Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Routine with or without my Muse

5 degrees and light snow. I slept late; was up at midnight last night after a terrifying dream, Black Swan-like dream. Ken woke me up. I was gnashing and calling out Tim's name. Luckily Tim was on a sleepover or he might have rushed in, frightened. I went downstairs, made some hot cocoa and half an English muffin, scanned the news headlines on the Web, and fell back to sleep after an hour or so.

Minnesota version of the yellow brick road.Sunday mornings I love to drink tea in bed while watching the CBS show Sunday Morning. But I only caught the last half hour of it today.

Yesterday I was so out of focus I could hardly pay attention. Housework? Walk in the snow? Nap? So I picked up New Selected Poems of Stevie Smith--a gift from a few years back--and poured myself a Coke. I'd been encouraged by an article in Salon to read long neglected/unread books from my shelf, the so-called TBR Pile Challenge (To Be Read Pile). I'd read the chapbook before but closer now this time. Smith's clever and biting (and funny and sad) poems were the perfect smattering for a jittery afternoon. I liked "To An American Publisher":

You say I must write another book? But I've just written this
You liked it so much that's the reason? Read it again then.

But I felt she spoke my heart in "My Muse":

     My Muse sits forlorn
     She wishes she had not been born
     She sits in the cold
     No word she says is ever told.

Why does my Muse only speak when she is unhappy?
She does not, I only listen when I am unhappy
When I am happy I live and despise writing
For my Muse this cannot but be dispiriting.

For breakfast, I stir-fried onions and spinach in olive oil and butter and then poured whisked eggs over the top for a scramble. Read the news and thought about health care, Rep. Giffords, and the cable segment yesterday on discourse in America with Arianna Huffington and Cornel West. Wouldn't it be great to hear Cornel West one night each week this winter? I would never tire of his reason and candor and expression.
It's NFL playoff Sunday so in a few hours the TV will be on. But for now, I have a new Avett Brothers CD and the book Atonement that I haven't read, another from my TBR stack. After finishing a novel last week that I thought was poorly written I can tell already from the opening pages that McEwan will be masterly.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dreaming through a White Christmas

We've had full days this Christmas, punctuated by long, fitful sleeps and daytime naps. More dreams than we know what to do with. Ken and I know better than to come down from our sleep and try to tell each other the guts of our dreams. We can never quite pull off the emotions or the fantastical settings or plots. I keep a journal and sometimes I write about my dreams. The other night I had a dream that Ken and I had invited another publisher in town (a competitor, really) over for dinner. The publisher came with his wife while Ken and I, new to our dingy apartment, were still trying to set up our Target-purchased furniture. (Section A fits into Slot B, watch you don't pull off the plastic veneer). They were calm and composed (and we were not). They had brought many expensive bottles of red wine ($30 and $40 and $50 each) and we were scrambling to find a place to set the bottles and glasses to pour into.

In my journal I named that dream "Inadequacy."

The night before we left for the Gunflint Trail, where we spent Christmas with Megan, Tim had a reaction to the powerful antibiotic Erythromycin. The adverse affects of that wide-spectrum drug, which he'd been prescribed for bronchitis, include pyschotic reactions, night sweats, and allergic reactions that include swelling of the face and neck. Tim panicked when he felt his throat begin to swell. I called the doc on call and she told us to run out for some Benadryl. It was now 10 PM and Ken and I had been running all day, buying our Christmas food, wrapping presents, taking Tim to the clinic. This would be Ken's third trip to Walgreen's but he was out and back in a flash. We gave Tim the Benadryl and the measure alone made him feel less scared. But then he got mad. The first doctor, not our regular family doctor, "hadn't even checked" him. Didn't test him for strep throat, didn't have him breathe while he held a stethoscope to his back. "How did he know what I had?!" Tim implored me. Because the medicine he had been given didn't make him feel better but rather made him feel much worse, he thought the doctor had done a really poor job.

Ken and I slept fitfully that night, each of us tiptoeing in to Tim's room to check on his breathing (what if throat closed up in his sleep?). Tim slept soundly and got progressively better each day.

That early morning we got another four inches of snow, but not so much to keep us from driving up to camp via Highway 61. It was a beautiful drive, full of snowy treetops and a metallic sparkle coming off Lake Superior. There were still freighters in action on the big lake and we guessed where they might be coming from: Norway, Russia? (We had heard on MPR that shipping action out of the Duluth port was up 25% this year.) We spotted four bald eagles sitting close and low to the highway, always near a dead deer in the ditch, always near the murder of jet black crows pecking away at the road kill.

As we made our way around one of the last bends on the Gunflint we came up on two incredible moose. They were big as large horses and when they saw us they walked slowly into the woods, stopping on the trail to turn their necks and look back at us.

Megan met us with the snowmobile at the camp drop-off point and made two trips hauling us and our gear and presents and food and bottles of wine across West Bearskin Lake to the camp itself. As we were bringing everything up the hill to the main hall, Ken turned to Megan and said, "I haven't seen Tim smile so much in weeks." It was Christmas Eve and the sights and sounds would give us much to dream about.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Yes, it is 3:59 a.m. I am nursing a very sore throat. Started last night on the road to Duluth. Woke up a few times throughout the night with it. Tried to suck a Fisherman's Friend cough drop in my sleep, but drooled on my pillow like I used to when I wore orthodontia head gear.

And, by the way, good morning, Mr. Dayton. Congratulations on your new job. We're all counting on you. Please stick with it, hang in there, give it all you've got.

On Twitter, this post was retweeted: "What women want: chocolate-covered pretzels and Gabriel Byrne." If I had a season's worth of In Treatment I'd go back to bed and watch the whole thing. Instead, I have Thera-flu. I'm typing only as long as it takes me to down this mug of it. The narcotics in it make me a little goofy but I'll take the throat relief.

Someone yesterday sent me a list of "you know you're getting old" items, which often are repetitive and not too funny but all of these seemed right-on. One was "Seems hard to remember the last time you weren't a little tired." Or, "Why doesn't MapQuest simply jump to #5 on the given directions. I mean, we know the way out of our own neighborhoods."

If you sit alone in your house in the middle of the night, what do you see? What do you hear? I note:

*our quite-organized neighbors all have timers on their Christmas lights. The bright, twinkly lights are off now.

*Both guys (husband and son) are snoring. Both guys like to sleep with their bedroom doors swung open.

*We have no pets. If we did, I wouldn't be alone here at the dining table; I'd have company, I'm sure.

*It's good that we have modern, muted keyboards. If I had to do this on a Smith-Corona typewriter, I'd have to type in a closet in the basement.

*Just as the refrigerator fan goes off, the heater fan goes on. Forced-air heat is no friend for a sore throat.

*The neighbor two doors down lost his wife to cancer this spring. It will be his first Christmas without her. I wonder how he is doing and whether he is up nights, too.

*Yep, a Chevy Blazer just drove by with its flashers on. Stopped next door to throw the paper up the sidewalk. 4:21 a.m., 5 degrees here. Tough work.

My list is so much less than Robert Frost's in "Acquainted with the Night":

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Gentlemen, start your engines

I love the way that a deep snowfall muffles the city, packs it in, the clammering sounds softened by a layer of down and fluff. In the morning, feeling like you've fallen asleep in a snowbank, you hear nothing but the clear music of a morning cardinal, calling out with the sweetness of a young soloist in the metro boys' choir.

Well, that, and the roar of the neighboring snowblowers. Gentlemen, start your engines.

The back alley snowplow comes out earlier than anyone else. Snow = jobs = money. That guy is the first to scrape away the white stuff. Then, you'll hear my husband. And you'll, like me, be grateful for his brawn and his old-school ways. He shovels and scrapes by hand, stopping once in a while to look out over the lawns and streets. It's an easy rhythm. You lull back to sleep. And then the rich neighbor, the one who leaves for work every Saturday before nine, tries to start up his small snowblower. It usually takes him five or six tries. He lives on the corner and he's got a lot to blow. (He's from Wayzata but you'd think he moved in from the Carolinas the way he bumbles with that machine.) So you're back awake again. Then the guy across the back alley revs up his big monster. He's got two big lanes of driveways, suburban in breadth and depth, and while he's fast, he's loud.

Might as well get up and make some tea.

Ken is at the table, ruddy-cheeked, eating pan-made oatmeal and sourdough toast. He's got hat hair. His reading glasses were $14.99 at Walgreen's. He's got them on so he can read the local Highland weekly. He recognizes one of Tim's baseball coaches in the editorials. The guy wrote in to support the college's plans to expand their tennis courts. The other letters decry the expansion.

Tim comes home from an overnight. He had trouble driving home in the snow so he put his truck in low, 4-wheel drive, and backed up and flipped it into forward a few times to gain some momentum. He's wearing one of Ken's old roofing pullovers--and it fits. His cheeks are red, too.

Ken says, "We better go to George's to get your skates sharpened." Tim has a game today at one. Tim says, "I don't want to go back out." Ken says, "Then it looks like you won't get your skates sharpened." They start up the truck again and head out together. I know they're going by Bruegger's Bagels so I ask for a morning sandwich.

And so the house is quiet again. The sidewalks are scraped, the alleys are plowed. The men in the house are out. Our cottage is surrounded by snow. Even the birdhouse roof is loaded with three inches of white.

My ears are perked. I wait for the soloist to call out again.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holidays on Ice

Sunday morning, the one before Thanksgiving. Drinking chai tea in a silver thermal mug. Feet up on the dining chair, facing laptop set on dining room table. Windows to the front of me, windows to the side. Just saw a teen in a Nissan race up to the stop sign and skid. Skid-d-d-d-skidddd. Night brought a sheet of ice, making everything, as my friend Julie says, "like a glazed donut." Tim called at 12:08 a.m. (last night) to say he was sorry he had just missed curfew but the people he was going to catch a ride home with were having trouble on the ice and they were standing out near Michael's house looking over at a few accidents on West 7th and seeing all the red police lights. We told him he should just spend the night there, because neither one of us wanted to venture out ourselves. And then we both let out a sigh of relief.

Funny. I was eager to try out my new hockey skates at open skate today but I'm a little leary about driving out on the ice.

I've had a few Saturdays in a row now where I don't leave the house all day. Even though I am cooped up too much all week, I am always on the run during the work week. I get an e-mail every 45 seconds. And run to meetings or off-site events. So come Saturday I am content to putter around the house. Yesterday Ken made a bacon-eggs-and-biscuit breakfast and I read the early Sunday edition with tea. I vacuumed one bedroom and picked up. I opened the mail. I Tweeted and Facebooked. I watched Lidia's Italian Kitchen. I got Tim's help to make a pumpkin pie. He stirred up the filling and I made the crust.

Now that was a small accomplishment. About 15 years ago my dear neighbor Pat, a scholar, mother of four, and terrific southern cook, told me I should learn to cut corners to manage things. Because she was such a good cook, one piece of her advice I embraced was using Pillsbury frozen pie crusts. I used those dough wands for years, even when I recreated Pat's prize sweet potato pie recipe. But I never really liked the taste and the way the crusts shriveled up. Yet, I feared the failed homemade crust. Silly, now, because it really is as easy as they say. I used a combination of butter and Crisco and threw some whole wheat farmers' market flour into the dough. It was just right.

Megan will drive home from the Gunflint Wednesday and we'll all have the long holiday weekend together. Today I'll make myself leave the house if I have to, just so I get out in the fresh air and elements, even though it would be so easy to stay in my pajamas all day, cooking and puttering and listening to football.

I bought my new skates at Hockey Giant, a Bloomington store Ken has been frequenting for years. He scopes out the merchandise--sticks and pads and skates--so that he knows when there are good deals to be had for Tim. It's expensive to play hockey but Ken has always managed to outfit Tim on a budget. He tracks all the gear Tim outgrows and turns it in for credit at Play It Again Sports. He bargains with the floor people on last year's models. I appreciated Ken's efforts more now that I was buying my own skates. Once you settle on a pair and pay for them, you bring them back to the skate sharpening station and have them baked in a small convection-like oven. That softens up the boot. You sit in your laced-up skates for five minutes and then you walk around the floor for another five. The boot molds to your foot as if you've broken them in by skating four or five times. The floor guy helped me lace-up the skates for the fitting, placing his thumb on the crossed laces like all of us Mighty Mite parents used to do with our kids. I ran through the criss-crosses and lace pulls like lightning and he paused, looked up, and said, "You don't have to rush through this. Take your time and get it right. You don't want to have the boot tongue crooked." The way he said it, so grandfatherly in his tone, and the fact that he took the time to say it when retail experiences are normally so rushed and impersonal, really affected me. You're lucky when you get personalized advice from friends and family. Makes you feel surrounded by people who care. And sometimes it takes a stranger to say something you need to hear. Slow down. Take your time. These are the things you really want to take some time with.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


My last day at work this week and then I'm off to Chicago with a friend for a weekend getaway. Hooray for that! I had 13 items on my to-do list for work and I'm down to 8 now. Progress.

Other more important news, my dad is home from the hospital with plans to return Sunday night for an aortic valve replacement. He's super-excited and anxious to get his heart repaired (it was a year ago today that he had heart failure) and get on with his life. My brother is flying down Saturday to stay with Mom for a week and I'll look for flights to go down in early November. I've been talking with Dad every day and that's been good for both of us.

Tim's team beat Woodbury easily last night. Ken and I made pulled pork sandwiches and had some people over for dinner and beers before the game. We thought, "We definitely need to use our crock pot more." I've been reading on Twitter about Roger Ebert's cookbook The Pot (or something like that) and so I should give some of his recipes a try.

They're replacing the telephone poles around our house--two of them, to be exact. The old poles were loaded down with all the cables and such that our modern households need so I'm glad to see we're getting reinforcements. They've been working on the transfer all week (they set those 40- or 60-foot poles so that 1/3 of them is below ground; yes, I just Googled telephone poles) so our clocks are all awhack and blinking when we get home.

Must get through another coupla items on this list. You have a good weekend.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Matters of the Heart

My dad is in the hospital today, coming out right now from anesthesia. He had a heart catheter inserted this morning at Doctors Hospital in Edinburg, Texas. (Goofy hospital name, eh?) Mom called me at work, cell phone to cell phone, to tell me that he's awake now from the morning's procedure and will now wait six hours for them to investigate and take x-rays.

I've never seen my dad in a hospital bed. Never seen him in a hospital gown. Never even seen him in a hospital, except twice when he came to visit me after the birth of each of our kids.

I hate being so far away. I'd like to help him pass the time today and help my mom cope with the day's events. Go with her out to the hospital's back lot with all the orderlies so she can have her cigarette.

Mom said they've already had an initial look. Dad's heart has healed some from his heart failure of a year ago and that the stent they put in then is working. But, as we all suspected, the valve is in terrible shape. He may want to do heart surgery as soon as possible--maybe as early as Wednesday. Mom wasn't expecting to hear that news. She'd rather stay ahead of her options--planning things carefully--and this one caught her off-guard.

My favorite Aunt Pat lives near Mom and Dad and is probably up at the hospital with Mom now. It's all I can do to keep from calling them, but I told Mom I would wait for her call this afternoon.