really has 4 main subtopics and not be tied to the 3.

    Here are all my lentil recipes to help you use up your pantry stash! Note that the most recent one uses sauce in a jar that you may be able to get in curbside pickup from Target. The jar has enough sauce for about 6 servings, but it keeps in the refrigerator for more than a month, or you could put the leftover sauce into little containers and freeze them. I love lentils now, but when I first bought them (enticed by low price) it was hard to figure out how to use them.
    Becca @ The Earthling’s Handbook recently posted…How to Make Grapes and Berries Last LongerMy Profile

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