For the month of May, my writing prompts will be taken from this website. Today’s is: “Do you have plants or a garden? Describe.”

When my brother and I were small, a huge part of our summer each summer was spent in the garden bent double with our faces pointed toward the ground, eyes carefully looking to discern the right plants and the wrong plans, our feet pressing into the tilled but still hard clay ground, our arms swinging freely with hands grasping errant foliage. Day after day, we weeded the rows, sometimes as part of our chores, other times as punishment, but always with purpose and the knowledge that we were helping share the burden of raising seeds into things we could eat.

Dad was the person who tilled and prepared the soil, and he also carried countless buckets of water for us to dip from to water the rows. Mom planted the seeds, especially the small and delicate ones that my brother and I were too little to be careful with, but sometimes they would let us plant things like corn or melons or the ones with the larger seeds that didn’t require nearly as much precision. Adam and I weeded and helped with the watering and harvesting.

Once things were harvested, we would eat whatever we could while it was fresh in the summer and early fall, but when we’d exhausted our desire for fresh produce, we’d help can or freeze whatever we could for winter. One summer when Mom decided to can some hot peppers, she didn’t know that she needed to wear gloves, and her hands got burnt so bad that they blistered. That was a really difficult couple of weeks, because the pain was unbearable for her and the blisters made it difficult to do most every day tasks.

I guess what I remember most about gardening when we were young is the way our parents hid the desperation with which we gardened. We didn’t know until years later that we depended upon the produce from our labors to make it through the year with fresh food. Our parents never one time let on that we were unable to afford the same luxuries as some of our friends, and we weren’t made to feel as if we had to help, unless we were being punished.

For as much as Mom canned and froze vegetables, Dad raised and butchered the animals. I remember rabbits, chickens, pigeons, and other animals that we raised from babies and turned into food. We fished in our pond and at the river as well as slaughtering a lot of our own meat, and we didn’t know that we did all of this because it was so much cheaper than buying everything from the grocery or any of the markets near where we lived.

I don’t mean to paint a picture of us as incredibly poor to the point of being destitute, because on Saturdays sometimes Dad would take me to the comic book store to get a comic and soda, and sometimes Mom would take me after preschool to get some root beer barrels or she’d buy us some Chips Ahoy cookies at the southside Joe’s when we went to get the things we didn’t raise on our own. Toiletries, paper goods. An occasional Faygo Rock ‘n’ Rye.

Where Do I Go To Write?

For the month of May, my writing prompts will be taken from this website. Today’s is: “Where’s your favourite place to write/journal?”

Near the house where I live now is one of my favorite places to exist. To write. To meditate. To pray. If I walk down the Cardinal Greenway toward downtown and then turn left onto McCullough Blvd, walk toward the park, under the train track trestle, and then step around the concrete barrier to where the dam used to be, I find myself in a place where only I exist. Rarely do I see other people there, and if I do, they are typically fishing quietly, or they are like-minded people with me, who are there to seek solace in the river. There are usually a couple of great blue herons fighting over some fish or frogs, some ducks just floating along, and sometimes a train will pass overhead rocking the trestle and squealing and creaking along the tracks.

I have an affinity for water, particularly flowing water, like big lakes or rivers. When I lived full time in Minnesota, I used to walk down a few blocks to a place where I could sit on a bench and look out at the Mississippi River as it flows lazily along from northern Minnesota to St. Paul toward Grey Cloud Island and then eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. What I could see was a narrow section between I-494 and the old Inver Grove Heights bridge near the oil refinery, but in my mind I could see all the way from the beginning of it to the place where it spilled out into the ocean. Being a lifelong swimmer, water takes me places and soothes me in a way that nothing else does. The water with its quiet for my ears, soft pressure for my body, and weightlessness of spirit humbles me, fulfills me, and makes me think infinitely about life.

My favorite place to write or journal is near the water. I’ve been known to take my notebook in my backpack on my bicycle and just ride until I need to stop along the greenway to sit and look at a farm pond or to find my way to a creek or even a park lake where I might climb to the highest floor of the gazebo. Anywhere, really, where there is water, calls to me as a sacred space in which to record my thoughts.

The sacred space I love the most is at the water’s edge, but currently, as I write this I am sitting in another of my favorite places: in my bed, ready to turn in for the night, with my dog sitting on my feet. Typically, I spend some time reading before I head to bed, but the past week, I have been writing instead. I think they belong together really. Reading fuels writing, writing records the knowledge and wisdom acquired by reading, and then sometimes writing helps to create a type of newness; the two are sacred together, so why not give them to benefit and the luxury of happening in a space that is also sacred? The beauty of journaling is that it doesn’t need a sacred space, but frequently wherever you do it becomes sacred by the mere act of creativity taking place there.

Packing for Washington, DC

I decided that for the month of May I would try to write to a prompt each day, and I found a pretty great list of journal prompts on this website. Now I in no way hold Rachel Greig, the author of the blog, responsible for any inept writing that may occur because of her prompt, simply because her prompts are meant to inspire art, and I am using them to inspire my writing.

This first prompt, “What’s the one thing you always forget to pack?” already has me doubting myself, but ever since that time in high school when I managed to forget my swimming suit for a swim meet, I have been a bit unnerved at my packing skills. In fact, I have to spend days before packing writing lists upon lists of what I need to take with me, and then I undo those lists and write new ones, and then I undo those and write yet another set.

In the past I’ve forgotten underwear, toiletries, socks, pants, bathing suit, a coat, and medicine that I was taking for a cold. I’ve forgotten my charging cord so many times that at one point I had a drawer full of USB to lightning cables, which I had acquired solely in emergency situations on vacation. Now whenever I make a vacation “Items to Pack” list, I put toiletries, charging cable, blanket and pillow at the top, shortly followed by underwear, bras, socks, pants, shirts. I figure if I leave anything else behind I can find another way to make do without it.

This brings me to my current trepidation: on Tuesday night or maybe Wednesday, I will pack the things I need to take on a trip to Washington, DC for a few days with over 100 students. I am always excited for a trip, even when I am responsible for lots of other people’s children. The most difficult thing for me on trips is always the packing. Did I pack enough? Did I pack too much? Did I forget anything? Does every else have all of their things? This trip will be no exception. I am worried that I will overpack because I am concerned about making sure I can take care of all eight kids I am responsible for.

I know I will be fine. I know all of the kids will be fine. I know whatever we all pack will get us through and if not, then there are stores where we can buy emergency items, like Oreos and road snacks.

Gratitude: April 30

I am grateful for my brother. Without hesitation, he is loaning me the money to survive this summer without having to work. When I discovered that there was an error with my payroll for this school year, and that I would not, in fact, receive paychecks throughout the summer like I thought I would, he did not hesitate to offer to help me out. I appreciate this so much, because I am not sure my I could handle working full time after the school year that this year has been.

I am grateful for my dad. He is busy tilling and fencing and starting plants for a giant garden for us for this summer, so that we can have inexpensive fresh vegetables for summer. I imagine I’ll have to learn how to can too, given how large this garden appears to be in the photographs. He works hard to provide eggs for my brother, and he has started cooking treats for the dogs, so he doesn’t have to purchase them. I can’t imagine how much care he takes to dehydrate that liver for their snacks, nor how awful that must smell.

I am grateful for the best friends a person could ask for. I know I have written about this before, but I have more than one friend who loves me unconditionally, and I think that’s a real blessing. Some people go through life without a single person they can call on at any hour of the day, or about anything, but I have several shoulders to cry on and several people who have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly and still stick around. And, not only do they stick around, but they continuously offer to help and they, without question or without any expectations, give me grace time and time again.

Gratitude: April 29

I am grateful for silence and the ability and pleasurability to simply exist with myself. I am not a person who always has to be doing something, listening to something, reading something, watching something, or whatever else, and I thoroughly enjoy solace and quiet. There is peace in long periods of meditation where my brain quiets down and all of the pieces get put back together where they belong. There is peace in a walk in the woods, breathing in all of the moss and leaves and dirt and solitude. There is peace in a swim with the water dampening all of the sounds except the splash and breathing. There is peace in sitting by the river watching the water makes it way to wherever it is going from wherever it has been. I and grateful for and long for more silence, more peace, more contemplation.

I am grateful for days when the Internet doesn’t work. Because the lack of technology makes us slow down, and because sometimes it makes us stop, I am so grateful for the lack of the Internet at school today. My two rules for my students in class today was that they were not allowed to think about Humanities, and they couldn’t use their devices unless their devices were fueling communication between them. So, for example, they could play games where they were working together like that ridiculous game where you hold your phone against your forehead and try to guess the word on it, or they could play cards, or they could talk with each other, but they could not just use their data plan and sit and stare at their phones. Most of them chose to sit and have conversations with each other in what seemed like a fairly meaningful way.

I am grateful for grace. Without grace, I would not be here.