Earth Science

Yesterday, I dug in the dirt. Warm April weather, sunshine, a Sunday in which there were no obligations – a perfect day to be outside, dirt yielding to spade, shovel, weed puller. I dug allium out of one of our gardens, its tangled roots an iron-clad mat that pushed back. But I am as stubborn as those roots. The allium eventually loosened its grasp, naked roots tossed in a pile later relocated to the yard waste bin.

Those strong roots, the way I cut them off, yanked them from their home, made me think of a list of other things: the strong women in my family who don’t let go of things, how people tear up the earth, refugees pulled and pushed from their homeland, the tenacity of life that does not want to leave the place that nurtures it. Transplanting is hard; eradication is cruel. Fear gets embedded in roots, insidious and perverse, a parasite that loves the soft, dark dirt.

I moved to the stonecrop, also overgrown. Its roots weren’t as tough as the allium; it gave up its spot as if to say, yes, we know – just thought we’d give it a shot. Two such different plants taking over the same area of the garden, side-by-side.

On Saturday, Mick and I and a few friends honored Earth Day by attending the March for Science in St. Paul. Ten thousand people were there, signs waving, lab coats flapping, heads covered with crocheted hats that looked like brains. The mood was fairly peaceful, with many older people and jubilant kids happy to be outside. These marchers included a lot of quiet, thoughtful people who wanted everyone to understand how science has contributed to all aspects of our lives. Pick anything and there is some scientific contribution behind it: the comfortable clothes we wear, the safe food we eat, the music we listen to on our iPods, the coffeemaker that gives us our morning elixir, the cars that get us to work or take us to the doctor, the bikes we pedal, the bus passes we swipe to pay for our rides, the very fact that we’ve survived childhood.

Everything I know about gardening comes from science. As I dug in the dirt yesterday, I also thought more about the march and what it stood for. I thought about the fears some have around scientific progress even though they know they’ve benefitted from past progress. Change is hard, even if it helps society. But fear is the hardest thing of all to eradicate.

And why is that such a powerful human trait – fear of change? I can understand caution, the value of getting all the facts before making change. But once something has shown its benefits, been proven to offer something good – like vaccinations, clean water, clean air, proper nutrition – how can we fail to support those changes? How can we ignore the fact that laws and government policies affect science and research and, in turn, our own well-being?

Pulling invasive plants from garden soil is therapeutic. Getting my hands dirty, plunging them into the earth while trying not to hurt the spiders who scurry out of the way or the earth worms who wriggle in the moist clumps of soil, is a form of prayer. This bit of ground under my care will not lie to me: it will shift with the seasons, offer bounty when well-tended and soothe my heart in return.

It is the map for everything.

March for Science Minnesota

 

All photos by KCMickelson 2017

 

 

Spring in Minnesota is Not a Smooth Path

I don’t mind that spring has fits and starts here. Last week, it looked like this around here:

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A fine coating of spring snow last Tuesday

And today there is this:

emerging lilies

Lilies pushing through soil

 

And over the weekend, there was this:

mallard on the roof in the rain

A mallard soaking up the rain on our neighbor’s roof

 

Yes, Minnesota is a land of unpredictability and that is one of the things I love about living here. Back in March, we had our first tornado warnings and a week later I drove through a snowstorm. This back-and-forth between cold weather and warm weather, snow and rain, keeps me from becoming too complacent, too comfortable.

Just like life in general. Don’t get too comfortable. Be ready for change at any moment.

Happy Monday! What’s new in your neighborhood?

sidewalk chalk drawings

Easter Sunday art by my granddaughter

 

All photos by kcmickelson 2017.

 

What Shall We Blow Up Today?

Boys blowing shit up. That phrase has been running through my head since last Thursday. It perfectly captures the way the world looks to me right now. I keep thinking of little boys so fascinated by explosives that they fail to see the consequences of their actions; they’re in it for the thrill, the power. Other kids get in the way? Too bad for them. And girls? Not allowed in. Mostly.

I have images of Trump, Putin, and Assad standing on the playground, hands filled with big exploding rocks. Kim Jong-un is off to the side somewhere, stomping his feet because they won’t let him play. And then there are the masses of other boys, who hate the guys who think they’re in charge and will do whatever it takes to knock them out. A few girls are trying to talk above the playground noise, but their words sail away on the wind.

And I’m losing my patience. I just want to send them all to their rooms until they calm down. I want them all to remember we share this planet.

Nice tidy ending? Don’t have one.

 

 

image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Happy Anniversary to Me! Happy April to You!

April is a glorious month, not a cruel one. First of all, today is my wedding anniversary; Mick and I have been married for 24 years. Wow! That looks much longer when I see it in print than it feels. We are both taking the day off to simply be together. Not bad for a Monday, huh?

But that’s not the only anniversary to celebrate around here. April 1 marked the second anniversary of working with my friend and fellow poet Constance Brewer to bring you our poetry journal, Gyroscope Review, and the release of the Spring 2017 issue, which is available in print as well as in digital form:

Version 2

To purchase a print copy for $8 plus shipping, click HERE.

If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can purchase this for $8 with no shipping fees HERE.

If you are in the UK, you can find this on Amazon.uk HERE.

If you want to read the PDF on your device, it is free HERE.

 And you know what else? April brings us National Poetry Month, so what better time to check out not only Gyroscope Review, but consider the broad assortment of work out there that might lodge itself in your heart. Poets.org offers a pdf of the poster for National Poetry Month 2017 with links to assorted poetry HERE. Click on any of the images on the poster and you’ll be sent to a different poem for each image.

And here’s one of my favorite pieces that talks about why poetry makes any difference in the world:  Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames] by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Enjoy.

Happy Monday! Happy April!

Squirrel photo by KCMickelson 2017.

Sleepless in Minnesota

It was 3-something a.m. this morning. I decided to get up after my sleepy husband answered my tossing, turning, and arm-flailing with a muttered, “Something tells me you’re awake.” So, wrapped in a blanket from our couch, a mug of tea on the end table, I flipped through cable channels. I watched an old episode of Cheers, thought, god, Sam Malone is a big fat sexist twit; why did I ever think that show was funny? Flipped to news. Knew that wasn’t going to be very soothing. Decided, somewhere after 4 a.m., to write this morning’s blog.

What to people think about at 4-something a.m.? Every single thing that ever happened to them, along with random thoughts that rise to the surface and pop like bubbles in boiling water:

This past weekend’s trip to Milwaukee to accompany a friend on a visit to her parents.

The road trip when I was four in which my dad ran over a rattlesnake, then stopped to take its rattlers.

The way the rattlers sat on a shelf in my parents’ living room.

The black English breakfast tea in the mug on my left.

Whether anyone else on our block is awake yet.

What our hotel room will look like when we visit Dublin this summer.

If the whole fake news thing is going to utterly destroy this country.

Why people think lying is going to advance anything. Ever.

How I now know our Xfinity cable box reboots automatically at 4:45 a.m. every day.

How much I like writing with pencils.

How cold the house is in the middle of the night.

How much I miss my dad.

How writing stream of consciousness ends up not sounding at all like Jack Kerouac but does sound like the deepest part of me.

And so this early start to my day feels like a brain clean rather than an annoyance. My friend Luann has talked about her family’s philosophy of changing their environment when one of them can’t sleep. That is how they get back to sleep. I changed mine and realized I was supposed to be awake this morning. Awake and letting these words out. Awake and thinking about all that this day will offer, even though its first light is not yet a glimmer on the horizon.

Today, I’ll get to watch the sunrise. Happy Monday, everyone.

 

SPECIAL UPDATE

When I got home yesterday afternoon, after spending the weekend in Milwaukee, I found the best piece of mail waiting for me:

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This is the first-ever print edition of Gyroscope Review, the quarterly poetry journal I co-edit with friend and fellow poet Constance Brewer. We are so excited about finally being able to offer a print option to our readers after two years of being strictly a digital journal.

If you are someone who prefers to hold poetry in your hands rather than have it scroll across the screen of one of your devices, then perhaps this is for you. Our winter issue is available on Amazon here for $8 plus shipping.

Watch for another update soon when our spring issue is available.

 

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!