Friday, May 29, 2009


Perhaps everyone knew about this but me, but my lovely friend Katie just introduced me to, which analyzes the text that you paste in and arranges it according to which words appear most frequently. Here's my poetry manuscript!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

refugee literature

I am on a search for well-written books that tell stories of refugees. The Latehomecomer, Crossing Three Wildernesses, What is the What, and the Kiterunner are on my list so far. All good books. But I'm trying to put together a long, solid list that could possibly be a course list for a class. I'd love suggestions!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

discovering Wisconsin (or, a New Englander on the Prairie)

Back to blogging after a lovely couple days canoeing the Kickapoo River. I have a newfound respect for Wisconsin--it's really beautiful. We finally got off I-94 and got to drive through hilly farm country. It had what I adore about the Midwest--big sky, huge sense of space even when you're surrouonded by trees, small towns with huge amounts of space between them--but unlike where I lived in Minnesota this area was hilly and well-treed. If you check out the map, you can pretty clearly see the change topography in the SE corner where we live and visited: the glaciers never hit there. You can basically see the line where they stopped.

Everything is lush and green now. The Kickapoo gets its name from an Algonquin word meaning essentially "goes this way and that." In some places, this river was 200 feet from being ox-boxed. Hugely serpentine, which was a great challenge on the canoe. Plus, we saw bald eagles, red tailed hawks, redwing blackbirds, swallows working in a tandem to building their mud-nests against the joints of bridges. There is no end to the list of things I want to learn about. Birds is now on that list.

We drove home through towns of less than 1000 each with lots of farmland and cows in between. Nearly every house we passed as we left Ontario, WI had a sign announcing the sale of quilts, braided rugs, eggs, custom-built barns, leather tooling, baked goods, fireword. Everyone doing a little business on the side.

And, after only 5 years of living in the wide, beautiful Midwest, I can now say I've been to the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. One of them, anyway. This is the Little House in the Big Woods in Pepin, WI.

Pa Ingalls worked hard to find remote locations for his family to farm in peace, and those this one is in now surrounded by fields and has a road near by--the "big woods" were cut down and are now in the process of being regrown--it is still very remote. 7 miles outside of a small town. While we were there on Memorial day, two other cars and 3 motorcycles drove up to see the fun. It is indeed a little house for 5 people. The doors are just over 6' high, if that helps your perspective.

Caddie Woodlawn lived only about a half hour away, by car, though in comparitively much nicer conditions. Saw her home, too.

Thumbs up, Wisconsin.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Going (Leafy) Green

Last week I had the pleasure of hanging out with a number of long-time co-op users, including two local organic farmers who seemed to know pretty much everything under the sun. They were currently living mostly off nettles, because they were out and growing on their property. I was there basically for the free meal and the company, but I guess you could say I was useful because I represented the "bottom line" voice: people who will even shop (shhh, don't tell, but it IS the major place to buy things in my town of 16,000) at Walmart sometimes for the lowest price. But they got me thinking.

When it comes to food, I feel like opposite pressures of pocket-friendliness and environmental friendliness are winging me back and forth. I go to the co-op so I can refill my old containers with spices, oatmeal, nuts, pasta, dish soap, etc. Cutting down on waste, that's a good thing. But I don't even look at their beautiful produce section, where it seems like everything is at least a dollar more, even if it is probably higher quality. Likewise, I don't like most of Walmart's practices--bullying producers, shutting out other stores, paying their workers too little--but we are on an extremely tight budget, and saving $10 a week on groceries is huge. And then of course there's the thought of just what kind of carbon footprint we're making, trucking all this food all over the place. Frozen foods are the worst as they have to be shipped frozen, which costs more energy. I say that, but is there a frozen pizza in my freezer? You bet. For those times when I work long days or have simply run out of fresh food and need to make something for dinner.

cost vs. health vs. time vs. shipping costs...(back, forth)

I'd say this all comes down to when I think about myself vs. when I think about the earth, or in Christian terms, being a good steward in how I spend my money, but it's not quite that easy. I know several people who just plain can't afford to buy anything other than the cheapest food possible, along with supplements from the food shelf. I'd like to introduce them to the co-op people who only eat organic (since when did kinder-to-the-earth become elite? that's another story). Some of them would get along beautifully. Some of them live on different planets. I"m grateful to know both, don't get me wrong. I guess you could say I'm floating in the space somewhere in between.

What to do?

We're almost in June, and I figure that the least I can do is to buy local produce during the next 4 months, when everything's growing and available at the local farmer's market. I know what to do in August and September, when everywhere you look there are fresh local bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, egg plant, zucchini, basil, bok choy, etc., but what about now? What is growing now? I've heard whispers of broccoli and asparagus, but I hardly know anything about these things. What comes up in June other than strawberries?

The lovely French foodie blog Chocolate and Zucchini was talking the other day about using radish leaves to make pesto, arguing that pesto is basically green leaves, hard cheese, and olive oil ground up. Intriguing, though I haven't spotted radishes with or without leaves during my grocery store forays to pick up, I confess, stuff for the next cookout. The chocolate cake posted for today also has my attention.

I'll keep my eyes out. This matters. I'd love suggestions.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beloved on the Earth

19 months after submitting my poetry, 6 months after being accepted, I was thrilled to receive in the mail today my copy of the brand new anthology Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude from Holy Cow! Press. The cover is lovely, though the copy of it here scanned bluer than the actual cover is. Find it here. Scanning the list of those 150 poems, I truly feel like I'm walking among greatness: Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Ted Kooser, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Adrienne Rich, William Stafford, Basho, Li-Young Lee, Denise Levertov, Marvin Bell, Lucille Clifton, etc., etc.! It seems like a brilliant idea for an anthology, for when do we pick up poetry if not when we are in a time of contemplation, seeking wisdom, comfort, perspective...? I hope it sells well.

I can't help listing a few of the things I am grateful for. Don't worry about reading this list; you can insert your own:
  • perfect temperature today
  • constant breeze up on our hill that makes me feel like we live on the ocean
  • the inauguration of our grill, with actual steak! Matt got for his birthday
  • homemade cherry cheesecake, also for Matt's belated birthday (and also the fact that we have low cholesterol levels)
  • a sense, after the craze of getting grades in, that today was Saturday (it's really Monday) and there was nothing I had to do, even if it took getting over a migraine to make me slow down and stop trying to do everything anyway
  • going for a walk at sunset and looking at the pink streaking the sky
  • an upcoming canoe trip
  • lovely rest and peace.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

pretty dress

My talented aunt who lives in Shanghai designed this gorgeous dress for me!

(Nothing brilliant to say today. I'm turning in grades today, then it'll be time for a much-needed break)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


See, if you stop classifying people who cause you problems as "citizens," you can always claim that you never harmed your country's citizens. Reclassifying people in order to avoid responsibility...many countries have been guilty of this, including ours. Here, Sudanese President Bashir blames everyone and everything, denies wrongdoing in Darfur, and claims only "insurgents" were hurt. Four minute interview, courtesy of BBC. Watch it here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

sample poetry

I'm honored to have my poetry included in this international cyber anthology of contemporary poets. I'm in volume 41. Happy reading:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

check it out

My dear friend Katie has a wonderful blog she calls "becoming what we love." Reading it is good for my soul. She talks about living in community (5 people sharing a house owned by our friend Wanda), being a youth pastor in a diverse urban church, eating good food, discovering Minneapolis, social justice, fun adventures...all the things it means to be a Christian and be alive. Katie is one of the most fun, genuine, and deep people I know. We lived together for four years, three of them at the Stevens House (so called because that's the avenue it's on). It's a beautiful old house (dark wood molding, stained glass, a library!!!) in Whittier neighborhood, a diverse and rather transient neighborhood (25-30% turnover rate yearly) that includes a renowned art museum, community gardens, small apartments, restaurants with food from 5 continents, all the Southeast Asian grocery stores you could want (5 within walking distance)...even after living there for 3 years, I'm still discovering more when I go back to visit...

Anyway, read the blog!

Thursday, May 7, 2009


For the first four months we lived in Wisconsin, we didn't have a working TV. We had spotty internet that I used to watch episodes online. We put a decorative blanket over the TV and, when Christmas came, but our mini fake Christmas tree on top (which looked kind of...disproportionate).
(Those are lobster ornaments on either side. Too big to fit on the tree!)

But then one night in January when I had nothing to do and so I went to buy a converter box and antennae. We picked up 6 channels, 3 of them PBS. And what came on exactly at that moment, that Sunday night? Masterpiece Classic's production of Wuthering Heights. I am in love. If you've never seen Masterpiece Classic, check it out here. They turn classic novels into excellently done miniseries(es) with no commercials. I love having a bit of epic drama in my life (especially when you can turn it on and off).

Charles Dickens

Having watched or read most of Dickens' work, I've got a formula now:

take one poor, noble, innocent, and selfless character (either an orphaned boy or a girl with one male guardian of obnoxious character, whom she serves devotedly)


  • bankrupcy (if you weren't there already)
  • several members of authority who range from cruel to stupidly incompentant (but who make it their goal to thwart the main character)
  • one helping hand, who is noble and wealthy and has
  • at least one terrible secret
  • which often comes out by way of a poor servant (who is most likely out for himself)
  • several more completely quirky characters who stick in your memory from monthly installment to monthly installment
and at the end throw in

  • sudden riches (thanks to the helping hand or to a long-lost relative who made his/her fortune abroad
  • a heartfelt reunion for the now-not-poor-but-still-selfless main character
  • most of the bad people getting what they deserve, but
  • sometimes nice people are crushed along the way
And spread it all over monthly installments with a lot of cliffhangers. If you can stretch it out over two years, all the better.

The advantage of doing an entire Masterpiece Classic series on Dickens is that you can reuse much of the set. Down-and-out London and all.

I sound like I'm mocking. I am, only a little bit. But I had a hard enough time waiting week to week for the five installments of Little Dorrit.

Dickens strikes again.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


It's the last week of classes in the U-W system. I've got 5 more classes to teach, Matt has just a few left to take, then on to finals. It's crazy busy like it always is at the end of the semester. There are research papers and final portfolios to wade through, but then...freedom. Camping. Other summer work. Writing time, much of which may take place at my favorite Golden Leaf Cafe, which sells really good pie. But pie isn't what I was trying to talk about. It's milestones.

The wonderful thing about the academic system is that is has regular beginnings and endings. It has a rather unnatural setting (a whole group of people of the same age-ish together in a small space, deadlines that don't correspond with the rest of the world) but I'll take it because it understands how to step back and admire accomplishments. So few places have this. Think about it: in the business and nonprofit worlds, when, outside of retirement celebrations and fundraising events, do we stop and see what we have accomplished? time passed, projects completed.

Some of my Intro to Lit. students saw their first professional play and attended their first poetry reading this semester. They've started using the word "postcolonial" and know more about southern India than they probably ever thought they would, thanks to Arundhati Roy's gorgeous novel The God of Small Things. I think that is so neat, and I'm so proud watching them grow as readers and discussers of literature in its various forms.

It's a lot easier to notice what other people have accomplished or learned than to notice the same in ourselves.

I grew up in a family that celebrates occasions. Birthdays. Christmas. Easter. Did I mention birthdays? They're huge. Matt's family didn't. They note the occasions, but they don't make a big deal. They give gifts at random times, rather than waiting for a date. I like both systems. But I still like occasions. Points that allow people to stop and look and celebrate. What can you celebrate in May?

Monday, May 4, 2009

check it out

A group of University of Minnesota students in a human rights advocacy class got a quick invitation into the real world when one of their classmates, originally from Sudan, learned that two of his young neices had been violently abducted from their home in Southern Sudan. A year and a half later, they are in the process of forming a non-profit organization, Child Protection International, to address and prevent child abduction in several countries. They are devoted people who do wonderful work. Check out their website