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