Happy Pi Day!

I was offered an opportunity a couple of days ago to submit a poem about pi to celebrate this year’s Pi Day, special because today’s date, 3-14-16 is the same number sequence as pi rounded to four digits after the decimal: 3.1416. The request came from the Astronomers without Borders AstroPoetry project. I have never before attempted to write a poem on demand, but for some reason the idea of writing a “pi” poem sounded like fun. I figured that there was no harm in trying, and I just may have fun in the process. I did a little research and studied up on math concepts that I haven’t studied for quite a while. This is what I came up with:

Pi

It’s all about circles –
the ratio of circumference
to diameter.
It’s a constant
although irrational
transcendental number –
irrational
because no fraction
can accurately describe it,
its decimal representation
infinite and random –
transcendental,
therefore the circle
cannot be squared.

Thank goodness.

Because it’s all about circles.
It’s about not choosing
the shortest path
between two points,
going the long way around –
taking the scenic route,
transcending the boundary
of the horizon
and expanding into
the random, infinite
universe
encircling us.

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Are You a Creative Person?

I don’t consider myself as living in an urban environment, but when I was asked recently by South Dakota Magazine how my community affects my creativity, I was challenged to examine my environment and what motivates me to write. I live on a small acreage out in the country and work at a university, and much of my writing comes out of both of those experiences. Campus Sketches: Images of South Dakota State University in Word and Photograph is a collection of poems that was inspired by my work environment, and At the Rim of the Horizon is centered around home and the natural world I experience there. Both books are now available for purchase on Amazon as well as locally in the Brookings, South Dakota area.

I have to admit that I’m not very comfortable with being singled out as a “creative” person, mainly because I think that everyone is gifted with creativity, we each just express it in different ways. We may tend to think that scientists and artists are polar opposites on a creativity spectrum and that other occupations fall somewhere in between. However, they may have more in common than we think. In order to be successful in any occupation we need to be effective problem solvers, and that requires a lot of creativity. The work that artists do often requires them to understand science and math, and the work that scientists and mathematicians do often requires inspiration and creativity. A willingness to look at our world in new ways, to pay close attention, and sometimes to ignore conventional thought is important in any vocation.

So I guess what I’m really trying to say is, try not to put yourself into any categories, be creative, and have fun!

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If you’re interested in reading about how creative South Dakotans are influenced by their communities, you can read about “Urban Creativity” in the September/October issue of South Dakota Magazine. One of my poems from At the Rim of the Horizon was also published on page 98 of the same issue.

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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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)

Winter is Knocking

After a couple of weeks of beautiful, mild, autumn weather, a cold breath of air has moved in from the north and is sending the cottonwood and poplar leaves skittering across the deck and clattering against the window. Dsc_04122008-11-07Winter is knocking at our door, and many of us may dread the snow, cold, and bleak gray days that are coming.

I am reading Ted Kooser’s memoir, Local Wonders, during my morning reading and journaling time. The book is organized around the seasons of the year and I’m in the last section set in the wintertime. This morning I read about Kooser receiving a cancer diagnosis earlier in the year. He was unable to write for months afterward. He “began to heal” as he put it, near the beginning of winter when he started going for walks. Much to his surprise and delight he was able to write a poem after one of the walks. He continued writing a poem after each daily walk, scribbled them on a postcard, and sent them to a friend. He eventually put them together in a collection titled Winter Morning Walks: 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison.

I loved learning that Kooser regained his poetic voice and began to recover his health in the winter, a season that we often associate with death and endings. The trees look barren and dead, most of the birds have left for more temperate climates, and the lush plants that thrived in the summer gardens are twisted and shriveled. The ferocity of the winter weather also reminds me of how small I am compared to the power of nature. I feel much the same way when I gaze at the night sky and the mysterious, infinite spaces between the stars. I find it oddly comforting that I am not in control.

Winter is a time for slowing down, enjoying the silence and the crisp contrast between light and dark. There is very little color in the landscape, but that serves to help us appreciate the more subtle hues created by the winter light: the blue at the bottom of a footstep in the snow, the rainbows that the sunlight creates inside the crumbs of frost scattered on the tree branches. The abundant life that surrounds us in summer seems to have disappeared, but actually it has just gone to a deeper place, a safe place to rest and build up its stores of energy to burst to life again in the springtime.

Living things need both the light and the dark, summer and winter, moisture and drought, cold and warmth. The dead plants in the garden will be tilled under and nourish the garden next year. They will be reborn in a new way. Nothing is wasted. The same is true for us. If we feel tapped out, exhausted, lifeless, we can take that old dead material and mulch it to create something entirely different.

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