“It is difficult not to write satire.”

Dear Family and Friends,

Christmas Angels

It’s seems almost impossible that one whole year has passed without a call, letter, e-mail, or text from you.  I’m sure you’ve been as busy as we have.  Let me tell you all about our wonderful year.

santa man

Ed captured the Western Hemisphere Sales Director VP and Marketing Consultant, Business Generator title at First Corporation Corp.  He’s catapulting into position to be the First Second Man!  He flies between Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, Beijing, Boston, Fargo, and home on a regular route. He always appreciates the tender touches of clean underwear, socks, love notes, and credit card bills I slip into his carry-on.  Our 20th wedding anniversary was special.  We rented the Anniversary Suite at Punta Pacifica in Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful country with gorgeous beaches and many English-speaking people.  It was perfectly romantic and the two days, one night just flew by.

The blessing behind that little February interlude was Edward Jonathan III.  He’s beautiful. He’s a boy! He looks just like me even though I know he’s squinting in the picture.  He was, after all, just 12 hours old. I wrote this while nursing in the hospital since we wanted you all to get the fresh, fresh news immediately!

fuzzy angel

Elizabeth turns 3 tomorrow.  Her favorite activities are singing at Sunday School and playing nicely with other children.  She was chosen to be preschool helper at the So Good Academy twice already!  By the way, please don’t ask for any more references for your children’s applications to So Good. The Director requested that even though we are the largest donors it might be nice to let other families on the west side have a chance at the 12 spots for the ’13 and ’14 admission classes.

Grace is now 4. She’s very sweet and social.   She has many girlfriends and is invited to birthday parties often.  This trait, (guess who she takes after?) coupled with the gymnastics classes she’ll begin in January, should make her the undisputed Captain of Cheer when she begins Old Fashioned Fancy Crest as a freshman in 2021!


Lauren turned 8 on the fourth of July.  Her lemonade stand on the holiday parade route brought in more sales than any other child’s! Our little firecracker still wins all the spelling bees, geography quizzes, and mathematics derbies in her classroom.  The biggest blessing about her new age is that she can finally compete outside of the Good Academy for city, region and state honors.  You’ll probably see her name in the paper just after the first of the year.  Please don’t call and congratulate her.  We’re trying to keep her humble.

Anna Mary turned 10. Her hair is finally growing out after the great candle and scissor debacle in art class so she once again looks like she belongs in the family, Ed’s side, of course.

Edwina began Old Fashioned Fancy Crest in September.  She took her first SAT exam and earned a near-perfect score of 2150, so she has three years to get even better!  Her greatest achievement was acceptance into the Big East Coast Ballet Summer Intensive Workshop.  Can you believe I sent my child across the country to spend six weeks in the company of prima ballerinas?  She was placed in second level which is incredible for someone her age! I made it to the gala extravaganza finale so I could clap and throw roses from the front row.  It was magical.

My work is really quite wonderful and exciting. I love it! I’ve been working full time on the same deal – worth $300 million! – since I started in May;  I work 80-90 hours a week, but I find out next week if the contract goes through, so, I’m hoping I’ll have a nice Christmas bonus. I spent my birthday in Toronto, Canada, on business. Last month I went from there, to Plano, TX, to Seattle, to Philadelphia, to San Francisco, Atlanta and Chicago, but now I’m on maternity leave through the holidays so I can be well rested when it’s time to ramp up again on January 2.

Anyway, do keep in touch.  We’re too busy to reply, but we count our long Christmas card list as one of life’s greatest gifts.

Air kisses!
~The Naughty Alter-Egos of Nice Catherine and Sweet Sue

Christmas Card

p.s.  Juvenal, the Roman poet whose quote titles this post, is one of history’s great satirists.   To find a fine discourse, written by Roger Kimball in The New Criterion, on Juvenal’s style, perspective and the nuances of his enduring legacy, click here.

Sugar and Spice Sure are Nice

Pop a cookie sheet of these cookies in the oven and the house will fill with the scent of cinnamon, ginger and cloves. cookie doughAs the cookies progress from this:

to this:

cookies on cookies sheet

Molasses Crinkles are another one of the cookies which make an appearance on the Big Platter. The cookbook containing the original recipe is one the Backyard Sisters have turned to many times over the years.

Betty Crocker boys and girls cookbookWhen younger, and the baking urge would strike, we usually pulled out this book and flipped through the pages for just the right confection to satisfy that urge. I don’t remember what prompted the first attempt at Molasses Crinkles. Perhaps it was the exotic sounding ingredients molasses,

molassesand the spices cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Whatever it was, once mixed and baked, they have beckoned with their spicy aroma.

picking up a ccokie

Spices which boast health benefits by the way, and can evoke feelings of comfort and joy.

cookies on plateSo, bake a batch and watch them disappear.

Christmas cookies- Molasses CrinklesThe recipe:

Molasses Crinkles

Mix thoroughly in a large bowl:

3/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

In another bowl sift together:
2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsps. baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients into butter mixture until blended well.
Chill dough in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Heat oven to 375°.
Roll teaspoonfuls of chilled dough into balls the size of large walnuts.
Dip the tops in granulated sugar. Place the cookies, sugar side up on a lightly greased or parchment paper covered cookie sheet, 3 inches apart.
Bake 10 minutes or just until set but not hard.
Cool on wire rack.

Makes 4 dozen.

Or bake some and share with friends and family.

~ Sue

The Weekend Dish-Herb Vinegar

Writers and cooks know one true thing and that is, as Stanley Kunitz said,

Just as a tapestry cannot be woven out of a single set of threads…you need another set of threads as counterweave…

So go ahead and make your Christmas cookies and fudges, cakes, pies and candies. But when you need something to cut the sweet, consider creating a batch of herb-infused vinegars.


There are endless possible combinations, but I created this one to put forth a ruby jewel color and to make use of the bounty of my herb garden. You can buy clear bottles, or put the empty Pinot Grigio bottles out of their recycle bin misery and let them be the life of the party again.

For PDF labels, complete with poetry quotes courtesy of the Academy of American Poets, click here.

    Backyard Sisters Herb Vinegar
– 1 sprig rosemary
– Several twigs of thyme
Wash herbs and air dry. Slip them carefully into the bottle.

In a separate container, preferably several large pitchers or bowls, mix equal parts:
– Apple Juice
– Apple Cider Vinegar
– Red Wine Vinegar
– White Vinegar
– Rice Vinegar
– Cooking Sherry
Stir. Fill bottles.  Using a funnel helps immensely, but I’m pretty sure you already know that.

It’s so easy to make, even a writer can do it.

~ Catherine

Here a word, there a word…

“Did I forget to look at the sky this morning / 
when I first woke up?”


So begins Jim Moore’s,”Twenty Questions,” one of my favorite poems to read as a reminder to live attentively. When I take Moore’s attitude of inquiry into the day, I’m frequently rewarded with a high word count of odd snippets which I hoard like gold to incite new projects. And then I lose my words within the dozens and dozens of journals I’ve kept for years.

I once attended a reading where Charles Simic and Laure-Anne Bosselaar stood in front of a large audience and spun magic from their tattered leather journals, taking rapt listeners from first jot to finished poem like sure-footed adults leading children over stepping stones in a rushing river.

My process is infinitely messier.


I keep journals everywhere.  Stacks of filled Moleskins pile up in a purple silk-wrapped box on my bookshelf. There are three journals on my bedside table, one in my purse, another in my messenger bag, and a water-spotted, sandy one in my beach backpack. There’s a slim brown journal in my car, a hardback one in my upstairs office, and the smallest journal of all waits downstairs by my muddy shoes.  I slip it into my jeans pocket before every hike.

Writing is the easy part.  Keeping track of my observations is the trick. Yet I find that randomly picking and choosing to read from this year or that, from land observations or seaside ruminations can be weirdly fun.

It’s never a good thing to be a cautious trumpeter, I wrote while listening to music at San Francisco’s now defunct Jazz at Pearl’s club.

Do not ever show an oak a photo of a pine. When you write about the aspen, don’t let the birch read a word about it, came after a late fall walk in the canyon near my house.

I’d rather lose an armpit than a finger, was gleaned at the AFI Film fest while riding the elevator from the parking garage to the ArcLight Theater in Los Angeles.

And then, my most promising:
”                                                         ”

This emptiness  lies within the small leather book, decorated with with a botanical pomegranate image, that I picked up at Charta an exquisite book bindery in Venezia.


The proprietor, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten, warned me that I’d never write in this book.

“No one ever does,” he said as he wrapped the small book in gold paper.  “But just so you know, I offer free refills.  When you fill this up, you send me a letter and I will send you more pages.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll fill it up. I’m a writer.”

He nodded sagely, patted the package before he handed it to me.

“You’ll be the first.”

I think of this – self-fulfilling prophecies and keeping track of journal notes –  as I bid my students a semester’s-end goodbye.  They tell me they’ve turned into writers now and they want to know how to continue the practice.

Off the top of my head, I offer my own best advice.

* Write frequently, at least 1,000 words a day.
* Save your writing in documents titled by month and year.
* Take a journal with you everywhere. (Shhh, I didn’t tell them the story of what happens to mine.)
* Make a regular practice of transcribing your journal notes once a month. (Now there’s a thought.)
* When a new month rolls around, open a new document and begin again.
* At that time, make a regular practice of reading the previous years’ journal entries for that month. For example, every December I read all the December documents from previous years.
* And lastly, don’t ever let someone tell you that you won’t write.

I always miss my students, for their optimism, their tenacity, their freshness, and finally because without them I’d have no occasion to hear myself say aloud things I know to be true.

“Don’t ever let someone tell you that you won’t write.”

It’s time to face down the Pomegranate journal.

bare feet
low sun
blue in the afternoon

There. In pencil, with eraser marks, a far from perfect entry.  And then I remember my second favorite line from the poem “Twenty Questions.”

“Wouldn’t it be wrong not to mention joy?”

I scribble joy! in Pomegranate journal, just to remind myself.

Joy! I tell my students instead of goodbye.  And then, because a statement offers no possibility for dialogue, I ask a question.

Will you remember to look at the sky at dusk?


With joy,
~ Catherine

P.S.  Jim Moore is an American poet and recent recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship.

He writes in the his fellowship profile about spending time in prison and learning that his fellow inmates were poetry lovers.

I discovered that a big notebook was kept secretly (passed from inmate to inmate so the risk was shared)  and at some cost (its discovery would have resulted in the loss of good time, which meant a longer stay in prison) in which inmates kept poems—poems of their own and poems by poets whose work they loved, mostly Black poets, but I remember Neruda was there, Whitman, and Longfellow, of all people.

You can read the entire poem “Twenty Questions” here.


The Great December Cookie Bake

Come December, the Backyard Sisters take to the kitchen. We buy pounds of flour, sugar and butter and rummage through the pantry for chocolate chips, food coloring, sprinkles and other various ingredients. The main objective – cookies, and lots of them. There’s nothing like the sweet buttery scent of sugar cookies in the oven to put one in the mood for elfish activities. This month, we are sharing some of our favorite cookie recipes, photos and stories from our great cookie bakes. Closer to Christmas, all the sisters and cousins who are in town get together for the annual great Christmas cookie bake. Energized by  Christmas carols and each others’ company, we sift, mix, dance, roll out dough, laugh and decorate the day away. Just about every year there is one batch that doesn’t come out as planned – like the year the snowball cookies came out resembling hockey pucks more than snow balls. . .

cookie problems

still not sure what happened there. Or, the time the fudge turned out powdery; prompting careful monitoring of the second attempt.

making fudge Usually, though, things go smoothly.

making fudgeAnd after a day filled with rotating cookies sheets in and out of the oven and ending with a delicious artistic expression. . .

sugar cookieswe produce a platter over-flowing with the sweet, crispy, tasty, fruits of our labors. ( Note the usual snowball cookies front left.)

holiday cookie platterAt this backyard sister’s house, the first batch to kick off the season is sugar cookies.

Holiday Sugar CookiesThese are crisp and delicate with a hint of vanilla.
Holiday Sugar Cookies
For many years, the youngest backyard daughter and her friend have made a batch to sell in front of the house, along with cocoa, to the many people streaming through our neighborhood to enjoy the light displays, but, most importantly, the “Big Guy” likes them too.
Cookies for SantaFrom our house to yours:

Extraordinary Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter                                          4 1/2 cups flour
1 cup granulated sugar                         1 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup powdered sugar                          1 tsp baking soda
1 cup oil                                                1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs                                                  1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)

Cream the butter and sugars in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in oil and eggs. Beat well. Add flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt and extracts. Mix until well blended. Chill the dough. Roll about heaping teaspoon size amount of dough into a ball and roll in sugar (can mix colored sugar in with granulated sugar) then flatten with bottom of glass dipped in granulated sugar. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 6 dozen cookies.


~ Sue