Enter Spring (soon we hope!)

The Spirit in Spring


March 21, 28, April 4th: Three one-hour online evening classes.  Contact Me for details.

Treat yourself to renewal. Join me for a quick burst of energy as spring arrives. Write open your heart as you write open your senses to shake off winter doldrums.

The focus on sensory details will help you develop seeing, hearing, touch, smell, and taste and how to incorporate those into your writing. The focus isn’t so much on a finished essay, although I’d be happy to see one if you want to submit it, as on learning how to richly describe the five senses in writing. Each week’s class will build on the previous week, but much of our work will be on finding freedom in writing.


Best Writing Workshop Ever!

Shot by Tom Parker at Jerry Stump farm

Last weekend, I was part of the best writing workshop I’ve ever attended. Ostensibly, I was the teacher, in Marysville, Kansas for a residency of teaching and reading my work. But the participants and their family stories made the workshop unforgettable.

We have a farm in Marshall County, seventeen miles from Marysville, and while ours is a long history on the land from the late 1800s, the family scattered like cottonseeds. None of us live there. Cliff and I go up and stay for a week every once in a while, but our parents were the last generation to live on and work the land.

The photo is not from our farm. It’s from one of the participants, Jerry Stump. His friend, Tom Parker, shot it on the farm Jerry’s  father bought and worked east of Blue Rapids, Kansas. As you can see, the land is still in production, and the photo is stunning.

On a side note, look up Tom Parker. He’s a remarkable photographer with a precision eye. I met him a few years ago when I did a workshop in Blue Rapids.

Many of the participants had boxes of documents and research, and we talked about ways to shape so many pieces of history. Jerry had the stories in his head. He’d driven one of his daughters around the farm and told her the stories, then a second daughter wanted to hear them, and a third. He came to the workshop to learn how to save those stories and maybe get them written down. He was a mathematician, he said. Not a writer. His experience with the daughters gave us a perfect format to talk about ways to reduce the overwhelming layers of historical documents many others had into a story.

Post Rocks have their own story.

From Jerry: “Post Rock is the proper name, so-called because it was used in fencing, especially where hedge posts from Osage orange trees were not available, such as further west in Kansas.  Hedge posts last forever as do post rocks. This post rock was used as a hitching post, a place to tie up your horse or carriage team.”

We had hedge posts on our farm. They do last forever! I can attest to that. And although some may lean a bit on our farm, they are still there and they do NOT rot. I helped dig holes, by hand, for some of them.

Post rocks come from farther west in Kansas where no Osage Orange trees grow; in fact, few trees in general grew in that western part of the state until settlers began planting them.

From the Kansas Historical Society: The area known as “Post Rock Country” stretches for approximately 200 miles from the Nebraska border on the north to Dodge City on the south. The limestone that is found here comes from the uppermost bed of the Greenhorn Formation. It was out of necessity that settlers in the late 1800s began turning back the sod and cutting posts from the layer of rock that lay underneath. By the mid-1880s limestone fence posts were in general use because of the widespread use of barbed wire.

The first time I saw Post Rock with barbed wire astounded me, growing up in eastern Kansas as I did. Rocks with barbed wire? Around wide stretches of grassland.

People who don’t live in Kansas think of the state as flat, flat, flat. And in Western Kansas, it is that. But the eastern third is the tail end of the Flint Hills with rocky outcroppings and hills. Our farm, for example, sits on a rise that gives us a view of the countryside for ten miles in each direction. Our east pasture sinks down into a rocky gully.

Jerry’s farm is in southern Marshall County lies east of Blue Rapids, named as you might guess, from water: The Big Blue River. And while there are plenty of flat fields, there’s also the outcroppings and springs and hilly gullies that defy farming. And the powerful Big Blue.

Blue Rapids, Kansas – Wikipedia. Among the first projects in 1870 were a stone dam and a wrought iron bridge built on the Big Blue River. A hydroelectric power plant was then added to provide power for manufacturing and for the town. The power plant was destroyed by a flood in 1903. In the late 19th century and early 20th century there were four gypsum mines in the area. The population peaked around 1910 at over 1,750. The public library, built in 1875, is the oldest library west of the Mississippi in continuous operation in the same building.

So much for nothing to see in Kansas except for miles of flat roads.

The next time you’re driving I70 through Kansas and bored, get off the highway, Manhattan is a good place to exit, and drive north. You’ll find some remarkable country, not boring at all. You might even spy a Post Rock if your wander off to the west.



Halfway to the North Pole

Outside the window, night is full-black, muffling sound. On this side, my vague reflection twitches. Not because I’m stressed or upset–well, maybe at not sleeping rather than staring at my own ghostly reflection, unsure of what to do with myself. So I open the laptop and play with words.

Sleep has been an erratic quality these past few weeks. Most of the time, I’m just up, sipping chamomile tea, and reading.

Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech, studied sleep patterns.

His research found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight hour chunk. We used to sleep in two shorter periods, over a longer range of night. This range was about 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of two to three hours, then sleep again until morning.

References are scattered throughout literature, court documents, personal papers, and the ephemera of the past. What is surprising is not that people slept in two sessions, but that the concept was so incredibly common. Two-piece sleeping was the standard, accepted way to sleep.

This seems to have been most common in the long nights of winter before advent of the electric lights which prolonged our days.

I’ve been napping a lot this winter. In fact, for a while in mid to late December, I had more trouble being awake than sleeping. Long afternoon naps were my normal pattern. Maybe I’ve used up my quota of sleep for now.

Or maybe, living halfway between the equator and the North Pole as I do, it’s a normal state for these long winter nights.

I must admit, it’s a seductive time. There are no sounds. None. Not even the far off hum of traffic on the freeway some miles off. I can always hear it in the morning, but not now. No wind rattles the few shrunken oak leaves which I know still cling, out of stubbornness I expect, to winter branches.

Only the soft velvet of night.

From Wikipedia: delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, is a chronic dysregulation of a person’s circadian rhythm (biological clock), compared to the general population and relative to societal norms.

And there we are, at societal norms, few of which I’m very normal at.

I often think of my northern European ancestors when I’m awake like this, and see someone in a chair with a lap robe, next to a fire, tilting a book just so in order to see the words in reflected firelight. And what would they have thought, I wonder, if they could have seen into the future some two hundred years to a woman sitting in the glow of a computer screen.

Frank Kafka wrote at night. Hmmmm. That brings up images of cockroaches on their backs, cockroaches being nocturnal animals themselves.

Wikipedia provides a long list of nocturnal animals, in case you’re interested. The list begins with aardvark. I don’t know that I’ve ever met an aardvark although nighttime coyotes are common where I’m from. Well, not so much in the city, but they are on the farm.

Here’s a line from one of my night poems set on the farm: coyotes run through the draw/warble sweet and high/as if they were angels, singing in tongues.

Maybe that’s the reason to be awake in the deep of night, halfway to the North Pole…magic happens.

Help Me Out Here…

books-messyI need your help, dear reader. You see, I’ve begun another book before the first one is sold and so I’m once more doing research. “Captured by Wind,” it’s tentatively called, my book, not the books above, and ostensibly (meaning apparently but perhaps not actually) it’s to chronicle my love of storm and winds and wandering. I come from a long and illustrious line of wind wanderers. Here, for example, is the second paragraph of the manuscript.

I’m hardly the first. Wind and wanderers have a long and tumultuous history: Moses, Odysseus, Shelly, Wagner’s Valkyries and Washington Irving’s horseman, and long streams of pioneers and Native Americans, many lost to history. The list is endless, tossed by the wind. And lest we forget, there was Admiral Francis Beaufort, hydrographer and officer in the Royal Navy, who developed the Beaufort Wind Scale still in use today. 

You can see already what a complicated task I’ve set up for myself.

I began by ordering a book about Admiral Francis Beaufort, Gale Force 10, which chronicles his life from childhood to somewhere but I’ve only gotten to page forty-three because in writing in my haphazard way when I’m trying to figure out something, and many pages after writing about my wandering childhood and wind on the farm (yes, I know, it’s a leap but makes sense in the several pages of weaving and writing…one hopes…) I wrote:

While my early wandering took me across fields, Admiral Francis Beaufort began his wandering, at fourteen, on a ship bound for China. He was to comment later that his was “a strictly nomadic family,” although well versed in both scholarship and religion, as was mine: his Huguenot, mine Quaker. The beliefs of both the Huguenots and the Quakers made them outcasts, forced to keep moving until they arrived in more northern and less settled lands, his in Ireland in the mid-1700s, mine a century later in northern Kansas.

Well. Then. You see, my great-great-grandmother, Lucinda Moore, was part of that Quaker migration although she was born a Reich and likely Moravian (there’s not a lot of difference between Moravian and Quaker although Quakers were more persecuted), at New Salem, now Winston-Salem, so then I had to go find the article my great-grandfather wrote about his mother who married three men – the first two died leaving her with assorted children, and to a dugout with Mr. Moore in a hillside in Jewel County, Kansas where my great-grandfather was born.

However, in rising from my writing to go find the article, I was sucked into a black hole of years of saved writing: on Odysseus, on Kansas history, on prairie fires, on mythology, etc etc etc, having forgotten how much I’d accumulated years ago as I was thinking of writing Kansas Chronicles about my family and my step-family and Grandpa Albert telling stories of trading with the Native Americans who had an encampment just north of our farm.

Maybe that’s what I’m writing. The Kansas Chronicles, in a different form.

But there’s still that above pile of books, culled from my bookshelves dedicated to Kansas writing, and several file folders filled with newspaper clippings and stories and history and more pieces of writing. And I didn’t even add Gale Force 10 to the pile or a photo of the digital files I’ve saved and already written in the folder called Kansas Chronicles, saved since I wrote and published, in 2008, the first essay, On Fire and Family, about burning off the prairie after I’d returned to the Kansas farm.

And that’s what happens when you find out what you thought was a fresh idea has been simmering on the back burner for years.

Thanks. I calmer now. The task is daunting, but it seems to be the task I’ve embarked upon.

Unless, of course, I can convince myself to write the Mexico book which is also partly written.

I’ll update from time to time.

Ancient Stories, Art, and Food

After these weeks of stress-producing yearly medical-everythings, Cliff and I decided it was time for a date. Our Kansas City world-class museum offered an exhibit, Luxury Treasures of the Roman Empire, in conjunction with the Getty Museum. Since Cliff has a background in Latin and Rome, he wanted to go. Me, I’m not so crazy about the Roman Empire, preferring instead the Greeks and their wonderful panoply of myth, but the treasures part sounded promising: “Luxury Treasures of the Roman Empire showcases some of the extraordinary artistic achievements of Roman craftsmen and offers valuable insight into the complex social relations of the Empire.”

It was extraordinary. Even with the appropriated Greek heroes for decoration.

Treasurers of RomeIn the platter displayed above, you will see the story of Hercules and Bacchus in a drinking bout to see who is stronger while Pan accompanies on his flute. Wine, as we all know, wins over physical strength.

cliffJanetThere was also the most clever device for taking a photo and inserting it inside a hair style of the Roman times. Cliff looks very much like the philosophy professor he is while I look weighted down with the massive hairdo. While I’m rarely weighted down by my hair, I am particular about how it looks. That’s well known to those who know me.

The first room had jewelry, coins, and some tableware, but the second room was amazing, artifacts discovered by a farmer, digging up his field, and finding third century Roman objects.

 The Getty Museum has a wonderful slide show of the work. Here’s what they say:

“Accidentally discovered by a French farmer in 1830, the spectacular hoard of gilt-silver statuettes and vessels known as the Berthouville Treasure was originally dedicated to the Gallo-Roman god Mercury. Following four years of meticulous conservation and research at the Getty Villa, this exhibition allows viewers to appreciate their full splendor and offers new insights about ancient art, technology, religion, and cultural interaction.”

All the site’s vessels and cups carried the inscription, “……(so and so’s name) fulfilled his (or her) vow willingly as merited.”

Well. That was too good not to look up on my trusty phone.

From Wikipedia, “In ancient Roman religion, a votum is a vow or promise made to a deity…a votum is also that which fulfills a vow, the thing promised, such as offerings, a statue, or even a temple building…”

And now, we have “votive candles.” But it was “as merited” that really stuck with me. I wondered how one was “merited” or what a boon from the gods might look like. Maybe the same as for us: money or love or a vehicle (horse, in that case), a home, health.

Slide #3 from the above linked Getty site, captured me. The video shows how the silver was shaped and reminded me of my BFA years at Kansas State, pounding on metal. I’d wanted an art degree because I thought I’d return to Germany and work in a Recreational Services Craft Shop as I did before I left; however, life or fate or weariness at pounding on metal seduced me in my last semester to return to an early love, theatre, where I was cast as Nora in A Doll’s House and while I graduated with a BFA in Art, my major professor in metals was not impressed and gave me a D to show I wasn’t graduate school material. That’s what he said although mostly, it was revenge. I was not, obviously, merited. And it was clear to me that I’d never be more than a mediocre visual artist although, later, I did earn two graduate degrees. But not in art.

Here’s a couple of pieces I’ve carried with me the past thirty-eight years and ten moves and both need repair and cleaning; perhaps someday I will. One is cast silver with a moonstone in the bottom center piece, and the bottom is hammered copper with cast silver inserts.


They both need the generous and precise hands of the masters at The Getty.

I have one other very fragile and much loved art piece from a hand-built pottery class, made from low fire clay and twisted into a king, his lady and companion dragon, and the magic tree which has lost all its top spirally pieces but has mostly survived. Which is no small feat, moving and packing away stuff so many times as I’ve done. These are the surviving pieces of the Magical Forest, sitting on my office bookshelf.

Magic forest3 (2)All of this to say, I so appreciated seeing the craftsmanship in the show. I know how hard repoussé metalwork is to say nothing of the incising on the outside to shape hair tendrils. You will see that in the video of #3.

I was also fascinated by the cameo work. Thanks to Wikipedia, here’s an explanation of what the Romans did:

“During the Roman period the cameo technique was used on glass blanks, in imitation of objects being produced in agate or sardonyx. Cameo glass objects were produced in two periods; between around 25 BC and 50/60 AD, and in the later Empire around the mid-third and mid-fourth century.[5] Roman glass cameos are rare objects, with only around two hundred fragments and sixteen complete pieces known,[5] only one of which dates from the later period.[6] During the early period they usually consisted of a blue glass base with a white overlying layer,[7] but those made during the later period usually have a colourless background covered with a translucent coloured layer.[6] Blanks could be produced by fusing two separately cast sheets of glass, or by dipping the base glass into a crucible of molten overlay glass during blowing.[7]

You can see an example of this in slide #8 in the above Getty link.

Here’s two more treasures we brought home with us. Roman recipes. Cliff’s birthday dinner is coming up, and I’m planning on making these two as appetizers with cocktails. However, as Roman dining seemed to demand leaning on the table with one’s left arm while eating with the right, I’m not likely to enforce that. I’m left handed. I could make a real mess.

But I love cooking. That, along with writing, has been my constant art form. And eating. That, too, even when my left-handed self is messy.

Bon Appétit! Although I don’t think that’s what the Romans said.

BreadMeatballs 1Meatballs