On My Mother’s 100th Birthday

No, my mother Mary (Bovee) Cassen will not be celebrated in person today. She has been gone since December 5, 2000. But I think of her nevertheless, particularly now that my own young adult daughter is back home for a short time while she and her friends search for an apartment that suits the four of them.

Mom&Abby copy

My mother and my daughter once upon a time.

What would my mother and I talk about now? Now that I am no longer a headstrong girl,  a snarky teenager, a so-sure-I’m-right-about-everything young adult? I think about these never-to-be-shared conversations often lately, know that we might have found some common ground we didn’t recognize earlier. I’m pretty sure we would share an opinion of our current president. And I’m pretty sure she would watch “This is Us” with me on Tuesday nights, be happy when my daughter Abby is around for dinner, enjoy seeing my son Shawn’s artwork, and laugh with my granddaughter Camille’s stories about first grade.

mom-kath-dad-1959 copy

My mom, my dad, and me. The youngest of my family, I was a bit of a surprise. I wonder what my mom’s first words were when she found out I was on the way?

My mom was a woman who was hard to convince. Once she formed an opinion about anything, that was that. Sometimes I suppose that served her well, kept her on what she thought was the right path. Examples might be her Roman Catholic faith, her marriage vows, her ability to toss out material goods when the closets became too full. She never liked my first husband, which eventually proved to be a prescient warning when his growing alcoholism forced me to toss him out of our home. She knew which buttons of mine to push so that I would stubbornly succeed at whatever she doubted was possible.

She saw farther ahead than I gave her credit for. And we both had wills of steel. Steel upon steel doesn’t always make the best sound, but put two pieces of steel together, and you might get a magnificently strong structure.

What I’ve really come to understand is that I miss her.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

mom-dad-smile copy

mom-dad-laugh copy

Laughter. This is what I want to remember.

 

 

 

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Federal Holiday Today? Not at My House.

The thing about being a freelance writer and editor, especially one who co-edits a lit mag where submissions may arrive anytime during the reading period, is that I don’t pay a lot of attention to federal holidays. That is until I go outside to get the mail and find an empty mailbox. And then I think, hey, I should go downtown for something because the parking meters won’t be enforced. But I usually turn around and go back to my computer. My partner is also at work today – the University of Minnesota is doing business as usual. And I have friends – people in healthcare – who are also working away.

Not that I typically observe Columbus Day anyway. Here’s a great article about its history that supports my non-observance: http://www.businessinsider.com/columbus-day-history-2017-10

When I was a kid, I loved Columbus Day and the associated day off of school. I loved the stories about sailing across the ocean and finding the so-called New World. I had no concept that it wasn’t new to the people already living here and the new arrivals weren’t the nicest of people. Now, I think about how our entire country isn’t the nicest of places, with violence and divisiveness shattering daily life everywhere. Seems like a direct thread, doesn’t it?

st paul at end of dayBut arguments about Columbus Day aside, what I’m trying to focus on this fall is poetry. First, Gyroscope Review‘s fall issue is now available and it’s gorgeous. It is available in print from CreateSpace or Amazon. And guess what? The very first Kindle Edition of Gyroscope Review is now available, too. And, as always, there is a free PDF at the Gyroscope Review website. Enjoy some good poetry as an antidote to the daily news.

By the way, if you are a poet looking for a home for some of your work, Gyroscope Review‘s winter issue reading period is open now through December 15. Please read the guidelines carefully before submitting. Of particular interest for this reading period are poems with a wintery theme, current events, and explorations of the underground (be broad in your interpretation here).

Second, my own work is in need of attention. That means a stricter writing schedule for myself. Writing schedules ebb and flow over the course of the seasons; they flex to absorb vacations and holidays and kids who move back home. But fall brings with it the season of hunkering down, pulling out the sweaters and making the coffee and getting down to it as a poet. This is the time of year when I feel most excited about my work, when early evenings feel like a gift and the chill in the air invigorates. Any writers out there who want to chime in on this topic, I welcome your comments.

Happy Monday, whatever you’re doing.

 

Hello, October

It still doesn’t feel completely fall-like here given that we had 90+-degree weather in September, the fall leaf color is delayed, and the garden is still wildly flowering.

Purple asters showed up in our wildflower experiment:

Thistles are prickly and pink:

Lavander, grasses, and unidentified seed heads are not done waving their glorious selves in the wind:

 

I’m grateful for the long, slow transition from summer to fall around here, for the chance to hang out in the garden and be still.

But I’m ready for change. Ready for colder days and longer nights, for stew in a pot on the stove, and dinner indoors with friends. Ready for pumpkins and frost and the first snowflake.

The robins have showed up in our crabapple – they are also ready for change as they gobble up the ripening crabapples:

Hello, October. Happy to see you.

And a very happy birthday to my daughter, Abby, today!

 

All Things Irish – Part Three: Beara, Iveragh, and Dingle Peninsulas

In July, following a week in Dublin, my partner Mick and I rented a silver five-speed Skoda and drove to three peninsulas on the southwest coast of Ireland: Beara Peninsula (Béarra)Iveragh Peninsula (Uíbh Ráthach), and Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne) This is a portion of the Wild Atlantic Way (Slí an Atlantaigh Fhiáin). There are mountains, cliffs, sheep, surfers, narrow roads, heather and foxglove, and wind. Lots of wind.

windy irish coast

Yes, lots and lots of wind.

There are hiking trails for all abilities, sweet little towns with the local version of seafood chowder and a nice pint of Irish beer for lunch. There is also the nearby Killarney National Park (Páirc Náisiúnta Chill Airne), the first national park in Ireland established in 1932.

By the time we arrived at these three peninsulas, we just wanted to be outside to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Ireland in July is a busy place with tourists from all over the world as well as Irish people themselves on holiday. Tour buses make their way along parts of the peninsulas, except for the rugged Beara, which provided us with some nerve-wracking passages on the narrow, winding roads. Those moments were when we were the most grateful we’d rented a very small vehicle.

Mick with the Skoda

A small vehicle makes navigating narrow Irish roads much easier.

Narrow road example - on the way to Clonakilty

Leaving Clonakilty, our last stop before the three peninsulas.

Leaving Clonakilty

Heading to Beara Peninsula.

We could have spent several days on each peninsula to immerse ourselves in their different characters, but didn’t have that kind of time. We were lucky enough to drive a loop on each one, get out of the car at a few beautiful spots, and take in as much as we could.

Here are some of the results.

 

The Beara Peninsula, the most rugged of the three, where the roads are too rugged for the tour buses:

 

The Iveragh Peninsula, the largest of the three, where you can find the Ring of Kerry, Derrynane National Park, and the Skellig Ring:

 

Dingle Peninsula, where the surfers go:

 

Killarney National Park:

 

Ireland is a beautiful, wild place. I’m already thinking about my next visit.

 

On a Rainy September Monday

Most of the time, I write my posts ahead of the date they appear. Not today. Today, I’m writing directly from my brain to One Minnesota Writer, no time for percolating.

September is always a busy month around here. There is loads of work to do outside given that we are pretty big gardeners, stuff to do on the house before winter hits, prep work for my partner who teaches during fall semester, and production work for the fall issue of Gyroscope Review for me. Toss in some unexpected odds and ends – a lost computer file full of my own poetry to recreate, discovery of opportunistic mice in the basement ceiling – and free time becomes scarce.

But that is life. This morning, I hit the ground running – right out the door with the dog for a quick 1-mile walk, a yoga session (essential to to counteract my time sitting in front of a computer), then a check on all the contracts for Gyroscope Review‘s fall issue. (Wondering just how much time is spent on that fall issue? Have a look at the article we published at the Gyroscope Review website that talks about just that. You’ll find it HERE.)

What strikes me today is just how happy and grateful I am that there is work to fill these days, that there are goals and purposes followed by accomplishments. An awful lot of people do work they don’t love, have obligations they’d rather not have, and things they wish for are just out of reach.

On these very busy days, I have nothing to complain about. Not even a lost file. Or mice hoping to rent a room here.

How about you?

 

Garden Update – The Wildflower Experiment

Earlier this year, I wrote about my partner Mick’s big wildflower experiment. Thought some of you might like to see how it all turned out.

And, bonus, we had hordes of butterflies on our sedum, a plant we acquired from one of our neighbors who happens to be an extraordinary gardener:

Sedum and butterflies

See you next week.

 

 

All Things Irish – Part 2: Not Your Usual Tourist Photos

In July, my partner Mick and I spent a week in Dublin so he could attend a genetics conference at the University of Dublin. We stayed in the Ballsbridge Hotel, just down the street from the American Embassy in Dublin. The first time I walked by our embassy, I stopped and stared at the building, thinking about mutant beehives.

US embassy in Dublin

The American Embassy in Dublin is one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen. It is also well-protected with fences, cameras, and a guard at the gate. I would have hated to have had a reason to go there.

Fortunately, there are a lot of other things to look at in Dublin. There are beautiful buildings and parks and the River Liffey runs right through the middle of the city.

My attention was consistently drawn to the many pieces of street art and other public art that we encountered all over the city, in official places, tourist places, and little alleys we ran down on our way to catch a bus. From the pieces in the National Gallery to the stuff I saw painted on the bricks of old buildings, I admired images that weren’t in a standard advertisement for traveling to Dublin. And I took photos everywhere we went.

The photos I’m sharing here today give just a hint of a city that we enjoyed for its people, whiskey, music, ease of getting around, and overall exuberance. We did learn that one does not go to Dublin for the weather. Rain gear required.

 

Street art that I stumbled on everywhere:

 

 

A face in the wall outside Bull & Castle and the bar inside it:

 

Mural-covered buildings:

 

A mosaic in a parking lot:

Dublin mosaic in a parking lot

 

My friend Oonah mirroring a piece in the National Gallery:

Oonah at the National Gallery - Dublin

 

Sculpture outside of Christ Church Cathedral and a piece on Irish women writers in an alley in Templebar:

 

And one of the best sights of all? My friends and fellow poets, Oonah Joslin and Marie Fitzpatrick, who traveled to Dublin so we could all meet up. I love having friends on the other side of the world. These beautiful women kicked off our time in Dublin with style.

Three Poets in Temple Bar Dublin

 

Sláinte!

 

 

Honoring the End of Summer

What a summer it has been.

My partner Mick and I had friends and family visit, traveled to Ireland, built a new deck, and welcomed our daughter back home. We experimented with a wild flower garden, continued yoga classes, felt lucky every time we bought fresh food at the local farmers market. We’ve increased our exercise, practiced generosity.

And we’ve tried to find as many ways as possible to do good things in spite of the current political climate here in the US. That means becoming more conscientious in our responses to hate, violence, intolerance. Traveling outside the US expanded our awareness of how much better society is when people in it operate from a base of common compassion and love. How? When anyone travels to a place where they know few or none others, where everything is unfamiliar, small acts of kindness take on a larger presence, make the difference between happy travels and terrible travels. Everywhere we went while traveling in Ireland, we ran into people who spoke with us from their hearts, who offered directions, suggestions, food, and conversation.

There is no excuse for making the world an unkind place.

Once back home in Minnesota, we tried to bring that sensibility along with us. How many around us can benefit from extending a spirit of generosity and niceness more often? Minnesota has had some rough going of late, especially around police behavior that has shaken our ideas of what it means to serve and protect. I can’t begin to tell you how sad I was to see coverage of the police shooting of Justine Damond splattered all over Irish television news programs while I was there. And the Irish coverage of Donald Trump’s rude and erratic behavior embarrassed me on a daily basis.

It wasn’t my intent when I sat down to write this post to veer off into politics. It never is, but somehow they come up everywhere. Divisiveness comes up everywhere. And it’s exhausting.

But I’ll tell you what: Mick and I both felt renewed after two weeks out of the US in which we often ignored the news in favor of hiking, sightseeing, or just sitting somewhere with a good Irish beer. And taking a few weeks away from One Minnesota Writer was a good thing, too. Everyone benefits from an occasional chance to renew themselves no matter what kind of work they do or life they lead. Writers and artists, doctors and nurses, first responders, teachers, mechanics, cashiers, mail carriers, dog walkers – all of us need time to shut off our minds and let ourselves be. Then, it’s even more important to return to whatever it is we do with our renewed selves.

We are on this planet not just for our selves, but for each other.

Let’s do some good work together this fall.

 

PUBLICATION NEWS

The Linnet's Wings: The Song of the FlowerI have a new poem, After Baptism, in the late summer issue of The Linnet’s Wings, which is available here: www.thelinnetswings.org.

Gyroscope Review has kicked off a weekly series of writing prompts. Cultivate: Writing Prompts for Poets will tweet a new prompt every Sunday. Look for the hashtag #GRcultivatepoetry to find the ongoing series of prompts. The prompts will also appear on Gyroscope Review‘s Facebook page and Instagram feed. Have fun, do some brainstorming, and, after your resulting poems have had time to sit and be revised, submit them either at Gyroscope Review or one of the many lit mags out there that are doing good work.

 

DO A KIND THING

The end of summer has not been great for the people in Texas battling the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The Red Cross has always been there for people in these kinds of situations and they are there now. Want to help? Here you go: Red Cross – Hurricane Harvey donations

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One Minnesota Writer Honors August

There’s a comic strip I love called Stone Soup by Jan Eliot. Every August, the Sunday version of Stone Soup runs little reminders that, “Ya gotta love August.”

I agree. August is one of my favorite months in Minnesota because summer winds down, tomatoes ripen in the garden, mornings develop a little crispness in the air, crickets serenade us in the evenings, and everything feels a little wistful, a little poignant. Students get ready for school. The State Fair happens. And I get to celebrate my own birthday.

So, for the month of August, I am going to take my time away from One Minnesota Writer. I’m going to write poetry, read everything I can get my hands on, work in my garden. I invite you to do the same. Meander somewhere. Sink into the waning days of summer and gather your harvest.

Yes, ya gotta love August.

See you in September.

Gull on Irish Coast

Gull on Irish Coast by kcmickelson 2017.

 

All Things Irish – Part 1

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been traveling in Ireland with my partner Mick. A week in Dublin was followed by a week maneuvering a silver five-speed Skoda Fabia through the Wicklow Mountains, up to Cashel, down to the southern peninsulas of the Wild Atlantic Way, through Killarney National Park, and finally to the Budget Rental desk at Shannon Airport. We returned our little car, which we took turns driving, without a scratch. We were quite proud of that since many of the roads we drove on were only about as wide as our standard suburban driveway, had no shoulders but did have stone walls and hedgerows, and we sometimes met tour buses coming from the other direction. Oh, yeah, and they drive on the left in Ireland. A neat little sticker in the lower left corner of the windshield reminds renters to drive on the left.

We learned to spot other drivers who were trying to remember to stay to the left – there was a tendency to hug the left side of the road. Or to drive down the middle. Or to nearly stop in the face of oncoming traffic. We were lucky that we had driven in Ireland before and knew what to expect. That didn’t make it any less exciting when we went over a few very narrow – as in one-lane – and curvy mountain passes. Passes that included sheep in the road. And hikers, bikers, and old men with canes, all of whom were quite confident that no one was going to run them over.

One of the things that struck us was how many Americans we met on our journey. Every single place where we stayed had fellow Americans and many of the Irish people we spoke to told us of trips to the US. According to census data, Irish ancestry is second only to German ancestry as the most commonly-claimed heritage in the US population. In fact, there are more Americans who claim Irish heritage than there are people living in Ireland. (See this article from the Washington Post.) So, I guess we should not have been so surprised.

Nevertheless, this discovery at one of the B&Bs we stayed in startled and delighted me:

Rockville House B&B Minnesota Plate - Cashel

This Minnesota plate, which is just like one my mother had, was in the Rockville House B&B in Cashel. Our host, Patrick, told us that they often received gifts from people who had stayed with them. There were many knick-knacks from other places on display. After we left, it occurred to me that our host might have put out the items connected with the places where his guests came from. I should have asked!

I have hundreds of photos to sort through and stories to write about Ireland that will gradually appear here at One Minnesota Writer. For today, I offer a focus on the small things that kept catching my eye, and on the immense gratitude Mick and I share for being able to travel, catch up with friends, meet new people, and see a bit of a beautiful, wild country. Click on any of the images to see them in a larger format.

Happy Monday. Happy end-of-July.

 

All images by kcmickelson 2017.

Photo Monday – More Details

As a poet, details carry all kinds of meanings that can be used to create a snapshot of a moment, a spark of realization, an instant when everything changes. I see details in photos as the same thing – that impression that sometimes gets recorded and then it’s gone.

Today, I’ve dug around in my photos from the 2016 visit my partner Mick and I made to the Pacific Northwest, which is a grand and beautiful place to which I would love to return. The Pacific Northwest offers such a multitude of landscapes and climates that it’s impossible to see it all in one trip. These photos are just a few details that I hope inspire you to write or travel or simply make you happy.

along the Hood Canal

On the beach along the Hood Canal – not a place to go barefoot.

gray jay along Hurricane Hill Trail

This gray jay sang to us as we hiked the Hurricane Hill Trail in Olympic National Park.

Hurricane Hill Trail

Mick broke a rule by sharing his granola with this little ground squirrel when we got to the top of the Hurricane Hill Trail. He later said, “But he was so cute!” Big softy.

driftwood

This driftwood on the coast of Washington surely houses a lot of tiny critters, but I didn’t look for them.

average annual precipitation - Hoh Rainforest

In the Hoh Rainforest, it never completely dries out.

Mary Oliver poetry

A poem by Mary Oliver was one among many poems that surprised us along one of the Hoh Rainforest trails. Poetry and the forest – it’s a nice combination.

Astoria, OR, sea lions

These sea lions had quite a conversation in the harbor at Astoria, Oregon.

Astoria-Megler Bridge

This is the mouth of the Columbia River and a shot of the Astoria-Megler Bridge at sunset, with a ship heading out into the Pacific Ocean. The bridge, which we drove across, is 4.1 miles long.

green rocks

These rocks in the harbor at Astoria, Oregon, are an eerie shade of green. They are particularly striking when the sun is low in the sky.

Are you inspired to pack your bags yet to see what is beyond the edges of these photos?