Feeding South Dakota: Empty Bowls

Fighting HungerRecently I contributed to the local Empty Bowls project, and I urge everyone to do so. This project helps feed hungry children in the local area– including my hometown of Hermosa. The project that helps local folks the most is the BackPack Program, which provides bags of nutritious and easy-to-prepare food for children who otherwise would not get enough to eat on the weekend. Nationwide, this 15-year-old program feeds more than 450,000 children on weekends.

Proper nutrition is critical to a child’s development mentally and physically; hunger reduces academic achievement and even future economic prosperity. A hungry child will never achieve full potential. In the U.S. today, 15 million children are hungry– that’s one in five. Contribute locally to improve the future of our nation.

My contribution this year was modest: I painted a bowl that will be part of the Celebrity Auction at the local Empty Bowls event.

Bowl painted by Linda 2016

My painted bowl, which proves that I am no artist, will be sold at silent auction along with a signed copy of my most popular book, Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains, at the Empty Bowls luncheon March 23 at the Surbeck Center at the S.D. School of Mines. This photograph was taken before the bowl was fired, so the colors should be more vivid.

In 2009, at the invitation of Ruby Wilson, I drove to Brookings, S.D., for an Empty Bowls fundraiser sponsored by the United Church of Christ, to benefit Heifer International. (Heifer International is one of my favorite charitable organizations, and yes, they give cows to people to help them become self-supporting– also pigs, chickens, turkeys and other critters that translate into more long-term help than one meal.) I read a new poem dedicated to the event, and the poem was first published on a poster advertising the fundraiser. “Those Thanksgiving Pie-Makers” subsequently appeared in my book Dirt Songs, with Twyla M. Hansen.

Here’s how you can help this year:

March 23, 2016
11-12pm, 12:30-1:30pm, 5:30-6:30pm
SDSMT Surbeck Ballroom

Leadership Rapid City Class of 2013 invites you to participate in the 4th Annual Empty Bowls Luncheon benefiting the BackPack Program of Feeding South Dakota.

Empty Bowls is an international project to fight hunger. The premise of the Empty Bowls Project is straightforward. Patrons are served a simple meal of soup and bread. At the end of the event, guests choose a ceramic bowl (crafted by artists and community participants) to keep. The Empty Bowls are a reminder of the many bowls we have filled, and the bowls we still need to fill to provide nourishment and food to the hungry.

Empty Bowls began in Michigan in the spring of 1991. Due to the tremendous success of the project and the work of thousands of participants, Empty Bowls projects now occur many times throughout the year, all over the world, raising millions of dollars to fight hunger.

There are many different ways to get involved and participate in the message of the Empty Bowls Luncheon. Here are just a few ways to help make this event a success:

Become an Empty Bowls Sponsor. Consider sponsoring the Empty Bowls Luncheon as a business, a local organization, or as an individual. Various levels are available from a BackPack Buddy Partner of $150 to a major sponsorship of $10,000. We would love to partner with your business or organization!

Create and Donate a Bowl. You don’t have to be a professional artist to participate! Leadership Rapid City and Feeding South Dakota have teamed up with Pottery 2 Paint so that individuals and groups of all ages and skill levels can take part and share in the fun. Individuals can paint a bowl and purchase at ticket to the luncheon for just $15!

More than 21 million children qualify for free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. For many of these children, school meals may be the only meals they eat. What happens when they go home over the weekend?

For more than 15 years, the Feeding America BackPack Program has been helping children get the nutritious and easy-to-prepare food they need to get enough to eat on the weekends. Today, bags of food are assembled at more than 160 local food banks and then distributed to more than 450,000 children at the end of the week. With your help, we can provide more food to more children in need.

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I was just informed of another fine event to help the Hermosa BackPack Program:

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Hermosa United Church of Christ
Spaghetti Dinner to benefit the Hermosa BackPack Program.
 
The Hermosa School operates on a 4-day week, so each weekend is three days long. Currently, forty six children (out of approximately 180 total, Kindergarten through 8th grade) are furnished foods for breakfast, lunch and snacks for three days. Funds are running low and two months of school remain. The spaghetti dinner will be served from 11:00 – 1:00 on April 3 in the Fellowship Room. There will be a free will donation. The youth of the church will be helping to host this event.  A business meeting for the Fairburn-Hermosa Community Food Bank will follow at 1:30. All interested volunteers are welcome.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

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For more information:
http://www.feedingamerica.org/

For information on the Rapid City event:
http://www.feedingsouthdakota.org/news-events/events/rapid-city-empty-bowls/

For the history of the Empty Bowls program:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empty_Bowls

To learn more about Heifer International:
http://www.heifer.org/

 

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Pruning Tomatoes and Unwise Growth

Pruning Tomatoes group

Marigolds bloom; wasps sip the dogs’ water; temperatures break records: Nature’s telling me it’s time to prune the tomatoes.

Fifty years as a gardener has taught me to respect nature’s demands. My mouth waters, anticipating the flavor of the tomato each blossom might become– but I am resolute. I whack off a stem carrying a dozen yellow star-shaped blossoms. Inhaling the peppery fragrance, I amputate branches with no green fruit larger than my thumb.

Branches are the plant’s energy transportation corridors. Distance makes the plant work harder to send nutrients to blossoms remote from the main stem. Every inch increases the energy required for the tomato to turn a flower into fruit. Removing the most flowers dangling at the end of spindly stems concentrates the plant’s energy, keeps it centered on ripening larger fruit.

Tomato Map DevelopmentI picture the tomato’s fattest stems as highways, leading to narrower tributary roads, dwindling to dirt and gravel trails where the signs say “Ranchettes for Sale.” Travel down an expressway is eased by the golden arches of commerce. Fast food, fast gas, fast expenses and speedy satisfactions distract us from traffic and noise. But you can’t grow tomatoes on asphalt.

Just as the tomato plant works harder to ripen distant fruit, each mile increases the expense of supporting a country community. We all pay those expenses. Every other citizen, no matter where we live, is taxed by groups living away from the center where energy is produced.

I’ve already eaten three tomatoes, cynically calculating their cost at about eight bucks each. Judicious pruning now will increase my delicious revenues, and may make my investment worthwhile. Gardening success is biting into the sun-warm flesh of an Early Girl as juice runs down my arm.

Planting those tomatoes makes me responsible for understanding the tomato’s natural behavior, and controlling its desire for growth wisely, so it will produce my food. Each cluster of blossoms is bright as a new subdivision, and each subdivision bears in every cell of its being the desire to grow, to become a city. The desire is logical: transportation costs are lower when they are shared; a city accumulates many needs which are cheaper to satisfy if everyone sticks together.

I empathize with the tomato plants, and with the inhabitants of the subdivisions. Yet each blossom uses resources that must support us all. And that is the business of everyone. If we are not all to lose clean air and water and space, we must set our priorities, and act on them.

The late-summer sun bakes my shoulders, but at sunset tendrils of cold air lick my ankles. Sweat runs down my face, but I feel winter massing and muttering beyond the northern horizon. Recalling ancient times, we celebrate the death of the sun king, and hover between hope and fear for the time of cold.

Argiope2Kneeling as the sharp-smelling branches pile up around me, I come nose to pedipalp with a warrior queen who guards my harvest: Argiope aruntia, the black and yellow orb-weaving spider. Big as my thumb, she creates broad webs with zig-zag bands in the center.

Can I compare the spiders’ prey– flies, grasshoppers, cutworms– to the developers and real estate agents who are unable to understand the negative impacts of growth? Following their own survival instincts, they head for the best forage, the purest country air, the biggest tomato, gobbling resources for their own purposes. Without control they will feed their offspring today by cutting a plant that might feed us all tomorrow. They chew and spit just as I do, but their dark juices can ruin the gardener’s work.

Following their nature, developers are motivated by the desire for expansion, often honestly believing that bigger is better. Ed Abbey called growth “the ideology of the cancer cell,” and meant that the rest of us must keep it in check. So the spider’s instinct to wrap her prey in silk and hang them from her web for future meals is natural, and necessary.

Working delicately around spider webs, I fantasize about a giant orb-weaver to patrol the plains, a Master Gardener to prune unwise growth.

If allowed to follow its instinct, each subdivision will require more resources than it can produce. Water from dwindling reservoirs evaporates on alien lawns and trees; taxpayers struggle to provide for widely-scattered citizens schools, police officers, garbage collection, and fire protection.

We need spiders– laws and lawmakers to be sure the garden feeds us all, not just a few. Nature tries– with wildfires, floods, blizzards, and other natural tools– to control poisonous growth, but She needs help if we are to have real communities. Each of us must be vigilant, wielding our pruning knives– our vigilance and our ability to vote– in our own back yards.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

© Linda M. Hasselstrom, 2010

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Afterword

I wrote this piece in 2010 and published it on the blog on my website (www.windbreakhouse.com), but it’s even more true today than it was then.

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Writing: Where I’ve Been — Letter to a Poet: Political Poetry

Writing: Where I’ve Been  —  Introduction

The writing that appears in this category, “Writing: Where I’ve Been” is a mixture of styles, written as I was searching for the narrative voice that most nearly suited me and the material that has become most important to me. Each piece is annotated with background information. Some stories were intended to be read as fiction though they were substantially true; in those instances I have explained what is fact and what is fiction. Some of these pieces were published in slightly different forms; I have noted any previous publication.

Re-reading some of what I wrote in past years has been useful for me, not only in matters of insight, but in matters of writing style. I can see things I would write differently today, but I have also discovered writing I consider good that has had few or no other readers. Technically, these are either unpublished works, or published and uncollected, meaning they have not appeared in a book.

Each of these writings was part of a thought process that resulted in other writing; readers may see the roots of ideas that appeared in later work.

I invite writers and aspiring writers to read these texts as part of your study of how writing develops. Remember, I think revision is the second most important part of writing (after thinking), so you might consider how you would revise and improve a particular story. Be inspired; be amazed; be annoyed! You might even comment, and I may— or may not— respond.

No matter what your response, I’ve posted these especially for writers in the hope they will help you to keep writing until you find the style and voice that particularly suits you. Then write your life with the variety and enthusiasm with which I continue to write my own

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Letter to a Poet: Political Poetry

LMHwriter06For years, I wasn’t sure I was a poet, because my poems were about cows and grass instead of Big Ideas and Philosophical Stuff.

Similarly, while I firmly believe in higher education, people who stay in college too long begin to believe that physical labor— like pumping gas, cleaning houses, or growing corn— is humiliating. Some college graduates regard any job requiring a desk as distinguished, no matter what effect it may have on society; wearing glasses and balancing a paunch over the belt indicates an even a higher degree of achievement. But I digress; studying too much causes digressions, too.

I now believe that my writing is about large issues cleverly disguised as small ones.  I have always admired poets who can write overtly political work— Poetic Paean to a Political Activist or Sonnet on Saving the Planet— but I can’t. In addition, while a writer struggles to rhyme “pollution” and “oil spills,” he isn’t acting to stop pollution. Writing can become a respectable and secure alternative for sticking your nose out where someone who disagrees with you can poke it. It’s uncomplicated to sit behind a computer, logically consider all views, vote “no opinion,” and do nothing. Or to sit behind the computer, logically consider all views, and pick one to malign and ridicule; it’s rare that one side or the other doesn’t offer rich fuel for satire.

But it’s harder to be detached when you’re up to your knees in muck hauling a sick otter out of the bay, or sitting through a county commission meeting, only to be called a Commie Pinko Pervert when you state what you thought was a compromise.

I see parallels between political inactivity and academic poems: perfectly formed lines composed between classes in an air‑conditioned office about perfectly formed lines constructed between classes in an air‑conditioned office. Naval‑gazing. Speculations on the Nature of Matter, Especially As It Relates To the Poet’s Love Life. Documented Dialogue With Dead Poets By a Poet Who Never Lived. It is possible to be intensely philosophical and accomplish nothing.

Good poetry does emerge from academia; I confess I don’t often write formal verse because I can never remember that the rhyme scheme of a villanelle is A b A’, a b A, a b A’, a b A, a b A’, a b A A’, and after I look it up, frankly, I don’t much care.

PoetrySoftware GroupBut others have solved this dilemma; poetry software has arrived. The user, who will not be called a “poet” if I can help it, chooses, for example, to write a Shakespearean sonnet. Fourteen blank lines appear on the computer screen with the stress and accent pattern of iambic pentameter clearly indicated. The operator fills in the rhyming words first, then “connects the dots” backward to create the poem. That’s a direct quote from the manufacturer: “connects the dots.” If the user is too intelligence-challenged, busy, or lazy to operate a rhyming dictionary, rhyming software is also obtainable.

These developments are a giant leap downward in the art of writing; I predict batches of the miserable stuff will soon flood an already‑saturated market, while users of the software dash off letters hotly defending it as “real poetry.” Dissenters will be scorned as Stone Age writers. Since I intend to be among them, I’ll say I think a fitting remedy for poor writing would be to carve a poem in marble with a hammer and chisel.

Another reason I have trouble writing Important Political Poetry is that I digress, and therefore am, and therefore write about things like planting gardens. The more I do physical labor, the more important I believe it to be, and the more I write about it. Frustration awaits one who fights sloppy writing or pollution by writing letter to the editor, or by refusing Styrofoam, mulching newspapers, and taking short showers.

LMHjuniperLC91Attempting to reason with legislators and other elected officials is even more daunting. Picture yourself listening to the news at day’s end, exhausted from hard conservation work. A drunk driver, hired by a careless company that is incredibly rich because millions of us insist on driving large cars, just dumped oil over the finest wildlife area in the nation. You may feel your meager efforts have been in vain. People who have spent the day planting trees, or growing safe food are less disheartened because we can see what we have done, even if we only preserve the patch of ground we inhabit.

Academia has many benefits; young poets should study the history of their language to learn ideas that will reverberate in rhyme, myth, or the music of their work. But academics often view anything that gets dirt under their fingernails as beneath their dignity, and anyone with muscles as a moron; those jokes about the intelligence of football players didn’t originate in a locker room, and there is more Walter Mitty in most people who teach than they would care to admit. I’ve been a spy in the academic camps often enough to speak from experience; I quit teaching whenever I can no longer stand to spend five working days explaining to engineering students, for example, why they should be able to write English with moderate skill. Nor are legislative action and political meetings worthless; choose your torture.

Concerted political action often leads to the spectacle of a champion hotly defending freedom from censorship in principle, while cringing at the specific piece of art that caused the problem, like a cross dunked in urine. Meanwhile, opponents screech about pornography and misuse of public money. Unnoticed, artists create, and polluters defile, making a lot of progress while we chatter.

In the end, I believe one writes, and acts, as he or she must. The sooner you stop feeling as though your subject is not worthy of poetry or prose, the less time you will waste, and the better your work will become.

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© 1991, Linda M. Hasselstrom

Originally published in slightly different form as “Letter to a Poet: Political Poetry,” New Letters, Vol. 58, No. 1, Fall, 1991, pp. 45-48.

Afterword to “Letter to a Poet: Political Poetry”:

The idea for this essay probably began in the late 1980’s, when there was a lot of discussion about writing political poetry, with overtones suggesting that if a person was “just” writing about love or death or marriage, one was not Doing One’s Duty as a Poet to Prod the National Conscience.

Exxon-ValdezOne of the inspiring incidents, of course, was the Exxon Valdez incident of March, 1989, referred to in the essay.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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Clicking “Like”

Sensory Overload

Sensory overload and emotional turmoil on the internet distracts attention from writing and research.

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The abandoned dogs stare out of the screen with huge innocent eyes.

A bald eagle peers down at me from his perch just over my head.

I seem to hear the cries of abused babies echoing in my office until I click on a photograph of a castle on a misty isle.

A politician stands tall as he utters inanities. A group of young men in kilts play drums on stage.

Within ten minutes of beginning to look at Facebook, my head is spinning as my brain switches moods from anger to pain to pleasure to outrage to pleasure and back down the same trail again. I’m exhausted by the emotional turmoil.

Writing requires sustained attention. I believe most worthwhile activities require sustained attention. The whirlpool of emotion offered by Facebook is so distracting that on the days when I’m writing, I have to stay away from the site until evening.

Of course I empathize with the poor dogs and children and all the other ills being perpetrated in the world. I also appreciate the folks who call to my attention cheerful news focused on the world’s joys instead of its sorrows.

But after a few minutes of the muddle I turn away in frustration.

If I see a lost dog as I drive down the street, pick it up and take it to shelter, I’ve helped that dog’s life improve, at least temporarily. If I give money to charity, ditto. When I send a hand-written note to a friend who’s having a tough time, I’m doing a positive good.

???????????????????????????????Clicking “like” doesn’t fix anything.

I find it contradictory to click “like” under a story of a politician speaking proudly of how he’s misrepresented me today. I don’t like what he’s done at all, though I’m glad to know about it.

More importantly, however, a thousand people could click “like” beneath that story and the politician might never know how much we disapprove of his actions. Unless he has a staff member who keeps in touch with social media, collecting the comments folks who agree with one another make under these news stories, the politician will remain clueless.

To express my opinion in a way that counts, I need to write, call, email or fax my message directly to the congress person’s office.

In addition, I have to be wary of posts that appeal too much to my prejudices. I have to ask is this story true? Rather than ignoring my suspicions, I must go to a reliable site and check for its authenticity before I pass it on. Otherwise, I may simply become one more strand in a web of untruth that’s hard to untangle.

Here’s another problem.

retro letter phone

Don’t just “like” some political story– write a letter or make a call.

I remember the activism of the 1960s, when a lot of folks were protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War. Many of these people believed that marching down the street on a sunny day constituted political action. A few got additional exercise by waving flags or extending middle fingers to those who lined the sidewalks. If the thousands of people marched, and the cameras rolled and the news media showed the waving flags and shouting multitudes on TV screens all across the country that night, perhaps the action had an effect on our leaders. But for many protestors, writing to a Congressperson was just too darn much work.

Similarly, I’m afraid that clicking “like” may become a substitute for taking action. After a half hour on Facebook, righteously hitting that “like” button and writing a few comments under news stories, I might feel as if I’ve paid my dues for my citizenship in this country.

Look at what I’ve accomplished already and it’s only ten o’clock in the morning! I’ve let a lot of people know how much I disapprove of the actions of my state’s representative in Congress. I’ve shown that I empathize with abused dogs and those who rescue them. I’ve demonstrated my love of cuddly animals, birds of prey, a few artists, and I’ve approved of some humorous grammar corrections. Whew! What a workout!

But what have I accomplished?

I haven’t compared the statistics on the percentage of people who use social media to those who vote, because I’m afraid the figures would be depressing. It’s a lot easier to click “like” than it is to study all the issues, drive to the polling place, show ID and register your opinion in a lasting way.

I don’t mean to suggest that Facebook and other social media are without value. Each is a tool, and like any tool can be useful– and may be misused. But on days when I’m deep into a writing project, I intend to limit my time with these diversions for my own mental health.

And when I want my legislators to know how I feel about their actions, I’ll write to them, investing my reasoning, my time, and a stamp to be sure they get the message.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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For more information:

How to write, call, or email the White House
http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

How to call or email a member of the US Congress (House or Senate)
http://www.usa.gov/Contact/US-Congress.shtml