Sunday, December 30, 2012

Past and future

With less than 48 hours left in 2012, I'm thinking back on all that has happened this year.

I committed myself to blogging regularly. This will be my 45th post.

I wanted to do more creative writing. I started a writing group in the spring and we continued to meet throughout the fall semester.

I hoped to work more with my hands. I knit six pairs of socks and participated in a weaving class where I made a table runner.

I wanted to publish some of my writing from fall semester. The St. Louis Beacon picked up an investigative story I wrote and asked for a followup.

Of course there have been less successful moments, but I am content.

In the coming year, I want to become a typewriter aficionado. (My mother gave me a vintage Smith Corona for Christmas.) And I hope to find a place that will be home for a while.

Best wishes for 2013 to all those who follow my blog as well as those who don't.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas on crutches

I've finished a six-day editing stint at the newspaper, driven home to Iowa in slippery post-snowstorm conditions, undergone foot surgery and celebrated Christmas—all in the past week. 

The fact that I'm on crutches has forced me to slow down, and I'm learning to embrace it. 

I've left family photographer duties to Marisa.
She captured me in my new state of stasis.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On editing

I've finished day two of a six-day editing stint at the newspaper. I don't feel much like writing, or doing anything other than lying in bed and watching a movie. It's been a strange two days with lots of sad news—the Connecticut school shooting, car accidents and assaults—coming across my desk.

I am longing for simpler times and songs from my childhood.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Call me Martha

I finished my final final exam and was ready to celebrate the holidays. I spent the day antique shopping with Claire and two of our friends and baking cookies for my reporters and one of Claire's classes.

Double-chocolate-pecan crinkles and cranberry-orange macaroons

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The sun shines on me

There's a week of classes left in the semester and I just wrapped up some final edits on a story I've been writing for the past four months. It's December 2. The sun is shining and it's 66 degrees. Life couldn't feel better.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Semester's end

In the Cedar Falls kitchen where most of the fun happens
I'm back in Missouri after a relaxing week in Cedar Falls with my parents, sister and our four family dogs. The Thanksgiving holiday was a perfect transition to the concluding part of my semester. All my big projects are done and tomorrow I defend my thesis proposal.

I'm dreaming of Christmas.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving break

I woke up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It's Thanksgiving break and I have the whole week off! I'm not sure when that last happened. My parents welcomed me home with a back-yard bonfire gathering and this morning I went to visit my 97-year-old grandmother before she went to church. She and my mother walked there hand in hand and I captured it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Candlelight and rain

It's St. Martin's Day. Although I had aspirations to make a little lantern of cardboard, wire and colored tissue paper, the plan fell aside as I slugged through time-consuming revisions on my thesis proposal and stories. Instead, I've lit a small candle and placed it on the piano bench next to my bed where I'm working. The flame flickers and does its part to brighten this gray, rainy day.

I looked through my box of pictures for one of me and my siblings at an Austrian St. Martin's festival many years ago. Although I know such a picture exists, it wasn't in the box. For now I have to piece the memory together with words.

I built my lantern at kindergarten out of a circular Happy Cow cheese box and wax paper. I decorated the exterior with small multicolored bits tissue paper. Every year there was an afternoon parade around the block, but the main event was after dinner and sunset.

It seemed like the whole town came out toting lit lanterns on the end of sticks. We all met in the field near the grade school. We moved into a circle and sang.

Ich geh' mit meine Laterne
Und meine Laterne mit mir.
Dort oben leuchtet die Sterne,
Hier unten, da leuchtet wir.
Mein Licht geht aus,
Wir geh'n nach Haus,
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.

As the singing ended, a cloaked soldier on horseback circled the perimeter of a bonfire. In the shadows man clad only in shorts shivered. After several laps, the soldier withdrew his sword and dramatically cut his cloak in two. He handed the shivering stranger half. 

A few more songs and my family went home. I think our Austrian neighbors went home to eat goose, as a symbolic act of retribution against the animal that betrayed St. Martin. My family never did. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Poem and picture

Felt heart
By Emilie Stigliani

It used to bang
Against the clapboard
In a wind-whipped

Until I wedged
A felted scrap
Between the heart &

 This softens each blow
‘Cause it sways
No longer

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Celebrating seasons

I've been craving some sort of ritual in my life, a way to symbolically divide the constant flow of work.

After hearing me talk about carving a pumpkin, Claire brought one home from the grocery store. Coincidentally, my friends Hilary and Rick invited me over for a pumpkin carving get together. We sat outside and removed pumpkin guts, separated seed and carved. When the sun started to set, we went inside for mugs of mulled cider and Rick's delicious pumpkin custard. After desert, I took home my pumpkin and a baggie of seeds.

The pumpkin sits on the kitchen table where it glows a wide smile. The smell of cinnamon, maple syrup and butter wafts from the oven, where the spiced seeds roast. I feel cheery.

My pumpkin

Can you spot mine in the line up?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Meeting the hare

Last week I wrote about tortoise-speed without realizing that this week would be all about the hare—well, actually more accurately the Dancing Rabbit.

My search for a deeper understanding of off-the-grid living led me, Claire and Leo to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage this past weekend. While I hope to synthesize my thoughts about the experience as I work on my manuscript in the coming weeks, I can say that Claire and I agreed that the place is amazing.

The growing 60-member community is designed in the fashion of a European village. Everyone lives in close proximity to each other and agricultural activities are done on the periphery. The set up and the close social ties reminded us of our childhood in Sudstadt, Austria.

There's more to say, but for now I've got to focus my energy on pulling together my thesis proposal which is due before the end of the week and will dictate my work for the remainder of my time at the University of Missouri.

More soon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


This week has been busy with covering extra shifts at the Missourian and spending last weekend off the grid. Despite working hard on stories and coursework, I never seem to get as much done as I hoped. I've been telling myself that the important thing is to keep going; the tortoise wins the race.

"Perpetuum Mobile" has become my soundtrack and mantra.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Off the grid

I've spent several weekends with the off-the-grid community of Maya Creek working alongside them, eating meals and hanging out. This was my final weekend stay. As I drove back to my on-the-grid life Sunday afternoon, I felt incredible gratitude to the residents who have opened up their lives to me. I have learned a tremendous amount and hope to publish something very soon. For now, I'll offer a few pictures of the place.

The outdoor kitchen
Last of the tomatoes
Wild persimmons in the garden
Bed of alpaca wool used to create the right
mushroom growing climate
The 'duplex' that I helped plaster
And Kita (I'm a sucker for dogs)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Backgrounding myself

This weekend I conducted a in-depth search of my Internet presence for an assignment in my investigative reporting class. 

I wasn't surprised to find that I've left a virtual trail of blogs, photographs and published articles. But, I was pleasantly surprised by some things that turned up.

And here's a more recent picture of us.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cordon Bleu, coyotes and clay

How varied is the life of a journalist?

Very, I was reminded this weekend. I started by attending a swanky luncheon award ceremony for the Missouri Press Association's Better Newspaper Contest. I dined on Chicken Cordon Bleu and chocolate mousse and took second place for the story I'd written about the Ozark Hellbender for the Columbia Missourian newspaper.

But, there was no time to polish my award plaque or even digest my meal. As soon as all the awards were handed out, I took off to work on the off-the-grid story I'm writing. I had scheduled an overnight to get the full experience.

I got what I was after. The residents and guest volunteers welcomed my arrival, and I was shown to my tent, which was the last vacancy and the furthest back in the woods. After setting up my camp, I joined the crew for dinner. We ate a burritos stuffed with solar oven cooked rice and beans and then sat around chatting as the sun went down and the temperature dropped.

The guys joked with me that I had picked a good night to stay because it was supposed to dip into the 30s. When the last light faded, the coyotes started howling. As I sipped my after-dinner hot chocolate, I did not relish the idea of going back to the outskirts of the camp. But, I was getting sleepy and decided that the trek out to my tent and the cold night was going to happen whether I dreaded it or not.

I bucked up and walked back with my headlight illuminating the forest path and stopped outside the tent to pee. Then, I went inside and zipped the door behind me. It was too cold to read the books I had brought, so I put the blankets over my head and wrapped them tightly around my legs. The last sounds I heard before falling asleep were the coyotes howling far off.

I woke with a start to the coyotes yipping at a close range. The neighbors cows were lowing loudly. I felt alert and listened to the leaves crackling and what sounded like something slithering beneath the wood slats that my tent rested upon. I also had to pee and I lay in anxious anticipation for the coyotes to quiet and I waited a long time even after that before unzipping the tent and crouching nearby.

I managed to go back to sleep and to stay reasonably warm until the sun rose. I did a little writing and reading before the triangle meal bell tinged. The crew and I ate puffy pillow-sized pancakes slather in butter and syrup and then headed to the straw bale construction site to sift clay.

The clay would eventually be mixed with water and sand and applied to the outside of the straw bale house. The three other volunteers and I took turns using a pick to loosen the soil and shovel it into buckets. The other three pushed the earth across two meth sieves in order to break up the clumps.

As we worked, we listened to "Lost and Found" radio. It played sappy ballads sung by a Norwegian songstress. When we tired of listening, we chatted about books, sleeping in the cold, the coyotes and anything else that came to mind during the two hours spent sifting before lunch.

The bell clinked again and we went up to the common area to eat leftover burritos at the picnic table. After lunch there was an uneventful community meeting and then we headed back down to the sifting site. Two hours later, our work was complete. We had filled five drums with sifted clay, which we estimated to be the equivalent of 60 five-gallon buckets.

With sore arms, raw fingers and dusty clothes, I bid my companions farewell until next weekend.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mudsouri School of Journalism

I'm working on long-form story about people who are living an off-the-grid lifestyle. This will take me off the grid for three upcoming weekends. Today was my first day of immersion.

My hosts were kind and welcoming and the conversation was pleasant. I told them that I wanted to participate in the activities that they had planned for the day. This got me four hours of applying mud plaster to a hay bale wall (with a lunch break in between).

I got mud on my clothes and skin, in my hair and eyes, and on the wall too. When I had the urge to pee, I went to the outhouse where my waste went into a compost bucket and the informational sign on the door directed me to add a few scoops of sawdust. I washed my hands under a thin stream of water that flowed from a spigot at the bottom of a bucket. For lunch, I ate mushrooms that my hosts had grown as well as store-bought foods.

When the day's work was done, I scraped the mud off my arms and I bid my hosts farewell until Saturday.

More to come ...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mama and the pink pearls

I had a visit from my mother this weekend. It was perfect. We went for a walk and then spent most of the day in bed reading: I read my text books and Mama read for fun. We snoozed when we got tired and ate chevre, heirloom tomatoes and crackers when we were hungry.

We also were tempted into buying apples named Pink Pearl.

They didn't look particularly pink, though.

A reminder that looks can be deceptive.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bed bound, but not alone

I've been spending lots of time in bed. For one, I have a pile of books to plough through. Moreover, I've diagnosed myself with a stress fracture in my foot which makes it difficult to walk around.

Luckily, sometimes I have company.

Leo telling me it's time to take a break and scratch his ear.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Keeping up

"Let 'er roll."

Lucy and Ethel diligently wrap chocolates. The belt speeds up and they move a little faster. Lucy misses a chocolate and so does Ethel. Suddenly, there's panic in their eyes. They abandon their wrapping efforts in favor of hiding evidence of failure in their bras, hats and mouths. 

I thought of this scene several times during the first week of school. I've joined Lucy and Ethel at the conveyor belt.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Afterglow

I'm back in Missouri and today is the first day of school. Yesterday, I welcomed 125 reporters into the newsroom where I will be editing their work over the next semester. I'm afraid that this may prove to be a very busy fall. In an effort to hang on to some of the calm and joy of the summer, I've compiled some of my favorite scenes. Hopefully, their afterglow will carry me through.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer's end

Right now I am traveling by train and will arrive in Penn Station, New York City, just a few minutes. Tonight, I'll fly back to Missouri. It's been a whirlwind of packing up and saying goodbyes to Vermont friends and teachers and Adirondack family and friends.

I am grateful for a lessened summer workload and anxious to tackle the upcoming semester of coursework at the University of Missouri.

Bread Loaf campus, a sight I will miss

My tanned face after a summer
of outdoor reading and hiking.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Finishing the Loaf

My work Bread Loaf work is done for the summer. Here's a review—14 books read along with more supplemental articles than I care to count, five papers written, and two presentations presented. This afternoon I finished a final reflection paper, but the fun and relaxation really started yesterday afternoon when I turned in the 10 page research paper I had been working on all week.

This is more or less how the afternoon went ...

A trip to Bristol Falls where I jumped off the high cliff

Followed by a stop at my favorite ice cream parlor and
a goodbye dinner for one friend who made
an early departure

Ending with my signature hand and foot
goodbye wave after a celebratory bottle
of hard cider

I have two more days of classes and will stay on Bread Loaf Mountain until Saturday to serve the graduation dinner. I plan to pack as much fun into the next week as possible, so there will be more good times coming your way.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Good and tired

This will be short because it's been a busy week of paper writing and visitors. On Friday, I spent 14 hours in the library writing a paper on how sound technology influenced Virginia Woolf's representations of sound within her novels Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and The Waves (and I'll do it all over again next weekend with another long research paper).

I pushed to finish the paper so that I could get the bulk of my work out of the way before my visitors arrived. On Saturday, my Aunt Jani came to see me from the New York side of Lake Champlain. We had great conversation over a cup of chocolate mousse and lattes in Middlebury, and then we headed up to Bread Loaf to walk around the campus.

A beautiful cut glass necklace that Jani brought me
After Jani left I prepared a costume for the annual "suppressed desires" dance that took place that night. My desire was to be J.B. Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. A friend of mine picked up a wig, and I borrowed glasses from another friend. I got all dressed up and fell asleep while waiting for the dance to begin. When I awoke, I was still in full costume and the clock read 10:30 p.m. I ran to the barn, where dances are held, and caught the tail end of the costume award ceremony.  After making a lap around the dance floor to look at all the other characters, I went back to bed.

Okay, so I don't look exactly like J.B. Fletcher
but the wig's pretty good.

Today, I woke up early and did homework before breakfast. I caught a ride down to Middlebury in the mid-morning and met my good friend Christine for lunch, shopping and ice cream. I found a colorful batik dress on sale and loved it so much that I wore it right out of the store.

A little glimpse of blue and green batik print

I got back to campus in time for a short nap before serving dinner. It's been a good weekend, and I'm wiped out.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Loafing around

I can't remember having as much fun on a consistent basis as I had this weekend. It will live in my memory over the coming months and give me strength to push through the difficult graduate work I have ahead of me.

It started with a morning tour of the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. John Elder, a Bread Loaf professor and Frost scholar, guided the tour. He knows a great deal about the native plants and history of Vermont and how they relate to Frost's poetry. He also told a story about giving the Dalai Lama a tour of the same trail we were walking on when he visited Middlebury College. Elder said that a group of reporters followed them onto the trial and one picked a sugar maple leaf, the native leave of Vermont, thrust it into the Dalai Lama's hand and started snapping pictures. Elder was nervous because you aren't supposed touch the Dalai Lama and because it was very intrusive. The Dalai Lama looked at the leaf for a second and said to the reporter, "Transcendence." Then he walked on. 

But the story continued. As Elder and the Dalai Lama were crossing a bridge, they bumped into one of Robert Frost's dear friends who happened to be a Rabbi. Elder knew the man because of his interest in Frost. The Rabbi met them in the middle of the bridge and said to Elder, "So that's the Dalai Lama?" 

Elder said, "Yeah, it is."

Then the Rabbi said that he wanted to give the Dalai Lama a blessing. Elder was nervous but the Dalai Lama said it was okay. The Rabbi placed his hands on the Dalai Lama's head and recited a long hebrew blessing. Elder was again nervous about how the Dalai Lama would react to being touched. When the Rabbi had finished, the Dalai Lama said that he'd like to give the Rabbi a blessing. The Rabbi agreed and the Dalai Lama placed his hands on the Rabbi's shoulders and recited a long Tibetan blessing. 

Elder remarked that the photographer was gone by the time this interaction occurred, but it would have made a far more interesting picture than the Dalai Lama with a maple leaf. I want to remember this story when I return to reporting next month.

Along the walk, we came to a fork in the trail that was marked with a plaque of Frost's "The Road Not Taken" and an arrow pointing us to the left. 

A friend of mine wondered if this wasn't some sign that we should actually not take the route directed by the arrow. We didn't. 

In the afternoon, I went with another friend to the nearby town of Bristol. We spent the afternoon working at the bakery/coffeeshop. Then we headed into the town of Starksboro, where she is renting a room for the summer. One look at the place she is staying and I fell in love. 
A small one bedroom (and an office),
one bathroom mountain cabin
View of the adjacent field and mountain from the house
We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the back deck and then walked into the garden and noshed on the plump blueberries.

My friend mentioned that her landlord was thinking about selling the house in a year or two. For the last two nights I've been dreaming of living there. I'm definitely adding the Vermont area to where I might settle down after Missouri.

After dinner we headed back into Bristol to meet another friend at a small-batch, homemade ice cream shop. They make fresh flavors every day based on what's in season and on hand. They are also very generous with samples. The cappuccino crunch and peach honey flavors were delicious, but I settled on a bowl of curry peanut flavored ice cream. It sounds like a strange combination, but the savory, salty and sweet are too good for words.

That expedition was a precursor to an abridge comedic production of Antony and Cleopatra  that was taking place in a small barn on the property of an inn/restaurant. We were encouraged to buy a bottle of wine and drink it during the play, which we did. 
The production was lovely and entirely entertaining. All the actors were over 50 years old, but wore silly makeshift costumes (the comb on Antony's helmet was made from a broom) and danced around the stage. The scene where Antony and Cleopatra were supposed to sleep together culminated with Cleopatra pulling a box of pizza from under the bed and both actors passionately eating massive slices of the pie. I laughed a lot.

The grounds had beautiful flower beds with lots of happy,
buzzing bees.

The barn where the production took place

The rustic lighting reminded me that good art
does not necessarily need to be expensive.
The next morning I busied myself with research for one of my final papers. I am reading about how the introduction of sound technology changed the way literature described sound and provided a new vocabulary to discuss sound. It's fascinating. Hours passed and the morning turned into the afternoon. At 4 p.m. a friend of mine firmly told me that I was done for the day. He said, "Close the book. We're going for a hike and a swim."

He failed to explain exactly what that entailed, but I quickly changed into my swimsuit and sandals and met the group at their car. We drove a few miles down the mountain and then parked on the side of the road and picked our way carefully further down the side of the mountain. There was no trail, so when I we got to the river below, we started walking  in it. The river cut between towering rocks that stood like shards of ice. Courageous pines clung with their roots to the rocks and grew outward at odd angles. Eventually we arrived at a point where there was a 15 foot waterfall that we needed to jump down in order to continue.

That was only preparation for the 25 foot one that we would come to after 30 minutes of walking. We we got to the final waterfall, we stood and looked down at the white water churning in the deep pool below. The three guys jumped and I stood for just a second and then plunged. It was exhilarating. When we popped up we made our way to a rock scramble and climbed a near vertical wall of rock that had lots of little ledges. When we we reached the top, we walked back on the road to our car and arrived on campus just in time for dinner.

After dinner, I met two more friends to share some hard cider and after one glass, we headed to the campus barn for the Saturday night dance. It was Motown night and I danced for two hours to the music of The Temptations and The Jackson Five. 

I went to bed utterly exhausted and fulfilled. I hope these pictures portray all the color and joy that I experienced this weekend.

Oh, I almost forgot. In between all the fun and activity, I finally finished the last sock of the two pairs that I've been knitting as a wedding present for a friend. I am incredibly happy with the way they turned out and am a bit like a child bringing their picture home to be hung on the frig. I don't think this friend looks at my blog, so I am taking the risk of posting my creations here.

Two pairs of hand-knit lambs wool socks,
the lighter ones for her and the darker for him

And home-made labels

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Communing with a poet

It's been an entire week of attempting but failing to set aside time to write, for myself. I did a lot of writing for my classes; each had an essay due. Still, I've had a nagging urge to pen a little poetry or a short story. The wilderness that surrounds Bread Loaf seems to provide a quiet beauty that stirs my desire for creativity. The problem is that between classes, waiting on tables and spending time with the many interesting people who are also on Bread Loaf Mountain, the days pass and my writing pad remains un-inked.

In lieu of writing, I visited Robert Frost's cabin where he spent the final 40 summers of his life. Each year, Bread Loaf opens the house to its students and throws a picnic. Inside, I examined Frost's cups, orange juicer, icebox (that's really what it was, not a frig) and books. Then I plopped down in Frost's chair and silently petitioned him to send beautiful words to fill my pages. My hope is to carve out time this evening to find out if I was heard.

Frost's cabin on Bread Loaf Mountain
The cabin kitchen
Sitting in Frost's chair

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Vermont: Where all things quaint and cute live

It's been a busy week in Vermont (my first batch of papers will be due in a few days), but I've managed to find time to enjoy some of its charms. Vermont has such an earthy, rustic, friendly feel. If I could give the state its motto, it would be: Everything's cuter in Vermont. Here's the evidence.

Where school shares its name with
something that comes from the oven.
To those non-Vermonters
who might have doubts that Bread Loaf
is a real place,
not just a figment of my imagination,
let this serve as proof.

Where robins hatch outside
classroom windows.

Where Sunday afternoons are spent
with friends drinking coffees and eating ice cream
at the  Cafe & General Store.

And maple walnut ice cream is always
on the menu.