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.