Spring Equinox, Feasts, Conversations

I could feel it this morning, the arrival of spring, with the warmth in the air, the sounds of the birds, the sunrise that streaked red and pink across the sky. Even with a mild winter like the one we’ve just had, the spring equinox feels like a definite change in the weather.

On Saturday, my partner Mick and I celebrated spring’s arrival at our favorite Afghani restaurant, Khyber Pass Cafe, in St. Paul. The restaurant had a special Persian menu for the occasion. We began with kadu borani, a braised butternut squash dish topped with yogurt. That was followed by kabuli pilau, chicken chunks nestled beneath warmly-spiced basmati rice and topped with raisins and julienned carrots. Dessert was a traditional dish of fruits and nuts in syrup, a dish not normally on the menu and for which I cannot remember the name. A bottle of wine accompanied the meal (a nice tempranillo) and we were treated to some traditional live Persian music. It was one of the best meals I’ve had recently, and the owners of the restaurant were the epitome of graciousness to an absolutely packed place. We noticed a lot of our fellow diners also feasted on the special menu in honor of spring. One of the owners, Emel Sherzad, stopped by our table a few times to ask how we were doing and, like other visits to this restaurant, we were struck by his kindness when he spoke to us. This is not a man who asks how your are because it’s expected; he asks because he really cares and the people who come to his restaurant can feel that.

This is a place where wonderful food and joy and generosity mingle.

When we finished our meal, we slowly walked back to our car in the warmish evening. Next door to the Kyber Pass Cafe is Dunn Bros Coffee. On the bench outside there was a guy with a sweet female Bernese mountain dog who wanted nothing more than to be petted by everyone who walked by. And so we stopped, scratched her ears, looked into her big brown eyes, listened to her owner talk about how many puppies she’s had and how she is a great mom. The guy was so happy sitting there with his dog and a cup of coffee; we were so happy to stop and talk.

Spring brings that out in people around here.

And so I wish you happy spring. May you get to celebrate with new foods, have conversations with people you don’t know, see how much joy there could be in a world where people are kind no matter who comes across their path.  It’ll make hugging the people you love just that much better, too.

 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

The Pre-St. Patrick’s Day Late Edition

Nearly 3:00 p.m. and I’m just sitting down to tackle today’s blog post. I spent many hours on the road this weekend to visit a friend in Madison and family in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Mick and I left with son Shawn and daughter Abby – neither of whom live at home anymore, so this was a pretty special road trip – early Saturday morning and came back late last night on snowy, slippery roads amidst swirling snowflakes. We had to laugh at how the earlier part of this winter has been unusually warm and that we had tornadoes in Minnesota just a week ago, so of course the snowstorm would happen the one weekend we all drove out of town. But them’s the breaks, as they say.

Today I got to spend more time in my car to pick up our dog from the boarding kennel about 30 miles away and then run other mundane but essential errands. But the sun is shining, the new snow is clean and sparkly, and there was nothing to be in a crabby Monday mood about.

As I drove around what seemed like ALL the freeways in the metro area today, I noticed that the illuminated traffic signs that typically warn of crashes or lane closures all said something else entirely: “Kiss me. I’m sober.” It took me a few seconds to realize that Minnesota law enforcement is preparing for St. Patrick’s Day this Friday. (The signs should have been green, come to think of it.) And I wondered how many people would see those signs and then remember them come Friday when they hoist a Harp or a Guinness or a shot of Jameson in honor of all things Irish. I’ll be hoisting something but from the comfort of my own living room for the simple fact that I like a slightly quieter St. Patrick’s Day than I used to, one in which no beer gets spilled on me. No worries about cars weaving around near me.

It is serious stuff, though. Imbibing is fun, a lot of us like it, and it’s a huge part of our culture. But that split second traffic mistake is unimaginably expensive if there is alcohol involved. On our way home last night, none of us had any alcohol because that would have been an incredibly stupid choice for a five-hour drive on snowy and dark roads. We like our lives too much. And we saw a lot of cars off the sides of the interstate because of the slick roads; how many of those people were unlucky versus inebriated? Who knows? But I would guess that there were at least a few who would have stayed on the road if they had chosen soda over beer.

In the bright light of a sunny day that illuminates fresh snow, those “Kiss me. I’m sober.” signs are so logical. Of course, one might think, I won’t make that mistake.

Until they do.

Have a safe St. Patrick’s Day. Imbibe responsibly – eat some corned beef and cabbage with that Guinness!

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

One Writing Life’s Balance

Last week, I wrote about Ash Wednesday and Lent and pancakes. Turns out I didn’t make the pancakes, but I did manage to write drafts of three different poems, work on a collaboration, make decisions about pieces submitted to Gyroscope Review, begin reading a friend’s final novel draft. One of the things I’ve learned by having a blog is that writing weekly blog posts feeds into my other work in a way that unleashes new ideas, supports a steady flow of practice that eventually becomes finished work. The idea of Lent as a practice for self-discipline and weekly blog posts as a practice for the discipline a freelance writer needs is a nice fit.

Another nice fit I’ve created for this writing life is laundry Mondays (don’t laugh – whatever works when trying to balance work and life is worthy). As writers and editors – or anyone else who works online – there is a clear need to get away from the screen every so often so our eyes can get a screen break. On Mondays, which is probably my heaviest work day thanks to my blog schedule and the slush that comes in on weekends, I make sure I get those breaks by getting up to put laundry in the washer, switch it to the dryer, take it out of the dryer, fold. Sounds mundane, and it is, but the point is that a mundane task coupled with work that requires serious focus is a perfect match. I have to get out of my chair, go downstairs, move around.

I’m sometimes amused when I think about how my mom always did laundry on Mondays. She was pretty scheduled that way, even though she didn’t have to be. And here I am, with a packed writing/editing schedule most weeks, putting laundry on Mondays, too, because it suits the writing life rhythm I’ve got going. Does this fit one of the definitions of irony?

There are other things that I’ve put into practice to balance a writing life in which I’m alone much of the time. Going out midday for errands is one of them. People who write, who work online, sometimes forget that human contact and a change of scenery is healthy. Stepping outside is absolutely essential for my sanity and combining that with whatever needs to be done – post office, pharmacy, grocery store, bank – means I have to talk to other people. It shakes off whatever I’ve worked on in the morning and gives me a chance for another perspective to show up.

A writing life does not mean holing up in a room shut away from everyone else. It means full-on engagement with a world that is always changing, always offering something unexpected. And you have to get out of your chair to find it. You just have to be disciplined enough to get back in the chair to make the words appear on the page.

Now pardon me while I go get that first load of laundry into the dryer. Happy Monday.

 

 

It’s Shrove Monday

Ash Wednesday is in two days.

When I was a child, my family never missed going to Mass on Ash Wednesday. “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” the priest would say before pressing his thumb to our foreheads, smudging ashes into a black mark that let everyone who saw us know we were observant Catholics. I used to watch for other people with the mark of our tribe.

And then Lent would be in full swing. Ash Wednesday and Lenten Fridays were fasting days. (Fasting, in the Catholic tradition, means only one full-sized meal, two smaller meals, no snacks, no meat. Elderly people, the sick, and children are excused.) Sundays were days on which we could relax and partake in whatever we had given up for Lent. My usual Lenten choice was to give up candy. One year, I gave up T.V., a particularly excruciating option for me. Candy was easier;  I looked forward sweets on Sundays. My mom sometimes reminded me that I could be extra-holy and not take a Sunday break. That was a tough call. Candy and my mother both had a strong pull on me.

Although I no longer practice Catholicism, the Lenten ritual of giving something up still  attracts me. I like its aspects of focus, cleansing, atonement for past mistakes. I like the thoughtfulness of choosing what one can do without for 40 days to become a better person. I like thinking about what people we deem holy have given up in service to others. Giving up candy was hard for a kid, but it taught me that I could do without and having those treats later was an amplified pleasure.

That, in particular, is something I think of now when gratification is so easy to obtain. When was the last time I disciplined myself not because I was full or fat or it was convenient, but just because I could? And what are the things that I would let go of for a while to make myself a better person? My list of things to give up now might include wine, television, cheese, red meat, social media, complaining, judging.

There is another aspect to Lent that I’m particularly fond of: almsgiving. Along with becoming a better person through some form of abstinence, Lent encourages giving to others whose needs are not being fulfilled. In this time in our history, when there is so much mean-spirited debate about everything, it’s becoming more important to speak up about how we treat each other, how we help each other, and how we care for each other. No one single person is more important than any other (we are all dust, remember?), but one single person can sometimes make a huge difference in someone’s life. Why wouldn’t we take action to donate food and clothing and money to those who need it? Or to honor the culture of another even if it is unfamiliar to us? To share what we have and celebrate our ability to do so?

These are the questions I will ask myself in this pre-Easter season, even as I admit to being a nonbeliever. Gratitude and compassion do not require a specific church membership; they only require an acknowledgement of what it is to be a decent human being.

Of course, I may still make pancakes tomorrow for Shrove Tuesday. The maple syrup for the pancakes will delight my still-very-much-alive sweet tooth.

pancakes-951029_1920

 

Images courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

What Do You Do On Your Day Off?

Do you have today off in honor of Presidents Day? I do not have the day off. I’ll be reading slush later today, as well as working on a couple of my own things. And that’s fine with me. It’s raining here in February, which is weird and not a particularly good sign, but the sound of the rain on the roof is the perfect accompaniment to working with poetry. My partner didn’t have the day off either, so it’s just me and the dog hanging around. She’s been sticking close to me since December, when we lost our older dog.

Truffles the mini doxy

Truffles, mini dachshund extraordinaire.

 

I have to admit that it’s nice to have a dog around when I’m working. She makes me slow down and go outside, even in the rain. She’s the reason my eyes get screen breaks often. Truffles (named after the chocolate treats, not the horrendously expensive fungi) is the perfect office mate.

She is, however, looking up at me while I type. So, I will get to my questions of the day: what do you do with your day off if you have one? If you are a freelance writer, artist, etc., do you stick to a work week as much as possible for balance? What does that look like? And if you are an essential professional, e.g., nurse, doctor, firefighter, police officer, etc., how did you make peace with the necessity of working when others do not? Was your passion for your work enough?

My curiosity about days off and what makes a work week made me look up the terms workweek and weekend. That so many countries around the world have roughly eight-hour (or less) work days and weekends of some sort that fall either on Saturday-Sunday or Friday-Saturday surprised me. Labor unions and religious traditions have shaped what a weekend looks like, and international business ties have helped shape the general uniformity of work hours; all of this has come into its current form over the past 100 years or so. Thus, a day off for something like Presidents Day that gives us a three-day weekend is truly a modern event.

In my world, work hours are a slippery thing. I try to be in front of the computer during so-called regular work week hours Monday through Friday. But a lot of slush comes in over the weekends at Gyroscope Review since many (and maybe most) writers can’t afford to live without another job. Sometimes I read work on the weekends, sometimes not. Along with that trade-off comes the flexibility to care for my granddaughter on days when her school is closed but her parents need to go to work. When the publication date for our quarterly issue falls near a holiday, time to celebrate has to wait. But I can do my work in my pajamas if I want, so it all works out. I always come back to the fact that I’ve chosen this path and am truly lucky to have done so.

Whether you have today off or you are working away somewhere, I hope you are doing something you’re passionate about or, at least, are heading toward a goal that makes you happy.

my mini dachshund

Why yes, I like to sleep near poetry books, but this in no way means poetry puts me to sleep. Honest.

 

mini dachshund in office

Wait, are you going outside? I’m ready!

 

 

 

Valentines for Everyone

Valentine’s Day is not everyone’s favorite, given that it reminds us of our relationship status no matter what. And so I say to everyone: you deserve a token of love regardless. Single or coupled. Doesn’t matter. You’re important.

heart-1618199_1280I do have the good luck to celebrate with my partner Mick, but it wasn’t always like that. There were several years when I was unattached and a few when I was a single parent. I still liked Valentine’s Day because any excuse to eat little candy hearts works for me. And my parents, who were still around back then, never failed to send me a card, which I thought was sweet.

Speaking of sweet things, I found a post from 2008 at Poets.org  that pairs poem snippets with liquor, sweets, and flowers. I’m not convinced that the pairings all work, but it gave me ideas of my own. Now, if I can just figure out what verse goes with whiskey, dark chocolate, and some sort of big flame-orange flower, I’ll be all set.

And while I’m figuring that out, I’ll be making filet mignon with rich balsamic glaze and steamed broccoli. We’re staying in.

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

cupid

All images courtesy of Pixabay.com

Promptly Speaking

Who watched the Super Bowl last night? Millions of us, including me. I’m not exactly a sports fan, but there is something about this final football game of the season that pulls me in. I used to think I was pulled in by the fun commercials that accompany the game, the spectacular half-time shows (Lady Gaga gets a lot of respect from me for last night’s performance), and the chance to hang out eating stuff that isn’t good for me. But it’s more than that. There’s that sense of so many people coming together to root for their team, of being part of something big and fun. And, last night, it was the wild comeback of the Patriots over the Falcons after they trailed by 25 points.

What does any of that have to do with writing and creative work?

It has to do with not giving up. It has to do with pushing toward your goals even when it feels like your work is getting trounced or your idea is intercepted and taken up by some other player. You never know when there will be a chance to slip your work into the perfect publication and score an acceptance.

And that’s why this Monday after the big game is the perfect time for some new prompts. Let’s wipe the potato chip crumbs from our fingers and get to work.

  1. Driving down a street in southeast Minneapolis this morning, five wild turkey crossed the road in front of me and wandered into someone’s front yard. What wild thing has crossed your path today?
  2. A school bus with its stop sign arm extended and its red light flashing, stopped to pick up kids near my house. A white car came from behind, zoomed around the stopped bus and sped off. Where was that driver going and why did they break the law?
  3. An article about wealthy survivalists was in the January 30 issue of the New Yorker. What makes you lurch into a survivalist mentality?
  4. Valentine’s Day – celebrate it or ignore it?
  5. What stops your heart?

Happy writing.

Current Calls for Submission

Gyroscope Review is accepting submissions for their general submissions category until March 15, 2017. Guidelines here.

Gyroscope Review also has a themed call for submissions open until March 15. Guidelines for that are here.

Good luck!

 

laptop writing

 

Today’s images courtesy of Pixabay.com.

 

 

 

The New Sisyphus

The past week has felt like an ongoing train wreck – news story after news story about Trump’s swift sledgehammer to everything I thought my country stood for. The smashing of the free press, health care options, trade relations, the environment, the idea of sanctuary, and more. Never have I felt so bereft after the inauguration of a new president and never have I felt so alarmed at what is happening to the United States.

This blog has not often been a place where I rant about politics, politicians or policies. It has more often been my creative space, a way to share publishing news and photos and travels and things that make life amazing. But I’m having a lot of trouble shutting off the alarms in my head and focusing on creative work.

I know I’m not alone.

Is the whole idea of Trump’s onslaught of ridiculous executive orders aimed towards just wearing his opponents out? That certainly feels like what is happening around here. It feels like the first week of his presidency is an endurance test for all of us, like a bully throwing out punch after punch without allowing his victim to get up.

And that is why I’m determined to figure out my own balance, to set goals for actions on a regular basis, to find a way to not burn out before the first quarter of 2017 has gone down in flames.

Since last week, when we were fresh from the Women’s March, I’ve signed petitions about the environment, health care, refugees, and net neutrality. I’ve donated to Senator Al Franken and to the Democratic Party. I did a volunteer shift to raise funds for local food shelves. And I know that I can’t keep going at that pace and still edit a poetry journal or create my own work. Nor can I constantly talk about this – my friends, who are as upset as I am, need to have other conversations, too.

What is the answer?

For me, it was taking a breath this weekend to work on sustenance. What does that look like? It looks like throwing yeast in warm water with some sugar, adding it to a flour mixture and kneading the resulting dough on my kitchen counter till it is smooth. It looks like baking oatmeal cookies with butterscotch chips because everyone in my family likes them. It looks like chopping onions, peppers, garlic, and celery to layer on the bottom of a big crockpot, followed by turkey thighs and diced tomatoes and hominy; the resulting turkey chili fed my family Sunday supper. It looks like going out to dinner with friends on Friday night, resolving to not discuss Trump during dinner so we could all catch our breath.  It looks like shutting off the television before the 10 p.m. news comes on so sleep is a little easier to reach. It looks like leaving the yoga mat out all the time so stretching and breathing as a daily habit is always easy to honor.

And it looks like showing up at the slush pile and the blank page in spite of all the awfulness because this is how we who are writers and editors do our work. We have to connect with the world, we have to keep our eyes open to what is happening, and we have to have the chops to reflect what we see through our art, through our words.

I feel better today from having had a weekend of quiet time with family and friends. But I’ll be back at it this week, reading the news, signing petitions, volunteering where it counts, putting my money out there for the good it can do and trying to not have my head explode.

How will you find your balance through this very unbalanced time? And will you allow your voice to be heard?

Speak up. Silence allows awful things to happen.

 

trump-1976071_1920

Images courtesy of Pixabay.com.

 

 

Live from San Diego

There are perks to having a partner who goes to conferences in lovely places. And there are perks to working online from wherever I am. Today that wherever is the Blue Sea Beach Hotel at Pacific Beach in San Diego, where a third-floor room means we can sleep with a patio door cracked open to hear the Pacific toss wave after wave against the sand. It means we can try on a very un-Minnesotan rhythm for a few days.

Not a bad thing for mid-January. A little breath before the inauguration. A great time to think about the dreams we all share.

Crystal Pier at Pacific Beach, San Diego