Turkey Season

Four wild turkeys – a tom and three hens – have been hanging around our neighborhood the past couple of weeks. The first time I saw them, they were strutting in a perfect line between our house and our neighbor’s house to the south. I was at the mailbox, my mini-dachshund on a leash at my side, when I saw them all looking at me. And the dog. Normally, Truffles (who is only mine because she couldn’t go to college with my daughter) would have barked at these creatures so much that her feet would have left the ground.

wild turkey 6

 

wild turkey 7

 

wild turkeys crossing street

But she did not see them. Rather than question how that happened, I grabbed my mail and turned Truffles back toward our door. Her nose never left the ground; something delectable was down there. Those turkeys kept their eyes on us the whole time.

After that, the turkeys appeared often. They strutted across our front yard, paused at the street, then crossed with a deliberateness that would challenge any vehicle headed their way. They looked both ways as they crossed, their big feet placed just so as proof they own this street. They meandered through our back yard, scratched at the dirt, pecked at seeds and whatever else looked good to them. They raised their wings, gave a few flutters, shook off some dust. They took over our driveway twice – once when my daughter Abby was leaving for work and once when my partner Mick and I returned from the store.

wild turkey 5

 

wild turkey 3

Never did they scramble to get out of our way. To be fair, we approached them with respect and caution. We – well, Mick and I – love these creatures. Abby doesn’t. She thinks they’re mean.

If they are mean, I don’t mind. I’m amused by their giant birdiness, their surprisingly pretty feathers, their obvious intelligence. These are not domesticated turkeys whose wiliness has been bred right out of them; they know enough to close their beaks and get out of the rain. These birds are the bad boys – and girls – who can take care of themselves, know when to hit the road. They own it.

Benjamin Franklin thought the wild turkey was an appropriate national bird. (You can read about that here.) I could see that. Turkeys may not soar high in the sky like eagles, but they are nevertheless proud. They don’t look down on us from above. They meet us, face-to-face, in our own back yards.

I like that.

wild turkeys resting

 

wild turkey 4

 

wild turkey 2

HAPPY THANKSGIVING! How about a nice salad?

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Live from St. Paul – A Writer’s Life

Monday morning writing sometimes happens far away from computer keyboards, for which my eyes always thank me. Today it’s happening at a marble-topped table in a booth at Quixotic Coffee in St. Paul, Minnesota. A quiet place on Cleveland Avenue in a quiet-ish neighborhood – at least, Monday mornings at 8:30 are quiet. Given the movie theater across the street and the strip mall around the corner, I would guess this is just a lull. It’s my first time in this coffeehouse and the coffee is fabulous. I love this large latte with four shots to jolt me awake. And I love this booth that envelopes my table with high sides of warmly-stained wood.

I’m waiting for a friend to arrive. While I wait, I think about why I don’t write at places like this much anymore. I used to, back when I thought I could figure out my own writing rhythm better somewhere not at home. Home had all the distractions I loved: my kids, my partner, my dogs, my music, my books, my garden, a landline on which friends called, snacks in the cupboard, the television. Even though I carved out a home office space, it wasn’t working for me. In my office, I always felt like the kid who was sent away to do homework while everyone else was having fun. It took me years to shed that idea.

Now, the writing does happen at home. My office that has been shaped to better hold my writer-self. The walls are painted deep orange, there are shelves of books on poetry, more poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, and a little photography. There are notebooks full of rough drafts, NaNoWriMo pages, schedules for submissions, stuff for the journal I co-edit. My camera equipment is stashed in a black Crumpler bag, pictures of my family are scattered all over. I get excited about work in that space. Houseguests don’t get to spend the night in there unless we are out of room everywhere else. My office is sacred ground.

But there is something to be said about writing somewhere else, out in the world. It used to be pretty trendy to go write in coffeehouses, let the world know creative work was going on all around. I was always fairly self-conscious about that, preferring to find the least-conspicuous spot to sit if I were going to be writing in a public space. Once I did finally figure out how to be productive at home, I realized that was a much better fit anyway. And it occurs to me now, while I wait for my friend, that maybe the hard separation of what I do, what many writers do, from the rest of life is an unnecessary line. Writing things down, processing what I think through my keyboard or a pen, is the backbone of who I am. Sentences and lines of poems get structured in my head while I walk my dog, shower, drive, wait. This way of arranging words is never not with me.

Writing can happen anywhere. My office remains sacred and is important as the place where the final edits are done, but these coffeehouses, the park, the airport, a bar – they all hold the words and images just waiting to be used. Writers make use no matter where they are.

Make use. Happy Monday.

 

Turning Inward

November is one of my favorite months. Wait, I think I may have said that about October, too. But I’m going to allow myself more than one favorite, even if that defies the definition of the word. You see, what I like about this month in Minnesota is the very stuff that many people hate: the early darkness, the cold, the snow that will likely come to stay, the looming of the winter holidays. I like the gradual appearance of holiday lights on neighborhood houses, the way we scramble to make sure we have the hoses stowed in the garage and the outside water turned off, how we begin to think of gift lists for family and menus for dinners with friends. I like how we stand at the end of the driveway and talk with our neighbors, shovels in hand, after the first big snowfall of the season.

What I really like is the way we hunker down together at home in November. And it seems that hunkering down at home is exactly what the whole country might need right now. Yesterday’s horrific news of yet another shooting (this is never going to end, is it?), another group of people who thought they were simply going to a place they expected to be safe, ratchets up our national anxiety level another notch. And our anxiety is already at an all-time high, right along with our divisive perceptions of who we are, who our neighbors and friends are, who our enemies are.

And so today, I am at work in a silent house. No television, no radio offering up special news reports in the background. I’m avoiding a lot of social media, too.  Drawing inward and thinking about the next kind thing to do is more productive than feeling as if we are all in a constant state of alarm.

November, for all its bad weather and darkness, might just be the perfect time to open our doors, embrace some fresh air, offer a bit of love.

 

hands-candle

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!

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Of Poetry and Fudge

I spent much of the weekend reading slush for Gyroscope Review and thinking about our winter issue, which will be available on January 1. Being an editor means I have to be both hard-nosed and generous. This role is where I am constantly challenged to put myself in someone else’s shoes as I try to appreciate the poems in front of me. It is a role that requires me to know what’s going on in the world, to recognize a variety of references across different perspectives, and to see when a poem just needs a little tweak to be great or when I have to say no.

In short, it’s a lot of work. It’s just as much work as the writing itself; it just happens to come on the other end of the creative process. And this is my editorial plug for anyone who is submitting work to one of the number of publications who have open calls for submissions: no editor does this work to make your life miserable. Editors do this work to offer the best possible assembly of words to readers.

And, in the spirit of offering good poetry, I am pleased to share Gyroscope Review‘s list of Pushcart Prize nominees here. My co-editor Constance Brewer and I work hard to get Gyroscope Review‘s contributing authors’ names out into the world and the Pushcart Prize nominations are an excellent opportunity to do that. Please check out the list of nominees and then swing by our Issues page to see those poems and many more.

Perhaps reading some poetry while December tightens its cold-weather grip will be just the thing to counteract this post-election funk many of us feel. But if that doesn’t help, then maybe this will….I give you the fudge recipe I use every year around this time. Fudge makes everything better, don’t you think?

I’ve used the same fudge recipe since I found it on the back of a jar of Kraft marshmallow creme when I was first learning to cook back in the early 1980s. The recipe doesn’t look quite the same on today’s jars and I never add the nuts. I always make plain, unadulterated chocolate fudge. And I use butter. Pure butter.

Here you go:

Fantasy Fudge (old school recipe)

3 C sugar

3/4 C margarine (I use butter!)

2/3 C evaporated milk (this is about equal to the little 5 oz can in the grocery store)

12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips (don’t use “chocolate flavored”!)

7 oz jar marshmallow creme

(1 C chopped nuts is part of the original recipe – I leave these out)

1 tsp vanilla (use real vanilla!)

Combine sugar, margarine (butter), and milk in heavy 2 1/2 quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.

Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until melted. Add marshmallow creme, (nuts), vanilla. Beat until blended well. (I use a big old wooden spoon.) Pour into a greased (or foil-lined) 13 X 9 inch pan. Cool at room temp.

Cut into squares. Makes about 3 pounds of fudge.

Fantasy Fudge recipe card

You can see this recipe card has been well-used. And the recipe box was my mom’s.

homemade fudge

The slab left from our annual Thanksgiving Eve fudge-making.

homemade fudge pieces

Irresistible!

 

Zen Monday

I began the day offline at the gym. After doing a couple of miles on the treadmill, followed by stretching and planks, I thought I would be really productive today. Exercising always clears my head, energizes me.

But I have been loathe to be online where most of my work is done. The computer does not beckon. The screen feels like exactly where I should not be.

The writing life is very different from the one I dreamed about as a kid, the one where I was surrounded by books, journals, pens that felt great in my hand, and other writers. The constant social media presence for someone who helps run a digital magazine drains me. The multiple outlets I have to pay attention to clamor like virtual pots and pans falling off the back of a truck. My inbox receives a constant stream of messages.

But I am not complaining. What I am doing is paying attention to today, this moment. Today was a great time to return to writing my blog post first draft by hand at my dining room table instead of in my office, in front of the open patio door to the sounds of birds and wind chimes. I felt grateful. Incredibly, almost unspeakably grateful.

On Saturday, I went to a women-only party. The women at the party were connected by our kids who had gone or are going to school in Roseville, Minnesota. Some of us have no kids at home anymore; some are still trotting out to get school supplies and attend teacher’s conferences. One of the threads I noticed in conversations Saturday night was the chance to do things that parenting small children does not always allow for: the career that demands many hours; the time to write, travel, volunteer; the chance to become someone other than parent. Perhaps I should say in addition to parent since that piece of us does not just shut off. These conversations were woven with gratitude, with the awareness that we have a community of lucky people who remember we are more than mother, more than Roseville, more than this small place where we are comfortable.

That awareness has been rolling around in my head ever since. The connection with real people in-person, offline, is something modern writers need to tend to. I love doing research online, running this blog, co-editing Gyroscope Review. But today I also celebrate the flesh and bones of how I spend my days.

Yes, I am grateful indeed.

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