columbine-flowers About a month ago my daughter graduated from a small high school in Vermont. Each senior presented a  short speech, song, or poem. I was quite moved by my daughter’s speech, and I have asked her if I could post it here. She gave me permission.

Growing Through the Cracks

Growing Through the Cracks

My Daughter’s Graduation Speech:

First of all, I would like to say thank you to all of the people who have helped me over the years. Now, onto my speech:

A few months ago, I had the privilege to read the short story version of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. In this story, Charlie Gordon writes a type of diary of his experiences. Charlie is a man with very low intelligence and through a scientific experiment, his IQ triples, making him a genius. Later in the story, after Charlie’s intelligence reaches its peak, it then plummets. Now, I only remember this vaguely, but my mother tells me that I bawled my eyes out, like many people do when they read this book, but I had a different reason than most. Charlie Gordon’s intelligence plunges and so does his spelling. I was devastated that his literacy was seen as the expression of his intelligence. I’m dyslexic, meaning that I have problems with written language, including spelling and reading. According to this story, literacy is a main way to measure intelligence.

I have had teachers who have told me that they enjoy my writing, and that could read my writing forever. I’ve also had teachers who have told me that they won’t bother themselves with correcting my work because it has so many mistakes. I’ve experienced what it feels like, in a way, to be an intelligent Charlie Gordon, feeling like I can accomplish anything, and also an unintelligent Charlie Gordon, feeling I could never be as great as the people around me, that I was below everyone. I’ve learned that much of what makes us feel intelligent is how we are treated by the people around us. It doesn’t really matter how smart they are, but what matters is how they treat you and make you feel. Do these people make you feel like you belong, or are just an outsider? The people around us are what make us feel either like we will always belong or are never going to be good enough.

So, am I good enough? Do I belong in the class of 2014 ? Here is a secret. Your sense of belonging is not just controlled by the people around you. And you know what? I do belong here, on this stage, graduating. Why? Because I have done the work to be here. Many of my friends here are at least two grades below me, and as a senior, I have my own sense of belonging. I am deciding that I am not the Charlie Gordon who is not as great; I am who I want to be, and as I go forward, to a rebirth of my life, I feel self-assured, because I am the person who truly decides whether my life is a blessing or not.

As I end this speech, I would like to ask something of you. As you go away from here  and on into the inevitable future, look around you and don’t see people through eyes clouded by contempt and disdain when they do not match your expectations. You are not better than they are; you are not worse than they are either. Perhaps we are not all equal on the surface, but we are all just star-dust. Billions of cells latched together, we are all part of the animal kingdom. We are all human, and I beg of you, to recognize that fact.

Flowers for the Graduate

Flowers for the Graduate

A Lighter Touch

July 6, 2014

Zine of How Bill Cooks Rice

After finishing up my little pamphlet on How to Make Stuffed Grape Leaves  I was determined to make another little book, but this time with a lighter touch.  I spend lots of time designing book structures and book projects for classes, and not much time attending to content. Lately I have been thinking more about content. I know that the only way I will get to where I want to go with what I am thinking about is to just get to work in a small way.

So, I am happier with this book than the last one. There are still many things that I am critical of, but these are the things that I will address in the next little book.

I am consciously incorporating some of the photoshop and illustrator skills that I have been trying so long to acquire. My big moment in this book is turning the photo below….

red elephant

…into the following image.



Another reason that I am playing around with making these little books is that I want to bring some fresh thinking to a class that I will be teaching at The Center For Books Arts in NYC later this month. The class is designed with classroom teachers in mind. After I wrote out the class description, which included words like “brings together structures that are infinitely useful, infused with fun, and aim to inspire… and ways (of) linking projects to curriculum ” I was asked what to name the class. I suggested calling it “Binding and Booking the Common Core.” which I thought they would completely reject, but that’s what they used!

It was a beautiful day here in the country today. It’s a good thing I have a dog or I probably would never have gotten outside.

Mary L's Birdhouse with Daylilies

Mary L’s Birdhouse with Day lilies

The day lilies are blooming. Or at least they were, hours ago. They’ve long since finished their day…now it’s time for me to finish mine.

…after I clean the dinner dishes.


Double-Wide Zine

July 4, 2014

Double Wide Zine, made with two pieces of copy paper The point of my last post Stuffed Grape Leaves was to start to create content for a small black-and-white-copy-machine zine. If you’re wondering what a “zine” is, well, you’re not alone.  There doesn’t seem to be any clear consensus on the definition of zine, but, happily, there doesn’t seem to be any debate about it either: just discussions and conjectures. An enjoyable read about this is on the Brooklyn College Zine site .  I also like what the New York Public Library has to say on the subject. Personally, I think of a zine as a book made on a copy machine from a single sheet of paper, which is then folded into book form.getting pages ready for a zine There’s so much that I wanted to put in this little book that I decided it needed to be made out of two sheets of standard size copy paper. I grabbed content, as well as some of the comments, from my last post, and added in a bit more. Stuffed Grape Leaf Zine in progress The two pages had to be laid back-to-back and glued along one edge. It’s easy to glue them together wrong, so I made put dotted lines, which define where the paper is cut, in the part that will be the middle of the book. This proved to be a good landmark for me. If you look close you can see the dotted line above the word Stuffed.  The photo at the top of this post show what the pages look like after being glued together.close up of zine in progress Here’s a close up of the dotted line and the second page, still barely visible, and it disappears completely when the cut is made. Zine in progress Next, the pages are flipped over, and the edges are folded towards the center. Zine closer to being done Flipped over again, cut on the dotted line… stuffed-9---Copy …then opened into an open book that needs to be closed. One again, here’s a link to a whole collection of directions on how to do this.  Stuffed Grape Leaves zine Okay, so I made a bunch of these. It felt good. But then I happened to come across an itty bitty book by David Massengill, that Sarah, from Caffe Lena, had given to me after David had performed at Lena. (BTW, if you click on David’s link his music will immediately start playing. This is something that usually irritates me, but not in this case. His music is completely enchanting…as are his little books.)   david massengill's itty bitty book cover This book stands just about three inches high, and, though the structure is a different variation of the one that I’ve shown, it’s still of the put-through-the-copy machine-and-start-folding genre. david Massengill's itty bitty book This book was written and drawn with such a light, clear hand that I was envious…not an emotion that I like, but one that I will allow to influence the next little zine I make. Now I’m going to go have a listen to David’s music.    

Stuffed Grape Leaves

June 26, 2014

grahic leaves

I didn’t know that stuffed grape leaves were something people were passionate about until, at a party that she was hosting, my sister whispered furtively to her children that if they wanted some stuffed grape leaves that they had better be next to the platter when it came out.  Sure enough, as soon as this food came out -which had cost her $75 – the scramble of aunts, uncles, cousins, grannies, grandchildren, elbows, knees and searching hands caused a pandemonium which, when the dust settled, revealed an empty platter. Woe to the family members who were not close by.

Rice, chickpeas, and mint at the base of a grape leaf

Rice, chickpeas, and mint at the base of a grape leaf


Grape leaves grow wild here in upstate New York. They are everywhere. My mother tells me that they should be picked by the end of June, so now has been the time to try my hand at creating this dish. I thought I would try to make a zine out of the recipe for this dish, so I have been playing with the graphics of grape leaves, as well as with the stuffing of them. My grandmother would use rice, mint, and ground lamb, but, instead of lamb I’ve used chickpeas. The rice is dry, there’s a teaspoon per leaf. The little pile of the filling is placed at the bottom of the leaf, the rolling starts, the sides get tucked in and the rolling continues.

It should be mentioned that some people, but not my mother, blanche the leaves before rolling in the rice. I blanche the leaves. As I wait a pot of water to boil, I have time to play with some of the grape leaves.

green grape leaves 2

Grapes leaves are deeply furrowed, well, as much as a leaf can be, so they make great leaf prints.

green grape leaves

Here I’ve scanned the leaves into photoshop and made the print more dramatic. I tried lots of different filters and backgrounds…most of them weren’t interesting. This is one that I like. Okay, now back to cooking.


Stuff Grape Leaves, waiting to be cooked

Stuffed Grape Leaves, waiting to be cooked

Each little roll is placed closely to another on the bottom of a pot which is lined with larger leaves. We called these pigs-in-the-blanket. Yes, that’s what they look like. When they are all rolled and the pot is filled (I do only one layer at a time, but my grandmother did many layers) I add water until the little pigs are just under water, add salt, cover with a plate, to keep things securely tucked in, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Or  a bit longer, depending if I am having any luck with photoshop.  Then I add a good bit of lemon juice, simmer a bit more, turn off the heat, then let things sit, giving the rice enough time to absorb all the liquid.

Stuffed Grape Leaves and Yogurt

Stuffed Grape Leaves and Yogurt

Here’s the finished product, served with a dollop of old country yogurt. Yum.