"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Day in the Life: Week 11 Update

It's been a while since I've posted, but my Eng. 150 has been workshopping their second Writing Project, and there hasn't been much to report there, except that their topics and approaches are phenomenal. I just love my job. I'll have more to report after tomorrow, when they turn in their final drafts. The other reason why I've been lax here is that I've been working on my novel, since my self-imposed deadline to give the second draft to my advisor is tomorrow (11/1)--and I made it. I made it! The last quarter of it is nowhere near where I'd like it to be, but I'm seriously stuck, so it's a good time to get somebody else's eyes on it.

A side note: my Eng. 252 (Fiction) class was asking me about titles for their stories a couple weeks ago and I told them that I wouldn't be any help, since I'm really bad at titles. One of my smart-asses (smart ass in a good way) says, "What's the name of your novel?" Blushing, because I can't ever help it, stupid Swedish skin, I say, "The O'Connor Women." He looks back at me and says, "Yeah, that's pretty bad." Yes, students, it's true what I meant: I won't ever bullshit you. I will always tell you the truth.

My Eng. 252 class has started off the second half of the semester by starting William Kent Krueger's suspense novel Iron Lake and Andrea Barrett's Servants of the Map. We've moved beyond the craft-lecture portion of the semester and the rest of the semester, we'll be applying what we've learned about writing and how to read like a writer to these texts. Last week went really well as we talked about the role that place plays in each of the books, how landscape and weather plays in character development, plot and suspense, and more. My students are revising their short stories that we workshopped before Fall Break and they're working on their craft essays, due at the end of the semester. The premise of this essay is to take an element of craft (voice, character, plot, dialogue, tone, any of the things we've been talking about) and write about it: they could look at one author's craft across several craft elements or they could take one craft element and look at one author's use of it, or they could examine how several authors use it. Should be interesting--in a really good way. I see proposals of that paper in the next couple of weeks.

Right now, for the purposes of this blog and this Eng. 992 class I'm taking, I'm working on several place-conscious pieces of my own, both creative and critical and that's just fun. As part of the requirements of the class, we're asked to put together a place-based teaching unit and even though I don't know what classes I'll be teaching next semester, I'm working on putting together this natural disasters narratives class that I've been dreaming about for a long time. As I'm envisioning the class, I'm leaving it open enough that I could teach it as Eng. 101 (Rhetoric as Reading) or Eng. 150 (Rhetoric as Inquiry). I've started putting readings on the syllabus, page numbers, giving titles to the various days' discussions, due dates. It's true. I'm a nerd. But it's further confirmation that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing with my life. That's always great.

So far, in the Ancient Disasters Unit (Writing Project 1), we're reading the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical flood, with critical readings on all sorts of interpretations; then we'll read some Plato and Dialogues of Timaeus and Critias and talk about Atlantis. Yes, I know that I've got my chronology backwards (Atlantis is earlier than the Flood), but it works better this way, in terms of developing the ideas of the course:
  • What is a natural disaster?
  • How do we talk about disasters in literature? What function do they serve in the culture and history of this group of people, at this particular time?
  • How does the epic form impact the subject matter?
  • How do these stories function for readers today? Morality tales? Literal history?
  • How do these stories and the disasters themselves function in terms of creating identity?
  • How does the literature of fact and the literature of fiction here? How does one become another and how does the disaster play into that?
Their first Writing Project essay will be discussing their position on any one of these questions (and more), supported with direct references to various primary texts, as well as critical texts.

I'm pretty excited about it, but maybe today I'm more excited about natural disasters than usual, because it's the 20th anniversary of the 1991 Halloween Blizzard: more on it here at the Star Tribune. I don't remember much about it, except that it was about football playoff time and because of the snow, all the playoff games were moved to the Metrodome in Minneapolis, because all the fields were under several feet of snow. And I'm remembering my own Halloween escapades, the injustice of having to be a ballerina in a snowsuit. This is what it means to be a kid in Minnesota and that's different than any other place in the world. This is what Place means.

Right now, my sister is dressing up her dog, Marley, in the sheriff costume I sent--and I'm waiting for pictures of my niece, C., in her bunny costume. I'm promised videos.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

No Name Reading Series: Aran By Foot

The podcast for my recent appearance at the No Name Reading Series is now up on the website, excerpts from an essay titled "Aran By Foot." I read second on the podcast, about 11:56 on the timer. (It's always so weird to hear yourself speak--I don't think I sound like that at all!--and I could have sworn I spoke slower than that...)


Friday, October 14, 2011

Eng. 150: Place and the Language of Natural Disasters

It might be accurate to say that my apartment is a sort of natural disaster this morning. I'm still recovering from my weekend at ACIS, followed by the most insane allergy attack I've ever had, followed by a migraine so bad that every cell of my body rebelled. I have the broken blood vessels around my eyes to prove it. I look like a raccoon with red freckles. Funny looking, in hindsight. But such is the Midwest when the weather shifts from season to season. These are things to know about one's place in the world. (And, Maeve and Galway have been chasing each other around my apartment, knocking things over, and I've had to peel her off him more than once--and now she's chasing her tail on my bed...)

Yesterday, I taught Kim Barnes's incomparable essay "The Ashes of August" and Dorothy Barresi's "Earthquake Weather" out of A Year In Place to my English 150 class, as we continue our discussion of place and language. (This book that these pieces come out of is pretty amazing.) Yesterday was about the language of natural disasters, a topic that is becoming dearer to my own heart as I'm putting together this class for next semester on natural disaster narratives. Barnes's essay is one of my favorites of all time and it's always fun to teach those. Barresi's essay is a nice complement to it. Barresi's is about earthquakes (specifically the 1994 Northridge earthquake), but also about the death of her mother, her marriage and her parents' marriage, and the birth of her son. Barnes's essay is about wildfires, but also about family, the way that stories evolve under those conditions, with what we know and how we know it.

I started class by putting my students in their groups, then asking them to look for how many different languages were being used in these essays. In Barresi's, they identified not just the technical language of earthquakes, but also the language of California, the language of Los Angeles (which is not the same as the language of California), the language of cancer, the language of marriage, the language of motherhood. We talked about the many narrative threads that Barresi weaves in this essay, that it's about an earthquake, but it's also about marriage, it's also about motherhood, the loss of her mother, and the birth of her child. It all comes together at the end, just at the point my students were wondering if it ever would.

In Barnes's, we got the language of wildfires, the language of Idaho: even in the first page, as we get this spectacular grounding in light and color and taste (which is bookended in the last paragraph by spectacular evocation of smell), the reader is told that "the riverbanks are bedded in basalt" and I looked at my students and asked where basalt comes from. We've been talking about what it means to live on different bedrocks, how it's different to live on the limestone of the Aran Islands or the granite of Connemara in the West of Ireland. Basalt, they remembered, comes from volcanoes. Ah, yes, I said. So this place was formed by volcanoes. What she's telling us it that this is a volatile place, formed by fire, from earliest days. And it's more effective to tell us that it's basalt, than to tell us straight out what that means. Oh, they said, nodding, and I had that thrilling teaching moment where they nod at me, then scratch at the page with their pencils, making some kind of note, some connection.

We talked about what craft is happening here, that the essayist is making these stories relevant to the reader. My students knew about the 1994 Northridge earthquake, but none of them had ever been in an earthquake, they're not from California, they'd never been through a wildfire. So how do the essayists make these stories relevant? (We've been working rather hard in the last several weeks to get them beyond thinking that they have to relate to something to care.) The context makes us care, the exposition that both essayists use to develop the idea that they're working with. If it was a straight narrative about Barresi getting married, her mother dying, and having a baby, nobody would care. If it was a straight narrative about the wildfire around Barnes's home and her husband going out to fight it, nobody would care. Everyone has stories, I tell them, and nobody cares about yours. Unless you make them care. The exposition, the high exposition--that's what makes people care. (More head nodding, more pencils to page. It was a good day.) Language, the descriptions that Barnes and Barresi use, the ideas that they're developing from beginning to end--that's what makes people care.

Then we morphed the discussion into Where are these two essayists doing things that you recognize? Where is the narrative, the exposition? What's the rhetoric of the beginnings, the endings? How about the use of white space (as we talked about segmented essays last week)? The longer I teach, the more I'm realizing how much I want to break down the barrier between my students' work and published work. In my Intro to Fiction class, I had my students write their last two reading responses on one of the pieces that was getting workshopped that week (they had to write on one of the stories in the same way that they did any of the other published pieces we read) and the results were astounding. What can this story teach you about writing? I was so proud of their responses that I wanted to hug them. They talked about being able to see things in other stories that they wanted to do in theirs, they saw things they did that they wanted to avoid. They were able to look at the craft of the stories with the same eye that they did any of the other stories we talked about. It was a beautiful thing. And in two weeks, my 252 class will Skype with Mike Czyzniejewski, the editor of Mid-American Review and author of Elephants in the Bedroom, beginning the second half of the semester filled with Skype conversations with real live writers, writers who are writing what they're reading, writers who are going through the same struggles and triumphs that they are.

What I'm realizing this week, as we go into Fall Break and I won't see my students again until they turn in the rough draft of Writing Project 2, is that we've reached the point of the class where they're afraid to trust themselves. It happens every semester. We can get through the first Writing Project well enough, because they're writing about themselves, about a place they know well. Some will get the essay part, some will not. But when we get to writing about a place and its language, they lose all confidence that they have any ideas, that they have anything valuable to say. Every semester, I know it's coming, but it always seems to surprise me. Yesterday, I had a flood of students come to my office hours (the first they've done so all semester), worrying about the topic for their paper. And every one of them, every single one of them, came into my office with a fantastic idea. Absolutely fantastic. But not a single one of them had the courage to believe that the idea was a good one. And they got hung up on the sources I'm requiring them to use, as if those were more important than the essay itself. The rough drafts are going to be interesting, I think. And I have a feeling that when the mandatory conferences come around in two weeks, I'm going to be repeating myself a lot: Trust yourself. Trust what you have to say is valuable. If you don't trust what you have to say, nobody else is going to. And, my personal favorite: don't be afraid to write crap. Nobody writes a perfect first draft. Nobody. Let me tell you stories about that...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eng. 150: Tim Robinson's Linguistic Ecology, In Practice

This weekend, I presented a paper on Tim Robinson's Linguistic Ecology to the Midwest meeting of the American Conference of Irish Studies. My feeling is that the paper went over fairly well, even though I also felt like my audience had no idea what to do with ecocriticism or nonfiction. But, the praise I received made me spend most of the weekend in a blush, especially when my last paragraph was compared to equalling James Joyce's lyricism in "The Dead." Hefty praise, that. Not sure I live up to that, but at least the audience didn't fall asleep or throw rotten vegetables.

So, it is with great anticipation (and a great deal of caffeine, after spending the weekend fighting allergies with Benadryl, which means my eyes are not yet focusing) that I'm going to be teaching Robinson's "A Connemara Fractal" and "On the Cultivation of the Compass Rose" to my 150 class this morning. I fully expect that they're going to have massive problems with it. He's dense and complicated. I know. But we're working on getting the students beyond that, to a place where they can start to understand how awesome he is.

We're talking about language and place, today concentrating on the language of place and math and cartography. In "A Connemara Fractal," Robinson uses the language of mathematical fractals to discuss the impossibility of mapping the Connemara shoreline. Fractals find their uses in art, math, and nature, so using another vocabulary here would be silly--it's simply the most useful language he has to discuss this particular thing, this particular place. Originally, when I first read this essay, I dismissed it as being too hard, too beyond my abilities as a mathematician (I have no abilities)--but I find that every time I go back to it, I love it more. In some ways, then, "On the Cultivation the Compass Rose" is the opposite of "A Connemara Fractal." And perhaps it is more Montaignian, which is fun in a different way.

But Bret and I talked briefly this morning about using the essay form to teach place-consciousness to first-year students, to get them away from memoir and journal-type confessional writing. The purpose of the Essay (deliberately capitalized) is to make relevant ideas and moments for the readers. Just because Robinson is writing about mapping the Connemara shoreline doesn't mean anybody else is going to care about it. He has to take it beyond that simple narrative and complicate it, bring in the exposition of the math language and how that relates to his inability to comprehend the place, to elevate it beyond a diary. Everybody has stories and nobody cares about yours, so you have to make them care. It doesn't happen by accident.

Here's the questions we'll use to get the discussion going, beyond our standard "what is this essay about?" and "what is this essay about?":
  • Quiddity: the inherent nature of something, a distinctive feature, a peculiarity (p. 81)
  • What is the quiddity of "A Connemara Fractal"?
  • What are the larger implications? How and where and why is the larger idea applicable outside of math?
  • We think of math as definable and solvable (like an island, in "Islands and Images")--how does Robinson disprove that?
  • How does he work the idea of fractals into other contexts?
  • What is the nature of uncertainty? Can we know anything, truly?

As we move into discussing "On the Cultivation of the Compass Rose":
  • Formulate the a question/confusion/irritation, the most interesting question you can come up with...
  • Answer/explicate/complicate it. Prepare to present for 3-4 minutes.

A note on last week's reading responses, to which most students responded to one of the essays by Robinson that I'd assigned. I'm so proud of my students, I just want to hug them. Most of them acknowledged that Robinson was hard, just like I said he was, and that was intimidating, but they wrote about what Robinson could teach them about writing, about description, about interesting ideas. Most of the responses said it took some effort to get beyond the initial frustration, because Robinson is not the easiest, quickest read, but once they did, they really found moments and ideas and language that they really could learn from. Hooray!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Writer's Craft: Perspectives on Irish Environmental Writing

The timing here is actually pretty good: we're reading Tim Robinson in my English 150 class and tomorrow Bret and I are off to Fargo/Moorhead for the American Conference of Irish Studies: our panel is titled "The Writer's Craft: Perspectives on Irish Environmental Writing." We will be joined by the distinguished Eamonn Wall.

Here's our panel description: Ecocriticism, which has been popular in the United States for many years, has recently made the transition to a viable lens through which Irish literature can be studied. Christine Cusick's Out of the Earth (Cork University Press, 2010) and Eamonn Wall's Writing the Irish West (Notre Dam UP, 2011) are the most recent examples. While ecocriticism is a valuable literary tool, another, similar view should also be considered: how are these writers crafting their various works with an eye towards a particular environmental reading? How are essayists, poets, and fiction writers using place (all definitions of "place") to influence characters, plot, or language? This panel aims to explore the use of place and environment form the craft side of Irish writing.

My paper is titled "If all the sky were paper and all the sea were ink': Tim Robinson's Linguistic Ecology" (I'm representing the nonfiction perspective.)

Bret will be speaking on "'What we claim and what claims us': Exploring the 'Eco' in Theo Dorgan's Poetry."

And Eamonn Wall will present on "'Creatures of the Earth': An Ecocritical Reading of John McGahern's Late Stories."

I'm pretty dang excited.

The conference is taking place between Moorhead State University (fine, Minnesota State University--Moorhead) and North Dakota State University, but I went to college in Moorhead, at Concordia. It'll almost be like Homecoming, which is actually happening next week at Concordia, my ten year reunion, so I'll just walk the grounds a week early. It should be an awesome panel, chaired by my amazing undergrad Irish lit prof, Dawn Duncan. (I've been asked to chair her panel, so that's really cool.) My nerves are not being soothed by practicing my paper (which might have something to do with my nervous cats trying to kill each other because I have a suitcase on the bed), but it'll all work out. I am pretty nervous about butchering the Irish in my paper, but I'm going ask for confirmation on pronunciations (again) and then apologize profusely before I start.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bonus Double-Post Monday! Terrain.org

The new issue of Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments is newly live and there are several pieces of note that you might be interested in.

Scott Boyon, "Defining the City: On Being and Becoming" (particularly relevant to our 992 class).

What does America’s oldest city have in common with one of its youngest? The urge to define itself.

Every journey across the continent reveals to me lessons of time and geography. While they can be skimmed over the course of a flight, I prefer to read more slowly and deeply as I drive the back roads and highways. On each trip, by land or air, Erwin Raisz’s landforms map of the country is at my side.

Land patterns from the Atlantic coast westward provide condensed narratives of Earth and human histories inseparably linked, histories of ideas as well as actions, histories of change.

The oft quoted W. Scott Olsen, "River Flying in Winter: The Sheyenne River"

Here is a truth, perhaps a secret, about the northern prairie: winter is the most beautiful season. Beautiful in the way hoar frost hangs from trees. Beautiful in the way snow can fall so gently you believe, for more than just a moment, you’ve entered a place both sacred and deep. Beautiful in the way that cold air can kill you fast. Beautiful in the way that sun dogs in the morning can make it seem like three suns ignite the horizon. Beautiful in the hard contrasts of winter light, every shape a crisp edge. Beautiful in the way that clear sky on a midwinter night is so quiet you swear you can hear the radio voices of stars. Beautiful in the way that every story is about staying alive, and beautiful in the way that people smile when they tell them.

Eng. 992: Week 7 Response

The various articles we read for this week, along with the "Stories of Home" project, leaves me with a series of intersecting ideas and questions. The idea of the "tragedy rhetoric" of rural studies seemed to be dismantled by these different ways to take action in one's community, no matter if that is rural or urban. Tragedy rhetoric resonates in urban contexts as well.

What is the effect of separation (and all its definitions and contexts) in the context of place-conscious pedagogy? At what point is physical action required of a place-conscious classroom? And, is it absolutely necessary? Are there forms of mental action that are just as effective? Is writing enough of a physical action?

I started thinking about the idea of separation being a vital part of considering how and where and why we belong after I read the section of "Sustainable Pedagogy" where Charlotte discusses urban students thinking they can't relate to a nonfiction piece about a "hick," yet that is exactly how those same urban students are viewed when they are in LA. As this essay also discusses, the separation of our first-year students face between their high school home and education and their college home and education is again, vital, for them to discover how and where they belong. Without this separation, they cannot begin to consider the answers.

But it's also seeming necessary to separate students from long-held assumptions and beliefs--not that educated teachers are trying to fill the empty vessel, to paraphrase Paolo Freire, but to give the students enough room to articulate why they believe the way they do, about whatever it is they're considering. College is not a place where blind faith in ideas can flourish. Faith and ideas, yes, but blind--no. Units like the food politics unit are excellent facilitators of this kind of separation. The food politics unit is one that I've seen used before, both here at UNL and where I came from at Bowling Green State University. It's an excellent way to move beyond simple explorations of an issue and discover all its complexities--especially in rural universities like UNL or BGSU. But I can imagine that it could be very interesting to use in an urban setting as well.

All of the authors addressed ways of belonging and how that belonging is constructed. Part of it is simply valuing the students' existing experiences and knowledge and part of it is an active participation in the issues of the communities they are connected to. I appreciated Charlotte Hogg's idea that for her students in Texas, they are all temporarily Texan, just by virtue of choosing to attend that particular college. That seems like a useful way to convince students that they need to be involved in their community--however they define it--wherever they go, but I also see little light bulbs going on, I never considered that before. Maybe it's also useful to consider that one can belong to more than one community, as well as understanding that community doesn't happen magically. Effort is required to make a community and they have a part in that making. The "Stories of Home" project, taken as a whole, complicates the idea of what it means to belong--and what it means to be separated from your place (physical, cultural, emotional, political, etc.). Anne Harrison, the Orphan Train orphan, wondered where and how she belonged. The stories of the refugee families were full of being a part of more than one place. The stories of disability and courage gave another view of what it means to define yourself in one way and to have the world view you in another way. I appreciated articulation of trying to belong to a place that doesn't want you, not just in the stories of the refugees, but also in the story of Lin and Barb. In another way, Lela Knox Shanks illustrated another way of trying to find a place in a world that doesn't want you. I didn't know about this project before this week, but I can see myself incorporating this collection of stories into a class.

Donehower, Hogg, and Schell's article concentrates on separating both students and teachers from mutual bias over their own knowledge and perspectives, towards a goal of mutual inquiry. Swan's "Three Generation Work History" sounded very interesting, especially in its effects of breaking down assumptions, especially the fictions that are constructed by families--or by imagination that fills in the gaps in knowledge. Those separations are absolutely useful to begin thinking about what constitutes a community and what's been done in the past to break up certain communities or prevent communities from forming.

Using Bill Bryson's "Fat Girls in Des Moines" and Kathleen Norris's "Status," was brilliantly articulated to address these goals. Maybe I should not be surprised any longer when writers I admire crop up in our readings. I used the first page of "Fat Girls in Des Moines" just last week in my 150 class (see previous post on Beginnings and Endings), because the rhetoric of "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to" is a great discussion starter for how he makes the reader want to turn the page. Part of it is voice, part of it is pacing. But using the memoir form as an assignment for students to engage these ideas is excellent--but I wonder if using the essay form, in the Montaignian sense of the term, would be more appropriate than memoir, for the simple reason that I think that writing can be its own form of action, and the essay a more effective form than memoir (but that's my own bias towards the essay coming forward).

In my place-based English 150 I've been using the Montaignian definition of essay, since that is what I write, what I study, and what I read. I think the form itself is particularly suitable for place-based inquiry. This type of essay is not an academic work, nor a five-paragraph essay. It is a fluid, malleable form that combines narrative, exposition, and high exposition as the canvas upon which the writer's mind moves its brush. Scott Olsen defines the essay as "the witnessed development of an idea." What makes an essay work is the writer's mind, which means that an essay on the smallest subject can become the largest essay. An essay is not strictly narrative--though that is and can be a part of it--but it is the perspective that the writer brings to the subject that is important. The writer needs to make the subject matter relevant to the reader, which is not simply "relating." The writer needs to actively make the reader care. Patrick Madden is a particularly fine practitioner of this form these days.

I just finished grading the first Writing Project, which was on an aspect of a place they're connected to. I got essays on high school (yet the essay was not a straight narrative of their memories there--it was about how communities are constructed); an essay about a student who goes to her best friend's grave on the 5th of every month was not about the student herself--it was a meditation on the tangibility and intangibility of grief. What makes an essay work is "the story behind the story," as Swan writes, which "reveals the logic, motivations, and implications visible only through insider perspectives." I use the essay to illustrate to students that not only are their experiences important, valuable, vital, but that their thought processes are as well. English 150 is called "Rhetoric as Inquiry" and the essay itself is a natural written expression of that kind of inquiry.

All of these pieces move the conversation of place and belonging beyond Donehower, Hogg, and Schell's premise that effective teaching units that engage the world beyond the physical classroom do address race-ethnicity-gender-class (that most of the composition textbooks try to promote) in ways and contexts that expands the conversation, which moves beyond simple preservationist rhetoric. Students are then able to understand that these diversity questions actually do exist in situations where they consider the community too heterogeneous to support any separations like race-gender-class, especially as students consider their own contributions towards perpetuating certain divisions as well as having those divisions perpetuated on them.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


What a great way to begin October!

It's true that part of my love of place is food-related. Maybe it goes back to childhood and the insane garden that my mom kept, the vegetables that we'd eat right out of the garden, just barely rinsed at the spigot, maybe it was the sense of camaraderie of preparing those veggies to be frozen or canned for the winter. Maybe it was just a satisfaction of growing something. I don't know. I just know that I miss having a garden.

When I was living in Bowling Green, I didn't miss a garden so much because I had the amazing Toledo Farmer's Market, that I frequented with my good friend Amanda nearly every week during the summer. I'd brew the tea, pick her up, and away we'd go. Sometimes we had shopping lists, sometimes we'd see what was good. That was the first place I'd seen brussels sprouts on their stalk. I never knew they grew that way. But I knew they were tasty. A friend of mine from church helped out his family at their stand and he always cut me a deal on canning tomatoes.

Amanda and I taught in the same English department at the university and we knew each other long before we became friends, probably through her husband, FDR, who also taught in the same department and is an amazing poet (Amanda's no slouch in that area herself). I'm sure that the change probably had something to do with food. We discovered that we only lived one street away from each other, so discussions of food became "Hey, I just made this, want leftovers?" or "Hey, I just made this, I need a second opinion!" And across the street we'd go. We started walking in the mornings, sometimes with her tank of a black lab, Bleu, who still thinks he's a puppy. (He may always be a puppy to us.)

Most of those conversations were discussions of various Food Network shows, expressions of love for the awesomeness that is Jamie Oliver, talking about locally sourced food and more. She's the one who introduced me to kale, sautéed in a bit of olive oil and butter till it's just wilted, spritzed with lemon juice, lightly sprinkled with salt and pepper. She made me Jamie Oliver's steak and guinness pie for my birthday once and I swear I could hear angels singing. That fall, we split a quarter of a cow, locally-sourced, grass-fed beef, and it was the greatest thing I'd ever done.

We are the people who take pictures of our food when we go out to eat. If you want to see us in action (albeit in written form), click here. Amanda herself writes for her very cool blog Everyday Palate.

As a cook and an eater, she's completely fearless. (But, she's not a baker. Completely different skill set, she would say. I was the baker of the two.) Part of that has to do with the influence of one Sarah Lenz, who writes on a very cool blog called Prose and Potatoes. I don't know Sarah as well, but she also teaches in the same English department. Sarah is even more fearless than Amanda, especially when it comes to unmentionable bits of various animals. She raises her own chickens. If it can be made herself, she does it.

Amanda has been the Food and Wine editor of the online journal Connotation Press for two years and this fall, they've morphed the written element of the column into a video. Sarah and Amanda have their own cooking show, Spatula. It's amazing. One ingredient, two ways. This month, it's beef and they're making burgers. Amanda is using locally sourced ground chuck from the grocery store and Sarah is grinding her own from chuck and short ribs. I started to drool, I swear. Real burgers are a work of art. These two have personality, they have skills, they have a love of food that is as evident as the finished product. This is a cooking show that you'll want to keep an eye on, if for no other reason than it's fun. Food Network, watch out!

I have heard rumors that Sarah is coming to Omaha over spring break and may drag Amanda with her--I hope so! I can see it now: Spatula: Tiny Kitchen Edition.