Ginger Cranberry Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I decided to come up with another red dinner. We had a few fresh cranberries kicking around the other day, and I decided they were too few to cook up the normal way and too many to put in a muffin or salad, so I would try adding them to a stir-fry. The ‘recipe’ could be made with just about any combination of vegetables you have on hand, but this is what I did.

Stir-fry onion, garlic, and plenty of fresh ginger. Some people grate theirs, but I usually just coarsely dice it. I would say I added at least a tablespoon. Add to that diced parsnip and carrots, then mushrooms, and finally bok choy. I usually slice the white end of the bok choy into thin half-moons and then chop up the green leafy end pretty fine. Spice with curry and about a tablespoon of pure maple syrup (you could use brown sugar or regular sugar, but we had the dregs of a maple syrup bottle on hand that I wanted to use up).

Then, I added a cup or two of Quorn ‘chicken tenders’ for protein. You could use tofu or any other oriental vegetarian protein (or I suppose if you eat meat, chicken would do well).

Quorn is a product we discovered a few years back in Europe, but can now get in our local Kroger. It is made from a fungus, like  a mushroom, and is high in protein. It cooks a little like chicken when sold in nuggets, or like ground beef when sold in little pieces. Its flavor and texture is better than the old style TVP, so we use it as a tofu substitute — a) for a change of pace, and b) because it isn’t made from soy.

Near the end of the stir-frying, I added soy sauce and the cranberries, about a cup of fresh berries. I let them cook a bit until they started to pop open. Then I added a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter to the liquid in the wok to make a peanut sauce. To kick up the spice, I added some Sambal Olek (garlic and red chili paste), though Sriracha would do well, too.

Serve over rice (though it would be fine with oriental noodles as well). The cranberry and maple syrup gave this a sweet/sour taste, kicked up a notch with the ginger and chili, and the peanut sauce made it creamy and rich. I might not serve this every night, but now and then, esp. when you have a few stray cranberries kicking around (or want a red meal for a special occasion), it makes a great change of pace.

Up Periscope: Testing the Waters of Social Video

Last week, I took the plunge into Periscope, Twitter’s live streaming video app. I’ve been thinking about trying this technology for a while now, but frankly, I felt a little daunted. I shouldn’t have. Live streaming video using Periscope couldn’t be much easier. I downloaded the app, tested it with a couple of very short videos (the weather at my house and at my office — each 30 seconds to a minute), glanced at the help files to learn about features like tweeting out, and then launched into my first real half-hour video, which I would count as a success — I didn’t feel completely stupid, and 18 people watched (2 more watched on replay).

So my first lessons: don’t expect to go unnoticed and don’t expect to be an overnight sensation.

Maybe the hardest part of doing a video like this is to have some content worth watching. Look around on Periscope, and you’ll see a variety of topics — some like mine are going to be mostly people talking; others are likely to be of people doing things, maybe even sleeping. You don’t have to be scintillating to get people to watch, at least for a little while anyway. So don’t be too worried about content, especially your first time.

I wanted to use Periscope to promote my university’s new low-residency MFA program in creative writing, and as I’ve done on this blog, I figured a good way to do that would be to offer to answer people’s questions about MFAs in general. I talked a fair amount about our  own program, but tried to compare it to others. Sure, I mentioned our strengths (the flexible schedule, low tuition, personal approach, etc.), but I also tried to acknowledge the differences in other programs that might be valuable to some students. Low-res programs that work on a mentorship model are great for those who want that one-on-one experience, whereas a program like ours that has online workshops during the semester might be better for students who want more interaction with other students.

Lesson Two: Have Props

This is a lesson I learned while doing the video. When I was talking about the #1 ranking we received from Nonprofit Colleges Online, I showed my computer screen with their website on it and scrolled down to the picture of our campus. I don’t expect anyone could read this, but it might help them find it later and it certainly gave them a break from looking at me for a few seconds. Similarly, when I was talking about how to learn more about MFA programs, I realized I had a copy of Tom Kealy’s The Creative Writing MFA Handbook on my desk, so I flipped to the rear camera on my iPad and showed the cover. Next time, I may try to have a few more props on hand that I can use, even if that’s a print-out of titles or web addresses (in large print).

Lesson Three: Expect the Unexpected

I wasn’t too surprised by this, since I had invited questions. Someone wanted to know what an MFA is and how do you join one — I talked about how to apply. Someone wanted to know what I thought about Harper Lee — I gave a quick answer and then got back on topic. Next time I might ignore off topic comments, as I eventually did with a few that seemed to be people checking in to see if they could get me to respond to their comment. You can block a user from your video by tapping on their comment, and I might have to get better about that in the future. Once one person commented with a specious comment, several others showed up briefly to do the same, probably because I hadn’t blocked right away. That’s hard to do while you’re talking, though, so if you can, you may want to have one person operate the phone or tablet while you talk. Then they can do the blocking and you can do the talking.

This strategy would work great for literary videos like a reading. However, you could also read a brief passage on your own and turn off commenting for your video in advance if you don’t want to be bothered with comments (or just ignore the off-topic ones if do you want some comments). The hearts Periscope uses for likes were also a little distracting, but I don’t think there’s a way to turn them off.

Lesson Four: Build an Audience

I’m planning to do a video again every Friday for the next several weeks. As I did this time, I will advertise on Twitter and Facebook in advance, and I’ll post the topics I’m planning to discuss. Next week, the goal is to talk about student debt and how to avoid it. If I get better suggestions of questions to answer, I may go with one of those and save student debt for later. But I found it’s good to plan at least one topic in advance and then see where the comments take you.

When you start your Periscope session, make sure to turn on the feature to Tweet Out your broadcast. This will send a tweet to your twitter account that has your title and a link to the video. This might help drive people to your video. People can also find you on the Periscope global map, and they will see you’re live if they follow you. Now that I have some followers, my audience might grow.

The other thing you can do is write about your experience after the fact. I posted on Facebook and tweeted about it right afterwards, and now I’m writing this on my blog. Check me out at noon CST on Fridays in January and February, if you want to see what I talk about next. I’m using our program’s account, which is @TheW_MFACW on both Twitter and Periscope (good advice is to keep the same name if you like your twitter handle).

Lesson five: choose your app

I chose Periscope because it has one feature I really wanted — it will archive your video for 24 hours. That way, if someone misses the live broadcast, they can still see it. You can also save your video to your device and then upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, or any other service like that. Meerkat, which I like because it came before Periscope and wasn’t bought out by Twitter (but still works well with it, from what I’ve read), didn’t have the archive feature. I didn’t want my video to live online forever, but I did think it would help to grow my audience if some people could watch it later. If you like Meerkat, though, I’ve read it does some things better than Periscope. Archiving was the feature that made up my mind, but you may have other criteria that are more important to you.

A few final notes:

As I was signing off my video, one person said it had been helpful and they learned something. That made me feel it was worth it, despite the trolls who wrote specious comments. Ezra Pound said a professor is someone who can talk for an hour. I figured I could talk on video for at least half that long, and proved myself right. But your video could be shorter. For future broadcasts (once I’m done talking about MFAs for awhile), I’d like to do a short reading to promote my book Barrier Island Suite when it comes out, and I’d like to video student readings or other events at our residency period (with permission of course), and I’d like to give a tour of our campus or building (if I can stay within range of wifi and not use data). I’ll definitely be looking for more interesting backgrounds and other visual elements, and an interview with another writer might be nice to try. So check back later and see how it goes!

New Year’s Resolution: Use Pinterest

Last year, I did very well with my new year’s resolution: I resolved to finish a book of poems. I did that and got it published — Barrier Island Suite  is coming out in March from Texas Review Press. This year, my resolutions may be a little more modest, but I also want them to be practical.

For my first resolution, I resolve to make better use of Pinterest.

Now, let me say I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest. Or I should say, I really don’t like it all that much, but I know I should. Everyone says they love Pinterest, and I’ve never seen much value. I don’t do crafts, and I don’t collect things. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on social media, if I can avoid it. What’s there to love in Pinterest?

But last year, I decided I should make the plunge, so I set up a Pinterest account for the new low-res MFA Program in creative writing that I direct at Mississippi University for Women. I thought it would be a good idea to have a presence on one of the fastest growing social networks. I wanted the account to fit our program, and got a little excited by the idea that Pinterest can be about more than crafts. I set up two boards: one for our program and one with links to writing advice and news. Initially, I pinned a few things, and then it languished.

My initial, brief enthusiasm for Pinterest was based on the realization that I could use it as repository to store links to web sites of interest, but this enthusiasm cooled because I found pinning things counterintuitive and rather clunky. There wasn’t always an image that I wanted to pin on the site I wanted to list, or I simply forgot about Pinterest as my schedule got busy. I didn’t make a point to go look for things to pin, in other words. I did download the button for my web browser, so I could pin things more easily, but I didn’t use it much.

That is my plan to fulfill my New Year’s resolution, though. I’ve realized that I can pin almost any page, and can and should use this more when I’m doing my regular browsing. Often a link on Facebook or Twitter will take me to an interesting article on writing or to a magazine that has a good poem or story. All I need to do is click the Pinterest button, and I can quickly add it to a board. Pinterest will even let me start a new board as I’m adding it, if the content I want to save doesn’t fit my existing categories.

I want to use these boards not only as my personal repository of links, but as a way to share interesting material related to writing with the students and faculty in the program (I have a feed from our Pinterest account in the online student lounge I set up in Canvas). Of course, anyone in Pinterest can follow our boards, so I hope they might be of interest to other writers and therefore to prospective students. In addition to the boards I mentioned above, I’ve started one for literary magazines, and may start one for publishers, contests, workshops, or other writing opportunities.

Follow our program on Pinterest to see how I do with this resolution!

Some answers about transcripts

Occasionally I like to look at my blog’s stats page — okay, I’ll admit it, more than occasionally, and sometimes often or esp. when I should be doing something else important, I look at my stats. I try not to be obsessed, but I like to see what interests people. The stats include search terms people used to access my blog.

Today, I saw an interesting question, and I thought I would answer it. In case you’re still looking to find out “do I need [a] transcript at muw even if I didn’t finish at the school I was at,” the answer is “yes.”

Whether you’re thinking of applying to our low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing (and I assume you are, since you landed here) or whether you’re applying to any other graduate or undergraduate program, The W needs to see every transcript.  We evaluate your entire record, and we need to know that you left your previous schools in good standing.

Generally this isn’t a problem (though I know that ordering transcripts can be an expense and a hassle). I’ve had several students who have had multiple transcripts to submit, and even some who started another program and then decided not to finish. It is good to address that decision in your letter of intent, so I know why you didn’t complete a program. But the fact that your plans changed isn’t necessarily a bad sign. Low grades in a program you quit might be an issue, though if there is a good explanation, it’s something to consider.

We do occasionally find out that a student hasn’t reported a transcript from another school — I’ve had this happen when it’s listed on another transcript (and yes, I do need the original transcript from each school attended — the only exception I’ve encountered was when a single class was taken at another school but credit was granted by the school whose transcript I had under a dual-enrollment or cross-registration agreement). I’ve also seen cases where financial aid turns up evidence of another school. I say all this to reiterate that it is much better to be up front about your academic record than to avoid submitting a partial transcript.

We care about your complete academic record, and I would prefer to know right away if there’s a program you didn’t finish than to find out later. We learn a lot from transcripts, and it is more than just your GPA. We learn about your academic history, the kinds of classes you’ve taken, and your preparation for our program. Even if you were in a completely unrelated program (let’s say you started nursing school and then decided you wanted to be a writer), I still learn about the breadth of your interests by seeing that transcript.

But transcripts aren’t everything. There are certain minimal requirements, such as a 3.0 GPA (but we still can admit conditionally if it’s lower and your writing is good) and some background in writing or literature (even if it wasn’t your major). Letters of recommendation, your writing sample, and your letter of intent each tell another side to your story. If you’re worried about a transcript that either is from an unfinished program or is not as good as you would like it to be, then fill in that story by highlighting your experience since that program. We have highly successful students whose academic record wasn’t stellar, but whose work and writing since they were last in school convinced me that they had potential to do well in our program.

So if you wrote that search term, I hope this post answers your question. And if you weren’t the one to write it, but this post answered some of your questions, then thank the person who did write it and thank WordPress for reporting those search terms in my stats!

Barrier Island Suite

Barrier Island Suite front cover imageBe sure to check out my new book page, featuring my third collection of poems, Barrier Island Suite, and the gracious comments from T. R. Hummer, Adam Vines, and Beth Ann Fennelly that will appear on the back cover. It is scheduled for publication in spring 2016. I’ve enjoyed working with the Anderson family on the cover art and art for the interior.

2015 in review (by WordPress)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 57,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 21 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

2015 Year in Review

Before WordPress tells me what happened this year, let me do a little review. 2015 will be best remembered as the start of The W’s low-res MFA program in creative writing. As the year began, we had just been approved and were only starting to recruit students. By June, we had 11 students enrolled and were getting classes and new faculty ready to roll in Blackboard. August brought the news that the campus was switching to Canvas for our LMS, and we quickly transitioned the writing program as well, so we could start in the new learning environment. since all our classes were new and hadn’t been implemented yet.

Our grade students did a great job in their online courses. And really enjoyed meeting each other and their faculty at the Welty Symposium. Directions the program and the symposium at the same time, creating two new classes, one in Writing for New Media and the other our first residency, was a challenge with many rewards. And we’ve admitted 5 new students for Spring and have several students already in the pipeline for Fall 2016. It seems clear we are well on the way to a successful program, though there will be many challenges next year as we work towards graduating our first MFAs in 2017.

In other news, I completed the manuscript for my third book of poems, Barrier Island Suite, which will be published by Texas Review Press next year. I’ve had some good conversations with the Walter Anderson family about using his artwork on the cover and inside the book. And Terry Hummer, Beth Ann Fennelly, and AdamVines were kind enough to write blurbs for the cover.

Our family took a great car vacation to see friends in Virginia, visit Lancaster County PA, explore Acadia National Park, and take in the beautiful and historic city of Montreal, where we also caught up with friends from Venice. Along the way, we found great surprises in the country sides of Maine and Quebec.

As we head into the new year, I’m grateful for all these opportunities and for all the friends we’ve been able to make or reconnect with. Visits to family in the summer and over Christmas are also highlights. It’s been a great year, and I’m looking forward to the year ahead!

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