By Mary Silwance

My neighbor gives me poop.

From her ducks, that is.

She gives me duck poop smeared straw, the perfect winter blanket for my garden beds. Duck waste breaks down in my garden, nourishing the soil in preparation for planting. My harvest, in turn, helps nourish her egg laying ducks. I give her greens from the garden or what’s headed to compost in exchange for duck eggs. My neighbor and I are eager for the summer when we will herd her ducks over to my vegetable beds for an all you can eat insect buffet.

Though I never gave them tin cans, at first I thought ducklings were like cartoon goats, able to eat anything-rotten vegetables, moldy bread. This is not at all the case. My patient neighbor created a duck menu for me so I wouldn’t kill her fuzzy dependents with my ignorance.

When we take collards and carrot tops to the ducks, my daughters help feed them. Having observed them from chick to duckling to practically grown now, we’ve watched their personalities unfold. Also in my ignorance, I had thought only people and pets had distinct personalities. Now I wonder what other species have personalities.

Have you ever experienced duck eggs? Harder to break than chicken eggs, the shell’s hues vary, delicate blues and pinks. They also differ in size, surprising if you’re accustomed to uniform store bought eggs. The yolk is bigger, summer sun orangey and the whites are more viscous. The flavor is strong but does not linger the way store eggs sometimes do.

There isn’t a rule saying you can’t bake with duck eggs but I do not want them absorbed into something else. They are for frying. And smelling. Tasting. Savoring.

I know the journey of these eggs.

My neighbor rearranged her life and backyard to accommodate a dozen ducks. She went through hoops with the city to get permits as well as addressed one neighbor’s fear of smell and noise. She had to train her Great Danes, used to the backyard as their domain, to share space with beings they could easily use as chew toys. She enlisted the help of a handy neighbor to design and build their enclosure. She had to figure out how to protect them from predators and below zero weather. I value her efforts and am motivated to grow enough veggies to share. I even consider which kitchen scraps the ducks would find delectable and divert them from the compost, delighting in their delight.

I am now connected to my neighbor. We each have something the other needs and wants. For years, she and I had only waved to each other in passing. Because of her ducks and my garden we have a friendship, slowly evolving beyond eggs and greens. And poop.

When I hold my neighbor’s sturdy, pastel pink and soft blue duck eggs in my hands, just gathered and still warm, I am grateful.

This is communion.

Our new prompt (through Feb. 26) is: How do your friends, family, and community use food to connect?

Your response might win you two free tickets to Seeds, a show presented this Spring at the Carlson Center at Johnson County Community College. Seeds is a dramatic reenactment of the seven-year battle between a Saskatchewan farmer and biotech corporation Monsanto Inc. This documentary play leads us through a suspenseful labyrinth of legal conflicts around patent rights, scientific debates about genetically modified food, and property clashes between farmers and the biotech industry.

The posts below were responses to our Fall 2019 prompt: How has writing helped you through difficult times?

By Paula Anderson

Photography to me is like writing is to an author. My camera is my pen. It enables me to be able to share my viewpoint with the world.

When I am on a photo safari, my husband looks for the big picture, something that interests him. Rusty vehicles, old buildings, landscapes with undulating roads disappearing into the horizon.

I, on the other hand, look for the invisible. The small bug on a leaf, a flower, the pattern of bricks making up an old road. I watch the sky for clouds and birds, no one notices those while rushing to and fro. This past weekend, I heard what sounded like a young bird calling for its parents. Upon closer examination, I saw a tiny squirrel poking its head out of a hollow knot on a tree sounding a warning there were intruders. I must have taken thirty pictures of the little guy, hoping to capture one in perfect focus and with a spot of light in his eyes. Success! I got three excellent portraits to share with my friends!

By Polly Alice McCann

Poetry has helped me through difficult times. It has saved my life more than once. When I discovered poetry through a regular 101 class, the professor made us analyze a poem. I chose one about a potato that was thrown onto the compost pile. It was by Jane Kenyon. I was able to write 5 pages about a poem of hardly 20 lines. When I cracked open that poem and discovered so much about this person, and so many possibilities, I was hooked.

I took the poetry writing class next. During that period my grandfather died and we flew to Kansas City for the funeral. When I wrote a poem about the walk to the funeral home from my grandmother's house, something happened. I wrote how the flower seeds inside my pocket sprouted and grew sunflowers as large as cabbages how crows began following me as I walked. The poem broke open and unreal things sprang to life. The poem was magical. The poem was fantasy but the poem was truer than reality.

This January I will have been writing poetry for 20 years and each time I try to break open the poem and find that magical kernel of being that is truer than it is real. I've written over 500 poems and my goal is to write as many as Emily Dickenson, but not as many as Pablo Neruda. How did poetry help me through difficult times? Because it taught me the truth about myself and my situations, my relationships, the truth about my emotions, and my spirituality, and the magic of everyday adventures. To me, every day is a trip to Disneyland or down the Amazon. Because even just throwing out a potato, or driving past a carton of strawberries could be the answer to the universe, or at least my answer for today. Poetry helped me to friend myself. And that is what I hope writing whatever genre you feel drawn to, will do for you.

By Renee Franklin

Writing can serve the same function as hot soup on a winter’s day. When you have a void inside, the world can also seem cold and uninviting. Putting your thoughts down can renew your sense of completeness. It can lift your spirits and give you a warm feeling. That little bit of emotional assurance can get be enough to get you through.

By Cheryl Morai-Young

I would say that writing has helped me through difficult times my whole life. Born a sensitive, middle child into a no nonsense military family, I often retreated into books before I knew I could write. Written words on the page made life easier. Stories were possibilities. Books were my shield, my escape. I would spend hours reading. In the car, in my room, outside in a tree, in the middle of a group of people. I always had a book. My whole family were readers so this was encouraged. We'd often spend part of dinner talking about books and what we were reading. My mother read to us before school most mornings when we were young. Books helped me cope with our way of life. Moving every two to three years, and having to start over in a new state, town, and school was hard. I hated being introduced as the new girl. I could feel the kids' eyes boring into me, sizing me up, evaluating. Who is this new girl? This was in the days when, if you were new, you would have you go up in front of the whole class and introduce yourself. Usually, because we were coming from another part of the country, my accent from different, my clothes were different, what had made me fit in before was different. In essence, I was wrong. Naturally introverted, the only way I could cope with this intense scrutiny was to cry. With tears as my go to coping mechanism, I knew I had to find another way to survive. Writing about my feelings in journals became my outlet through these painful years of having to continually start over. I loved writing and it came naturally to me. When I was a freshman in high school, I wrote about my Grandma Lee, how she had lost her youngest child to a brain aneurysm, and her husband to stomach cancer, and yet she had still found a way to move forward. I remember reading what I had written outloud to my parents and when I was through, how they had sat in silence, and when they spoke they said: You have a ways with words. You made us feel. Keep writing. I had found my way to make feelings okay, and exploration on the page of these feelings, acceptable. I kept writing, majored in English and worked as an editor, a contractor, an associate in a bookstore, and currently, the library. All of my professional jobs have centered around books and writing. I have a Writing Practice group that meets every other month. We write for 20 minutes and then read outloud what we have written. And then we do it again and again until our two hours are up. This is life blood for me, connection through words. Experiences made whole. Feelings honored. I have published a few times, but it's not about publishing for me. It's about being in the moment with words. It's about being brave, being seen, being heard, and understood. And, finally, standing up before a group, and excelling. It's life. And I'm grateful.

By Maggie Mosher

Writing gave me a treasured family and helped me reach an age I was told I'd never reach. Countless doctors' appointments, hospital stays, and surgeries later- I’m still here. Through this journey, writing brought me to Turning Point, the Center for Hope and Healing, where I met people who knew what it was like to never know what tomorrow would bring. At Turning Point, I met friends that became family and changed my life.

We are all going through something difficult, something that is hard to express, and even harder to live. Going through it with someone and sharing this journey through poetry, plays, and children's books has given me a hope to hold onto that I didn't even know I needed. Hearing the writings of others helped me feel less alone in the struggle.

I started writing before I started talking. I was shy, so, until I was 6, my sister spoke for me. The first poem I wrote was in Kindergarten. I remember my teacher reading my poetry and crying, and I still remember thinking I couldn't tell her how she made me feel, but I could show her in my writing. It was a fantastic feeling to know you could speak to someone else's heart. I had forgotten about the power writing had until it led me to my Turning Point family. They helped me see I had something important to say and that my words could carry on a conversation with the world- allow my heart to embrace another's. I am forever grateful to writing for this blessing.

By Alice Carroll

Writing years later in a fictionalized play I was able to examine a heart wrenching ego destroying divorce in a humorous scenario. After 25 years as a wife I was cast aside. Rejected and harshly evaluated by my husband. My two children were in college. I was alone, but not for long.The Greek tragedy opened an entire new world, it was gradual. I found my new self when I wasn't looking. My play, “ Marsha's Mess” was my break out look at personalities in a wacky fantasy. It had a dramatic reading by Rockhurst students once it won the workshop. It was a play of 30 minutes. I was urged to add more and did. Perhpas it's time to return.

By Shannon Janssen

Plain and simple, writing (specifically poetry) has helped me through alot the best descriptor though is a comparison look at two completley different poems I have written. The first, Toy Robot, was written in 2017. I was struggling with a lot of different things and my mental health was not the best and writing gave me a voice that I often felt I didn't have or at least didn't use properly. This is Toy Robot:

I am sick of needing this fuel Drop the coins in And watch me come to life Playing the rehearsed lines That I have spent years of my time Memorizing and adapting Word by word Line by line I am just a little puppet Playing a role in the show called life Being held up by a single string I am tired of needing this life support Choke them down Then brighten up And you’ll be feeling quite new Just tossed around, maybe you’ll be found By another handful of coins

Because I am just a little toy robot Wind me up Watch me smile and wave Then watch as I fade away Just as fast as I shut down You go and wind me up again I prance around with that fake smile Why don’t you watch me And this time just stay for a while

I am shutting down And closing up My breath cannot escape me My eyes are shut My hands unclutch And now my breath is fading But there you go again Winding me up I open up But this time I am not there

My mind has gone away And this time it will stay that way You try to communicate But all I see is a smile waving Colors fading to gray You keep trying By twisting me Adding a few coins But now your voice is just a sound No words can save me now I am too far lost to see What effect this has on me

Nothing worth keeping can stay I will just destroy it in my haze While you keep trying With different coins and tokens Big and small Bronze and gold But nothing seems to work

It is because I am sick and tired If being spoonfed this life Of having to rely On these coins To stay alive That’s why my mind is gone It doesn’t want to be A well-oiled, Coin-fed and operated Machine It doesn’t want to be another puppet In the show

My mind wants to be A self-functioning independant thing That can make it’s own Choices of when to start and stop You keep saying that part of me Isn’t me But what isn’t me Are the coins you keep dropping in

Fast forward to a few days ago, I was feeling extremely happy and I am really content with life right now. I wrote this untitled poem about feeling in the moment, something I would have never ever thought I would feel back in 2017.

I'm not broken anymore I can see some light and all of the stars But here's what's tearing me apart This way of living life I don't want it anymore I've seen the pain I've seen the laughs The smiles and the sad But that's not my motivation anymore I don't want it anymore I don't WANT that anymore That crawling feeling up my skin That realization of I don't know what's what Who's who And where I've been But let me try and begin They always say What's new and how's life been But like I said that motivation Isn't working anymore It's not what i am searching for But thats okay Because my questions They find answers in ways That I didn't even know Were tangible Reachable Thinkable Touchable No I didn't know that any of this was possible and i'm sure that shows But now I know the gears are turning My brain is finally working And if you don't know what im saying then I don't know what you're thinking Because everything seems close now Like I could reach out And touch the clouds And as far-fetched as that may seem The only thing I have to tell you is I've got all the questions But don't need all of the answers now Because they're all around And lets just say it's crazy how You say an idea and then it is made Guaranteed to be saved And time seems frozen Like the minute doesn’t matter because it's all happening right here right now

You can really see the change between the poems not only in writing style but tone and mood too. Writing gave me a way to express myself in a safe space and it shows me continually how I have grown.

By Marcia Hurlow

I don't write with the intent to deal with something in my life. Instead, an image or a phrase or a sound calls me to write. Then in the process of writing, I discover an idea or event that I wanted to understand will emerge. Writing freely lets me make discoveries and associations that often surprise me, and sometimes those discoveries are about concerns that I was trying to avoid. An example I mentioned last year at the conference was the poem that won one of the library's contests, “Maps”. When my mother was in the last stages of Alzheimer's, she told me that on the way to France, she and Dad had stopped at Heathrow, just to be able to say she had been in England. The phrase that she had landed just to say she'd been there stuck with me. The little phrase had its own music. Also, she had never travelled outside of North America, which developed into the poem in a spare hour I had in a coffee shop to avoid thinking about being her caretaker.