Sunday, December 30, 2007

Riding the Greyhound, tired and broken

If I were a country songwriter, I might finish this lyric but I think I'll just put on a little Steve Earle instead.

I did hang out with a couple of country and western fans (it's been so long since I've even used those words--country and western fans--I don't even know if people in the genre call it that anymore). At Christmas, in Denver, a state just as politically polarized as much of the country, where environmental activists prepare for the DNC this summer and pick-up truck-riding urban cowboys prepare to leave town for the "tree-hugging onslaught"--at Christmas we went to my brother-in-law's sort-of megachurch in the foothills. Presbyterian: I can do that, yes, okay; Evangelical: really? I'm not wearing blue eye shadow, that's all I got to say.

Anyhoo, the church was filled with beaming families. There was so much goodness there in that sanctuary and there was a lot of eye shadow, too, only now it's mauve and white, not blue. And do you all ever watch the Gopher's men's hockey team? Do you know their coach, Don Lucia? He's got the craziest damn haircut and I've always wondered how he ever came to it. Well, now I know. He coached for a long time in Colorado and every other dad in this Colorado mini-mega church had one of those sharp-edged buzz cuts.

The altar was huge and held a big choir, two electric guitarists, a drummer behind a shield of neck-high plastic--a little drummer's cubicle--an organ, a piano, two pulpits, two preachers (neither sporting the sharp-toothed hair), and at one point, 15 or so kids for the little children's sermon. Above the altar was a cross, empty, and two gigantic flatscreen TVs, which at various points carried the text for the hymns, showed inspiring starry night scenes and prompts for the congregational readings.

Before I sound too snarky, I can say there was MUCH talent in that congregation. Various folks belted out songs like final contestants on American Idol.

But the thing I really enjoy about Christmas Eve church service is the singing of the Christmas hymns. It's about the only time I sing in public and I love to burst out with "Glo-oo-oo-ooo-RIA, in excelsis Deo, Glooo-oooo-oooo-oooo-RIA. . ." But the country western evangelicals did a Christmas MEDLEY! altogether lasting about 9 minutes with a blending of 20 songs, and like the poor souls out on the dance floor stuck in Limbo Land with a bad DJ who has them grinding it out to Proud Mary one minute and Nights in White Satin the other, here I was trying to reach the high notes of Away in the Manger and all the while the electric guitars were riffing on over to their sped-up version of Whose Child is This? with tambourines and bass beats, too.

Did I tell you I was in Wisconsin over the weekend for a Bantam hockey tournament? And that our room was right next to the wedding reception suite for Curt and Mary and that until way past two in the morning, I kept hearing young jacked-up groomsmen yelling out, truly, "yee-ha," yee-HA!" "YEE-HA!" all through the hallways. I got up and stuck my head out the door and three of them were walking towards me, their satin vests unbuttoned, their black bowties hanging undone, and they waited until they got right up on me and then held their beers up and whispered, "yee-ha!" then just started shouting and running wildly back down the corridor.

At the Rink, where teams from Superior and Rice Lake and Eau Claire and St. Paul were gathered, the parents sat on cold metal bleachers shouting out "SLOT, SLOT" and "NICE HIT, MATT," and then one of the dads, after his kid's team had been beat by a wide margin, said, "They lose, we booze," and proceeded to head to the bar. Oh Lord.

Riding the Greyhound, tired and broken,
Little Lord Jesus, where are you tonight?
I thought about staying, but what would
that do me?
Instead I just got in a fight.

(insert your own stanza here)

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Back from snowy and sunny Colorado and its 15 inches of fresh snow, back on a delayed and anxiety-provoking night flight (especially for those near me hoping not to miss their connecting flight to Amsterdam) to mild and gray St. Paul and its 7 inches of fresh snow. I feel like I've eaten a whole tin of fudge and cookies and missed out on a lot of quality sleep while I was away. Oh that's right, I did; I have. But I had a full and good Christmas and hope you all had a fine holiday and a little time to play in the snow, if it came your way, too.

This Christmas for me was all about family. Remember that Granta cover about fifteen years ago (Granta, issue #37)? Okay, never mind, that's not exactly what I mean to point out. I mean to point out that a lot of what goes on in families involves a good amount of choosing. Word choices, for instance. Saying the right thing. Saying the wrong thing. Or choosing to say something altogether different from what you really feel. For the sake of Christmas, for the sake of family. Or choosing not to say at all, instead reaching for the tin of walnut fudge and green spritzer cookies. On the days after Christmas I always wonder how many of us just burst out with all the other words we have kept to ourselves during the holiday build-up. I think, how many people are feeling it is finally time to--"Say what you want. This old year is almost over."

Before Christmas I e-mailed a wise friend to ask for her advice on discernment, that is, on discerning what my next steps might be. You know, I'm 46, have been at it a long time in my profession, my kids are growing up, my birth family has grown apart. I'm looking for new ways to deal with a lot of choices I have to/want to make in the coming months. I'm tempted, beginning next week, to follow the path--"Do what you want. The new year has just begun."

Back to Christmas. The holiday choices I most fancied were:

1. My kids' Christmas lists. They were humble: books (Ark Angel and Pendragon, Book 8) and University of Michigan shorts for the boy; a gift certificate to Gopher Grocery and a new computer power adapter for the daughter. So simple, especially compared to the scrolls of wish lists from the others in the family whose presents ring round the Christmas trees like suburban sprawl.

2. My favorite gifts to others included a winter white afghan--knit to order for my wheelchair-bound mother-in-law; a fun cocktail ring for my stylish auntie; the three-volume Allan Eckert set for my husband, and this pretty letterpress stationery for the young women in our group.

3. My favorite gifts from others: new wool socks (lightweight and heavy) for those long portages from my hubby; a Netflix subscription from my daughter; a light blue French beret from my son; a handmade recipe book filled with my mother-in-law's favorite recipes; a sleek leather satchel from my stylish auntie.

4. My favorites of all the foods we chose to make: my mother-in-law's old-fashioned butterscotch pie, my niece's homemade Yorkshire pudding, my husband's tried-and-true standby, Christmas morning buttermilk biscuits.

4. Finally, the book I brought along to Colorado with me was one damn good choice. I browsed most of the titles on my shelves, looking for just the right book to read in the airport, on the plane, over to the side of the family room while the rellies played with their Wiis and their X-Box 360s and their digital cameras and all the other gadgets of the moment. I brought A Romantic Education by Patricia Hampl.

I can't believe I have never read this book. If you love St. Paul, and if you love family history, and especially if you love great writing, this book is an elegant and loving tribute. As I come to these choices that lay ahead so prominently for me, Hampl's words remind me I am not alone. Choices, words, family, free will, obligations, loyalty, love, passion.

A few years after the publication of A Romantic Education, Hampl's first book, I attended the Bemidji Writers' Workshop. I wrote poems under the guidance of Michael Dennis Browne, fiction under Jon Hassler, and memoir, a budding genre at the time, under Hampl. I was encouraged by the positive responses from all those but Hampl. She kept telling me: You're holding back. You're not getting at the truth. You're not getting at anything, really. You are too ambivalent. You have to take hold.

She's right. I am learning to take hold and make choices but they are sometimes too complicated. But people do it all the time. I'll end with this passage from Hampl, a scene of her as a young woman, with her Czech immigrant grandmother, at the small house on West Seventh Street. This book is filled with these telling scenes. I can't wait to finish up work here and crawl into my own bed to read more tonight.

When my older brother went to the university, [my grandmother] asked me what he was studying there. The university was a new aspect of life, introduced by my brother and me.

"Science," I said.

"What is science?" she asked. We were in the back yard behind our house, where she had come to live, in a small attached apartment, a few years after my grandfather died. I turned away from her, and broke off a piece of chive from the window box and chewed on the peppery stalk. That ugly shame, the fury, was on me.

"Science," I said angrily. "Science, you know, science." Brutal, cutthroat voice.

"Who do you think you are," she said, turning back to her apartment, "somebody smart?"

Later I felt guilty. Actually, I felt guilty instantly, almost before I felt anything else. I went to her little neat apartment and asked if I could have dinner with her. I knew what to say. "You're a much better cook than mother," I said.

She put her cheek out for me to kiss. Her skin was perfect. I have never seen skin like it, flawless, more refined and beautiful than a girl's because the color, steady and delicate, was not as alert and harsh. "I wish I had a complexion like yours," I said truthfully. She liked that. Food and beauty, those were her subjects. Sometimes I didn't mind the lovely old subjects of women. I wasn't always fighting her.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

". . . Santa baby, come on over tonight. . . ."

Oh, whoops, I forgot you all were reading!

Joys to everyone--and happy new year!

(The Night Editor will be out on vacation for the next coupla weeks.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A side of blues to go with that holiday cheer

I know, it's the most festive time of the year. But Heather Armstrong at Dooce blogs about depression and recovery, and if you've ever wanted to get behind the scenes or understand more the disease of depression, or if you have been feeling quite sad or uncontrollably edgy for some time yourself, please read this.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Morning Report

'Tis the season for lists. Top ten gifts, top ten books, top ten reality shows, top ten plastic surgeons. Here's my contribution to the listmaking: Top Ten Things I’ll Try Not to Do Again

1. Never sign a book contract until I’ve seen at least one solid, good chapter.

2. Never ask my thirteen-year-old son if he has any hair down there.

3. Never let my auto insurance policy lapse while I’m out of town and my unsuspecting husband is left to drive the uninsured car willy-nilly.

4. Never, never use Purell (instant hand sanitizer) on my vayjayjay at the pit latrine in the Boundary Waters thinking it might somehow take the place of a good shower or bath soak.

5. Never order a gift online--like say a nutcracker for my son’s Christmas surprise--without thoroughly checking the size and dimensions, especially if I think I’m ordering one of those tabletop varieties but instead am really buying a miniature tree decoration, at 1/10 the size and three times the price. (Addendum: Never be confused by any Internet copy that says, “moveable parts.”)

6. Never insist my close family members call me when they’re ready and then forget to turn my ringer on.

7. Never work without backup, especially when my company’s e-mail and Internet servers are on the fritz.

8. Never say, “Well, not really,” when my daughter is stressing about her big night out at the 18+ club with super-thin and super-trendy girlfriends and asks me if her outfit looks okay.

9. Never say “How can I help?” to my boss when my own workload is so full I haven’t had lunch away from my office for weeks.

10. Never tell my 69-year-old and second-wave feminist mother that I went to see the movie Super Bad.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

To Grandmother's House We Go . . .

Traveling over the holidays? Watching those Internet storm warnings with greater interest? From today's headlines: "The latest storm's northward shift as it moved east meant the brunt of the bad weather was passing through Kansas and Missouri where, along with Oklahoma, hundreds of thousands of people were still in the dark." Just great, you think.

Every couple of years we get together over the holidays with my husband's side of the family. This Friday we're heading to Colorado. We thought about driving but figured we'd save the headache of navigating wintry roads and slick snowstorms.

Ahh, but now we can look forward to some packed, holiday Northwest Airlines flights. We got four of the last six seats on both flights coming and going and none of us is sitting together. Pico Iyer, one of my favorite travel writers, guest blogged on "Jet Lagged" today about the US of A's unfriendly skies.

Meanwhile, I'm shopping for miniatures: small hand-held gifts I can tuck into our suitcases for the 12 or so family members for whom I need to buy gifts. I thought about bringing my hundred dollars over to the Art-o-Mat at the Chambers Hotel. My friend Sharon and I this fall paid our $5 to get a token for the former-cigarette-vending-machine-turned-miniature-art-dispenser and each of us got a lovely piece of keepable art, in boxes the size of a pack of Pall Malls. You can sort of see mine here on my office door: it's a small wooden block painted with a lovely scene of wintry trees. My friend got a lapel pin that was made from a bottle cap. The artist had painted a little portrait of Abe Lincoln, I think, on the backside of a root beer cap. Lovely.

I could pack 12 of these little objet d'arts in my carry-on luggage and if any of the surly NWA attendants gives us any flak, we'll just heave a block or two at their heads.

Tonight I'm having some girlfriends over for wine and munchies and then a late dinner at the recently reopened Zander Cafe on Selby. Now that's a carrot at the end of the stick!--a nice ending to what's looking like a jam-packed Saturday. I'm escorting Kevin Kling to some book readings today and if you're a Kevin Kling fan, come hear him read from his new book at the Border's store in Roseville, 2 to 3 pm, or at the Barnes and Noble in Maplewood Mall from 3-4 pm. He's a gem--and hilarious!--and his stories will get you in the right mood for this holiday season.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Terms of Endearment

I was editing a piece this afternoon and needed to come up with a better word for "a term of endearment." We pulled out the old hard copy edition of Roget's International Thesaurus (which is worlds better than all these online versions) and found:

pet name
affectionate name

I've also heard it called a "lovey," but I don't know if that came from Gilligan's Island where Thurston Howell the Third calls his wife Lovey.

A colleague wrote back in reply to my request for examples: "I thought a pet name was more specific: like calling a plain but lovable husband “Rock” [as in Hudson] or a plain but lovable wife “My Own Bardot."

Don't you love office correspondence like this?

My mom's youngest sister never could pronounce my mom's name, Sharon, and came out with "Zim" whenever she tried. The name stuck and my mom's pet name among her sisters is still Zim. She even signs her paintings with that monicker.

There's "Big Papi" (David Ortiz) out in Boston and "Sweetness" (Walter Payton) in Chicago. Bill Clinton was called "Bubba" growing up and Jimmy Carter often heard "The Grin."

In TV Land, there was "Pepper" for Angie Dickinson's cop character, "Puddin' Head" for Colonel Potter on MASH, and even--did you know this; it's kinda creepy?--"Penis Von Lesbian," the tongue-in-cheek nickname of actor Dick Van Dyke given to him by fellow actors Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie etc. while filming the THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. The name, apparently, was a play on words with the actor's own name "Dick" (Penis) "Van" (Von) "Dyke."

Today I also shared e-mails with some women friends about the term "the girls," made popular by the "What Not to Wear" duo, as in "we gotta get you a good bra to keep those girls up." One of my friends wrote to remind us of Kramer's (Seinfeld) diminutive for his testicles: "My boys."

Speaking of my boy, once, when I answered the phone at my husky husband's (then-boyfriend's) house, one of his Greek friends called asking for Ken. My husband has the same first name as his father had but they're not junior and senior. I asked, "Big Ken or Little Ken?" His friend George said, "Oh yes, Big Ken. He is very big."

And when we lived on the East Side of St. Paul, my hubbie would go down to the Earl St. rec center to play ice hockey with the kids in the neighborhood. He always wore a bright green hooded sweatshirt with the lettering "Irish Rebels" on the front, and when I'd get home from work in the evening, all the rough-and-tumble East Side boys would be knocking at the door asking if "the Big Green Guy" could come out and play.

My husband likes to use diminutives all the time at our house. He calls my son "His Lordship," especially when my son says things like, "Can I expect dinner after practice?" He calls me "Sweet Sugar" or "Baby Cakes" or anything else he can get away with before I slug him. We've both taken to calling our strident and politically active college daughter, "the Righteous One."

Who you calling out today, lovey? Any special pet names you want to share with us?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Our Future Vote

Yeah, maybe you've heard about the NYU kids who chose to give up their right to vote permanently in exchange for a million dollars.

I think these kinds of questions are unfair. Often the last thing on the minds of college students is the next election. And the price of higher education is making it even harder for students to get involved--much less feel involved (or invested). They're too busy working one or two jobs to make ends meet. Even Harvard recognizes this fact--even among those students from families making over $120,00 a year. To help free up student time and stressloads, Harvard has joined others in the Ivy League to exchange loans for outright grants. Students from families earning less than $60,000 a year attend Harvard for free. Those whose families earn between $60,000 and $120,000 will pay about $12,000 total.

So at our house we're paying $7,000 more a year for a Univ. of Minnesota education than the average student pays to attend Harvard. (My daughter notes with pride that she is paying a full half of her college education.) Huh. The privileged class just keeps getting more privileged.

And about the election, do these things help?

I'm thinking about launching a local project sometime next year: the Minnesota Beauty Parlor Vote. I heard reference to this phrase--the beauty parlor vote, that is--in a national radio commentary and thought it might be a great window into the minds of a segment of our voting population. And everyone is interested in how women will vote this year, young and old, black and white and brown: Do they support Hillary? Or not? If you all know a good parlor/salon I might poll (with camera and notepad in hand), drop me a line in the comments section below.

Photo of beauty parlor interior, Minnesota Historical Society Collections, 1946

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday Afternoon Report

I'm swamped here at the office, barely making headway.

If I was as talented as this guy I would close my door, gather all the stuff out of my desk drawers, and cadoodle away. Really, you should spend a few minutes on his site--he's brilliant! (Thanks to Paper Cuts for the original notice.)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Any Given (December) Sunday

Once I worked with a translator who was born in Costa Rica. He worked here as an international manager for 3M. I was working on a somewhat rare manuscript by a Cuban economist and the translator had stopped by my house to drop off the piece. We talked awhile in my foyer. This morning, looking out over the whites and browns of my snowy neighborhood, I remembered what he said about his home country. "You should come sometime," he said, "we have the most beautiful colors of the world--all about us our wildlife is exotic, full of oranges and blues and pinks and yellows. Here, it seems, you only have squirrels and crows. Blacks and browns. Squirrels and crows."

* * *

This is strange; I must have lost track. Money is tight and I'm always juggling bills. But I must have lost track of a few in the busyness of work because when I got back from my trip our home telephone had been disconnected (with a terse script: "This line has been discontinued by the owner's request"). And I found two checks from American Family Insurance, both refunds for cancellations of our two car insurance policies. Huh. So much for grace periods. I've restored all the accounts after a series of long Saturday phone calls but I'm still walking to my son's hockey game tonight, just in case the policy renewals don't go in until Monday.

* * *

One of the New Englanders I ran into asked me this:

"Who is your quarterback in Minnesota?"

"Uh, Tarvaris Jackson, if he's healthy."

"No, no that's not him. Who else?" (This reminds me of the Hollywood fan who approaches a star and says, "I know you. I've seen you on TV." "Yes," the star says, "I'm Leelee Sobieski." "No, no, you're not. Helen Hunt. That's right. You're Helen Hunt. I'd know you anywhere.")

"Um, maybe you're thinking of Holcomb."

"No, not him. Don't know him."

"Well, maybe you remember Daunte Culpepper."

"No, no, he's no good. Who else?"

"Could it be you have in mind Brett Favre?"

"Yes, yes, that's him. That's who I'm thinking of."

* * *

I forgot to mention a detail on my happiness study last week. I often review the local and national best-selling book lists. But I discovered that Publisher's Weekly has a "Books Most Borrowed" category, with lists in Fiction and Nonfiction. I make and sell books but I'm a big fan of the public libraries and the whole concept of sharing and reusing, and I was really happy to see these categories. The #1 borrowed nonfiction title: "Eat, Pray, Love," by Elizabeth Gilbert, and in fiction, "A Thousand Splendid Suns," by Khaled Hosseini. To see both lists, go here (and see other links at bottom of page).

* * *

Speaking of books, a lot of people are talking about the demise of the book review. But recently, at our house, we've kept the spirit alive.

Me: "So I just finished "Lady Chatterley's Lover."

Quietness pervails.

After a moment, K. asks, "Well, how was he?"

"How was who?" I say.

"Lady Chatterley's lover."

"Ah, good one," I say, a twinkle in my eye.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Out-of-Towner

I got back about 1 a.m. last night and as I wound my way through the user-unfriendly MSP airport departing areas, I felt a little like Amy Winehouse, but without the red bra. I had twenty bucks left to my name and hoped the cab to Highland Park wouldn't be more than that. It wasn't, but it was close.

How did I spend my modest budget on this business/pleasure trip? A few mentions:

1. $9.00 admission to Harvard's Fogg Museum. It was both sleeting and snowing that day and my daughter and I were a bit too tired for this museum visit. You know how you've been racing about and are still trying to be excited about your vacation and then you hit the museum (any museum) and you realize you're just not in the mood? But even though the Fogg's collection didn't wow us, we did find some gems among the Rembrandts, Picassos, and Daryl Hannah-inspired Rossettis to make the stop worthwhile. I loved this "Harriet Leavens" by American Ammi Phillips.

2. A "T" CharlieCard, the new swipeable plastic pass that subway riders have embraced heartily in Boston. I loaded $20 on to the card over the course of six days and took about 10 subway rides from north to south, east to west. We were only a block from the Park Street station and could easily hop a red line to Cambridge, which cost my daughter and me a total of $6.80, round-trip. The same round-trip cab fare, on the other hand, cost us $40 total.

3. $20 bucks: Mmm, fresh clams on the half-shell and a light ale at the Union Oyster House, "America's Oldest Restaurant." William H. Macy, of "Fargo" fame, was in town filming a new movie and dropped in to the Oyster House to sign their famed autograph book. I must have missed him, as well as Bill and Hillary Clinton, who were also in town, and Sen. John Kerry, who apparently lives just one street over from where I was staying. Oh well, so much for celebrity sightings; the clams were damn good. And speaking of politics, one of our cab drivers told us he liked many of the candidates but not Romney, former Mass. governor. He said about Romney, "If he couldn't manage one state, how do people think he can manage fifty?" (Later, we took one of our work lunches at the 21st Amendment, a pub between the State House and the Government Center. It was bellowing with lunch talk and practically damp with steam. One of my work associates told me the place was filled with local politicians. . . .)

4. $9.00 for two cigars. A gift for my husband at Leavitt & Peirce (since 1883). The proprietor was everything that, say, Tim Pawlenty is not: stocky, like Rocky Marciano; stylish, wearing wide-legged, black, pin-striped pants and a tailored white shirt and sporting a severe crew cut; and aggressive, but not in an abrasive kind of way--just, "this is my shop, I'm proud of it, I have good taste, I hope you buy something, please do not engage in a cell phone conversation while I'm trying to wait on you." And I did. Buy something, that is.

5. $10.94: A bottle of rose from the nearby market, which I kept in my room, a turn-of-the-century bedroom with four-poster beds and a (nonworking) fireplace and windows that looked out over Joy and Beacon Streets. Each night when I'd return from my day's work, I'd pull up the brocade chair and sit by my window, sometimes watching the office workers in the rowhouse a stone's throw over, who worked so still in front of their computers I wondered if they were mannequins; sometimes watching out over the park, where I'd see the evening tourists or Beacon Hill dogwalkers, or once, a group of about forty students in heavy sweatshirts and knit caps, jogging around the perimeter of the Commons, shouting out in unison every minute or so something that I couldn't make out, like a bunch of recruits at boot camp only all these co-eds seemed happy to be out excercising in the cold air.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Shining moments

Dec. 5, 2007
The Boston Globe had a headline today: "Our Minnesota wish list," and they write about inheriting Minnesota transplants Big Papi (David Ortiz), Randy Moss, and Kevin Garnett. About Al Franken, they say, "Stuart Smalley should abandon his bid for the Senate seat occupied by Minnesota's Norm Coleman and move to liberal-loving Cambridge, where he could hone his stump speech while waiting along with the rest of us for Ted Kennedy and John Kerry to retire." They also pine for Paul Westerberg of The Replacements, Prince, and Winona Ryder (Really, Ryder?)

I'm staying just across from the Boston Commons, and I can see the big tree wrapped in Christmas lights and the festive, frozen Frog Pond, filled with ice skaters and lookers-on. Beacon Hill is ultra-tony and safe, so I've been able to wander around on my own, watching not to trip over the cobblestone sidewalks or walk in front of the cars winding their way around these tight hills. I'm staying right next to the Old State House, and yes, I've seen many of the JFK, Jr. look-alikes, walking by briskly in navy wool coats and plaid scarfs, clean shaves and dark hair, trim and neat and preppy.

My cabbie the other night said there were more than 60 colleges and universities in the Boston area. Our rowhouse manager tells me that Boston University owns more real estate in this city than any other entity. I said that they must have bought early and often and he said, "No, not really. When you think about their enrollment, and at $50,000/year tuition, and think about their endowments from wealthy alumni, you see how they can afford to acquire all this land, even today."

My daughter and I flew in Saturday and spent a long weekend before she returned to Minnesota and I moved on to my work assignment here during the week. The trip was our gift to her for her twentieth birthday. It was a mother-daughter affair.

We hit this town fast and hard. We hiked the Boston Public Gardens and Beacon Street. We ate sushi in Chinatown and handmade pasta in the North End. We strolled the eclectic Isabella Gardner Museum near Northeastern University and the somber art museums of Harvard. We ate vegetarian at the Veggie Planet in Cambridge and saw a show in Boston's theater district. We navigated our way through the T subway system and caught a terrific poetry reading/jazz trio combo at the Lizard Lounge near Harvard Law School.

We watched the New Englanders closely, and I found her eye noticing things that mine didn't. For instance, we sat near a young Bostonian woman on our flight out, and my daughter leaned over to say, "Look at that rock on her finger." And after walking through Harvard Yard to Church St., she pointed to all the sleek black limousines waiting, with motors running, along the gated fence, and she said, "I wonder how many of the students and professors have drivers bringing them to school." And I watched her banter with the less-monied locals, the repairman and the B&B manager, and her easy way with them all. One told us, in that accent perfected by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in Goodwill Hunting or Mark Wahlberg in The Departed, "If you're in the vicinity of Hah-vawd, you should go to Hah-vawd, because everyone should see it once in their life."

The thing is: after all those years of parenting a child, pulling down his hat, wrapping round her scarf, warning, warning, warning them to stay out of harm's way, it is utterly delightful to travel with them as young adults. We stopped into a small art and frame shop in the Italian North End and there a tall, big, and boisterous woman of Italian and Czech heritage warmly invited us in to browse. It had snowed that evening and the snow sparkled in the light of the streetlamps. More shoppers came in and then a large Italian family--friends of hers--stopped by after having dinner at the celebrated restaurant, Giacomo's. The shopowner got more glasses so she could share her bottle of wine with all of us, and she told stories about her father, who for thirty years prior had owned and run this quaint shop. It was a sentimental scene, made only more so when the woman stopped and looked closely at my daughter. "Italian?" she asked. "No, Irish," my daughter said.

"You are just beautiful," the shopkeeper said. "Just beautiful. Look at her, will you," she said to us all. And then she looked back at my daughter again, "Just look at your eyes, your hair."

It was a shining moment.

Then we went off to La Summa, a very modest Italian restaurant owned by a woman who had named the restaurant after her Italian grandmother. There were framed snapshots on the walls and on top of the hostess station. We ordered fusilli with baked eggplant and sweet cannoli and pumpkin gelato. My daughter, feeling big and boisterous herself now, so warmed was she by the tightknit feel of the neighborhood, leaned over very close to me, and I thought she might say with the same kind of shining affection I felt at the moment, "Mom, I love you." But she leaned over real close, her black hair and deep brown eyes twinkling in the candlelight, and tilting her head slightly towards the dark-haired server, said, "Where do all these gorgeous Italian boys come from? I just can't get enough of these gorgeous Italian boys."

Ha, a shining moment indeed.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Poet Goes to Fenway

Baseball fans: read this lovely Mary Oliver poem here.

The college kid and I are heading to Boston tomorrow! No posts for a week. Unless I get bored and lonely after she leaves and log in at a Beantown coffee shop. . . .

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Are You Happy Now?

"I imagine many passive-aggressive Minnesotans locking themselves in a garage and turning on the push mower or downing a whole bottle of Flinstone's brand vitamins as accounting for low suicide rates. Iowa's ranking is easy to understand. We look around at our neighboring states and thank the good lord we aren't them. We get our attention every four years and in the meantime we just plow our fields. It's a happy formula."
»» A comment submitted by kevin at 11:08 AM on November 29, MNSPEAK

Happy is as happy does?

I mentioned last week that I was doing my version of the Happiness study, the one where researchers asked women to write down all the activities in one day and then afterwards note the ones that made them happy. It seems to be part of this whole movement to a new "Positive Psychology." Why did I do this? I don't know. As I said, I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately. And sometimes I'm not that honest with myself. I can go to happy places (Farmer's Market) and be with happy people (my old neighbor Kathy) and read happy books (Me Talk Pretty One Day). And then when people ask me if I'm happy I say I am. But I'm not sometimes. I wanted to check out a slice of my everyday life and gauge how this life makes me feel.

It just so happens that the Star Tribune published an article today on happiness--my timing is perfect. In it they reveal that Minnesota ranks #6, below Iowa at #4, as the state "least depressed." Another MNSPEAK commenter writes in response to the Strib article:

"This ain't quality of life. It's just a least depressed/suicidal scale put out by the Mental Health Association. So we kill ourselves less frequently than Utahns [sic], but more frequently than Idahoans. That might just mean we're more stoic, not more happy. I call foul on the article's misleading headline."
»» Submitted by Jared at 9:35 AM on November 29, MNSPeak

I won't bore you with the full listing of my daily doings but allow me to let you in on a few insights. I've deliberately left out the interactions with my loved ones; the items below are more generic I guess and might give you a chance to think about some of your own.

"Make chai in go-cup at home, drink it on way to work while listening to The Current." You would not believe how much this makes me happy. Two things I think about: my dad always loved starting his day. My mom hated starting the day but loved putting her day to rest. I thought I was more like my mom on this one but I really do love me a new day. Also, if I weren't married, sexually active, and a mother of two, (and, of course, a woman. . . *and, oh yeah, Catholic) I could imagine myself as a Catholic priest. I love the rituals: waving the incense, lighting the candles, bowing before the Eucharist. Repeated bodily movements and voiced chants make me calm and clear. Boiling my water, measuring my tea, steeping the leaves, stirring in the sugar, and closing the cap on all that goodness: this I love. "The Morning Show" with Dale and Jim is as close as I get to morning chants.

"Starting up my computer and getting morning phone calls." This is my office. It's luxurious, as far as company offices go. I should say, it has a door. I like coming in to work in the morning. One thing that happened on this Wednesday that made me happy was a phone call from a perfect stranger. I had asked him to endorse a new book we're about to publish. This Southern man told me all about his old girlfriend who now lives in St. Paul and he asked me if I might know her. And then he seemed embarassed by his question--of course I wouldn't know her. . . . It had been almost 30 years since HE had seen her; still he always wondered about her--so to change the subject he asked me if I was a Cheesehead, just like that. It made me laugh out loud. I told him I did like Brett Favre, especially this year when he's hotter than George Clooney on a motorcycle.

Like a lot of people, I get a lot of joy talking to strangers. Is it the serendipity of it all? From small talk of time and place to girlfriends and quarterbacks and the realization that we all have some kind of common ground. Now some people feel full up with the talk of strangers; it only makes them more lonely. What they'd rather is a life of solitude--less people, less noise. Thomas McGuane, in a brilliant NYTimes book review of Per Petterson's novel, "Out Stealing Horses," writes: "We imagine we’ve seen this: Trond Sander, an Oslo professional who has recently lost his wife and sister, hopes to cure his loneliness by a plunge into solitude; nothing dramatic, he wants to pension out and make a few changes. Scandinavians differentiate between loneliness and solitude as a matter of course."

But even Trond, the stoic Scandinavian protagonist, finds it hard to sustain happiness--or even contentment--in his solitude. McGuane quotes from the book: “'The feeling of pleasure slips into the feeling that time has passed, that it is very long ago, and the sudden feeling of being old," and then McGuane writes, "Like many an older man at loose ends, Trond flings himself into various do-it-yourself homeowner schemes whose quotidian nature barely masks the eeriness of his life and memories."

In a long and insightful article in New York Magazine, "The Dark Side of Happiness," the author writes, "No longer should we think of ourselves as tin cans of sexual chaos, as echoing caverns of repressed wishes and violent desires; rather, we should think of ourselves as the shining sum of our strengths and virtues, forceful, masters of our fates. All that nattering we’ve been doing in therapists’ armchairs, trying to know and exorcise our darker selves—it’s been misguided. It’s our better selves we want to know."

The sum of my strength often involves work. Does work make me happy? Does it make you happy? This is my daily view. We all try to dress up our work spaces and I've done the same. Photos of the family, good or silly fortune cookie fortunes, ticket stubs, cool postcards. But the view I really want is like the one I had at the Linda Hogan writing shed up at Norcroft, on the shores of Lake Superior. I looked out onto the woods--birch and sumac and sparrows and chipmunks and even, once in awhile for good fortune, a grazing doe. This windowless view doesn't make me happy but the work often does. Competence makes me happy. My own, that is.

But I did note that this view--the one of my office hallway--seriously does NOT make me happy. It is stark and dreary and the only sounds are the mechanical rushing of papers through the shared printers. I work in an office of introverts so for many hours in a day that is all I hear out in that hallway, and some days I feel trapped and buggy by it all, especially after lunch, "the noontime demon." Looking down this hallway, I crave the outdoors.

Happiness is elusive and though I believe in the power of the smile, the hearty cheer, the brisk walk, I also believe in the truth of the emotion. Happiness is like sex or sleep; you can't force it to happen or make it be blessedly good. In fact, that will only make things worse. Sometimes you just have to wait it out.

I was cold coming home that night of my survey and, on the advice of my colleague, I wrapped the wool car blanket around my hips and legs on the drive home. If that's not enough to make me sad I don't know what is. I say I like winter but the truth is there is nothing worse than driving home in a frigid car while wearing a work skirt and pantyhose. And while the blanket wrap warmed me up, it made me feel like a frail Jessica Tandy in "Cocoon."

When I got home I didn't feel the need to shore myself up with a lot of chatter or to bundle up and get my endorphins flowing with a fast walk in the neighborhood. That WOULD be forcing it! So I made a fire and turned on the oven for some late afternoon baking. And while I waited, I laid down and took a nap by the fire. These small measures are easy to throw myself into--and the pay-off doesn't have to be happiness. It can be just a little nook of contentment, a little shelter from the cold.

Say it ain't so [Billy Smith], say it ain't so

From Charley Walters's Pioneer Press column:

"A little birdie says the Boston Red Sox have become the favorite in the Johan Santana trade sweepstakes. The Twins would receive four players for the Twins' two-time Cy Young Award winner, including center fielder Coco Crisp, 28. Others would be shortstop prospect Jed Lowry, 23; left-handed pitcher Jon Lester, 23; and right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson, 22.

Before a deal could be made, the Red Sox would have to have time to negotiate a contract extension with Santana, 28, who can become a free agent after next season and could have a market value as high as $150 million over six years."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Holy Cookie, Batwoman!

Go here for recipes on all these favorites:

1-2-3 Cookies * 7 Layer Cookies Allie Nelson's Famous Snickerdoodle Cookies * Almond Crescent Shortbread * Amish Sugar Cookies * Andies Candies Cookies * Angel Crisps Angenets * Applesauce Cookies * Apricot Fold-Overs * Aunt Edy's Molasses Crinkles * Auntie Linda's Ginger Gems * Bakeless Dream Cookies * Banana Drop Cookies * Best Chocolate Chip Cookies in the World * Biscotti * Biscotti Blueberry Cookies * Boiled Chocolate Oatmeal Drop Cookies * Brownies * Brown Sugar Shortbread * Brownie Cookies * Brownie Delight Brownies * Buccaneer Snowballs * Buried Cherry Cookies * Butter Cookies * Butter Nut Balls * Butterballs * Butterscotch Haystacks * C.O.P. Cookies * Candy Cane Cookies * Candy Cookies * Caramel Shortbread * Cheesecake Brownies * Cherry Buns * Cherry Crowns * Cherry Winks * Chewies * Chewy Noels * Chinese Chews/Haystacks * Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars * Chocolate Chip Cookies * Chocolate Chip Meltaways * Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies * Chocolate Christmas Trees * Chocolate Cream Cheese Squares * Chocolate Crinkles * Chocolate Mint Snow-Top Cookies * Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies (no bake) * Chocolate Snowball Cookies * Chocolate Streusel Bars * Chocolate Sundae Cookies * Chocolate Walnut Crumb Bars * Choco-Scotch Crunchies * Choose A Cookie Dough Recipe * Christmas Crackers * Christmas Crunch Bars * Christmas Ginger Snaps * Christmas Macaroons * Christmas Mice Cookies * Christmas Shaped Cookies * Church Window Cookies * Coconut Cookies * Congo Squares * Cookie in a Jar * Corn Flakes Cookies * Cornflake Christmas Wreaths * Cowboy Cookies (oatmeal) * Cream Cheese Cookies with Apricot Filling * Crème De Menthe Chocolate Squares * Crème Wafers * Crescent Cookies * Crispy Crunchies * Date Nut Balls * Date-nut Pinwheel Cookies * Diabetic Peanut Butter Cookies * Disgustingly Rich Brownies * Doodles * Double chocolate chip cookies * Double-Chocolate Crinkles * Eatmore Cookies * Eggnog Cookies * Elizabeth's Sugar Cookies * Elves Quick Fudge Brownies * Emily Dickinson's Gingerbread Cookie Recipe * Emily's Best Brownies * Famous Oatmeal Cookies * Firemen Cookies * Fluffy Shortbread Cookies * Forgotten Cookies * Frosted Peanut Butter Brownies * Fruit Cake Cookies * Fruitcake Squares * Fry Pan Cookies * Gems * Ginger Cookies * Ginger Crinkles * Gingerbread Baby * Gingerbread Cookies with Butter Cream Icing * Gingerbread Men * Gingerbread Men * Ginny's Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies * Glory's Golden Graham Squares * Glory's Sugar Cookies * Gramma Chapman's chocolate coconut drops * Grandma Elsie's Zimt (cinnamon) Cookies * Grandma J's Butter Cookies * Grandma Olson's Parkay Cookies * Great Grandmothers Sugar Cookies * Gum Drop Cookies * Gumdrop Gems * Haystack Cookies * Ho-Ho Bars Holiday Cereal Snaps * Holiday Chocolate Butter Cookies * Holiday Raisin Walnut Bars * Holly Cookies * Hungarian Cookies (Little Nut Rolls) * Ice Box Cookies * Irresistible Peanut Butter Cookies * Italian Cookies * Jacob's Peppermint Snowballs * Jam Bars * Jessica's Famous Brownies * Jessie's Chocolate Chip Cookies * Jubilee Jumbles * Juliet's Peanut Butter Blossoms * Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies * Kentucky Colonels Kiefle (cream cheese cookies with jam filling) * Kifflings Kiss Cookies * Lacy Swedish Almond Wafers * Lemon Angel Bar Cookies * Lemon Bars * Lemon Cake Cookies * Lemon Cream Cheese Cookies * Lemon Squares * Linzer Tarts * Log Cabin Cookies * Luscious Lemon Squares * M&M Cookies * Magic Cookie Bars * Melt in Your Mouth Cutout Sugar Cookies * Melting Shortbread * Meme's Cream Cheese Cookies * Milk Chocolate Florentine Cookies * Mincemeat Cookies * Mincemeat Goodies * Molasses Cookies * Molasses Forest Cookies * Molasses Sugar Cookies * Mom Mom's Crescent Cookies * Mom-Mom's Ginger Cookies * Mom's Nutmeg Sugar Cookies * Mom's Old Fashion "Puffy" Sugar Cookies * Monster Cookies * Moravian Christmas Cookies * Nana's Famous Soft Southern Cookies * Nitey Nite Cookies * No Bake Chocolate Cookies * No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies * No Bake Cookies * No Bake Cookies* No Bake Peanut Butter Cookies * No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies * No-Bake Cookies * Norwegian Sugar Cookies * Nut Balls * Oatmeal Bars * Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Nut Cookies * Oatmeal Coconut Crisps * Oatmeal Cookies * Oatmeal Scotchies * Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies * Ooey Gooey Caramel Chocolate Dunk * Ooey Gooey Squares Orange Slice Cookies * Parking Lot Cookies * Peanut Blossoms * Peanut Butter Bars * Peanut Butter Blossoms * Peanut Butter Cereal Cookies * Peanut Butter Chewies * Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars * Peanut Butter Cookies * Peanut Butter Cookies * Peanut butter fingers * Peanut Butter Reindeer * Peanut Butter Surprises * Peanut Marshmallow Cookies * Pecan Puff Cookies * Peppermint Snowballs * Peppernuts * Persimmon Cookies * Persimmon Cookies * Petey's Yummy Spicy Almond Thins * Pfeffernuesse * Pffefferneuse Cookies * Pineapple Filled Cookies * Pizzelles * Potato Chip Cookies * Potato Flake Cookies * Praline Cookies * Praline Strips * Pterodactyl Nests * Pumpkin Bars * Pumpkin Bars * Pumpkin Chip Cookies * Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies* Pumpkin Cookies * Queen Biscuits * Quick Cookies * Raised Sugar Cookies * Raisin Filled Oatmeal Bars * Raspberry Meringue Bars * Really Peanutty Butter Cookies * Reese`s Brownies * Reese's Peanut Butter Bars * Rich Flavor Christmas Cookies * Rich Lemon Bars * Ricotta Cheese Cookies * Royal Almond Christmas Bars * Rudolph Cinnamon Cookies * Russian Tea Cookies * Russian Teacakes * Samantha & Kelsey's Chocolate Chip Cookies * Sand Art Brownies * Santa Claus Cookie Pops * Santa Claus Cookies * Santa's Butterscotch Melts Santa's Shorts Santa's Special Squares Scotch Cakes Scotch Shortbread Scotcharoos * Scotcheroos * Seven Layer Cookies * Short Bread Cookies * Shortbread * Skor Squares * Snicker Doodle Cookies * Snickerdoodles * Snickerdoodles * Snow Balls * Sour Cream Apple Squares * Sour Cream Christmas Cookies * Special K Cookies * Spice Cookies * Spicy Oatmeal Raisin Cookie * Spritz Cookies * Stained Glass Window Cookies * Stir & Drop Sugar Cookies * Sugar Cookies * Sugar Cookies * Sugar Cookies * Swedish Pepparkakor (Pepper Cake) Cookies * Swedish Sugar Cookies * Sweet Marie's Swiss Treats Taralle (Italian Cookies) * Tea Time Tassies * Texas Brownies * The Best Shortbread in The World * Thumbprint Cookies * Thumbprint Cookies * Toffee Squares * Traditional Christmas Sugar Cookies * Traditional Gingerbread Men Cookies * Triple-Chocolate Chip Cookies * Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies * Vanilla Wafer Balls * Walnut Butter Cookies * Walnut Crumb Bars * White Chip Chocolate Cookies * Wild Oatmeal Cookies * Will's Famous Apple Jack Cookies * Yummy Yummy Peanut Butter Blossoms

Monday, November 26, 2007

No posing, just family

We had a great Thanksgiving. Hope the same for you. Here's a spot from our house:

Mom: Hey, let me take your picture.
Son: Okay, but I'm not posing.

Son: Let me take your picture.
Mom: Okay, tell me when.
Son: Yeah, I already took it.

Monday Morning Report

I wish I had my game on this morning.

Awhile ago, with a different publisher, I traveled with our VP of manufacturing to the Ann Arbor, Michigan, area to evaluate potential book printers. That region is filled with lots of firms specializing in short- and medium-sized runs. The shops varied from the casual, grass-roots-style, mom-and-pop place to the slicker, suit-and-tie kind of place. Our last visit was to a large, prestigious printing company right in Ann Arbor and they had a Power Point show ready for us, and a bunch of executives in suits around the conference table. I was resistant and pictured my staff working better with the Birkenstock-clad CSRs back at another place. But one young guy gave us a pretty impassioned presentation and I've always been a sucker for good-looking charts and graphs and P&Ls, so I listened attentively. When the meeting ended all the executives jumped up and heartily shook our hands, except the young guy, who stayed back behind the tabletop podium. The executives and our VP moved out into the hallway, sounding a lot like the suits at an annual campaign fundraiser. The young guy finally got up and came around to shake my hand. I happened to look down and saw that he was wearing one black tassled slip-on on his left foot, one brown penny loafer on his right. When I looked up he had a Mona Lisa grin on his face. Could be his Monday morning mishap (he had said, sheepishly, "I got dressed in the dark") won him our contract.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Turkey Day miscellany

Last night I watched a rerun of The Letterman Show (the strike has hit late night shows hard) and thought Robin Williams, who was there to promote Happy Feet, was terrific (really, the producers are digging way back for material; I think this was '04). But I thought, "Would I want him at my Thanksgiving table?" I don't know. I think he's too manic for me.

If I were to host a celebrity Thanksgiving guest, I think I'd choose Frances McDormand. Yep. She'd be perfect.


I was thinking that families at Thanksgiving are a lot like women with PMS. I'm thinking this because the two are about to collide at my house tomorrow. Men might think they've got this PMS thing figured out; that is, if they have a woman in their life, but I say: Pay close attention to your Thanksgiving body and emotions and you'll have a good idea what we women go through every month:

1. Anxiety at night: for PMS women (PMSW), unexplained; for Thanksgiving Celebrants (TCs), worry over the shopping, the baking, the in-laws.

2. Cravings: for PMSW, it's often for carbohydrates and sweets; for TCs, same thing--carbohydrates and sweets.

3. Short temper: 'nuf said.

4. Inability to cope: for PMSW, agitation at all things stressful; for TCs, the agitation is best symbolized by that last half hour at the stove, when the turkey needs carving, the gravy is clumping, the potatoes need mashing, and no one will fill the water goblets. Note that primal scream working its way up your gullet.

5. Bloating: for PMSW, could last for days; for TCs, experienced right after the grand meal. Phenomena almost always involves jeans suddenly too tight with discrete loosening of button and zipper under sweater.

6. Extreme fatigue: for PMSW, we should just lie in bed a whole day with snacks and reality TV; for TCs, we should just lie on the couch the rest of the day with snacks and "the other kind" of reality TV (Lions v. Packers).


Speaking of PMSW, I came across this comment at
"The film clip made special mention that men feel happier at 'family gatherings' than women. Well, DUH! If those parties are still on the order of what they were when I was growing up, OF COURSE the men are happier! They're in the rec. room drinking beer and watching the game (and of course engaging in parent-child bonding with their pop-drinking sons and nephews)...while the ladies and their daughters are cleaning dishes, tossing garbage, packing up the leftovers, minding the babies, etc."

I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately.

In 2004, researchers developed a survey tool that measures people's quality of daily lives. Then they asked 909 employed women to record the previous day's activities and their feelings toward them.

And that's what I'm going to do. I'm writing down all my activities today, and tonight, before turning off the light, I'm going to rate them and determine what throughout my day made me happy. It's a perfect day to judge: a half-work day, some family, some homekeeping, some company. I'll let you know my results. I can tell you when I dug up the above Thanksgiving photo from my archive, this one of my son with his older cousin, that made me happy.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving in time: rich and chunky, snappy and smooth

See this video by Beth Dooley at the Minneapolis-St. Paul magazine website, her take on the best bakeries in town. If this doesn't get you in the chowhound mood, I don't know what will. If you're cooking for Thanksgiving, and even if you're not, you should get out soon--tonight!--and pick up some good foodstuffs.
Perhaps this is the year you break tradition. I was very amused when one of my friends told me that she and her husband, the year their only child left for college, baked only a turkey breast and sweet potatoes and ate their simple meal with really good bread and one killer dessert on lap trays, in bed, in their pajamas. Hell yeah, they said!

While I'm out and about, I'm going over to Northeast Minneapolis to Ready Meats on Johnson Street. I know they sell a lot of good meat, but I've heard all about their other products, too: lefse, pickled herring, Swedish potato sausage, homemade pasta and pizza "kits."


Awhile back I did the KFAI show, "Good Noise," with Dale Loomer, where I brought my playlist: "Music to Edit By." You'd think it would be nothing more than Miles Davis and Yo-Yo Ma Appalachian Suite and other soothing sounds. But I also included some good rock, like Lenny Kravitz, for the music "To take editing breaks by."

Music to cook Thanksgiving dinner by? Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Their new disc "100 days and 100 nights" is perfect for that pre-night prep over the stove.

"Sharon Jones is a woman-out-of-time, who cares less for what black music is "supposed" to sound like in 2007, and instead makes songs with every ounce of her heart and soul poured into them. She can sing her ass off, belting out notes over rich, chunky grooves of quacking horns, snapping snares, and bluesy guitar riffs by her backing band," writes a reviewer at
The Sassmaster and I grooved to the funk and soul of Jones and the Dap-Kings at the sold-out Friday night show, and the place was so crowded you could feel the groove of the dancing bodies around you, and the refrain of the black man behind me, who said--every time Jones sang how a man needed a woman--he said in a low voice, "That's right, that's right. I do believe that."

Our galley kitchen at home is so small we could recreate that packed First Ave scene quite easily this Thanksgiving, all of us swaying and chopping and stirring to the beat, the husband and wife believing in the power of one big family sit-down. "That's right, that's right. We do believe that."

(photo of cakes at Bellaria bakery, from Minneapolis-St. Paul magazine)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Biker Chicks and Pit Tootsies

I'm going to First Ave tonight, MY FIRST visit to the place. I know, I know, where have I been? But I'm going to wear my long black leather boots--so hip folks'll have nothing over me!

Seems like those fiesty editors at the University of Chicago hang out with clubbers, too. From the Chicago Manual of Style, Q and A of the month:

Q. I write professional resumes, and I have a question about the use of a comma in a sentence with including. My proofer has begun inserting a comma prior to including followed by a list: “Managed a variety of projects, including joint, combined, and contingency exercises.” Should this comma be omitted?

A. Many readers write to ask whether the word including always requires a comma in front of it, but there’s no simple answer. Each instance must be decided individually, because a comma changes the meaning.

I invited all the clubs including the biker chicks and pit tootsies.

I invited all the clubs, including the biker chicks and pit tootsies.

The first sentence is ambiguous; it might mean that I invited only clubs that include chicks and tootsies among their members. The second sentence makes clear that I invited all clubs, regardless of membership, and that this included the chicks’ and tootsies’ clubs. In your text you need a comma if the chunk after including is nonrestrictive (that is, if some of the projects included joint exercises, some included combined, some both, etc.). Without a comma, including becomes restrictive, and the implication is that every project included joint, combined, and contingency exercises.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jackson 5 - ABC (J5 Show)

As we were closing up at the office last night, one of my colleagues met me in the hall and said, "Do you think there will ever be a day again when we're not staring at screens?" We both had been in front of our computers editing all day. "Oh God, I hope so," I said. He said he planned to go to the gym and then buy himself a nice dinner at Saffron. I had no such plans; I was headed to Target to buy pedestrian things, but at least I'd be away from that damn screen.

On my drive over The Current was playing a rockin' list. I started to car dance on I-94 to The Quantic Soul Orchestra's funky beats in "Get a Move On." (We used to embarrass the kids by car dancing on the way to the lake. We'd jive with our heads and shoulders and hands so that the passerbys would take a second look. And if we came up on a deer crossing sign then we'd do the "deer crossing dance," a kind of prancing ahead with our arms bent forward like leaping deers. The kids would be hinding under their pillows and shouting at us by then.)

By the time I exited at Lexington Avenue the Jackson 5 came on and I was letting loose like nobody's business and a few of the Midway shoppers gave a chuckle when they glanced over. I used to dance to the Jackson 5 back in the 70s, wearing my big blouses and fitted vests just like Tito and the gang. There WAS life before these VDT screens (and bad nose jobs). Michael Jackson! Now he could dance. But I'm sure I'm going to get a chance to make all these dance moves pay off. Tomorrow night at First Ave.: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Are bell bottoms still in?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Crime and Punishment

Last night my son and I shared a soup dinner at home together. His new favorite: Progresso's chicken and corn chowder, with buttered Saltines on the side.

He was quite animated. Some days he barely grunts a reply:
"How was your day."
"Uh, yeah."
Other days he's full of stories. I'm always glad when I'm home to receive them.

Here's his story:

The eighth graders often play Pin Guard downstairs during the first part of their morning homeroom. I have no idea what "Pin Guard" is but I like Mr. B very much, his English and homeroom teacher, so I trust Mr. B. has come up with a plan to energize these sleepy teenagers before they start their day.

Yesterday morning big Zeller (names changed to protect the innocent) got in a tussle with Frenchy. (Now, Frenchy is a neighbor kid, a funny Italian kid who reminds me a lot of Ray Ramano on Everybody Loves Raymond. He's actually sweet in all kinds of ways but very talkative and kind of loud. One of those loud voices you might hear on the "L" in Chicago, the one that is giving detailed directions to the tourists, "And then you're gonna wanna get off at the Oak Park stop. Now you're gonna wanna watch closely so you don't miss it. . . .")

Anyway, Zeller is a kid about six foot who got kicked out of his Catholic elementary school for fighting and he's got a reputation. So Zeller and Frenchy get into it a little bit during Pin Guard and Mr. B tells them to knock it off and go sit in the corner of the gym and be quiet and cool off. (Now I didn't hear all the details from my son so I don't know if they sat in the corner and kept jawing at each other. Sometimes my son leaves out parts deliberately and sometimes he just forgets.)

So that afternoon Frenchy is out on the corner waiting for the bus. My son is still at his locker back in school, gathering his things. He heard that big Zeller came up from behind Frenchy and clobbered him in the cheek. Louie Q. saw the whole thing and went running into school to tell the principal and then upstairs to tell Mr. B. Those three came rushing out and just then my son came out, too. (I asked my son, thinking how much it must hurt to get sucker-punched like that, "Did Frenchy cry?" "Nah," he said, "he just swore.")

So Frenchy and my son take the bus home and walk together to Frenchy's house to do their homework. Most days they alternate between Frenchy's house and our house, depending on whose got the best snacks in the house that day.

My son said that the principal called Frenchy at home after school and said that she had talked long and hard with Zeller and he had told his parents that yes, he had done that, but that Frenchy had been taunting him. So the principal asked if big Zeller and his mom could come over now and apologize to Frenchy. (I asked, "What did Frenchy say to that?" My son said, "He said he was busy." I asked, "And then what did he do?" My son said, "He hung up the phone and then he swore.")

So the principal ended up calling Frenchy's parents at work and it was worked out that indeed Zeller and his mom were coming over that evening to apologize.

I asked my son, "Did Frenchy's parents believe Frenchy?"

"Of course," he said.

"Was Frenchy taunting Zeller?"

"Mom. No, he wasn't taunting Zeller. He couldn't have been. Zeller hit him from behind. But that's not the point. The point is that even if Zeller was being taunted that's no reason to punch someone in the head."

(Yes, the things they teach us, these kids.)

Then my son said, "If I get to school tomorrow and Zeller isn't in trouble and all he had to do was apologize I'm going to the principal." (Now my son looks pretty ticked-off.)"Let's see, he beat up a kid half his size last year and he picked on Louie and he even beat up Marlene. Why should he keep getting away with this?"

"He beat up Marlene?" I ask. Marlene is a savvy hockey player and the prettiest girl in the class. This is news to me.

"Has he ever done this to you?" I ask. My son is taller than me and a solid kid but Zeller is taller even than my husband and thick.

"I got in a fight with him at lock-in last year." My son is still agitated.

"But it looks like he respects you. He's always saying 'See ya, T.' at football and giving you a pat on the shoulder when you sack the quarterback," I say.

My son loosened up a bit and he paused for a long time.

"Yeah, he has a serious anger problem."

I think for awhile. Parents tend to always bring stories about other kids back to their own. A kid will be telling a story about some schoolmates who smoked pot out on the athletic shed roof and then soon enough we parents will inevitably ask, "Have you ever smoked pot on the athletic shed roof?"

I ask my son, "Do you ever think you have an anger problem?"

After another pause, my son said, "Nah. I don't have an anger problem. But if I don't like a person, usually by how they act to me or how they act to my friends, I know that it's going to take a long time for anyone to convince me otherwise. I guess you could say I have a stubborn problem."

What I wouldn't give to be one of those lunch ladies in the school cafeteria today.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monday Morning Report

It's Veteran's Day and our offices are closed.

It's Veteran's Day and I'd like to call my dad but I'm pretty sure "Happy Veteran's Day" isn't going to cut it and if I called to say, in that Hallmark card kind of way, "I'm thinking of you on Veteran's Day, Dad" that would just make him uncomfortable.

So I'm thinking of my dad, the pacifist, on Veteran's Day. I'm not sure what he thinks of a day like today. I know he doesn't want his long service to be forgotten. When I ask him if he would do that again, serve 25 years in the Air Force, he just says, "No. That was no way to raise a family."

I thought this morning about my young friend Thuy. A few years back I had called her to say hello and see how her college applications were going. She was a senior in high school here in St. Paul. Thuy is Vietnamese and a talented young writer (her junior high essay had been selected for the Voices for the Land contest).

I asked her how high school was going. "It's okay," she said, "but I'm ready to go to college. Yesterday my teacher stood in front of the class and said, 'Raise your hand if you're for the war in Iraq.' And then she said, 'Okay, now raise your hand if you're against the war.' And then that was it. No discussion. Just a counting of hands. I thought, 'Are you kidding? My father fought in the Vietnam war. My uncle died in that war.' A show of hands and nothing else?"

And then I thought of my cousin in-law Brian. He joined the Army Reserve to get college money and then became a firefighter in Nevada. He never thought he'd be called up to serve in Iraq. Maybe help out with natural disasters around the nation but not 18 months in the First Artillery Regiment in the Middle East. He was one of those first soldiers to storm Basra before the fall of Baghdad.

When he finally got orders to go home his wife, my cousin, met him in San Diego. His friends and family back in the L.A. suburbs had planned a big party for him that coming Friday. They had some extra tables brought in, balloons, a big signed card, lots of music and beer.

But the young couple hadn't seen each other in almost two years. On the drive back they got a call from one of his sisters reminding my cousin Kiley that she was signed up to bring napkins and plates and a side salad. It's okay if she hadn't made the salad but had she gotten the napkins and plates? The returning soldier saw his wife start to tremble and called my uncle, the big guy I've talked about who played offensive line for Florida State. The soldier said, "I can't go to this party." Uncle Larry called the sister, the party planner, and said, "Hey look. They're not making a fucking jello salad. They're not buying the plates, okay? He just spent two years in the worst goddamned place any of us can think of and you're asking them to bring a fucking jello salad? They want to see you and he's happy to be home, but they're not coming to the party. I bought them a hotel room in the city and they're staying there as long as they want until he's ready to come home."

And that was that. I heard Brian cried for two days in that hotel room.

So that's my somber Monday Morning Report. I'm going to go build a fire and read a little Wendell Berry and maybe call my dad now.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Feed a Cold, Starve a . . .

I've got something like the flu so I'm home today. I woke at dawn and drank a mug of tea then fell back asleep until 10:30 a.m. The second I woke up I was hungry and I knew the teen kid downstairs would be hungry, too. (He's off for parent-teacher conferences.) I croaked out, "I'll buy you breakfast. Want to go out?" He emphatically yelled back a yes. I couldn't eat much of anything yesterday so I knew I couldn't pound back anything too greasy today, so I suggested one of my favorite breakfast joints: the Day by Day Cafe on W. 7th. It was perfect.

The kid ordered French Toast with a side of bacon and one over-medium egg. He likes to dunk his bacon into the yolk of his egg. And he got a glass of chocolate milk to wash it all down.

I got the steel-cut oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar, a croissant, and some chamomile tea. The kid picked out the tea for me after sorting through all the herbal selections in the tea caddy.

We shared the sports page and then he let me have a few bites of his French toast, which was made of large diagonal cuts of a soft French bread and soaked in the egg-and-milk wash long enough to make it taste both eggy and crisp.

The waitstaff, most/all of whom are in recovery (hence, Day by Day) are just the right kind of restaurant folk for a teen: not too much chatter or silliness and just the right attention paid to the small stuff (like being sure to ask if the kid wanted his milk with breakfast or before).

The place serves breakfast all day and into the night. If you're in the W. 7th St. neighborhood you should definitely stop down. Here's what a few critics have to say about the cafe:

"Besides breakfast which is served all the time, regulars and strangers mingle over hefty burgers, vegetarian salads in what is a one of a kind cafe in the twin cities, but which invokes waves of nostalgia among ex-New Yorkers and Chicagoans who know such a place in their neighborhoods of the big cities." -Gareth Hiebert- Minnesota Restaurant Review

"Do you like to sleep till noon? Breakfast whenever you want it is one of the charms of the Day by Day Cafe, an unpretentious restaurant in St. Pauls west end." -Entertainment Twin Cities

"Cook, Eat and be Sober." Minnesota Monthly

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

No more critters

Image from B. Kliban, Cats


In years past, when the leaves and the temperatures started dropping, we've often had a mouse or a few mousies sneak into our old house for shelter. They might have found any number of tiny spots along the brick line of our foundation or even under the back door frame. Seems we never figured out we had a mouse until we had three or four. It's like our heating vents and back cedar closets were a venue for vermin speed-dating.

When our daughter was younger every now and then she would let go a blood-curdling scream and we'd rush up the stairs until our hearts pumped in our necks. A mouse! There! In my room! I'm not sleeping here tonight! she'd cry out. After awhile we got the hang of this and then she'd scream again and my husband and I would look over at each other, nod our heads in agreement, and say, "Must be another mouse in the house." They always liked her room best because it was the warmest. And the messiest.

One time James Lileks ran a contest for best "mouse story." I submitted one about the daring mouse that had begun to patrol our house at night and even had the audacity to nibble down the pak of Rolaids my husband kept on the nightstand by our bed. We woke in the morning and the 8-pak of heartburn tabs had been chiseled down to look a bit like the Washington Monument.

Once a couple of horny mice took a liking to each other and before I knew it we had a family of six living in my son's closet. My husband was out of town for the week and the kids and I had just come home from a long day at work and school and day care. We flipped on the lights to my son's room and the six mice scattered away, all in different directions, like one big fireworks burst: north! south! southeast! west!

Last summer our neighbor's cat took a liking to our porch. He's a street cat and our neighbors never bring him in at night. He's had so many fights (we know; we hear him in the back alley) that his tail is only an inch long and he's fairly distrustful, even for a cat.

At night he'd curl up on our cushioned rocker and when we'd come out to get the morning paper, all we'd see is the swaying of the rocking chair and a soft round indent in the seat cushion.

Once in a while the cat would puke up his night's meal. There'd be a tail or some tiny bones in his puke, all of it right there on our porch. Seems he was trying to break us in. When we told the neighbors, they brought over a plastic squirt bottle filled with water and told us to squirt him in the face every time he came around. That would get rid of him.

Of course, we couldn't do this. We hardly knew the cat.
He got over the puking and pretty soon he got over us. Now he greets us when we come home at night and even flops clumsily on his back so we can scratch his belly. And those late fall mousies? Let's just say our little black foster cat is quite the fat feline these days. . .

Monday, November 05, 2007

3 x Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup = 2 x Daylight Savings Time, or BLAH

What do you get when you combine a dark, clock-changing Monday with a grim, snow-threatening forecast? Blah Humbug!

Check out all kinds of BLAH variations here, the cool "Word It" feature of the design blog Speak Up.

Monday Morning Report

I did not acquire this book. I would never acquire this book.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Take time to smell/prune/transplant the roses

Yeah, who am I kidding? The sort of things I described a post earlier is still in phase 1, the little city plot. The hubbie and I worked all day long together, stopping only for a bite at Champp's down the hill (which, by the way has 16 TVs in a 30 x 20 space around the bar; it's like lunching in the middle of the electronics department at Sears). Hubbie had agreed to come to a party with me, one in which invitees were asked to bring foul manuscripts or misguided rejection letters to burn in the backyard fire pit. I even had my contribution on the dining room table: a recent angry letter that begins like this: "I probably should wait a few hours or even days before responding . . . but there isn't even ONE ELEMENT that I like. . . ."

When we finally closed down for the evening and tucked our 13-year-old into the couch with a blanket, some cough drops, and free reign of the remote control (he's nursing a cold; I should say we're nursing his cold), we built our own pit fire out back and stared at the flames. Our neighbor shouted out, "That looks cozy!" We didn't move and only barely called back, "Good night for a fire." When she came through the side path again she said, "You two look comatose." And so we were. Hubbie said, "Tomorrow I'll build the frame for the broken storm window." I said, "Tomorrow I'll sand and stain the sitting bench." He said, "Tomorrow I should get new bulbs for the floodlights." I said, "Tomorrow I'll cut down the rest of the perennials." He had washed all the outside windows and hung storms on the second floor. And cleaned out the garage, which is a lot like Sanford and Son's because our house is so damn small we tend to keep everything out there. I had cleaned out all the flower pots and beds, repotted the geraniums to store over winter, torn down the vegetable garden, and turned the compost pile for more winter brewing.

He got up and brought back a small shot glass of chilled raspberry vodka for us to share. We had some old birch logs on the fire from the woodpile up at the lake.

He said, "Tomorrow. . . . "

"Stop," I say. "No more chores. My head takes all those lists and sticks them in these file folders in my brain and then my brain clings to them like there is no tomorrow."

"Yeah, see, my brain doesn't do that," he says.

I know he knows how much lately I crave time for wandering. There is SO much to do at work. SO much to do at home. Even my conversations at work have exhausted me. Nothing seems easy lately. That's why I really like having a day like yesterday, despite the sore muscles and stiff neck and inability to stay up past eight. I could wander around our little city plot and pick at a number of things that make up our seasonal ritual. I could turn the layers of compost for awhile, then transplant some clematis. I could wash off all the plant markers and clay pots or I could cut down the old day lilies. It is good just to putz. The two of us seem never to have much time together so there was joy in just putzing side by side. I could brush by him with my hands full of sticks and peck him on the cold cheek. He could ask me what I thought of another firewood shelter and whether he could build it on this side of the fence. We are both grateful for the time this extra sliver of fall has given us.

So as we watched the fire we both knew we didn't have much left in us. He went in to take his shower and came down in some plaid flannel pajama bottoms and a fleece pullover. I took my shower and came down in my red ski pajamas and an old black cardigan. He put up his knobbled knee on a pile of pillows; I drank the chocolate milk from the fridge right out of the bottle. The kid said to me, "I take it you're not going to the party," looking at our get-ups. And then hubbie and I both fell asleep before the teen kid, who watched us from the corner of his eye and was probably thinking, "My parents, man, they really don't know how to have fun."

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Sort

One of my favorite post trick-or-treat rituals is my son's systematic sort of his Halloween candy. He's been doing this for years. He also used to sort his Matchbox cars by model and line up his Lincoln logs in one long running fence throughout the house, like the artist Christo but without the wraps. But he organizes his treats more like Black Watch plaid than BN rail lines, and each category of candy or such gets a spot in the frame: smooth fillings, like Milky Ways, in one corner; wafer types, like Twix and Kit Kats, in another; hard candies like suckers and Jolly Ranchers, fill another square. Unlike what the parenting magazines are saying, there does not seem to be a move towards healthier treats. He did not get a toothbrush or a granola bar or the organic fruit chews that seems always to be on sale at the co-op. In fact, he did get quite a few King-size bars, some coupons for shakes at Wendy's, and a two-foot-long Wonka Pixy Stick. Of course, he trick-or-treated at the Wozniaks, the richly owners of Hobbit Travel who live in a sprawling mansion over on Edgcumbe Road. He said they gave out the King Size Hershey's with Almonds. Last year they gave out Izzy tangerine pops.

One Halloween, as a kid in Racine, Wisconsin, in the forties, my dad climbed over the big stone wall surrounding the house of the Johnsons and Johnsons--you know, of Johnson Wax fame. He and his buddy scaled the security walls and boldly rang the front doorbell and yelled out trick-or-treat like two kids showing off their new costumes to Grandma. The owners were so surprised they invited them both inside, asked them all kinds of questions, and then sent them on their way with two petite cakes, complete with pastel boiled frosting, that were wrapped in white boxes with pink ribbons and had been sitting on the dining room counter. Funny to think about my dad in costume walking home in the dark, carrying an old white pillowcase stuffed with candy in one hand, and holding his cake box by the top of the ribbon bow in the other.

I'll be doing my own sorting of sorts this weekend. The yard: I've been acting like I completely forgot that I garden or even have a city lawn, the way I've been sitting around sipping chilled vodka and reading big tomes. There are perennials to cut back, divide, and, if not too late, move. The mail: There is a few weeks worth of bills and forms and school information I'll be digging through. I'm going to finally do what they say and have those three piles: keep, donate, and throw. Wait, no, that's for clothes sorting. The paperwork division is: act, file, throw. I have green file folders ready for labeling and some terrific new music to play in the background while I work (Elliott Smith and the new Alison Krauss and Robert Plant CDs; thanks, Sharon!).

The closet: If, by chance, I'm not completely bushed by Sunday, I'll start in on the closet sort ala Tim Gunn. It's just the first week after my birthday and I'm starting a new ritual: one thing every month this year I'll NOT do anymore. This month: I'll NOT sort past those five-year-old duds looking for something decent to wear. I'll NOT keep the black-and-gold kimono wrap that I've not worn once since I picked it up at the UniDale shop last century.

Then, when I finally get back to work on Monday and someone asks me how I am, I'll say, "I'm out of sorts." And they'll think I'm in a bad mood or starting a cold but what I'll really mean is that I'm completely out of sorts--I have nothing left to divide and conquer.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

the morning after

"Don't wreck a sublime chocolate experience by feeling guilty. Chocolate isn't like pre-marital sex. It will not make you pregnant. And it always feels good."--Laura Brody, Growing up on the Chocolate Diet

From The Old Foodie

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween, the finale

Day 4: Open the door, dammit. There are kids who need candy out there!

"Trick or treat
smell my feet,
give me something good to eat."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween Continued

Day 3: Plan your costume.

My kids have always rolled their eyes at my suggestions for Halloween costumes.

"But what IS it?" they cry when I tell them they can go like a crazy library lady or a rail-riding hobo.

"That doesn't make sense. No one will know who I am. I'm not ANYBODY," they say as they put on a big plastic clown bow-tie, some polka-dot overalls, and face me ready to paint their cheeks with bright red circles.

"Yes, you are. You're somebody. See, you're HOSS. Hoss Cartwright. Just don't forget to puff out your chest real big and clench your fists. They'll get it."

And by the way, readers, I'm so going to use this picture to bribe the boys in a few years.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

More Halloween Days

Day 2: Get thee to a pumpkin patch

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Halloween Days

Day 1: Prepare your ofrenda.

I tagged along with one our museum program managers to the El Burrito Mercado in West St. Paul yesterday. She was on the search for items to include in the History Center's Dias de Los Muertos Celebracion (Day of the Dead celebration) planned for Sunday, October 28, 1 to 4 pm. The event includes a display of ofrendas designed by students from the Guadalupe Alternative Programs in St. Paul and a special ofrenda installation by artist Armando Gutiérrez. Gutiérrez will also lead visitors as they create their own unique ofrendas. Play "Day of the Dead Loteria," a Mexican-style bingo game, see a sugar skull-making demonstration, enjoy Mexican folkloric dancing with Los Alegres Bailadores, and hear traditional music performed by Pedro Torres and his eight-piece mariachi group Flor y Canto.

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holday that remembers and honors friends and family who have died and is celebrated over two days, November 1 (All Saints Day) and November 2 (All Souls Day).

El Burrito Mercado this year has set up an ofrenda in the front of their market and our manager Wendy, along with managers from the market, taught me about the altar.

I was born right across the border from Juarez, Mexico, in El Paso, Texas, and I worked with and lived near Mexican migrants when I was a teen, so I have some of that Mexican heritage with me. My parents live in the Rio Grande Valley in the winter months and right next to the airport I fly into is a huge cemetery with large-scale Stations of the Cross, and in preparation for the Day of the Dead many of the Mexican Americans will decorate all the railings and fencing and headstones with large, brightly colored plastic flowers. And then many take their lunches to the cemetery and have large family picnics there all day, sitting among the tombstones, eating tamales and drinking Pepsi Colas.

The Burrito Mercado ofrenda included a large tray filled with all the good things that go into traditional Mexican cooking (the pic above isn't from the Mercado but is a good example of a typical ofrenda):

a bowl of dry rice
dried chilis
some bay leaves
a cactus fruit (or tuna verde)
some tomatillos
cloves and sesame seeds in small dishes
an onion and a garlic

and then scattered around the big tray are sugar and wax candy skulls and papier-mache skeletons, and a few of the favorite things a loved one might have enjoyed, in this case, chocolate and cigarettes and a deck of cards.

(An artist's ofrenda, from

I brought all my wares home, pulled out my big yellow pottery bowl, and set up my little ofrenda. We gringos aren't big on home altars unless it involves Jesus or scrapbooking. But I think this is just right. My departed Papa liked war movies and unfiltered cigarettes and my Grandma liked Grain Belt beer. My father-in-law liked sweets and my dear cousins each liked sushi and Coke. So I'm off to Walgreens and the liquor store now for my all-purpose remembrance. I hope my son doesn't get the idea I'm setting out all these items for a teen fest Saturday night sleepover.