12 Days of Earworm-Worthy Christmas Music

How about a little Lebanese twist on things? Because that’s how we do things in my house.

Please enjoy this rendition by the Iyam El Lira Band. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a ton of Lebanese food to prepare before my family arrives for Christmas.

 

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National Poetry Month — Day 18

Today I’m going to share a video of a spoken word performance by the poet Zeina Hashem. I’ll post another one of hers tomorrow, too. I know nothing about Hashem her except that she recently won the Rattle chapbook prize. My friend and colleague Christa Forster pointed her out to me, and I’m so grateful she did.

Here is “Correcting My Mother’s Essay.”

 

Forbidden Cookbook: Three-Bean Pasta Salad

I love bacon and Ranch dressing, but I’m sort of tired of those being the driving factors in my pasta salad, so here’s something a little different with a little bit of a Mediterranean flair. It’s quite light, especially if you go easy on the homemade dressing (and if you want to swap it out for a different dressing you like better, you can). This recipe makes enough for a party, so if you aren’t throwing one, cut the recipe in half or plan to have leftovers.

pasta salad

ingredients for pasta salad:

  • 1 package tri-color pasta of your choice––I like the corkscrew kind.
  • 1 package edamame, shelled––Follow the cooking instructions on the bag.
  • 1 can baby corn
  • 1 can dark red kidney beans (low sodium preferred), drained
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained––You can substitute garbanzo beans (chick peas) if you like.
  • 1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1 small jar kalamata olives, drained
  • 1 small package crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 or 4 stalks of heart of palm, sliced into discs

ingredients for homemade dressing:

  • garlic salt
  • lemon pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil––Make sure you go with a brand that tastes good!
  • lemon juice

Boil the water for the pasta for a dollop of olive oil instead of salt. Follow the instructions on the pasta.

Follow the instructions on the edamame to steam them.

Drain and rinse the canned/jarred ingredients.

Mix all the yummies together in a large bowl.

Now for the dressing, which is a Lebanese dressing my grandmother and mom taught me, and which I use for many kinds of salad. Add the garlic salt and lemon pepper to taste. I usually cover the entire bowl with each spice because it will be mixed in with a lot of pasta salad. (You can be more generous with the lemon pepper; if you add too much salt the flavor won’t feel light or refreshing.) Add enough olive oil to coat everything slightly but not enough for the oil to collect at the bottom of the bowl. Add a generous dollop of lemon juice. Mix everything together.

Serve cold. Enjoy!

A Valentine Story

My grandfather Joe, on my dad’s side, fought alongside his brothers and cousins for the US in WWII.  He found himself in multiple theaters: at Normandy, in Northern Africa, in Italy.  And unlike many men of that generation, he never shied away from telling us stories about the war, but he picked his tales carefully.  We heard anecdotes about the lighter side of things, such as the small black goat they bought from a man on the side of the road; they named the kid Midnight and made him their company’s mascot for a while.

My favorite story, though, was the one he and my grandmother, Rose, told us about how they met and married.  Seeing as Valentines’ Day approaches with relentless haste and this is such a sweet tale, I want to share it with you.  My grandmother isn’t alive anymore, and my grandfather is in his nineties, and now just feels like the right time to commit this story to writing.

My grandfather was on a thirty-day furlough from the army and was headed home to Houston.  It was the mid-1940s, and he’d had several tours in the war already.  He came back stateside to the northeast and then took a long train ride down to San Antonio, where he would need stay at the base for processing for three days before continuing on home.  On the train to Texas, he sat across from a man he didn’t know, but who had “the map of Lebanon on his face.”  Always happy to meet any ethnic brethren, my grandfather introduced himself, and on that journey, they became friends.

I don’t remember the other Lebanese man’s name, but he lived in San Antonio, and he invited my grandfather to come home with him for real food instead of staying at the base the whole time.  He didn’t have to ask twice.

Now, across the street from that hospitable gentleman lived the Sacres, another Lebanese family.  The Sacres had six grown children, three boys and three girls; their boys had been in the war, too, and they had a kindly habit of inviting the Lebanese GIs coming through San Antonio over for dinner.  When they found out their across-the-street neighbor was home and that he had a friend with him, the dinner invitation couldn’t come fast enough.

The Sacre daughters — Mary, Sarah, and Rose — were all beautiful as could be, and they were polite to the soldiers at dinner.  And afterward the young people all went out bowling.

(Yes, bowling.  Fun Sacre pastime that, like playing Canasta, lasted all the way to my generation.)

Over the next three days, while my grandfather was in town, they all continued to meet and go out, but it was clear that he had a particular interest in Rose.  The oldest sister, Mary, told Rose she should date him.  He was good-looking and from a well-heeled family in Houston.  My grandmother was ambivalent, largely because when the soldiers had come for dinner that first night, my grandfather had kept staring at her.

“I was admiring your dress,” he insisted when they told me this story.

“You were looking at my chest,” she scolded him.

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Yes, you were,” she said.  She turned to me. “I had on this white eyelet dress, and it was pretty, I guess.”

“Very pretty,” my grandfather corrected her.  She shrugged, but even more than fifty years later, she still blushed cheerfully about it.

So in those three days, the young folks managed to see each other quite a bit.  Joe told Rose he’d be back in a couple of weekends, and he hoped she’d go out with him again.

“Okay,” she responded casually, but with a very nice smile.

When she told her older sister Mary about it, Mary was very keen that Rose go out with him.  But my grandmother could be a bit stubborn and never liked being told what to do.  She acted noncommittal and advised Mary that she should go out with him instead.  Well, of course that didn’t happen.

Two weeks later, Joe came back to San Antonio and took Rose to a dance.  He told her he wanted to marry her.  I’m not sure what had changed in my grandmother’s mind in those two weeks, but she agreed.  While my grandfather was on leave, the war ended, and he was discharged from the army so he could come back to Houston and make his life as a grocer.

And as a husband.  A couple of months later, Joe and Rose married.  They went to the beach for a little honeymoon.  They lived in Houston, had seven children, and — though it wasn’t any more perfect than any other marriage, and in some ways it was rockier at times — they made a pretty good life of it.

My grandmother passed away from cancer in 2001, a few weeks after they celebrated their anniversary.  It was a party around her sickbed.  She was lucid, we all managed to be cheerful, and there were so many friends and family members around we couldn’t all fit.  The cake was enormous, and my grandfather held her hand all afternoon.

***

Last year around this time, I suggested you should write a love note to someone — anyone — for Valentines’ Day.  I think this ought to be an annual tradition.  Go ahead, write a love note, write a poem if you like, write a card.  Do something wonderful for someone you care about.

Here, Dear Readers, is a valentine for you.

My daughter made this.  Pretty cool, huh?  She made a different valentine for every teacher and classmate and friend.  I wish I could take pictures of all of them to show you.
My daughter made this. Pretty cool, huh? She made a different valentine for every teacher and classmate and friend. I wish I could take pictures of all of them to show you.

Something Fun To Do This Friday Evening

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.  We had a good one.  It didn’t go exactly as we had originally planned — we had unexpected houseguests at the last minute — but we had a fantastic holiday and really excellent weekend.  I especially enjoyed hanging out with old friends who no longer live here but were visiting for a few days.  Now it is time to get ready for work and school tomorrow, to put up our Christmas decorations, to get back to normal for a few weeks till the next major Series of Holiday Events.  (I genuinely love this time of year.)

In the midst of it all, for those of you in the Houston area this coming weekend, here’s something you might enjoy doing Friday evening.  There’s going to be a book launch for the new Mutabilis Press anthology, entitled Improbable Worlds, and one of my poems is going to be in it.  (Yay!)  The poem is called “Recipe for My Daughter.”  I hope you’ll join me at the launch!  Here are the details:

Friday, December 2nd; 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.; The Jung Center of Houston; 5200 Montrose

And here’s the website for Mutabilis Press:

http://www.mutabilispress.org/

MP’s website also has information for purchasing the anthology, in case you’re interested.  (I was also published in their 2005 anthology Timeslice, in case anyone wants a copy of that as well.  It had a lot of really fantastic Houston poets in it, and I was thrilled and humbled to be counted among them.  Improbable Worlds will be featuring poets of Texas and Louisiana, if I’m not mistaken.)

If the book launch for Timeslice is any indication, I and many of the other poets featured in the book will be signing copies the night of the event.  (I’m also happy to sign any copies other than that night, if you’d like.)  I hope to see you there!

Victoria Love “Just Breathes” New Energy into a Long-Admired Music Career with Latest EP

I’m not a singer-songwriter, but listening to Victoria Love’s new EP makes me wish I were.

The cover of "Just Breathe" features Victoria Love herself.

Imagine taking Arabic rhythms and then twisting them slightly to the side.  Now fill the space with gothic-friendly vocals and a host of stringed instruments.  Give lyrics with familiar and relatable themes:  redemptive love, righteous indignation, artistic passion.  What you’ll find when the dust settles is Just Breathe, a haunting five-track disc that will make you want more even if this isn’t the sort of music you normally listen to.

Ever since I got this disc, I’ve been listening to it over and over.  It’s been on rotation in my car so often that I think my kids are starting to learn the words.  But I’ve also seen Victoria Love live in concert, many times over the years — the monthly Elle Acoustique show at the House of Blues in Houston is her brain-child — and one thing that I really like about Just Breathe is that the record complements the energy of the live performance, rather than the disc and the live show trying to be copies of each other.  This is refreshing.

One of the tracks, “Yours for the Taking,” begins stealthily.  I knew this song from her live shows for a while before I heard it recorded, and it was a new experience when I popped the disc in.  I thought of Trent Reznor, but not in his usual aspect; now he was being seduced by an industrial/tribal bellydancer.  A temporary situation, because she’d be abandoning him before the end of the song, and even though he’d be affected by it for a long while afterward, he wouldn’t have any regrets.

Maybe I’m letting my imagination run away with me?  I don’t know.  The thing about this music is that the sound is so full, it’s easy to recede into it, to let the layers of instrumentation — including exquisitely supportive violin, cello, bass — pile on top of you while your subconscious plays around with the vocals.  It’s a singularly fun experience to lose yourself in it for a while.

Love has, frankly, a beautiful voice.  And her lyrics have depth, subtlety — just enough to make even a reserved person want to sing along out loud — but there’s nothing obscure about what she’s singing.  The effects on the plugged-in tracks are tasteful, not at all overpowering.  They add to the mood rather than conspicuously announce their presence, a balance which can be difficult for some artists to achieve.  I rather enjoy that the last verse of “Needs” is actually “sung” by an electric guitar, as if the instrument were taking over for the singer.  (When you hear the song, you’ll understand.  In fact, you’ll probably understand a lot.)  The acoustic bonus tracks are a real delight.

If you keep up with my Facebook page, you’ll note that I posted some of her songs there.  I can’t wait for the full-length album.

See videos, hear music clips, buy the EP, and generally find out more about this artist and Elle Acoustique (a non-profit which seeks to promote musical education for women and girls of all ages) on her website:  http://www.VictoriaLoveMusic.com