Posted by: alisa | February 19, 2009

stories and art

so, next week sarah and i will head on over to wisconsin via megabus to visit with betsy and have another weekend together to work on book stuff.   book stuff, which has been this lucid term we use when we want to talk about what we’ve been working on, has become more than just writing.  yes, we have been writing, a lot.  we hope to have nine more stories finished (along with 15 which are being commented on by close friends), but we are also hoping to start on art and envisioning this “book” as having a more visual piece as well.

i had started sketching and painting as of late, but needed a little inspiration.  so, i went to visit the MIA last week and came across an exhibit on artist books.  it was really interesting!  small books with poetry and stories, with paintings, sketches, photographs.  and these were in a museum!!  i was instantly re-focused on our work knowing that other people are making artist books and are being noted on their contribution to art and literature.  so, if you are in the minneapolis area, go and see it.  i gained some ideas from the exhibit and am a little more confident in making art.

with that said, i will contribute a piece of my own art.  i painted a little tractor with hopes it will bring up another farm story in my memory, or will tell one all its own.   my hope is more of these small sketches and paintings will help contribute to the story we are trying to tell.  dsc06765i will leave you with that.

may you stay warm on this cold day.

en paz,


Posted by: sarah1123 | February 12, 2009

Missing Memphis

The other day I heard the song “Walkin’ in Memphis” on the radio and I thought to myself, “Wow, I WAS walking in Memphis not too long ago.”  But it feels like ages ago.  Anyway, hearing the song brought me back to Memphis and our time there…it was nice to think about it for a minute.  The first thing I thought about was how warm it was 🙂  Sometimes it’s hard to write about our trip because it makes me miss it too much.  I’ve been working on some fun stories about people we met along the way.  Beverly- the young woman we stayed with in Covington, Tennessee.  She has a brother living in Hastings, MN and she called him that night and said, “You’ll never guess who’s stayin’ with me.  Three girls who rode bicycles here from Minnesota!  Yeah!  They went through your city and they made it all the way to mine!!!”  She was so much fun.  I’m also writing about Darren from and our Dominoes competition, and sightseeing with Carl, the farmer we stayed with in Louisiana.  I’ll try to post one of these soon!


Posted by: betsy | February 9, 2009

the cosmos are aligning!

dear friendly folks,

I have finally ridden my bicycle in Milwaukee! It was a beautiful day yesterday and there was simply no excuse to not get outside and enjoy the sunshine and relative warmth of 35 degrees! It took a few blocks to coax my body into a familiar bike rhythm, but it was quite worthwhile. Tom and I biked across the Milwaukee river and ventured towards Lake Michigan. We dismounted to walk out on a large pier that jutted out into the icy blue water. Huge slabs of ice were gently floating into one another, creating a beautiful collision of clinking sounds like those of a thousand toasts. This, coupled with the rush of the waves, created a wonderful ambiance. It was hard to believe we were in Milwaukee and not up in Alaska among an ocean of icebergs! It was a lovely afternoon and I look forward to more in the future.

This last week has been a pretty good one. Like Alisa, I seem to have found a few ways to renew my enthusiasm for writing and find a creative space. It also helps that I have found a part time job and that the weather is becoming milder. Hoorah! Overall, I’m feeling very hopeful as I continue to write about vampires, dairy products, and mooching. 🙂

all for now,


Posted by: alisa | February 6, 2009

accordian memories

for some reason, an accordian puts me right back in the south, along the river.  i am listening to dark dark dark’s album, “the snow magic” this morning and i can’t help but close my eyes and feel the rhythm of new orleans and the music that is created there.  i suppose it’s a process of pulling all these memories together, but damn, this one sticks and i can’t help but want to explore it more.  if only i could write down what it is that this album brings to mind and heart.  so much wandering and finding a place to call home.

i’m learning more about finding a creative space and nurturing my running wild thoughts.  sometimes, it’s in a cafe, with the buzzing of people, sometimes it’s eavesdropping and hearing what people are learning about, sometimes it’s with wool hat and blanket, snuggled in my villa with just a small desk lamp.  it’s strange how each time i sit down to write, i feel i have to, in a way, re-create my environment so that i can put out what it is that is in my head

i’m starting to write and sketch more.  this helps put ideas into images, which eventually pull back around and end in good words.  i hope this music continues to inspire me and that whatever place i am in, it is the place that brings back these memories.  take care.

en paz,


Posted by: betsy | February 3, 2009

Making progress…slowly but surely

Well, I have FINALLY winterized my bicycle.  It felt great to get some grease on my hands, change some tires, and spend some quality time with my blue beast.  Unfortunately, two things have prevented me from riding this freshly cleaned and maintained machine:

1) I forgot to take a helmet and my bike lock to Milwaukee, the new home of my bicycle


2)  I went back to Oconomowoc (my home town) this weekend when it was finally above 30 degrees and sunny, prime winter riding weather.  But since I had moved my bicycle to Milwaukee already, I was without my riding companion, only my helmet and lock!  Shucks!  I went for a nice walk instead, but still dreamed of being on two wheels.

Soon, very very soon, I hope to report much winter riding on my part.  Cross your fingers and wish me luck!

In other news, Sarah, Alisa and I have put together 15 reasonably finished pieces of writing.  We’ve passed these along to several dear literature-lovin friends to kindly critique and provide feedback upon.  We’re looking to see if we’re on the right track and get some fresh ideas on possible structure for  our book.  In addition to this step, we also made the purchase of some art materials and will be trying our hand, quite literally, at a different sort of storytelling.  These artistic pieces will also be included in the book along with a selection of photographs.

I think that’s all I’ve got for now.  Stay tuned and stay warm!


p.s. I thought I heard a robin call outside my window the other day.  I was so excited that I searched on the internet for robin calls and spent at least ten minutes trying to figure out if was actually a robin I had heard.  I’m still not sure… This is the kind of desperation for springtime that results from attempts to endure winter in Wisconsin!  Here’s to hoping…namerican-robin

Posted by: sarah1123 | January 29, 2009

Trying to be patient

My life this past month has been one big waiting game and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be coming to an end.  I’m waiting to hear back from the many places I’ve applied to.  Waiting to get interviews and then more waiting after an interview to see if they want me.  It’s a good exercise in patience I suppose, which is what we are going to need as we continue to work on our book.  It’s easy to imagine the final product, and to think about how fun it will be to share it with all of our friends, but before we get there we have to be patient.  We must continue to work on draft after draft of each story and think about how we will fit them all together. It’s going to take lots of time and patience!

Posted by: betsy | January 26, 2009

oh if we were but at the beginning of our journey…

instead of amidst the cold and bitterness of the winter writing process!  brrrr….Unfortunately, unlike alisa, I seem to be lacking in winter enthusiasm! 🙂

While I was in Minneapolis visiting Sarah and Alisa last week, we had a lot of good conversations about our book, it’s progress, a tentative timeline, and ideas for it’s structure.  We determined, with great glee, that once we have written and created all of the stories we want to share, we will maroon ourselves in Sarah’s cabin (near our starting point in Itasca, MN) for a week!  Devoid of distractions, we will lay out of all of our stories and figure out a good flow and order.  It will all come together fabulously and with great ease and we will rejoice together in the completion of our dream and our imminent publishing success!  It will take a day, maybe two, and then we will spend the remainder of our week fishing, swimming, basking in the sun, and enjoying one another’s company.  (At least, this is how it goes in my current mid-winter daydreaming…)  I find this very exciting to think about as I bundle up, even when I’m inside, and try to reflect creatively on all of the stories we heard and lived for three months.

To warm myself when I’m not daydreaming in this manner, I’ve been taking comfort in our pictures from the beginning of our journey at Sarah’s cabin.  I thought I should share some of this warmth with you all in case you might likewise need some encouragement to get through these cold, cold days!

wishing you all sunny days,


Posted by: alisa | January 23, 2009

heat wave

it seems to be that my inspiration to write is deeply impacted by the weather. with the heat spell we had here in minneapolis (above zero…into the teens!!), i’m feeling warm inside. biking through the slushy street gives me a thrill, my face feels the cool wind and the remnants of a bitter winter fade away. as the temp goes up, i am warming to the idea of writing as more than just a hobby. more than just words i scribble down in a journal, it seems i have more to say and feel good about putting it down.

with this bit of inspiration, i’m starting a piece about all the election buzz that happened this fall. as we traveled down the river, we heard many thoughts from our hosts on who should be our next president. on the other hand, with the busy days of riding and resting, we didn’t catch any of the media buzz, the candidates battling one another and all those images that the news puts into our minds.

as we were fortunate to miss out on that, i am now bombarded with sound bites, images, an energy of sort, that surrounds itself around the new president and the direction this country hopes to take. i’m excited, yes indeed, but i’m also hesitant. can we really believe that all things will be better? that with the election of a new president and a new hope shared by many, are we really out of trouble?

i guess all this talk of new things for this country is similar to the little heat wave we had in the middle of winter. we get excited and can see the spring a little clearer and closer, yet we all know that the temps will be low once again and we will have to survive the bitter months still left in this winterland. there is still more to get through, and with a new president, i don’t think the thermometer will always give us what we hope for nor will we always like the forecast for tomorrow. but it seems we still trust that spring will arrive.

en paz,


Posted by: sarah1123 | January 16, 2009

Together again this weekend!

Betsy is coming to visit Alisa and I in Minneapolis this weekend!  We’re hoping to have several productive writing sessions while she’s here so stay tuned for some more exciting blog posts next week!

In the meantime, here’s one of my stories…

My parents were very worried about the three of us doing this trip.  One of their biggest fears was that the strangers we met along the way would hurt us.  By the end of our trip, my parents had a very different view of “strangers.”  Especially after it was the kindness of people we barely knew who made it possible for me to get home for my Grandfather’s funeral.

I found out the day we left Vicksburg, MS.  We pedaled for a few hours and had just reached the point of intersection of this journey with our previous bicycle trip.  At Port Gibson, we would get onto the Natchez Trace and follow the route we had done during our senior year of college.  At our stop in Port Gibson I turned on my cell phone and had a voicemail and a text message from my mom.  I knew something was wrong.  I called her and she told me that my Grandpa had died that morning.  A whirlwind of emotions went through me.  Immediate sadness of course.  The last time I talked to my Grandpa, a week or so earlier, he said, “see you when you get home.”  And I was so looking forward to seeing him and telling him all about our trip.  Then, I thought about the situation.  What the hell was I going to do?  Would it even be possible for me to get home?  Should I go home?  Should I stay and finish the trip?  Should I try to go home and come back to finish the trip?  What would Alisa and Betsy want?  Would they finish the trip without me?  A million questions went through my head, but I think I knew all along that I wanted to be home for the funeral if that was possible.  I wanted to be with my family, and I wanted to be able to say goodbye. 

Alisa and Betsy were so supportive.  They were willing to talk things through and consider all the options.  Ironically, we sat down in a cemetery to discuss the situation.  We had been told to find this certain cemetery in Port Gibson.  One that was very old and very beautiful.  There were huge trees will gorgeous blankets of moss draping the branches.  It wasn’t a sad place, in fact, it was lovely.  And the perfect calming spot to sort through our thoughts.  We decided to at least push to Natchez State Park, our destination for the day.  From there we would make phone calls and try to figure things out.

The ride that day was a quiet one.  I had a hundred different thoughts going through my head all the time but wasn’t in the mood to talk.  And we were also thinking about our previous journey, remembering different things that happened along our route, and thinking about the other folks who made that journey with us.

When we arrived at the State Park we set up camp and the phone calls began.  Technology is an amazing thing.  We used our cell phones to access people who could access the internet.  Alisa’s dad was put in charge of looking up flights and getting us phone numbers for different airlines that flew out of Baton Rouge, the closest city with an airport.  I was on the phone with my family, trying to gauge what they wanted me to do and finding out funeral details.  We got out our maps and tried to figure out how soon we could get to Baton Rouge by bicycle and how the route might have to change.  Our friends Jess and Maria were looking up different ways to ship bicycles.  I decided that YES I wanted to go home, and YES I wanted to come back.  We brainstormed all sorts of different options, and finally arrived at the best one.  It was a long shot, IF everything worked out exactly how we needed it to this could work…


I would try to get a round trip flight out of Baton Rouge.  I would need to find a way to get myself AND my bicycle there.  And pedaling wasn’t an option, too little time.  Alisa and Betsy would continue to ride for the next couple days and change the route to take them through Baton Rouge.  They would need to find a place to stay there where they would then wait for me to fly back, and we would finish the ride together, just two more days of riding into New Orleans. 

I REALLY wanted this plan to work because I wanted to go home and finish the ride too.  We still had three weeks to spend in New Orleans, after all. 

Carl and Shirley Howell, the farmers we had stayed with the week before happened to call that night.  They had received Alisa’s absentee ballot and were calling about that.  Alisa filled them in on our situation, and Shirley (who can be extremely dramatic) reacted immediately.  “CARL, CARL!!!  We need to get the truck right now and go pick up those girls in Natchez!  Sarah’s grandfather died and she needs to get to an airport TONIGHT!”  Alisa calmed Shirley down, telling her that plans were still in the works and we would keep them posted if we needed them.  She told them about our tentative Baton Rouge plan, and Shirley immediately started thinking about possible contacts in Baton Rouge.  With promises to call them as we made our plans, Alisa left Shirley making phone calls to try to find us rides and places to stay in Baton Rouge, and promising that they would help us any way they could, including driving me to an airport.

Shirley soon put us in touch with Irene, the lovely woman who interviewed us on the radio.  She had family in Baton Rouge that was willing to help us out and she was working on getting me a ride.

Using the phone numbers that Alisa’s dad had found for us, I called several airports searching for a round trip flight that I could afford.  There were two airlines that offered “bereavement fares” and one that had flights that would work for me so I booked it hoping that the ride situation would work itself out.

The next morning we packed up, rearranged our things so that Alisa and Betsy would have all the gear they needed, and we pedaled 10 miles into Natchez.  I knew a ride would pick me up there, but I didn’t yet know who it would be.  The other girls still had a long day of riding ahead, 80 more miles, so they continued on their way.  It turned out that Irene wasn’t able to secure a ride for me, so I called the Howells again, who had been standing by the whole time to make sure we were taken care of.  Carl said, “No problem, I’m coming to get you, and I’ll take you and your bike to Baton Rouge.”  So, he proceeded to drive 2 hours to pick me up in Natchez, and then another 1.5 hours to get to Baton Rouge where I was meeting Irene’s brother, David.  Then, Carl had to drive all the way back home.  He wouldn’t even take gas money.  All this he did out of pure kindness and generosity.  He had only known me for one week and yet treated me like family.  I know my parents would’ve made that drive, and my closest friends, but someone I had just met?  I felt incredibly blessed. 

Then we have David and Stephanie, the folks we stayed with in Baton Rouge.  They had NEVER met us and agreed to take us in.  They kept my bicycle at their house and waited for the other girls to arrive.  They brought me to the airport and picked me up a few days later.  My flight home was at 5:30 am.  David got up at 3:30 am to bring me to that early morning flight!  Why would someone do that for a person they don’t even know?  It was the ultimate example of what we learned all along our ride.  In the words of Robert Kelley, “99.9% of people are good.”  I’ll never be one to argue with that statement, and I think my parents are more convinced of its truth too.    


Posted by: alisa | January 15, 2009

going back under the covers

it is cold here in minneapolis. -20 degrees and i feel like crawling under the covers and waiting for spring to arrive. while i go do that, here is a story i’ve been working on. it helps provide a landscape for farming in the field. may it bring a little color to your cold winter morning:

picturing the land in front of you

picture large, endless, thick acres, full of cornstalks. you cannot see through the crops, nor can you see anyone nearby. you see perfect rows of clipped and pruned cornrow tops. it’s as if the tips of their heads were all programmed to stop growing after so many feet. all is uniform and nothing is unique. large yellow and green machines do a majority of the work. often powered by program display, with a push of a button, the seeds are planted and corn is in your mouth. this is the way of the agribusiness, the way of the here and now. no need for hands, no need for sweat.

on the contrary, there is another way of picturing the land. picture small, well designed crops, using space and function in a diverse manner. you can see the dirty hands, with wrinkles and scars, scars that show the work put into the land. the machines used are purchased on loan, and more often than not, are models from yesterday that are used to do the work of today. picture every task is done by hand, by an individual that has committed oneself to the land. this is the way of the family farm, the way of the past and most importantly, the way of the future. in this case, the main ingredients of success include dirty hands and sweat.

each choice made by a family farmer must consider the reality of the competition with the agribusiness industry. does the labor of a family farmer compare to the magnitude of a machine that could do more and do it faster? one must think further beyond the pulls and pushes of the market and of efficiency in the field. one must think about taking care of the land. hands that pull up our food do little damage compared to the large machines that rape our lands and tear up whatever nature world we have left. the labor of a family farm sustains a family, a community, and the land. the labor of an agribusiness sustains no one and no land below it. family farms put faces behind the product that are more defined, the food more savory knowing that it was raised well and with care and loyalty. agribusiness does not have a face, nor does it taste like there was honest labor put into it.

in the end, the land before us remains undone. what picture of the land can agribusiness paint for us? what grand colors and schemes will be used in the image of the machine? it is the family farm that are the true artists of the field and it is them that we must turn our attention to and allow the picturing of the land to return to our canvas once again.

en paz,


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