Careening into December

Where has the autumn gone? While the election season felt interminable, everything else zipped by. Between houseguests and travel, I found myself on Thanksgiving thinking, “Hey, too fast!” This is what happens with a full life, though, isn’t it?

But now life around here is going to slow down a little. And I have pictures to share from my last bit of travel which was to England for my friend Oonah’s book launch in Newcastle.

If you haven’t been to the north of England, go. On this last trip, I had the opportunity to see the landscape in November light, which is the perfect painterly light. The days are short, a full two hours shorter than here in Minnesota right now, and the air is damp. The wind can be raw. I stood on the shore of the North Sea and watched the waves make whitecaps like galloping horses, tasted the salt in the air, and thought about Oonah’s poems that offer up these very images. Oonah, her husband Noel, and I visited gardens that, in November, still held roses on the branch and leaves in red, gold, brown, and yellow. We went to bookstores and cheese shops and pubs, drank local ales and heard local musicians. Oonah and I shared our poetry on a stage with several other wonderful poets, and a few talented musicians, and were rewarded with a warm, attentive audience. My 10 days in Northumberland ended just two days before Thanksgiving here. I came home to a refrigerator already stocked by Mick with turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie, whipped cream, and other dinner fixings.

And we were grateful. Very, very grateful.

North Sea at Newbiggin

The North Sea at Newbiggin

Barter Books in Alnwick – one of the largest used bookstores in Europe

That painterly light in the gardens at Wallington and Belsay

Oonah and I reading our work at the STANZA for Oonah’s November 17 book launch in Newcastle

Oonah and Noel

And now, onward to December.

Thanksgiving Traditions and Change

I like Thanksgiving as a holiday of gratitude and food. Cooking for people has always been something I love to do, even though I’m no gourmet chef. I simply love the warmth of gathering around a table and sharing traditional foods: turkey, potatoes, cranberries, pie. I love the smells, the full refrigerator, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on T.V. I love having my kids around.

But things do change. Our family takes turns with our kids’ partners’ families for holidays; every other year we celebrate together. This year, it’s not our turn. Rather than be sad about having to share our kids, Mick and I are looking beyond our own table. We decided to do something for the larger community, and that’s why we signed up to participate in the Walk to End Hunger on Thanksgiving morning. The Walk to End Hunger is organized by a group of Twin Cities hunger relief organizations who work together to end hunger in both the Twin Cities and across the State of Minnesota. We’ll walk at the Mall of America on Thursday morning, hope that we make a difference.

We are excited about this change that will get us out into a crowd of people who all want to help those whose refrigerators are not stuffed full of food, who may not have the luxury of a Thanksgiving dinner of any sort. We will work to feed others not just for the holiday, but beyond.

If you want to help, you can donate to my personal page here:

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

Walk to End Hunger graphic

Live from Northumberland!

This week, I’m excited to be traveling in Northumberland, visiting my friend and colleague Oonah Joslin and her husband Noel. I’m in Northumberland to support Oonah at her Newcastle book launch of her new poetry book, Three Pounds of Cells, published by The Linnet’s Wings Press. The book event will be at The STANZA, a Third Thursday Poetry and Spoken Word Event at Beldons at The Exchange on Howard Street in North Shields, on the evening of Thursday, November 17. Several poets, me included, will be reading along with Oonah and it promises to be a fun evening. The STANZA’s  Facebook event page has more information.

Besides the book launch, Oonah has promised a visit to Alnwick Train Station to see Barter Books, one of the largest second-hand book stores in the U.K. And she’s promised to make haggis. Apparently, there’s whiskey involved and she thought of me! And she has some other things up her sleeve, but that’s all for another blog.

This week, I’m just going to enjoy the journey and be grateful for friends in faraway places.

delta plane image by skeeze from

image courtesy of



Campaign Season Fatigue: Ready to Vote!

Like everyone I know, I cannot wait until this presidential election is over. The nastiness, the lack of depth and intelligent analysis, the social media overload – all of it needs to go. Away. Now.

I’m very much looking forward to voting tomorrow, along with my husband and our daughter, whom we’ll pick up from her student apartment after her last class of the day. We’ll walk into our precinct voting place together and cast our ballots, hope for the best. Later, my son and daughter-in-law are coming to our house to watch the results roll in. A few friends are joining us.

Am I going to try to sell you on my choice? Not today. But I am going to echo the general call to get out and vote, exercise your hard-won right as an adult citizen of this country, and be respectful of everyone else who is doing the same. Do not predict the end of the world as we know it if you come up against someone who is voting for your candidate’s opponent. We’ve had enough childish doomsday forecasts to push people into making a choice based on fear, incomplete truths, or flat-out lies. Think about the bigger picture, why experience matters, how the checks and balances inherent in our system really work, and what candidate promises are realistically impossible to fulfill.

For that matter, think about what you learned as a child about being fair and doing a good job.

When I was a kid, my dad was adamant about voting in every single election. This is what good Americans did. I went along every time my parents voted, listened to them from the back seat of the car while they discussed the election. I remember during the 1972 Nixon vs. McGovern election I was just becoming aware of how candidates tried to make themselves look good and was beginning to understand that there was a lot of disagreement about Vietnam and women and racial differences. Our local parish priest admonished all of us that voting for a candidate who supported abortion rights was not what a good Catholic did. For my parents, this meant that McGovern was not a good Catholic choice, but he was the Democrat and this caused a great deal of anguish. My mom was very clear that she could not vote for McGovern, but my dad did not like Nixon. I asked my dad if he was going to vote for Nixon or McGovern after learning about them both in school, and my dad informed me that we never had to tell anyone who we voted for. He might not even tell my mom who he chose and she might not tell him. It was a sacred, private thing. Of course, I know now it might have been in my dad’s best interest to keep mum.

When I was old enough to vote, I talked to my dad about the candidates. I didn’t keep my choices a secret from him. Now, Mick and I talk a lot about who we support and we have not had an election over which we’ve disagreed much. Our differences in choice of candidates come early on, before the party endorsements happen. But our philosophies are similar. We are lucky that way. I cannot imagine being married to someone who has a completely different political sensibility, especially in this election season.

Is this election season any more divisive than that long-ago 1972 season when there was so much strife in this country? Or the 1968 election, which I cannot remember? I don’t know. It seems like it is more divisive today, but I believe my parents were every bit as worried about the future in 1972 as I am now. I worry about what we are creating for our kids with all this fighting and arguing and inability to come to a consensus on things like health care, immigration, education, and foreign policy. What gives me hope is that we still have the right to choose our representatives, still have a process that prevents change on a whim, and that many people are going to the polls already through the early voting option. It gives me hope that many are speaking out about this campaign season’s bad behavior with the suggestion that this is not how adults should behave.

Come Wednesday, we’ll know who our next president is. Let’s honor the democratic process. Vote.


images courtesy of

Light the Jack o’Lanterns!

one-mn-writer-witchHalloween is one of my favorite nights of the year. It’s a night when I remember what it’s like to be a kid, excited about doing something that cannot be done at any other time. It’s also a night when I think about ancient traditions, about honoring the dead and the changing seasons. I love the magical feel of Halloween, how all things spooky get celebrated.

This year,  I’m longing for the simplicity of homemade costumes and children who dance through their neighborhood to collect candy. I’m ready for a night that we give over to kids, when adults stay in their corners and be adults. And that’s what I’m going to do – be the grown-up who oohs and aahs at little kids when they yell, “Trick or Treat,” give them candy, wait for the next costumed little person to walk past my newly-carved pumpkins with real candles inside.

I know a lot of adults love Halloween and have fun with costume parties of their own, decorate their yards with abandon, invent drinks that turn blood red or black, let themselves play “pretend” one more time. I’ve done that myself. But this year, it feels just right to let this night be for kids alone. I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot over the past week, how Halloween is the perfect antidote to the nastiness of this election season and how sitting around with a bowl full of miniature candy bars is far less stressful than watching the news. Or discussing which direction our country should take. Or opening the mail. Or scheduling the next appointment, whatever it may be. Or having to reject someone’s poetry. Or submitting my own. Or any number of other grown-up things that must be done. I want to turn my attention elsewhere. And where better to turn it than to kids and the magic they still believe in?

So, at dusk, I’ll light the candles in the pumpkins, put the candy in my special cauldron, and be happy to be the one who gives treats. I’ll be the grown-up who honors Halloween as a time for kids to be kids and for adults to keep the veil over that other world that all those kids will be part of soon enough. Good, simple unplugged fun in an increasingly complicated plugged-in world.

Happy Halloween!



Celebrate Your Writer Friends

I am celebrating my friend Oonah Joslin’s recent book launch for her new book of poetry, Three Pounds of Cells. The Morpeth launch happened last week and the link to buy Oonah’s book is now available. Click on the image below to get your copy. Curling up with a good book of poetry can’t be beat as we slip into the cold weather season.

Three Pounds of Cells front cover

Celebrating my writer friends who find success and have work to share is one of the joys of being part of the writing community. If you have a recent publication, please feel free to put a link in the comments below.

Happy Monday, everyone.

New York or Minnesota – Can I Have Both Please?

Having grown up in Minnesota and staying here to create a rich and full life with my partner Mick, kids Shawn and Abby, daughter-in-law Beka, granddaughter Camille, and a circle of amazing friends, you might think that I’m all set. Content. Rooted.

And I am all those things. But my life-long love affair with New York City has never waned, not from the time I was 10. I chose to write a report on New York in fifth grade, when we were assigned our first term paper about a place. I wrote to the New York Chamber of Commerce as part of my research and they sent me a fat manilla envelope of brochures. The brochures arrived after my term paper was due, but I kept them for a long time. Later, when I was 13 or 14, my parents drove from Minnesota to New York one summer. We stayed on the outskirts of the city, took a train into Grand Central Station, hopped on a tour bus. We didn’t stay nearly as long as I wanted, but we did see an awful lot in two days. I remember how hot and humid it was, how my mom was not so thrilled about the steps up inside the Statue of Liberty. But none of that mattered; I was smitten. Yes, there is noise, traffic, crowds, and harsh conditions for those who have nothing. This is life in a large city, any large city. There is still much to love and this is my list.

I love the old buildings juxtaposed with new, how St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street offers sanctuary in a stunning building only steps away from the rush of Penn Station, how The Halal Guys seem to be on every street corner in Manhattan, the soft light on the High Line in late afternoon, music performed (with suggested donations of course) in the subways, having drinks in Bryant Park, the surprise of a full moon between buildings while walking up 7th Avenue after dark, the kindness of people who will help a visitor get on the correct subway line if asked, and the multitude of Irish pubs where it’s easy to get a table and a drink. I love the pigeons who sit on every statue and light pole, the way workmen at job sites laugh with each other in the middle of the day, the lines of all kinds of people getting coffee together in the morning, bike messengers who defy death to weave through traffic in Times Square, men in business suits on motorized scooters at rush hour, how the seemingly impossible traffic snarls eventually untangle. I love seeing families on the subway, listening to the assortment of languages heard on the street, tasting foods from as many different shops and restaurants as possible, stepping into small bookstores with books crammed into every inch of space. I love having lunch at a place with tables outside so I can watch everything around me. I love being in a city where there are so many, many choices.

My most recent visit was just last week, when my friend Luann and I spent a few days running around Manhattan with a little foray into Brooklyn. Our favorite thing was a food tour of Greenwich Village, where we sampled pizza, olive oil, quinoa salad, melanzana, cannoli, cheese, chocolate chip cookies, and more. We also visited the Tenement Museum, where we did a tour that taught us about the history of the building and showed us some restored apartments. As always, the time flew by and it seemed like I had to go home too soon.

But I’ll be back. I’m hanging on to my Metro card for the next time.

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On Not Celebrating Columbus Day

Today’s Federal holiday had a cartoon moment in this morning’s newspaper – Hi and Lois, in which Dot, a little girl who is learning about Christopher Columbus, says to her dad, “Columbus thought he was in India when he landed in the New World?” Her dad says, “That’s right.” And she responds with, “So we celebrate his mistake with a holiday?” And her dad says, “Anything to get a day off.”

Dot pretty much summed up how I feel about Columbus Day. But I have another Columbus Day story that my son Shawn provided for us when he was in grade school. He was assigned, in fifth or sixth grade, to draw something that depicted Columbus in the New World. He chose to draw Columbus chopping the hands off some New World natives. The teacher flunked him on that assignment – gave him a great big zero for a score.

One of the things Mick and I have tried to teach our kids is that debate is a good thing. Debate is how we learn. And not all history is accurately presented all of the time. Columbus is a good example. There are historical references to Columbus’s brutal treatment of natives that include chopping off hands for not having enough gold (here’s one of those references: Since Mick and I were well aware of other ways to tell the story of Columbus in the New World, we asked to meet with the teacher to talk about Shawn’s assignment.

We got exactly nowhere. The teacher was not open to discussion that Columbus’s story was not all wonderful, that he had done things to mar his image as an explorer. She refused to give Shawn partial credit for understanding the story beyond the classroom lesson. And perhaps that was her right to force Shawn to stick to what she taught rather than going beyond her simple lessons.

But I don’t really believe that. I was disappointed in her inability to engage my son in a conversation that would have expanded on a history lesson. Don’t we want children to question things? The Columbus story we were taught as children, the way Columbus Day is still a holiday, and the way we are discouraged from adding to the standard narratives even in the face of fact is not designed to encourage thoughtful consideration of what Columbus’s actions actually meant. There has been plenty of discussion about this since Shawn was in grade school and I’m pretty sure other families have bumped into similar issues with homework and history lessons.

If you’re interested, here is more information on Columbus Day and the controversy around it from the Constitution Daily:

As for me, this is just another Monday, albeit one without mail delivery.

Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

One Minnesota Writer on Break Today

It’s a beautiful fall day here in the Twin Cities. I’m on break today, but want to share the latest issue of Gyroscope Review, which came out on Saturday. My co-editor Constance Brewer and I are delighted with the poets who submitted work for this issue, our first themed one. Welcome to the fall issue of Gyroscope Review, The “Honor” IssueThe link will take you to Gyroscope Review‘s page of issues current and past, with two different versions depending on whether you wish to read on your desktop, laptop, or mobile device.  Enjoy!


Our Soggy Autumn and Finding Hope

It’s been a gray several days until today; many inches of rain in the rain gauge, although we are lucky at our house. Last Wednesday, over seven inches of rain fell just to the north of us in a few hours. I drove home from the Edina library in that storm, muttering to myself, “Please don’t hail,” since I just got my car back from the body shop for hail damage repair. Lightning flickered constantly, like a bad light bulb, and Highway 100 had at least two spots where pooled water could have quickly turned dangerous. But I made it home, completely soaked from my 30-second dash to the car after the reading I attended, and felt grateful. To the south of us, floods are displacing many as rivers rise, spill over banks, meander into small towns and over highways. All this wetness feels like spring.

Yet here we are at the start of autumn. The birds are constantly emptying the bird feeders in our yard. The fruit on our crabapple tree has turned orange-red, its smaller crabapples irresistible to robins and migrating cedar waxwings. The waxwings have arrived right on schedule to gorge themselves in preparation for their long flight. The robins have been here all along, but they, too, must be getting ready to go. Our tree is a noisy, lofty restaurant. Sometimes, I watch this scene from our bedroom window just after I’ve opened the curtains and am entranced.

Through our kitchen window, there is a perfect view of our neighbor’s old apple tree which has been dead for years. He never cut it down, just trimmed the bulk of the top away. Its trunk and a few sturdy limbs remain. The dead tree has become a woodpecker neighborhood, with several perfectly round holes in desirable areas. The resident woodpeckers sometimes stop at our deck, check out the cedar planks, make our dogs lose their minds. They aren’t the only life to move to the dead tree. I recently noticed the lichen that has made patterns all over the old bark, as if a painter took a pallet knife and slathered on goops of oil paint that will not dry for years.

Soon the juncos will come through, too, on their migration. They are my favorites with their dark eyes and round white bellies. I love watching them hop around on the ground, their movements quick, lively.

When did I become this person who knows the seasons by the birds in the yard? Not that I mind. It’s far more soothing than this election season with its flood of campaign ads, far less bitter and polarizing than a candidates’ debate. Even though I was disappointed in my neighbor’s refusal to remove the dead tree, that is so minor compared to all the arguing over immigration, policing, race, religious differences, taxes, and rights. The thing about my neighbor’s tree is that it has had time to become a home for other creatures. Its demise is to the benefit of the woodpeckers and lichen and perhaps something else I haven’t noticed yet. I keep thinking there’s a lesson there. I keep wanting to draw a peaceful analogy, but am not sure there is one that would be of use in getting people to stop shouting.

Maybe the sun that has broken through today will relieve some of the floods to the south. Maybe we’ll see something that will lift our hearts a little before tonight’s debate between Clinton and Trump makes us feel like we’re drowning in reactionary verbosity. Maybe this soft light of autumn is good at illuminating hope.

Let’s leave the curtains open for that.


All photos by kcmickelson 2016.