Sunday, April 28, 2013


Yesterday I rounded up (easily rounded up) several friends to make peppernuts (aka pfeffernuesse aka paypanate) for my launch party next week. I hadn't actually made peppernuts in about five years--and it was an all-by-myself affair. I swore that I would only do it again with a group. And so I did. We finished over a gallon of peppernuts within 90 minutes. David and I did the dough beforehand, but it's the cutting and baking that's the tedious part for the solitary baker, so that's what matters. Some folks asked for the recipe, so I've pasted it below. 

There are many different types of peppernuts; this recipe is the one my paternal grandmother made. I got the recipe from one of my aunts, who got it from her mother, who got it from her mother, right back into the days of Russia.

Peppernuts (Pffeffernuesse) 

from Helen Siebert Penner, Lena Groening Siebert,  Aganetha Klaassen Groening and "beyond"  to Russia

Makes well over a gallon of peppernuts.

8 cups sugar white (Helen)
2 cups butter
1 cup cream (or I have sometimes used unsweetened evaporated milk)
2 cups milk
1 cup flour

Mix the above ingredients together and bring to a boil on the stove. Let it cool. You can keep in fridge for up to three weeks; however, it is easier to work with if you use it after it has “room” cooled.

Add the following to the above cooked mixture:
6 eggs
1 T Baking Soda
2 t cloves
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1 T ginger
1 t vanilla
2 cups crushed nuts (walnuts)
NOTE: I “double-plus” the amount of all the spices.

Mix and add flour to handle--up to 14 cups
Roll into pencil or finger-like strips and cut into small pieces.  Place on baking sheet separate from each other.

Bake 400--375 for 8 minutes (according to the original)

Monday, April 22, 2013


This semester I've spent a lot of time on the third floor of Carrier Library on JMU's main campus. There's an entire wall of windows that look out on the strange, rotund building known as D-Hall and a common area with benches and plenty of smoking spots. As I've graded or tapped on this laptop, I've watched students walk back and forth, and I've wondered where they are headed--in the literal sense and otherwise.

Like probably every teacher ever, I search for a duplicate of myself at that stage in my life. I try to remember that feeling I'll never return to and treat my students the way they need to be treated. Not to mollycoddle them, but to attempt to understand where they are at in the world. Not that this will protect them from the reality of the world. Two of my students will have to leave our program for various reasons, and it's been interesting (in a sad way) to see how they've dealt with this failure. One has accepted responsibility--the other not so much. I feel that the former will learn from this failure. Gain wisdom from suffering. 

Tom has introduced a book to me: A Year to Live: How to Live this Year as if it were Your Last, by Stephen Levine. I have yet to crack it open, but I've looked up quotes from the text. One of many struck me: 

“There is nothing noble about suffering except the love and forgiveness with which we meet it. Many believe that if they are suffering they are closer to God, but I have met very few who could keep their heart open to their suffering enough for that to be true.”

If you haven't noticed from my previous posts, this rings true to my experience. I've had to deal with a lot of things--tough things--but it doesn't necessarily make me any holier. Perhaps it makes me more responsible, since I've had a "threshold of revelation," to quote Angels in America. My student that has accepted failure can now actively choose what to do with it. I need to take what I've learned with love and forgiveness. I need to keep my heart open, rather than sit in my castle of superiority.

Not that this forgiveness and love should be considered equal to the "forgive and forget" model. I have realized over the past few months that certain relationships will never be what I want them to be, and I have to adjust myself accordingly, or I'll constantly be in a state of unrest. A state of "if only X happens, the relationship will become what I need." I can forgive, but I can't--shouldn't--forget. If I forget about what I did or what was done to me, I can't truly move on. I'd be constantly stuck in that one moment of mistake. That one day in the movie Groundhog Day.

I don't necessarily need to love this threshold of revelation. A threshold is just that. Not a path. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

what they don't teach you

For the past month or so, I've been learning the side of writing a book that they don't teach you when you're starry-eyed with your materially worthless MFA: how to sell the damned thing.

I've gotten a crash course in cover layout, head shots, interviews, venues for my launch party. I sneak in emails between classes discussing the pros and cons of this layout over that, whether my design for my book launch poster is any good, who I haven't contacted about this or that. I'm also hoping people at Kirkus, Bookslut, etc. will review the book.

It's all very annoying. When you're sitting in your garret or local coffee shop, you imagine your genius will be easily recognized, or at least someone else will take care of such matters.

But yes, I know. I'm one of the lucky ones. My book is out, which doesn't happen to everyone. I have to remind myself of this nearly every day. Theses are problems I was jealous of a little over a year ago.

Today, the cover of my book was finalized and sent to whoever deals with them. It's just so nice to look at it and realize it's finally come true.

I'm tempted to just get a crate of them and pass them out on the street. Wonder how my publisher would like that.