Saturday, July 29, 2017

Nature's Visitations: Bring Me Enlightenment

Beautiful Wood Nymph Wikipedia photo

This creature  disguises itself as bird poop!  Imagine my surprise when one slipped into our farmhouse and found its way into the downstairs bathroom and is fast asleep under the ever-glowing nightlight. When I first saw it, I thought what is that! Then I realized that it wasn't bird poop, but a moth, with the most remarkable furry boots. I want a pair just like them!  You can see them illustrated in this photo.

I have been spending many hours weeding the  North garden this week.  Nearly  done. We are truly three weeks behind in plant growth and production.  Starting to see the first tomatoes now.  Because of the constant rain, the row of carrots (literally, 500 strong) were pushed in a wave, like ridged sand at the bottom of the lake. Weeding this row was so time consuming.  I really  had to be careful to only take the weeds. In that row is a variety of lettuces, which are doing well, especially now, without the competition; and anise, and beets, and Swiss chard. Only found four Swiss chard plants (sadly), but maybe just enough for us. We're going to have a stretch of sunny days now.  This is just what we need to give everything that booster of sun, and hopefully a major growth spurt.

In all of this garden work, I have been meditating on my writing life.  Wondering about the significance of character's actions (verbal and nonverbal) and how they create judgments. I am working on a full length collection of these micro stories ( 30 have been published individually, thus far).  Hoping that despite the quirky and "survival behavior," readers will find empathy for these characters. I live in a small town in Western New York, which has been so instructional in my understanding of character sketch.  In a small town, every member of the community has a significant role. Actually, they  are part of the function or dysfunction of the day to day life. I think my intention is to shine a light on the dark side of this survival-- the side few have the privilege to see or take the time to understand.  It been fun writing these stories-- all fiction, mind you, except the concept of the small town-- that's very real.

In  the kitchen, I'm still busy making jam. Peter and I will be heading west today to pick up some apricots from our Amish friends who have a fruit tree nursery business.  They have very graciously offered some of the fruit from their "test" apricot trees. I loved listening to the "science" discussion on these fruit trees, which can be challenging to grow. Where our apple and pear trees thrive, our apricots and peaches do not. We were advised to plant our next trees in raised beds.  Even getting them up 4-6 inches will help them endure a wet season.  I love  the Amish and Mennonite  community. They have been wonderful to us, in so many ways.

I just heard the jars pop-- let the day begin!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

So This is Summer . . .

 This is the strangest summer.  Every day— is it every day?  I think so.  It rains.  Today will be no different. We have been waiting on our gardens.  The delay in the growing season has taken some adjustments.  The weeding has been difficult.  The ground has been quite soggy and the quack grass is something to content with.  Since childhood, I have been gifted with the ability to concentrate on a repetitive task for a very long time.  In truth, I think I work both consciously and unconsciously, while doing such work.  It’s a good time to write (and edit) in my head before actually sitting down to write.
So this is what has been happening, day to day, a lot of farm work.  I have put by many jars of jam, which is what I have harvested thus far.  On the dining room table in straight lines sit the (4 oz-16 oz) jars of  It’s My Jam!  Strawberry, Red Raspberry, and Blackberry.  Shades of red!  I love looking at the jars. The rain-kissed fruit has been sweet and perfect. My recipes are organic, using raw sugar instead of refined, which is gives the jam a hint of molasses. 
I think the berry picking has become a metaphor for my life.   I usually average 2-3 quarts every two days.  Red raspberries produce until mid-august.  The thorns on the bramble in our berry patch are really out to get me every time I enter the berry domain.  The blackberry canes are worse.  All I can think of is wolf teeth.  The scratches on my arms and my ankles illustrate the degree of battle. It doesn’t help that  there are legions of flying insects (black flies, deer flies, mosquitoes) that  see  me as fair game. Everyone knows you can’t slap a biting bug while holding a quart of red raspberries because you will miss the bug and spill all of those gorgeous red juicy thimbles— everywhere.  I truly have learned to practice “Zen” (mind over matter) in our berry patch.   So far, so good.   However, the metaphor has been  an eye opener for me.  I think I am learning to go forward without yielding to what could potentially harm me. I am learning ‘to walk through’ the bramble nearly untouched, and what does touch me I can live with.
Yesterday, Peter and I traveled West to find apricots, which apparently aren’t ready yet.  However, peaches and cherries are presenting at the farm markets.  We didn’t buy any yet, but I think I will today.  I really want to make some apricot jam.  Last couple of years the Apricot trees have been challenged by  weather.  I am hoping  I will find some, somewhere.  Peter was lucky tho’ and purchased another new-to-him lawnmower in Elba, NY.  It was just what he wanted.  We ate lunch at the Elba Diner, which was wonderful. Really Good Diner Food.   On the chalkboard there were, at least, 15 kinds of pies, from Butterscotch to Coconut Cream (homemade). Too full to order a slice (so disappointed!). Next time we are in Elba, I’m going to start with dessert.  I recommend this spot, if anyone is out for a country drive and wants a bite to eat.  It’s a calm atmosphere.  Neighbors meet and greet there.  You get a sense of the Elba community.   Once we left Elba, we headed towards Medina NY, which has an interesting historic  canal town (perfect movie location) and on the outskirts (rolling hills! Who knew there were rolling hills here!) more great farm landscape.  It felt like we stepped back 100 years.
This morning, I made more half-pint jars of ‘Blazzberry’ Jam. This is a combo of red raspberries and blackberries and lemon.  Its name invented by my littlest grandson, George Emmett, last year. So, so good.
Soon, I will be venturing out to the gardens to do some weeding.  It’s hard to believe that next week will be the last week of July.  In five weeks, the Fall semester will begin. Summer is on wing . . .
I have been writing every day.  Some of it is good, and some not so good (needs revision).  Last week, I taught my first summer class, My Name in Print, in SummerWrite at Writers & Books.   It was such a joy working with these 8-11-year-olds.  I think I had a majority of 9-year-olds, or children who will be going into 4th grade. They were thoughtful and completely invested in their writing.  All of them immersed in the making of art (both writing and drawing).  Their anthology was one of the best I have had the pleasure to type up!

O life, you can be good and gentle, can't you?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Fourth of July!

A beautiful sunny day, what more could we ask for? Happy Fourth of July!

Later today, family will be coming over.  We're BBQ-ing a homegrown Turkey, making potato salad, baked beans, cole slaw, fruit salad, pasta salad, preseco with cranberry and peach mocktails "Bellini"
and general good cheer!


We have been slogging our way in the gardens.  Hoeing has been a challenging exercise, but we're getting it done.

A large pumpkin plant has suddenly emerged in the yard, near a spot where we fed our turkeys last year, and they ate a lot of squash, zucchini, pumpkin.  In  the North garden, a lot of goddess given squash family plants have sprung up, and  instead of planting them in East garden, I have made an 'Isle of Green,' arranging these squash, cucumber, zucchini varieties in a heart shape around the large pumpkin plant. It looks quite pretty, and so far, everything has adjusted to the move.


 June went too quickly, and here it is the beginning of July. I have been diligent in keeping my morning hours. Writing for a couple of solid hours every day, mostly 100 word stories, in hopes of finishing the collection this summer.  I have been  fortune to have many of these micro stories picked up for publication in Otoliths, 100 word story, Jellyfish Review, Dime Show Review, Eunoia Review, Scarlet Leaf Review, Synaeresis Arts +Poetry, and others.

This past weekend, I finish a 3230 word story called "She Was a Good Listener." 

I have been enjoying myself, occupying these different landscapes and social interactions and characters' mindsets. Why they do what they do seems to be my motivation.  My fiction  is beady-eyed, I think.  It takes a hard look at characters behaving badly; yet, there is room to have empathy for them and their lives and how they think day to day to come up with a solution.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday, June 25,2017: Rainy Day Strawberry Jam

Photo from Wikipedia, Strawberries 

This year may be the longest lasting Spring on record.  The temperatures have been mostly cool and rainy, with an occasional warm, humid day.  Because of this, and the delay in our planting the gardens, I am behind on putting by jam.

Yesterday, Peter and I ventured West to visit our Mennonite friends who grow exceptional strawberries.  In luck,  they had a flat (8 quarts) ready to sell.  Today, I began the long process of making Rainy Day Strawberry Jam.

Our whole farmhouse smells incredibly fragrant and the jam is out of this world.  Strawberry jam is tricky.  The fruit, perfect as it may be, doesn't have a lot of natural pectin. It throws a a pink foam in the cooking down process.  Patience is needed. If you aren't patient, then don't undertake this.  You have to wait, and I mean wait, until there is a glossy sheen to the bubbling strawberry stew.  Slowly, it will thicken up. So far, 4 quarts gave us 92 oz.  The jars are lined up on the counter cooling.  I love hearing the pop, pop, pop of the lids.  I have another 4 quarts to process; then, back to the Johnson Creek Farm  on Monday to pick up our second flat. I love this work.
Photo from Wikipedia, Strawberries. This one is called 'perfect.'

Later this afternoon at 4 p.m., free and open to public, I will be giving a poetry reading at Books, ETC on Main Street in Macedon NY, L.John Cieslinski, my good friend, fellow poet, wise man in all aspects of life,  runs this cozy establishment where he hosts many readings and discussion groups. It's always a joy to see John and pick up a book or two.  Reading makes all the difference in the world.

If you free and in the area, please join us. I will be reading from my latest poetry collection, Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016). I will have books available for sale and signing.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Solstice: Our Faces Lifted to the Sun

Photo K. Iuppa

Yesterday, we celebrated the lingering daylight, the perfume of all things summer. This is the beginning of  work and recreation-- all of which happens outside.  Outside. The sun shines today.

Today we begin to learn all things about bees. We've cleared an area among the trees where the hive will  sit protected from the wind and rain and sun. It will be their safe harbor. The hive arrives tonight.

A few facts about keeping bees.
Never wear black around the hive, the bees will think you are a bear, and you know what bears like is honey, and the bees know this, and they put up a fuss with you, impersonating bear. Bees forage two miles from hive every day.  Bees are attracted to carbon dioxide in one's exhale, which leads them straight to one's mouth. Note to self:  be sure to breathe through nose.

Yesterday, I weeded the kitchen garden.  Many goddess-given cherry tomato plants, green onions, lettuces (a variety of deliciousness-- we had fresh lettuce last night for dinner), beets, kale. The Garlic is thriving.  It's gigantic. It's spicy, too. It's really good.

Then, I poked around the North garden, checking on my recent planting and everything is doing well.
I have my fingers-crossed that we will have the right amount of sun, rain, heat to give our gardens the necessary double dose tonic. We are 3-4 weeks behind. If we have a growing season that goes through October, we will be all set.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday, June 15, 2017 Mary, How does your garden grow?

Red Rooster Farm:

This week, we were able to till the North and East gardens, and yesterday I began planting the North garden.  Thus far, yesterday and today, I have put in 90 tomato plants: Amish paste, Romas, Robeson, Carolina Gold, Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifters, Brandywine, Celebrity, Celebration, Early Girl, Sweet 100's & Honey Bunch; eggplant, purple and striped, sweet peppers (green to red) Red Beauties and Galileo, mixed hot peppers, mixed bell peppers, cherry bombs; carrots, Blue Lake beans, Gourmet green beans . . .more waiting to be planted.  Just as I finished putting in the tray of carrots, it began to rain.  Made it to the house before the skies opened up:DOWNPOUR!

Now the sun is shining. . . .

Getting Back to Poetry Readings:

Went to the Genesee Reading Series on Tuesday evening at Writers & Books and thoroughly enjoyed listening to Poets Bart White and Paulette Swartzfager.  They decided to share the reading, sitting side by side, each reading a poem that would let the other select a poem in response or not.  it was fabulous.  Both of them, Southerners, who are gifted storytellers.  What's not to love?  The evening's reading was on wing.  Loved every minute of it.

On Writing:

I seem to be writing every morning, mostly 100 word stories; yet, there have been a few poems too.
I think I'm settling into a summer work routine.  I really need to  work on my novella.  I haven't really returned to that, but I will.  Perhaps as soon as the gardens are planted.

I have been reading The Great Gatsby in preparation for the Brockport Seymour Library Book Discussion on June 28th.  I think I'm in good shape for this. It's funny, I am seeing so much in this reading, more than ever before.  I wonder if it's happening to the other readers too.


I have several poetry books that I am writing reviews for.  Still trying to finish looking at a manuscript I was given literally months ago.  I'm nearly done.

Can you believe we're nearly through June?  How is it possible?

Soon, summer! Enjoy!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Blueline, SUNY Potsdam Literary Review, 2017

  Just released review of Small Worlds Floating~
 Blueline, SUNY Potsdam Literary Review, 2017

Small Worlds Floating. M.J. Iuppa. Cincinnati, OH: Cherry Grove Collections, 2016.
Reviewed by Nancy Berbrich

“Why do I only get one lifetime? Where did this lifetime go?” asked Margaret Atwood in March this year when she accepted a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Critics Circle. She is not alone in her dismay. All but the very young think about the shortness of life from time to time. M.J.Iuppa explores this very human push of life and pull of death in her 2016 poetry collection Small Worlds Floating.
The book begins with the poem, “Early morning sky, brimming effervesce, eager,” where Iuppa introduces the reader to the major theme running throughout her book. She writes,

                                             I stare at myself
in the picture window’s reflection, slightly
startled by the ghost of me rising
in its slippery surface.

  Here she is slightly startled, bumping up against her ghost.  I’ve seen my own distorted image in that
  glass, and have turned away, trying to ignore it. However, this poet stares at it, captures the moment,  
  the surprise of it, and compels me to look again. Later in the book, her mortality grows more 
  palpable.   In “Beneath the Black Willow” the poet writes,

Amazing, amazed
we look hard at each other,
at our age
What year is it?

We stare at each other
a swell of sound, cresting
What year is it?
And, in “This Upheaval of Light,” we experience again the startling way that mortality sneaks up on us,
So we pause dumbstruck by
the hour, like dapple gray horses

…we can’t
believe that this is as short lived
as we are—small motions—

leaves trembling.

In this collection of more than sixty lyric poems, Iuppa brings to bear her adept use of the poet’s techniques and her keen poet’s eye. The cycle of life is everywhere. In this passage from “Eternity,” we see the poet’s tools and talent at work as she brings images alive embodying the theme in an observation of nature and its landscape:

The blistered barn door creaked open a crack
and blue wasps, with dabs of mud in their mouths,
repaired the tombs found under eaves.

I smelled bitterness of basil gone to seed—
watched the ether of dark clouds crown
in tender offering—wondered if this could be it. 

She uses allusion to deepen and layer meaning into her poems. These lines from “Looking Back”
loud as the brass sun breaking
through the sky’s old plaster, light
falling like glitter, sparkling

 remind me of lines from Robert Frost’s “Birches”:

Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.

The idea of the swinging pull toward death then back toward life then back toward death is apparent in both Frost’s poem as well as Iuppa’s collection. And, I couldn’t help but notice how the poet describes the look of a child waiting at a bus stop in “To the small child holding a balloon.”
a beat, making the balloon bob

in punctuation above your head,
marking the spot where you are,
with strangers wanting to go home.

This reminded me of how the delightfully experimental Kurt Vonnegut put an asterisk before the name of a character who would die before sundown in his 1985 novel, Galápagos.
Insomnia, thoughts of those who have passed on before, and even the yearning for death as a beautiful rest are addressed in these poems. All are part of coming to terms with our own looming mortality. Then there is the regret at the so many things that must be left undone. Iuppa articulates it in “Awakened, hours before dawn, rain”:

Nightmares flower
in the glacial dark.

Nothing put away,
or finished—the corner

She expresses similar feelings in these lines from “Interview”:

I wanted to improve what I say
I can see—the last days of winter,
nearly gone in the precision of rain—

Fittingly, “Interview” concludes this fine collection: as Iuppa explains in the poem, “I work by memory / and struggle to perfect a story / beneath a calm surface.” In the hands of a lesser poet, these moments, these poems could be maudlin, even depressing. But I feel like this poet has put her arm around me and helped me look and see. She has left me “leaning forward open-eyed.”