Liebster Award

I’ve been so busy this summer that I haven’t had a chance to properly thank Linda Hasselstrom (https://windbreakhouse.wordpress.com/) for nominating me for the Liebster Award way back in May. I had never heard of it before, so I clicked on the link that she provided to read more about it. It is an award that is given to bloggers by other bloggers, and is a way to help others increase their readership. It’s another creative way that writers can help each other.

Liebster-Award-Discover-New-Blogs

I looked at the rules and figured that I could follow all of them except the one that requires me to nominate five to eleven blogs that I follow that have less than 1000 followers. Unfortunately I just don’t follow too many blogs, but I’ve decided that even though I can’t fulfill all of the rules, I can use this nomination as a writing exercise.

These are the questions that Linda posed to me and the other bloggers that she nominated, and my responses:

1. What event made you start writing? There wasn’t a single event that made me start writing. I’ve always enjoyed it since I was in grade school. I still have some of the papers that I wrote for my writing assignments in grade school and high school.
2. What do you enjoy reading? I read a lot of poetry, especially poets from the Great Plains, and I also like to read novels and nonfiction when I have the time. I used to not read as much poetry as I do now, until I went to a book festival and listened to a panel of writers talk about writing. One of the panelists, Ted Kooser, said that “a poet should read 30 poems for every one poem they write.” After I heard that, I decided to set aside time each morning to read some poetry. That quiet time in the morning has been one of the best things I did for myself and my writing.
3. What do you read for inspiration or encouragement? Poetry! 🙂
4. Why do you write? What a big question that is. I have no idea, I just have to.
5. How much time do you spend writing each day? Well, I count my poetry reading and journaling time as writing, and that is about 40 minutes every day. I also try to set aside a block of several hours each weekend to work on a writing project.
6. How might you realistically rearrange your schedule to have more writing time? I’ve come to realize that I simply can’t do everything that I would like to, so I try to concentrate on the most important things. If I can’t schedule a block of time during the weekend for writing, I try to make up the time by setting aside several hours on a week night.
7. What do you do for relaxation and enjoyment? Gardening, hiking, travel, reading, baking bread, making soup.
8. What incident have you never written about? There are so many that I wouldn’t know which one to pick.
9. What is the best thing you have written and why? I can’t choose just one. They’re like my children and have different qualities and reflect a unique time and experience.
10. What question do you wish I had asked? Who are your favorite writers? My favorite South Dakota poets are Linda Hasselstrom, Kathleen Norris, Jeanne Emmons, Lee Ann Roripaugh (South Dakota’s new Poet Laureate), Leo Dangel, David Allan Evans, Patrick Hicks, and Jim Reese. And then there are Nebraska poets Marjorie Saiser, Twyla Hansen, Bill Kloefkorn, and Ted Kooser; Minnesota poets Freya Manfred, Joyce Sutphen, Tom Hennen who also has connections to South Dakota, and many others in and outside of this region.

I haven’t found the time to seek out many blogs on my own, but I would encourage my followers to check out the other blog pages that Linda nominated. If you’re following my blog you may enjoy these writers as well:

Andrea Jones
http://betweenurbanandwild.com/ Andrea’s first book is Between Urban and Wild, in which she writes about country life at her home in the Colorado Rockies.

Darcy Lipp Acord
http://the-back-forty.blogspot.com/ Her published memoir is Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey.

Mary Jo Doig
https://maryjod.wordpress.com/ Mary Jo is working on her memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life.

Jane Wolfe
http://prairiespirits.blogspot.com/ Jane and I appear to have some similar interests: gardening and the ever-changing prairie.

Lisa Sharp
http://lisagsharp.com/ Lisa writes about her life on an Arizona ranch in her book, A Slow Trot Home.

Deb Carpenter-Nolting and Lyn Messersmith
https://cottonwoodcollective.wordpress.com/ This blog is authored by the Cottonwood Collective, a group of women writers from the west, the plains, and the prairies of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

I would like to close with a few questions for my readers:

1. What memorable family or community stories do you know (and have never written down) that other people may enjoy reading about?

2. What would you like future generations to know about you?

3. What stories do you remember your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends telling you when you were a child (or grownup)?

Even if you think that someone else has already told the stories you may want to tell, each person remembers events and people differently. You have a unique perspective that no one else has.

Thanks again, Linda, for always looking for new ways to encourage other writers!

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A Flag Story For Flag Day

A year ago this month, textile conservator Terri Schindel led a group of local volunteers in a “living exhibit,” the conservation of the 38-star flag that was the last to fly over Fort Sisseton in northern South Dakota. The flag was rediscovered during a conservation workshop that I attended at the fort in 2012, and I was surprised and delighted to be asked by Terri to help with the project. I told her that I wasn’t an expert with needle and thread, but would be happy to help in any way that I could.

DSC_0676It turned out that I would have needed a lot of practice to learn the required stitches to work on the flag, and the team had only 30 days to complete the project. Thankfully, many of the other volunteers were gifted needleworkers. I thought that I could help the most by doing the documentation, writing down the decisions made and steps taken to conserve the flag and taking pictures of the conservation in progress. I had never done anything like this before and there was no template to follow. I decided to document the process in much the same way as I journal every day. I had to learn a whole new vocabulary in order to describe the work being done. I learned about the parts of the flag such as the canton, the fly end, and the pole end. I also learned sewing and fabric terms like applique and back stitch, warp, and weft, and I learned conservation terms like humidification, and the difference between conservation and restoration. Of course, as a writer I love to learn new words so the task fit right in with my strengths and interests. P1070565

You may wonder what a “living exhibit” is. The work on the flag took place on site at Fort Sisseton, and people visiting the fort could watch the conservation in progress. Some of the volunteers were designated as “interpreters” to explain the conservation process and tell about the history of the flag to the people who stopped by to look at the flag. Many of the visitors were surprised at how large the flag is, about nine by sixteen feet. Three feet of the fly end were removed at some point in its history, probably because it had gotten tattered in the wind when it flew above the fort over 100 years ago.

The best part of the project for me was learning the story of the flag. The most common question we had from visitors was whether we were going to restore the flag. I think our human nature is to want to fix things that are damaged, to make them perfect again, like new. That is what we would do if we restored the flag. Conservation means that we clean and stabilize the flag to keep more damage from happening to it, but not “fix” or repair it. The first rule of conservation is to do no damage, and the second rule is to do nothing that can’t be undone.

P1070613I began to realize how much of the flag’s story was contained in the things that made it imperfect. The tattered fly end meant that the flag had been flown. The repairs to it and the types of stitches used told other stories about the life of the flag. A large piece of the canton had been patched and we tried to figure out why and how it had been replaced. Some of the questions we had will probably never be answered — they will remain mysteries.

Last week, two other volunteers and I were asked to speak at the flag dedication ceremony about our experiences conserving the flag. The event took place during this year’s annual Fort Sisseton Historical Festival. We tried to decide what to speak about as we prepared before the ceremony, and realized that the story of the flag is as big, or bigger than the flag itself. You can read more about its history here, in the South Dakota Conservation Digest January/February 2014 issue.

Happy Flag Day!

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A Poinsettia Story in the Springtime?

I really enjoy gardening, and the large bay window of my home is filled with plants year-round. For the most part, this is a good thing, except that I have a really hard time throwing out living plants that I’ve nurtured, even when they get spindly, tip over, or grow too large to be inside. I often plant them outside, and let the frost take them in the fall. The same is true for Christmas poinsettias that I’ve bought or received as gifts. I water them all winter, and then in the spring I move them outside. I had two poinsettias in the house for Christmas over a year ago, one red and one white. I kept them in the bay window after they finished blooming, watered them until spring, and then planted them outside in the flower bed. Dsc_01232008-06-01

Last fall, one of them was still doing really well so I thought, what the heck, I’ll put it in a pot, bring it inside, and see if I can get it to bloom for Christmas. I’ve done that before by putting the plant in the guest bedroom and making sure that it gets no more than 10 to 12 hours of sunlight a day for about ten weeks. Even light from indoor bulbs can affect the bud set, so I move it into a closet if guests need to use the room. This time, however, I didn’t start limiting the light exposure to the plant until early November, and that wasn’t enough time for it to set flower buds. The flowers didn’t appear by Christmas, so I moved it back into the window with my other plants after the holidays.

We’ve been really busy the last few weeks, and I neglected to water the poinsettia before we left on a weekend trip. When we came back, all of the leaves were brown and shriveled and I was sure that it was a goner. I decided to water it anyway, just in case there was a little life left in the stems. A few days later,small green leaves started to appear on the tips of the stems. This weekend while watering the plants in the window, I picked up the poinsettia and took it outside to brush off all of the dead leaves. When I looked at it closely, I saw that the new leaves appearing at the top were not leaves at all, they were actually the flowers opening, and I could see that this poinsettia was the white one.

PoinsettiaI went through all kinds of theories about how this could have happened when I was making no attempt whatever to limit the light exposure to the plant. The spring equinox was about a month before the plant began to bloom, and during the time before the equinox, we would have had less than 12 hours of light every day. However the plant was in the living room the whole time, and the room lights would often have been on when it was dark outside. Besides that, I started some herb seeds in pots about a month ago, and have grow lights in a plant stand next to the window that are governed by a timer to be turned on for over twelve hours every day.

I’ve decided to just think of it as one of those little miracles that can happen when we keep watering, keep trying even when things may appear hopeless. Most of the deciduous trees outside are still bare, but the branches are beginning to look like the stems of this spunky little poinsettia. New green leaves are uncurling from the tips of the branches, and many of the trees and bushes have begun sprouting delicate, aromatic blossoms.

Happy spring!

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NEPAL EARTHQUAKE CANDLELIGHT VIGIL

Photo by W.M. Jones
Photo by W.M. Jones

I attended a candlelight vigil organized by the South Dakota State University Nepalese Student Association late last week. The recent earthquake has been devastating for their home country, and  this was an opportunity for the SDSU and Brookings communities to show their support for the Nepalese people during this very difficult time. You can read more about SDSU’s response to the earthquake here.

I attended the vigil Thursday night, and left the event that evening with some ideas for a poem. Usually I like to let new poems sit for a while and work on them later when I can be more objective, but it seemed to me that I should share this poem now while the event is so fresh in all of our minds. Please forgive me if it seems a little rough around the edges since I just wrote it today.

VIGIL LIGHT
for the Nepalese earthquake victims

About one hundred
of us move ahead
to come closer
to join hands
and I hear
the grass whisper
as we shuffle forward.

Later, at home
I hear the soft
murmur of the rain
through the closed window
and open it
to listen, to hope.

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The Power of Lentil Soup

A cold that had been threatening for a couple of days making my nose run and throat sore, strengthened overnight, and by Sunday morning was burrowing into my chest giving me a deep, rattling cough. The cold worsened even more last night, so I’m staying home from work today. I wonder what to have for lunch and remember the soup that I prepared on Sunday.

I signed up to make lentil soup for the Maundy Thursday Seder meal at the church later this week. Our church enjoys learning about and celebrating traditions of other faiths, and the Seder meal has become a part of our Holy Week practices. I began to prepare the soup early Sunday afternoon, suspecting that I would run out of energy later in the day. Last year I made vegetarian lentil soup for our church’s Lenten soup and sandwich meals, partly as a challenge to myself. I love making soups, but I always start with a broth made from meat. I wanted to try my hand at making a vegetarian broth. The soup I made was well-received and I was asked to prepare it again for last year’s Seder meal. I made a very large batch of broth so that I would have plenty left over to freeze. I wanted to have some handy just in case a friend or family member got sick and needed some TLC. I’m convinced that there’s nothing better than homemade broth for whenever viruses or infections get the better of us.

A year has passed and thankfully, no one had need of my supply of homemade broth. I decided to use it as a base for the lentil soup for this year’s Seder meal. I thawed four cups of the frozen broth and then began preparing the vegetables. I chopped up lots of garlic (quite a lot more than the recipe called for), onion, and celery and put them in some oil in the kettle. While they were browning, I washed up several carrots from last year’s garden and prepared them for the soup. Even though my recipe didn’t mention green beans, I thought that they would be a nice addition. I use my soup recipes as a guide and often add or substitute different ingredients and amounts than are called for. The resulting soup never turns out the same way twice, and that is part of the fun for me. I really enjoy the give and take of the various flavors that blend together in the pot.

DSC_0584
I started the broth last year by roasting the assorted vegetables.

I feel a sense of belonging, of connection, through this simple task of preparing part of a shared meal, and realize that connection is what my soup-making task really is all about. It seemed completely appropriate when I realized that “Lent” is part of the word “lentil.” The soup I made today is connected to the soup I made last year for the people who attended the Seder meal: friends, members, strangers, whoever they may be. I won’t be able to attend the Seder meal and Tenebrae service this year, but I feel connected to those people who will share the tradition. The soup I’m making will become part of them and our community, and I will be there too, in spirit. Often, when we plan to enrich the lives of others around us, unexpectedly we end up enriching ourselves in the process. Now I’m going to warm up a bowl of that lentil soup for lunch.

This is a poem I wrote about the joy I feel in the process of preparing a simple meal to share with others:

IN MY KITCHEN

I make poems sometimes.

I start with a cup of raw great northern beans
boil and soak, add a ham bone, salt and spices
carrots, celery, tomato sauce
simmer, stir and taste.

Other days, the poem starts with potato water
honey, yeast, and flour
stir, knead, rise
punch down, shape, and bake.

We eat the poem and then
may go outside for a night-time walk
under crisp stars overhead —
sometimes one falls.

Usually there are leftovers from the poem
to take for lunch later in the week
or eat with butter and honey for breakfast.
These poems usually don’t last too long

but they’re delicious.

“In My Kitchen” by Ruby Wilson, from At the Rim of the Horizon (Finishing Line Press, 2014)

Action, Impact, Voice: Contemporary South Dakota Women

The voices of South Dakota women resonate in this  AIV_Cont_SDWomen_resizedanthology of articles, poetry, short fiction, and original interviews. The book was an ambitious project edited by Meredith Redlin, Christine Stewart-Nuñez, and Julie M. Barst. The cover art was created by Betty L. Beer.

“The book uniquely captures the complicated experience of women in South Dakota,” according to Redlin. “It encompasses both the broad scope of women’s status in politics, education, activism, agriculture and health, and the intimate moments which compose women’s lives.”

I am honored to be a part of this collection of writings by scholars, activists, and artists, and had the privilege to read my poem, “Time Warp,” at the book launch held on March 17th in the Hilton M. Briggs Library on the campus of South Dakota State University.

The South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum has the book available for purchase in its gift store on the South Dakota State University campus in Brookings, S.D.

Talk About Cold!

Two South Dakota cities just made the “Top-50 Coldest Cities” list according to Niche Company News, and numerous schools in the area have been calling off school or shortening their hours. I grew up in northern South Dakota so this cold weather is nothing new to me at all, and I’m a bit surprised that it’s making the news. I’m a little envious because I don’t remember school ever being called off because of low temperatures when I was a youngster. I walked a couple of blocks every morning and afternoon to and from school regardless of the weather, unless there was a raging blizzard in which case school was dismissed. I have great memories of one storm that lasted about five days (no school!) and also knocked out our electricity. I remember my dad making toast in the coal-fired furnace in the basement. The snow had drifted so high that after the storm we could walk right up onto the roof of the garage. My brother, sisters, and I dug down into the drift to make an awesome snow fort.

Dsc_00472007-03-03I must admit that I actually enjoy all of the seasons, even winter. I take the dog for a walk almost every day of the year including wintertime, and he whimpers impatiently at the door when I start putting on my insulated coveralls, boots, hooded insulated jacket, parka, mittens, and scarf. The only skin exposed to the cold may be a little bit around my eyes.

After one of these walks a few nights ago, I was approaching the driveway and I started to get an idea for a poem. I was afraid that if I went inside to write it down I may get distracted and lose the poem — that has happened to me before! I went inside briefly to get a small notebook and pencil (pens won’t work when it’s this cold), and went back outside. I was wearing gloves inside my mittens, so I took off the mitten on my right hand, held a flashlight with my knees and started to write, but the pencil point broke partway. I turned the pencil and was able to keep writing for a little while, but the flashlight had a bad switch and kept turning off. It would work for a little while when I shook it, but then turn off again. The tip of the pencil broke off completely when I was about half done so I took off my glove and began breaking away the wood at the point to get to the graphite. Finally I was able to get the words down on paper. That was one of the hardest-fought battles for a poem that I’ve ever had! Did I mention that the windchill was -22 that night?

Before going back inside, I decided to walk down the road a bit so I could get a better look at the night sky. The moon was waning and just a couple of days past its full phase. The strong north wind blew the snow across the road, creating a hazy snow cloud that started DSC_0466at the horizon and went up into the sky about ten degrees or so. I noticed a couple of small clouds to the right and left of the moon, and while I was studying them I realized that they weren’t clouds, they were a similar phenomenon to sun dogs. I could see a hint of the colors of the light spectrum reflected in the ice crystals. I had never seen them around the moon before. When I got back home I asked my husband if he’d ever seen “moon dogs” (not the correct name, but the best I could do at the time!) I was delighted to get a small reward for my trials and tribulations, even if they were self-inflicted!

On the way to work a couple of days later I snapped some pictures of the sunrise just before the sun popped up over the horizon. I watched two sun dogs develop, and the colors grow more intense as the sun neared the skyline. In the space between the sun dogs, the glow of the sun below the horizon was reflected in the ice crystals above and grew brighter until it looked like a flame burning on the edge of the frigid landscape.

When I got home that night I researched sun dogs, and learned that they are a type of ice crystal halo. The illustration of halos on this page reminded me of a poem by Hafiz that I recently read, called “Something About Circles.” Here is an excerpt:

The moon is most happy
When it is full

And the sun always looks
Like a perfectly minted gold coin
That was just polished
And placed in flight …

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Plagenda, Blachinda, Plachinda??

I have a family recipe and don’t know how to spell the title. I searched in my German-Russian cookbooks, and practically every recipe for it that I find is spelled differently. So, of course, I turned to the internet. I first searched for the spelling that most closely resembled how it sounded to me, “plagenda.” That turned up numerous “placenta” sites which was definitely not what I was looking for. Then I searched for “pumpkin pastry” and found lots of recipes for empanadas, which looked really similar to what I remembered, but they aren’t German or German-Russian. Next I tried searching for some different spellings that I found in one of my cookbooks and finally found some recipes and pictures. I still couldn’t find a consistent spelling so I’m just going to use the one that I found most frequently,“plachinda.”

You’re probably thinking, what the heck is plachinda? It’s an apple or pumpkin turnover; dough wrapped around a fruit filling and baked. So your next question probably is — what is a German-Russian? That is a long story that began over two centuries ago. My ancestors migrated from Germany to Russia in the 18th century when Catherine the Great invited Germans to settle in Russia, encouraging them with attractive incentives such as exemption from military service, self governance, tax breaks, a stipend, and free land[1]. The Germans in Russia initially struggled, but eventually thrived in the Black Sea area, now the Ukraine. Apparently the Germans had good reputations as thrifty and productive farmers, and that was why Catherine the Great was keen on having them move in. That, and the fact that Catherine herself was German. The political situation for the Germans in Russia deteriorated in the late 19th century, some time after Catherine’s reign ended, and as a result many Germans migrated from Russia to the United States and settled in the Great Plains[2].

When they moved, they brought along their recipes, and my family and community cherished those traditional foods made from recipes that may be centuries old. I have no idea whether the plachinda recipe is from their time in Russia, or maybe even earlier when they lived in Germany. After my search for the correct spelling I began to wonder why there are so many spellings for plachinda. Is it because we’re slowly losing our language, or is it because it was never written down until contemporary times? Was our tradition mostly oral? I know that my grandmother didn’t follow recipes, she just knew how to make food from memory and lots of practice.

My mother was determined that all of her children do household chores every day after school and learn how to cook, bake, and clean. When I made a recipe, she had me write it down so I could create my own recipe collection. My mother often told me that she had to cook and bake when she was a girl because her mother worked out in the fields. Mom had to learn “on the job” because she didn’t have any recipes to follow. That must have made her all the more determined that her children would at least have a good collection of recipes when we left home and had to cook for ourselves and our families.

My son and his wife brought along some pumpkin that they grew in their garden when they visited for Christmas. Actually, the pumpkin volunteered in their garden — it sprouted everywhere that they buried compost that happened to contain pumpkin seeds. I decided to make plachinda instead of pumpkin pies since I haven’t made them for a long time, and I think that my two-year-old granddaughter and her parents may enjoy a little treat that would be fairly nutritious. While she’s taking her nap, I pull out the large yellow ceramic bowl that I inherited from my mother. I have fond memories of mixing up cookie dough and cake batter in it when I was a child. During the holidays, and especially when I’m making some of my family recipes, I think of my mother and those times doing chores after school. It’s a little like she’s looking over my shoulder while I work. We didn’t always get along very well when I was growing up, but now that I’m a mother and grandmother, I see her in a very different light. I feel that much of what I am today is due to her tenacity and foresight.

I haven’t made this recipe in a very long time, and I’m a little uncertain of myself as I mix up the dough, roll it out, and cut it into squares. DSC_1359How big should I make the squares? How much filling should I put in each one? I don’t like to have too much extra dough when I fold them over and pinch them closed, but if I put in too much filling it squishes out and leaks onto the baking sheet. No matter how good the directions are, they just don’t tell me everything that I need to know. I still have to learn by trial and error and make adjustments. It is much the same as being a mother or grandmother. Whatever the task, there are some things I just don’t know and sometimes it is best not to be too sure that I’m always absolutely right. Sometimes what seems like the right answer turns out to be wrong in retrospect.

As I slide the baking sheet into the oven, I think of a poem by John Brantingham called “Putting in a Window.” I often remember these lines when I’m working on a project:

“… The only good carpenter
is the one who knows that he’s not good.
He’s afraid that he’ll ruin the whole house,
and he works slowly. It’s the same as
cooking or driving. The good cook
knows humility, and his soufflé never falls
because he is terrified that it will fall
the whole time he’s cooking. The good driver
knows that he might plow into a mother
walking her three-year old, and so watches
for them carefully.”DSC_1364

The oven timer is beeping and it is time to take the plachinda out of the oven to cool. Served with a mug of mulled cider they’ll make a nice snack for our family when my granddaughter wakes from her nap.


If you’re interested in finding German-Russian cookbooks, two of my favorites are: German-Russian Pioneer Cook Book and Schmeck’s Gut!


[1] http://www.dw.de/catherine-the-great-and-the-russian-germans/a-16965100
[2] http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.ea.012

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More Fall Pictures

In her poem “Plentitude,” Barbara Crooker beautifully describes the evening light as streaming “from the west like honey.” Long shadows caused by the low angle of the sun creep across the landscape as the days grow shorter, and we’re left feeling a little sad that summer is saying goodbye. It sounds like the thermometer readings could fall dramatically soon. Maybe the warm colors in these autumn pictures will warm us up a little bit when the white stuff comes! Here are some more pictures I took a few weeks ago when I wandered outside to enjoy the sunset:

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SDSU Campus in Autumn

I just saw an article in our local paper, the Brookings Register:

SDSU Alumni Green article, Brookings Register Oct. 31, 2014

The story reminded me that I had recently taken some fall pictures of the Alumni Center and other scenes on campus. The temperatures were so moderate, that the colors were more stunning and the leaves “hung around” for a lot longer than usual. The Tompkins Alumni Center courtyard next to the clock tower is a particularly beautiful place on the South Dakota State University campus. When I learned that the existing Alumni Center would be demolished to allow for a redesign of that area of campus, I wanted to make sure to snap some pictures when I had a chance. Here are some pictures I took as I walked across campus on a gorgeous autumn afternoon.

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