Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pleasure Ahead

Things will be quiet here for awhile as I head out to the BWCAW. Enjoy this passage from Eric Sevareid's Canoeing with the Cree, an account of his 2,250-mile voyage from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay:

"Coming out of the lake, the river was very small, running in a channel not more than forty feet wide. There were high weeds on each side and everywhere around us was low, marshy swamp. There was no place to stop. The channel wound crazily, seeming to get nowhere. The reeds prevented a breeze from reaching us and, since there wasn't a sign of a tree, the sun beat down on us unmercifully. Salty perspiration ran down into our eyes and the maddening horse flies bit time and again."


". . . Days later, torn, tattered, unshaved, unshorn, looking as though we came from the ends of the world, Walter and I thumped into the Winnipeg Canoe Club. They would not believe our story until we showed them our letters and other evidence. That night we were introduced, unkempt though we were, to the entire club, at a dance.

"'That's what I call some paddling,' the president said."


"All kinds of questions from various individuals about Minnesota and the United States in general finally convinced Walt and me that we were a long way from home, after all.

"'Minneapolis?' Colonel Reid asked. 'Where the deuce is Minneapolis?'

"And when he wanted to know just why we had made the canoe trip and I answered, 'Oh, for pleasure, I guess,' he exploded: "Pleasure! What a jolly funny kind of pleasure!" But he amended his statement with, "Oh well, that's youth. Things look different when you're young, I suppose. My word, I almost believe I envy you."

I'm 28 years older now than Sevareid was then, but the pleasure is still the same, I suppose.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The rain stopped and we all smiled

Hello, all. I’m back from our 4-day trip near Elroy/Sparta, Wisconsin, with:

28 kids

2 bike crashes

1 flu-sick teen

4 inches of rain

12 drenched sleeping bags

2 really bad pup tents (along with 5 good, dry ones)

74 miles of bike riding, 1/4 of which were through sheets of rain

35 really sore tushes

1 late-night return bus breakdown on I-94

Wait . . . can I tell you a couple of hilarious fart jokes? We picked up lots of those, too.

I want to write "Priceless" here at the end of the list but I know we're all sick of that cliche. Let me just say the trip was a blast and the kids, well, okay, I'm saying it: they were priceless.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Show and Tell

(J. M. Lerma, Klecko, me)

In a week I'll be at the Minnesota State Fair kibitzing in front of the St. Agnes Bakery kitchen with our fine mayor, Mr. Coleman. Last year we talked about family recipes and I tried to link the conversation to our recently published cookbooks. Before the event Mr. Coleman's brother, another Mr. Coleman who acquires rare things for the musuem here, told me he didn't know why I was going to talk about family recipes with his brother the Mayor because not only did his brother not know how to cook, but neither had their mother--that her famous family recipe was five pounds of hamburger, fried, with cans of corn and kidney beans thrown in. "The Irish, you know," he said.

But last August I learned that Mr. Coleman the Mayor did like to cook on trail and was especially fond of grilling salmon and other fishes. And since I'm about to hit the trail in the Boundary Waters myself for a week, I thought we'd talk about camp food.

So anyone who wants to share their favorite trail recipes, I'd love it if you sent them in the comments section below. And if you'd like a chance to ask questions of the mayor and see a book editor try to act like a talk show host, we'll be in the Creative Activities building next Friday, August 24, 1 p.m., at the St. Agnes Kitchen in the corner, between the quilts and the baked goods display. And you'll have an easy chance to win a free book, too (like the terrific Canoeing with the Cree)!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Word of the Day, August 16, 2007

The Word of the Day is rankle.

rankle • \RANK-ul\ • verb
: to cause irritation or bitterness in
Example Sentence: Rae Ann's snooty attitude and rude behavior rankled me, but I smiled to hide my irritation.

Did you know?. . . When "rankle" was first used in English, it meant "to fester," and that meaning is linked to the word's Old French ancestor, a noun that was spelled "raoncle" or "draoncle" and meant "festering sore. . . ."

This morning I tried to bake some meatballs (the things we do before work!) so my teen son would have something to nibble on for lunch. While the oven was preheating (and I was outside picking tomatoes), it started to smoke furiously--thick, stinky clouds of it poured up through the stovetop burners, like a Thomas the Train engine. When I opened the oven door, a big black pile of crud had flamed up. I quickly turned off the oven, opened some windows, and turned on the fan. Later I called my husband, who told me the teen daughter must have left the mess after cooking a homemade pizza yesterday. Did I tell you kids go back to school in a few weeks?

Example sentence: Their summer routines rankled the mother and so she made little notes to herself at the office: "Breathe. Take walk at lunch. Buy flowers. And gin."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

In a few days I'll be taking 27 teenagers on a four-day bike trip. Some of them, I think, have never camped before and more than a few of them are scared silly of creepy crawlers.

I found this wonderful sketchbook on the New Yorker website: "Camper Bug Alert" by Bruce McCall. You can click through all six juicy bug scenarios--but only if you dare.

Speaking of dare, my own kids know that I'm not too scared of bugs or snakes or lightning storms (boy was that a doozy here last night!) or even rabid foxes (which have been in one of my camps.) But they know that I am afraid of "the hacker." That guy, that deranged and soul-less guy out there in the woods, the one Alix Kates Shulman also fears in her memoir, Drinking the Rain. I was glad to find out I wasn't the only one with these fearful thoughts. When I hear the FDR refrain, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," I say "Oh yeah? Let me tell you about the hacker."

In my twenties, I was a counselor at the YMCA Camp Winona. It was a day camp for kids ages 10 to 13, with two sleepover nights at the end of each week. I was good at building campfires, pitching tents, pulling ticks off ears and backs, and sleeping with 7 stinky, fidgety teen campers on the top of some secluded bluff. But at night I was always thinking about that hacker.


Once, when my husband and I first bought our house in St. Paul, he had to leave on a long business trip. I was pretty new to the city and hadn't met the neighbors yet. That particular week there had been a string of beatings of elderly women in their homes. The St. Paul police had a police drawing of the suspect and it seemed I had that guy imprinted in my mind. The hacker, personified.

One night I came home late from my friend's Minneapolis apartment. The drive home seemed tense. The house was dark. I got spooked.

I ran upstairs and locked my bedroom door with the skeleton key, which I then gripped in my palm while I waited on my bed for the scared feeling to pass. It didn't. I put the key in my pocket and went down to my husband's locked cabinet for the .22. I had taken a riflery class in college and had grouse hunted some with my husband and duck hunted with some old high-school boyfriends. I knew how to handle a gun. It wasn't loaded and I didn't load it. It was just something to hold on to until I got over the heebie-jeebies.

I brought it back to our bedroom, laid it across my legs, and watched the back of that locked door most of the night. Finally, dawn came. I put down the gun, opened the door, and ran down the steps. I was so glad to have that night finally over. When I opened the door to check for the morning paper, I saw that I had left my keys in the door the whole night. So much for protecting myself from the hacker.


So as a camp counselor, I wasn't much good at ghost stories or late-night treks to the outhouse. (I'm much better now.) But my fellow camp counselors were master storytellers and we'd all sit around the campfire listening to tales of chopped-off heads, and golden arms, and monsters in the night.

I always offered up a chance for immunity from breakfast clean-up to the first kid who volunteered to lead our group at midnight--post-ghost storytelling-- back up the hill to our tent. They always thought that was such a cool thing for me to do. Little did they know.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Castro, Rove, and Toads in a Hole

Today's news is dominated by some of the senior men in our world: Fidel Castro celebrates his 81st birthday (at least Castro's peers do; who knows what Castro knows anymore), Karl Rove announces he'll step down as "Bush's Brain," (not much more to say about that), and Merv Griffin dies (he the man who earned "70 or 80 million" on royalties for his Jeopardy jingle).

Does anyone make that breakfast that some call, "Toad in the Hole"? A piece of toast with the hole cut out and an egg cooked inside, like this below only not so fancy (from The Amateur Gourmet blog):

My Papa (grandpa) and my dad both call these breakfast specials, "One-eyed Elephants." I don't know who concocted the name but my Papa listed it on the menu at their restaurant Tibbie's, in Indianford, Wisconsin. The key to the dish is making sure (1) you spread butter on the bread and toast one side well first before flipping the bread over and cracking the egg into the hole, and (2) you cook the egg thoroughly on both sides or, as we used to tell Dad, the whites are too jiggly. It's a tidy little egg dish and fun to serve.

I saw my mom and dad up north again this weekend. This time Dad didn't make his One-eyeds but instead thin pancakes with real maple syrup and sausage.

My dad was sent off on TDYs often when I was growing up (month-long alerts in places like North Dakota or Alaska) and when he returned we'd all be giddy. He'd wake up early on Sunday mornings and shout out from the hallway, "What do you want for breakfast?" My brother would yell, "Scrambled eggs and toast!" I'd yell, "French toast with bacon!" and he'd shout back, "Pancakes it is!" Drove my mom nuts.

When we were teens he'd pull us in circles around Big Wolf Lake, many times bearing the brunt of our anger when we couldn't get up on one ski or when we tried to land barefoot on the shoreline after a long pull. He was always looking for ways to give us a good pull, make it worth our while.

Now we have just a little Lund with a 25 hp motor so we don't ski much anymore but he's always up for taking the grandkid out for a little pull.

All the Roves and Castros can make a muck of the world out there but aren't we lucky we have our hardworking and loving dads to keep it real?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Is this better . . . or worse? Better? Or worse?

I have my annual eye exam tomorrow. Man, do I need new lenses. You know those heavy plastic tumblers a place like St. Clair Broiler uses for water and soda glasses? All scratched and cloudy from the wear and tear of customers and dishwashers? Yep, that's what my lenses look like.

It's only been a year or so that I've been wearing glasses nearly full time. Last year on my trip to the Boundary Waters I thought I could definitely paddle without wearing them and I could--I do just fine seeing things at a medium or long distance. But then when my companions asked me to navigate from the map, ah hell, I found I couldn't really read a thing. I tried to read the contours of the lake by squinting my left eye and sort of guessing at the portage points but that didn't work too well.

So I'm still a rookie at the eye exam. I'm always a little chatty and nervous around doctors or any kind of medical personnel. I chatter endlessly, like Kathie Griffin on Bravo, only not so obnoxious. Maybe more like Lucy Ball. Right at the point when I was about to deliver my son, I asked my doctor what he thought of Hillary's national health care plan (Bill had just been elected).

Anyway, last year, after the ophthalmologist did that light test and then the puff test, me tight in that head contraption, he began the whole lens series where he would flip over different lenses--one eye at a time or both eyes together--and ask me:

Is this better?

The same?

Or worse?

Better? The same? Or worse?

I got the knack of it for awhile but then it got confusing and I feared I was saying "better" when I really meant "worse." Or that I said "worse" for a lens that the doc knew was clearly better. I felt as incompetent as those kids who would rather become electricians or sous chefs but their parents make them take the SATs, and the tests so frustrate them that they darken the circles of the multiple choice questions only so the rows and columns make pretty polka-dot patterns.

I finally said to the doc, "I'm failing this test aren't I?" He told me no one can really fail this test, but he wasn't convincing. And then I wondered if my new eyeglasses would come back so out-of-whack for my eyes, like when we were kids and we'd ask to try on our dad's glasses just for the thrill of the dizziness.

So this year I thought I'd practice a little bit. Get the hang of the comparisons. Is it better? The same? Or worse?

Here goes:

Izzy's or Grand Ole Creamery? IZZY'S, BETTER

Friends or Frasier? SAME . . . I THINK

Raspberry martini or appletini? RASPBERRY MARTINI, BETTER (especially the ones at The Craftsman on Lake Street)



Chicago Manual of Style or AP Style Manual? CHICAGO MANUAL, DEFINITELY BETTER


Pawlenty or Ventura? AH MAN, SAME

St. Cloud or Mankato? SAME. WAIT. YEAH, SAME

Roddy Doyle or Frank McCourt? EASY, RODDY DOYLE

Starbucks or Caribou? GOD WHO CARES. OKAY, STARBUCKS

Coconut or almond? HUH, WAIT, DO THAT AGAIN.

Coconut or almond? WELL . . . THAT DEPENDS

(That's not an answer; which? Better or worse, or same?)


MIA or Walker? MIA, BETTER.

John or Paul? JOHN, EASY

Okay, now, Ringo or John? JOHN, BETTER


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Stewie dances with Gene Kelly

Look, you too can learn to dance

So, I think I can dance

Like father, like daughter. Kansas City, MO, pictures before the recital, c. 1968. I think this is the year my dad is in Vietnam. I imagine him getting this picture in the mail, if it wasn't confiscated like some of our other packages to him, and I picture it making him happy.
I think the thing I miss most in my life is dancing. That and my 1980s-era dancing body.

Monday, August 06, 2007

So You Think You Can Dance?

He can. That's my dad, third from right. (My Uncle Rod is next to him, in the center.) I love looking at these preteen faces from the forties.

*as always, click on photo to enlarge

Friday, August 03, 2007

POMS #5: St. Agnes Bread, on the wings of angels

For a lift, here are two poems for this Friday. I adore the first, called "In the library," by our U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic. If you go to the Poetry Archive web page here and click on the audio, you can hear the poet read it.

In the library
by Charles Simic

for Octavio

There’s a book called
A Dictionary of Angels.
No one had opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddles
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

From Selected Poems (Faber and Faber, 2004), copyright © Charles Simic 2004.

And speaking of flying, my good friend Klecko, master baker at St. Agnes Bakery, shares his poem:

by Dan "Klecko" McGleno








You can warm your bones and your tummies with the good bread and fun doings at the St. Agnes Baking Co. monthly retail event tomorrow, Saturday, August 4, at 644 Olive Street in St. Paul. There's nothing better for breakfast than a slice of his black Russian rye with a little slather of butter on top, and you can pick up all kinds of other treats: the moist zucchini bread, the wild rice sourdough (great with smoked turkey and fresh sliced tomatoes). Retail day goes from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. right inside this commercial bakery.

I hear Klecko will be reading poetry to those waiting in line to get in, so fly on over there. What could be more uplifting than poetry and bread?

Bridge Talk

For some other takes on our I35W bridge collapse:

University of Minnesota students and area residents reflect

Photographer Alec Soth weighs in on crassness

Blogger Noah Kunin writes "35W just came down right in front of my house" here.

The Dharma Blog contemplates the faith we put in things

A Twin Cities birder gives her perspective; scroll down to the post "35W Bridge, Who Knew?"

and the New York Times praises Jeremy Hernandez's heroics here. (8/6/07 edit: I had listed the incorrect name of the valiant camp counselor who helped rescue those kids. I've got it right now.)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A few weeks ago one of the boys on my son's baseball team got hit in the wrist with a high fastball. It was probably sailing about 50 mph when it smacked and broke three bones in the kid's arm. He dropped his bat and ran away from home plate in pain, gripping his elbow and trying not to swear. When he got close to the dugout one of our coaches wanted to test it out, see if the kid could still play, so he gripped that broken wrist and asked the kid if it hurt. The kid passed out so fast I thought he'd break his collarbone. Later he told us he must have gone into shock from the pain.

The next game a kid from the opposing team tried to steal second and jammed his leg against the base. We all heard his leg snap Joe Theismann-like and we all simultaneously cringed and moaned. Players from both teams gathered around this kid so tightly that we couldn't see the fallen player any more.

The league director was called over and one woman rushed by saying she was a nurse. And then the paramedics arrived quickly and they tried to open this tight band of ball players who were wrapped like a prayer circle around the victim. The mother, who had not been at the field when it happened (perhaps she was toting another child to another place, perhaps she had just gone back to her car to get her sunglasses), was beside herself, running out on the field. "What happened? What happened? You called the paramedics? I could have brought him to the ER myself. What? It's that bad?" I felt for her and knew that it was especially hard to have missed the accident, to come on to the scene of her young son's break only after the fact. And then there was our own injured player, who was sitting behind the fence with us parents, gripping his elbow again, the memory of his own pain front and center on his mind.

Though relatively small and minor, I recall these moments of pain and trauma after watching all the news about our collapsed river bridge here in Minneapolis. Our bodies, our everyday movements are so fragile.

It was a nice night and we were out walking and grilling and tending the garden when the 35W bridge collapsed, so we heard about it from our Colorado relatives, who had called to see if we were okay. God this stuff happens right in our own backyard, just a few blocks from our daughter's campus apartment--on our mighty river, the one she rowed with her crew team nearly every day last term--just one bridge over from where our good friend drives home every night, and look what happened! That could have been her. That could have been us. That could have been you. We think of our other personal near-misses (the night my Dad's apartment building was bombed in Saigon and the chaplain came over to sit with my mom until we heard word that Dad was okay; and, of course, 9/11). And we grimace and wince with those memories of pain and injury, and we fret over the way things fall apart when we're not there, but could have been, might have been. We sit in tight circles and watch, amazed that the bus of schoolkids just barely made it across, amazed that the surface of that fallen highway normally packed with commuters lies on top of the water like an old empty barge.

We are all okay at our house and hope you and yours are, too.