Wednesday, July 30, 2014

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: Traveling Light

On Monday, my daughter Abby and I packed one backpack each and got on a Chicago-bound plane. We booked a room at the Travelodge on Harrison Street, walking distance from everything we longed to see. We left behind our computers, dress clothes, cameras, to-do lists, and anything that wouldn't fit under an airplane seat. It was all last-minute because we waited until Abby had four days in a row off work.

So here we are until tomorrow, wandering around our favorite Windy City with very little to weigh us down. I'm typing this on my iPhone, which is also  doubling as my camera and that's quite a concession for a writer who loves to shoot photos.

But this lack of stuff has been wonderful. We so seldom travel this lightly, thinking more about what we absolutely have to have with us than what we can do without. 

Dropping all the stuff we usually carry makes movement a whole lot easier. 

I leave you with this morning's view from our room.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: Space, Inner not Outer

This week brings the gift of perfect summer days, a trip to the farmer's market, two baseball games, a visit from an old high school friend, a reunion. It also brings the general life stuff of parenting an emerging adult, navigating differences of opinion, feeling the sadness that is a natural part of that process. It brings the comfort of a long-term marriage as a foundation for the rest of it. And all of these things meld into a very big quilt of a life.

That said, I'm feeling a little tapped out this week. The details aren't important this time. What's important is the realization that more space is necessary. More time in which there is not a pull to be somewhere else, to make a decision, or to find more room for one more thing on an already-packed calendar.

So, I'm going to go find some summer today. How about you?

White coneflowers bring summer light to our garden.


Bonus reading link for you today... I recently won a flash fiction contest over at Postcard Poems and Prose with my piece, Half-Baked, which was published on Monday. This is the third piece of my short fiction and second piece of my flash fiction that the folks over at PP&P have published and I am honored. I hope you like the story.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: Summer Gratitude, Summer Perspective

Nice font, don’t you think? Well, maybe it's more the color.

One of my son’s pet peeves is the misuse of fonts in an overall design. I see his point every time I look at a website that has several different fonts within one page, or a business card (why, yes, people still use those) with four different fonts in that little 2”x3” space. That always sends me to my computer to see what I can come up with on my own for a design and then I eventually land here, on my blog, to play around. 

This time I thought I’d actually publish the silly little post I was having fun with.

But it’s hard to read, isn’t it? Hot pink italics do not make for an easy scan of an article.

Ah, there, that’s better. Why, oh why, do people sacrifice readability for some goofy font they think is cool? 

Just as I got today’s gripe out of the way, I met up with another one. As I was typing this post, my landline (soon to be abolished) rang. Since there are only about two people who call me on that line, I answered. Shouldn’t have done that. It was the Minnesota DFL calling to inform me of what’s happening politically right now and ask for money. Both things drive me crazy. I read the paper. I know what’s going on, mostly. And I haven’t won the lottery lately, so stop asking this parent who has a kid in college for money. Go away. I’m going to vote as I see fit no matter how many times you call me.

But I am stalling. Can you tell? This is what happens to a writer in full summer mode, who would rather be outside than in. A writer who spent the beginning of the day on a long, fast-paced walk with her dogs that took us to the nearby Reservoir Woods

Now that’s a summer thing to do. As I took Ruby the Irish terrier and Truffles the miniature dachshund on the paved trail among trees, birds, and filtered morning sun, I felt something other than my muscles working. That something was gratitude. It’s a feeling I’ve been working hard to encourage in myself as the summer progresses and it always emerges when I walk outside in my own neighborhood. We are so lucky to live in a walkable community with green space large enough that a person can pretend to be far from the city for a few minutes. We have spaces here in Roseville where we can be still or walk fast without fear of being bombed or shot or taken prisoner. We can wave to other people without it being taken the wrong way. We can return to a house that is secure with dependable utilities. 

This gratitude gets magnified every time I read the newspaper, every time I see a photo of what’s going on in the Middle East right now. It gets mixed with sorrow for the people who live there. It gets magnified when I read about what’s happening across my own metro area, when some kid gets hurt by their own family. It gets mixed with questions about what I should be doing to make the world a better place from this very safe spot where I have the good fortune to live. Volunteer more? Donate more? Raise awareness more? Be less quiet?

Big questions for someone in summer mode. But they certainly make those little gripes that kicked off this column seem like nothing. 

Nothing. I have absolutely nothing to complain about and I am thankful.

Why, yes, we've exercised today. Thank you for your concern.

Friday, July 11, 2014

First Five Fragments for Friday - Lazy Summer Edition

Your weekly offering of writing/art prompts.

What time is it as I write this? Oh, yeah, it's afternoon....2:09 p.m., to be exact. This post is not quite the first thing I did today.

Sometimes, regular blog posts need a shot in the arm. A nice big shot of interest. I think that's true for First Five Fragments for Friday. It's been a regular feature on this blog for a long time and I'm feeling the need to let it rest for the remainder of the summer so it can percolate. Writing weekly prompts has gotten to be stale.

In the meantime, my regular Eat, Write, Digest column will continue. Read, share, comment.

Enjoy the rest of your summer.

"It's summer, baby. Lay back." - Truffles, the mini dachshund

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: Got Good Dirt?

It all started with a flat of impatiens, those ubiquitous summer shots of color that Minnesota gardeners adore. The month of June was rainy that year and Mick and I were headed to our first overseas trip together, to Helsinki of all places. 

I was moving into Mick’s house. My son, who was just finishing fourth grade, was excited that Mick had a cat and a yard and we would not be constrained by apartment life any longer. It was the end of the school year, but the Helsinki trip overlapped with the last few days of school, so Shawn went to stay with my parents for a few days. He would later stay with my friend Sharon, whose son was the same age. We were crazily packing up, moving items out of the apartment and into Mick’s house, but would finalize the move once we returned from overseas. 

Mick’s yard had a flower garden. He is a gentle sort of guy who loves plants and animals and I began my gardener’s education with him. We acquired a bunch of impatiens somehow - I think it was my friend Sharon who had excess - and we had only a couple of days before our flight left to get those flowers in the ground.

We ended up throwing them into the dirt early on the day we left.  It misted while we set 48 little plants into the beds along two sides of Mick’s yard. Wet, muddy, but triumphant that we’d actually planted the impatiens, we cleaned up and took off. We just hoped the flowers would survive while we were gone. 

Survive they did. We returned to an impatiens explosion in the back yard, where weather had been just right for unattended growth. I remember being enchanted with the bright little petals as they balanced the green of Mick’s hostas and grass. And I thought, hey, growing flowers isn’t too hard.

Of course, those flowers, which aren’t native to Minnesota, are easy to grow. Nothing eats them. Squirrels sometimes dig them up with abandon (I think there is actually an ongoing plot by squirrels everywhere), but impatiens are impervious to much of what Minnesota throws at them in the summer.

Today, Mick and I don’t plant a lot of impatiens. We’ve expanded our gardening knowledge to include native plants, fruits, vegetables, herbs. We’ve plopped native river birch that our neighbors dug up at their cabin into the low spot in our back yard, where snowmelt accumulates every spring. Those birch are thriving. We’ve given milkweed from my husband’s uncle’s farm a new home on the side of our house, where we can see it outside the kitchen window. At this time of year, it emits a lovely sweet scent while butterflies and bees move continually over the flowers. We’ve learned about columbine, butterfly weed, swamp milkweed, sumac, goatsbeard, penstemon, daisies, bee balm, yarrow. We’ve nurtured a bur oak and a pin oak. We’ve learned which nurseries carry northern perennials and read about flowers that actually hurt bees and other creatures because genetic modifications have made their beauty toxic.

I’ve even learned to walk next to bees without panicking, unless they’re wasps or hornets. Honey bees have a soothing collective buzz when they are working together in the fragrant hyssop that grows behind our garage. It’s almost hypnotic to watch them on a hot summer afternoon, when they seem too busy to notice anything but the flowers. 

When I think back to those impatiens that first got my attention, I see a young woman who had no idea that digging in the dirt was going to play such a large role in her life. That woman was so busy raising a son and scrambling to pay the rent on time that nurturing another form of life wasn’t an option. Mick’s proposal and my acceptance that we make a life together changed all that. Throwing impatiens into a garden bed before going with Mick to a science conference in Finland was the beginning of a grand adventure. And, now, I can’t imagine life without Mick or a lot of garden soil. 

Good dirt grows a lot more than flowers.

Mick's uncle's milkweed

Butterfly weed


Fragrant hyssop

Friday, July 4, 2014

First Five Fragments for Friday - Fourth of July Edition

Your weekly offering of writing/art prompts.

Five words for today:

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Public domain photo by Jon Sullivan.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: Urban Wildlife, Suburban Coexistence

This morning, we saw a red fox trot across Roselawn Avenue. She (he?) moved swiftly, eyes on Mick, me, and our two dogs as she stayed whatever course she was on. We stopped, watched her, happy for this vision we don’t witness very often.

“Go, fox, go!” I said. I hoped she wouldn’t get run over; people were just starting to leave home for this day’s work.

But that fox reminded me how wildlife surprises us all the time with an insistence on maintaining territory, fighting to stay until forced out. Roseville, where we live, is a first-ring Twin Cities suburb and has been here, encroaching on wildlife, for decades. That there are a lot of parks in Roseville helps provide places for foxes, coyotes, owls, deer, rabbits, and other creatures to stick around in spit of the oblivious humans who mess with their habitats. 

I adore seeing these creatures. Not everyone agrees.

Not long ago, in another suburb to the north of us, an argument about people feeding deer when other people want to keep the deer away boiled over into someone getting shot to death. The deer, presumably, are fine. When I read the story, I kept wondering what else was involved in this very human disagreement because it seemed ridiculous that the deer situation was the whole story. Of course, it wasn’t. We learned later that the families feuded over lots of things, but the deer-feeding became a catalyst that tipped bad behavior into the realm of murder. These people who were feuding were not farmers who depend on crops for their livelihood and, perhaps, have larger concerns with which creatures get to feast from their efforts. These people, rather, were fellow suburbanites who vehemently disagreed about how to coexist. 

These are the sort of people whom I imagine not stopping for a fox who crosses the road. Or for young geese.

Young geese are plentiful around here. Last Saturday, as I drove north on Rice Street (accidentally, thanks to a closed on-ramp for Highway 36), traffic came to a stop. I was quite far from any traffic light, so I wondered what was going on. I couldn’t see the reason until traffic moved again a few minutes later. There they were on the side of the road: a whole family of geese that included two adult geese and a whole bunch of adolescent geese. I did momentarily wonder if teenaged geese are as challenging as teenaged humans, and then I felt grateful that an entire line of traffic stopped to let this feathered family find their way across a busy road.

That is coexistence. How does this concept get so bungled among people? 

Once, when my family was on a bike ride along a path from Roseville’s Arboretum to Central Park, we came around a curve and nearly ran right into a doe. She stood for just a moment in the middle of the path, her brown eyes looking at us with what we would have called concern, before she twitched ears, nose, and tail, and bounded away. My daughter Abby was still in grade school and she was enchanted with this encounter. I was grateful for the deer’s deft footwork as we all squeezed our bike brakes and wished for a longer look at her. But she was gone in a flash, out of the way of our bikes and those of other riders behind us. It was a Sunday morning and we were taking part in the community bike ride for Roseville’s annual Rosefest. We have not had such a beautiful meeting on that path since.

But those foxes. They get to me. Last fall, two foxes sunned themselves in my back yard. I watched them for nearly half an hour from the living room window. I got my camera and long lens, shot photos of them through the glass. The dogs were sleeping in other rooms, blissfully unaware that these creatures took up space in their yard. In the end, it was me who drove the foxes away. I cracked a window open and the small noise of the window sliding in the frame was enough to make them both look up, twitch ears, vanish. I was so sad that I disturbed them, amazed at how sharp their hearing was, and so, so grateful that they had stayed in our garden for that little while. I wanted to tell them to come back, that they were welcome. 

If only I could have spoken in their language. I’m sure they would have heard me.

These are the lovely creatures who graced my back yard.