Friday, June 25, 2010


One ream of paper and an entire container of ink later, I've printed three copies (well, almost three copies, darn ink jet) of my "finished" novel, working title /The Violinist/. I have finished draft two and will be putting it in the mail tomorrow. (Which is a bit of a deal, considering it's almost an inch thick.) I say "finished" because there's always the chance my readers will point out enormous design flaws. But I've been writing 5-6 days a week all of June, and it has been joyous. It helps to be able to go for a walk before, after, and sometimes during writing sessions--especially after, when I'm trying to snap out of the written world.

Tomorrow Matt and I head off westward. Look for posts from me describing Montana and beyond.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

sample poetry

Check out the new issue of the lovely Pedestal Magazine, which features, among other things, a poem of mine titled "Monsoon." I wrote it on a writer's retreat 2 summers ago after reading a National Geographic special on India monsoons. It looks amazing to see water fill the streets, people rafting where they used to walk, but I tried to balance that with the reality of what it would be like to live with all that water. Enjoy!

Monday, June 21, 2010

15 miles on the Erie Canal

10 points for you if you can sing the song with these lyrics.

My mother- and father-in-law just completed their sail of Erie Canal. They described the trip so beautifully, I thought I'd share it:

"Our trip through the canal took 13 days. We negotiated 35 locks and cruised 338 miles, plus 7 miles on the Niagara River from Buffalo to North Tonawanda. It might be fun to regale you with tales of our harrowing adventures along the Erie. However, there are no such stories to tell. For the last two weeks, our days have passed with uniform pleasantness. The scenery we’ve watched slide by at our cruising speed of 5 ½ knots has been varied and interesting. The weather’s been good. The people we’ve encountered are lovely. The captain and first mate - those roles, by the way, are interchangeable - still communicate in a cordial manner. Life is good.

For you history lovers out there, construction of the Erie Canal began in 1817. It opened for service seven years later. Its impact was immediate and overwhelming cutting the cost of moving commercial products substantially. Freight rates dropped from $100 per ton to $5 per ton. The travel time across NY went from 6 weeks to 6 days. The canal offered, for the first time, easy, cheap access to the interior of the continent. This opened the gate for uncounted thousands of settlers and tons of manufactured goods to stream west and agricultural products to flood east. The flow of goods and people to and from the interior transformed New York City into the largest, most prosperous seaport in North America. I might add that the Erie Canal did not benefit the Native Americans. In fact, the canal and its traffic hastened the destruction of the culture of the indigenous people.

On a map, the Erie Canal meanders east/west across New York State. It connects Lake Erie on the west to the Hudson River on the east. Any description of a transit through the canal can be conveniently divided into the western and eastern halves, with Oneida Lake smack-dab in the middle.

The western half, where we departed, starts in Buffalo. It took half a day to leave behind the industrial landscape of metropolitan Buffalo. Then, for the next eight days, we slowly cruised through rolling farmland and orchards. “Pastoral” is an excellent description. It even has cows! For many miles on its western half, the canal runs high above the surrounding countryside, sometimes as much as 70ft. We never tired of the panoramic views of rural New York.

Scattered along the canal are numerous old towns. They were excellent places to stop for the night. It was fun to walk their streets, admire the architecture of their old buildings, and talk to the local residents. It was also a bit sad. Once-upon-a-time, these towns were thriving commercial centers. Now, most of the industry is long-gone. Today, most of these towns rely on the vagaries of tourism to make a living. Real prosperity seems to be a thing of the past.

Eight days after leaving Buffalo, we arrived in Brewerton, NY, situated on the western shore of Oneida Lake. Oneida Lake is 21 miles long and 5 miles across. That makes it a considerable body of water and one to be crossed on a mild day. We crossed on a lightly overcast day with perfect conditions for a blunt-nosed boat that dislikes punching into big waves and for a crew that has already had too much sun.

East of Oneida Lake the character of the land changes dramatically. Farms become less frequent. Woods are thicker and more prevalent. Two hundred fifty years ago, endless miles of old-growth forest carpeted the area. Now, those great forests no longer exist, but up-state New York is still very pretty to look at.

As we continued our eastward journey, the land became rocky and hilly, almost mountainous. Here, the Erie Canal begins its increasingly steep descent into the Hudson River Valley. Within the last mile-and-one-half, five locks called the Waterford Flight dropped us the last 169 feet to the Hudson River. According to our guidebook, The Waterford Flight has the highest “lift” within the shortest distance of any lock system in the world. Waterford claims to be the oldest incorporated village in the United States. Walking through the town, seeing the old buildings, and reading signs about where George Washington rode past on his way to the Battle of Saratoga, we have every reason to believe that Waterford’s claim is correct."

Sail on!!

Monday, June 7, 2010

city day, country day

Friday was a city day, Saturday was a country day. How fortunate I am to be at least slightly a part of both worlds.

City (Minneapolis): I felt like a hip urban chica hanging out in Minneapolis with my friend and former roommate Katie. The day included a walk to the new frozen yogurt bar Cafe Kem (Vietnamese for Ice Cream, I believe) on Nicollet and 25th-ish. There's nothing cooler, to me, than discovering a hole-in-the-wall gem of a restaurant. Located on Eat Street (aka Nicollet), this one was new enough that you had to hit the handicap button to get in through the sliding door, and it looks, briefly, like you're about to walk into someone's town home. But, turn right and there's a sleek, posh-looking cafe that sells espresso in its various forms, bubble tea, and soon-to-be gelato. The highlight was the self-serve frozen yogurt, which actually tastes likes yogurt and comes in such fun flavors, that week, a lychee and salty plum, as well as old standards like plain and mixed berry. The topping bar included candy and fresh fruit. At 46 cents an ounce, the pricing was about the same as a sundae, and the result was delicious. Check it out, those of you in the area.

Add to that experience a rooftop picnic, writing time in a cafe in the warehouse district, a jucy lucy for dinner from the famous Matt's bar, and a poetry reading at the Loft, with good friends included in all of those activities, and I was having a grand old time, missing the city life quite a bit.

Country: June is Dairy Month, folks, an in celebration we gathered our neighbors and headed to the family dairy farm in Elmwood that was selected to host this year's 17th Annual Dunn County Dairy Breakfast. We feasted on all-you-can-eat waffles with eight or so different kinds of syrup and fresh whipped cream, accompanied by coffee and four other forms of dairy: milk, pudding, fresh-fried cheese curds, and ice cream (if you could fit it in, which we couldn't). Add to that a car show (is it just me or are car shows often a big part of small town events?), a nice line-up of tractors, a church bake sale, a wagon ride, a petting zoo, and a man trying to collect enough ballot to run for...shoot, something in November. It was beautiful to drive through all the farmland in the drizzling rain and know that waffles awaited us.

Of course, what makes both days wonderful, when it comes down to it, was activity with good people, featuring good food. Hard to go wrong in any setting when you have that.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorializing / the writing life

Feeling a bit tender around the edges after a plan to celebrate Memorial Day with friends resulted in us watching both /Glory/ and /Gettysburg/ in the same day. That's about 6.5 hours of fighting and dying. Both movies are incredibly stirring and highly recommended, though not on the same day. I think it's neat to know that the way /Gettysburg/ managed to have such huge crowds was have Civil War reenactors be extras in the movie. They came with their own costumes--that, though, is the reason why there is no blood and their uniforms are always clean.

Anyway, monthly writing total. The semester is over. (yay!) It ended mid-May, so I set my goal at double the in-semester writing total. I wanted to write 40 pages, topping off at page 100. Yesterday, I hit 101. Since the novel is 202 pages long, that's precisely half. Woo hoo! I'm hoping to treat the next two weeks at home as a writer's retreat and get lots more done. I'm loving having the time to write.

Speaking of the Civil War, tonight is summer's first Luddington Guard Band (formed during civil war) performance and pie sale at the park in Menomonie. :) Their playlist will include a Broadway review.