Friday, April 04, 2008

No more clickety-click

I have to go now. I loved doing this and I loved meeting new friends and meeting up with old friends. I loved thinking about what to write and sometimes couldn't wait to hear your reactions. But I have to go now. I've got to put my energies into a few new things and I know I'm going to need all the extra time I can get. I've got you all bookmarked and speed-dialed and all. Call me sometime. It'd be fun to catch up.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Popover Heaven

There are only two ways to handle fatigue, in my opinion. One is to buck up and forge through it with all the outside help you can get. Strong coffee. Cold, bracing showers. (I once took No-Doze during a teen walkathon, my junior high version of speed.) Or you can give into it slowly, pampering yourself with all the soft and muted accoutrements that will eventually lead you to the Promised Land, where you can finally crawl into bed and sink into the pillows. Accoutrements, you say? Yes. Flannel pajamas for one. How good do they feel to put on before six, when you've had that kind of knock-out day at work? Foot soaks. Easy-reading magazines, like Style and Cigar Aficionado. And comfort food. Hubbie and I seem to be exhausted these days so I treated him to lunch today at the River Room at Macy's. Pink carpets, heavy black chairs, and warm POPOVERS. Best thing to salve a tired body since the mud bath.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Minnesota Twins |

Gotta love our hometown sidearmer. Hooray for Opening Day!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Starry, Starry Night

I couldn't sleep so I've gotten up, come downstairs in my nightgown, wrapped the fleece blanket around my shoulders, and turned on the computer. I don't normally suffer from insomnia but I've had enough sleepless nights to know that eyes wide open at 4 a.m. means I probably shouldn't fight it by thrashing in bed. It's too close to our 6 a.m. wake-up call anyway.

I had strange dreams all night and the last one that woke me felt eerily real: I was at a party full of people I didn't know, except I knew ABOUT them. They were the significant others of all the bloggers I read. As I walked through the party I heard familiar tales and names: "so when Heather got depressed the last time, I started seeing a shrink, too"; or "She calls me Non-birding Bill but I actually know a lot more about birds than people think." And every time I wanted to sit down, those people made me say silly phrases like, "Can I sit, for a bit, with my friend, Brad Pitt?"

Last night I had stopped by W. A. Frost for a drink and ordered what my friend ordered: one of those Frost specialties, a Caipirinha, with Cachaca, sugar, and lime. And then I had two of them, on an empty stomach. By the time I got home, I was feeling queazy, and all that sugar and alcohol made my head buzz.

So my body revolted in the middle of the night. It's not terrible waking up in the dark, while everyone else is asleep. The stars are out.

I did salvage the evening for myself by watching ONCE again. I love watching those two sing together: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Now there's star power.

Did you watch the Academy Awards this year? I loved it when they won the Oscar for Best Song. I loved when Jon Stewart called them back out so Marketa could finish her acceptance speech. But I loved most of all Hansard's closing line at the podium, heavily accented with that thick Irish, "Make Art. Make Art."

Make Art.

Apparently, the title of the movie--ONCE--refers to the many talented artists that writer and director John Carney knew who put off their career by saying "once" they get this and that sorted out, but never succeed because they've put it off too long.

And watching that movie made me think of Jon Hassler. He died last week. There was a line in one of the obituaries that read,

"I finished teaching my 9 o'clock freshman English class and went to the library. I badly needed to write, but I never took a writing course, so I had a lot to learn. I did that by developing boyhood memories into stories."

He was thirty-seven at the time and in his forties before he published his first book.

I keep a few other quotes from Hassler in my computer, under the folder labeled "writing." I have to say he's one of my role models. I met him about ten years after he started writing, just a few years after he took the writer-in-residence position at St. John's University and just after he had published the critically acclaimed LOVE HUNTER. It was summer and I was lucky to have him, Trish Hampl, Judy Delton, and others for a summer of writing, my first serious efforts at creative writing. Jon inspired us all. He was approachable, engaging, encouraging, funny, humble--all those things you want in a teacher. We'd write anything for him. I wrote my first short story with his guidance. He wrote and he spoke and he had us write and then speak and then he sent us away and I walked over to the lakeside cafeteria at Bemidji State and wrote for hours, completely lost in my own words. I don't think I even looked up much and I remember having a backache from bending over my pages for so long. Make art. Make art. My god, it feels so good to make art.

After we all read our work at a public event at the end of the term, he pulled me aside and asked me to come up to his office for a chat. And we had one of those memorable conversations: about art, about work, about life. He encouraged me, gave me his card, and told me to call him if I ever needed help. I didn't have enough money not to work and a few months later I got my first job in publishing.

I finally called him twenty years later. The call was about him, however, not me. I asked him to write a small set of essays for a book we were publishing, and despite his many other demands, his illness, and the little amount of money I was offering him, he said yes. He typed his own letters and always addressed them to me with grace and kindness. He was easy to work with and honest. When I asked him for an essay on a particular theme, he sent one in with the comment: "I don't know if this is what you want. I don't know what else to write." During our work together I heard a few stories about his career, his uneasiness working with the New York scene, his brushes with Hollywood. One story intrigued me: Robert Redford optioned the movie rights to Love Hunter and then called Hassler to talk about the movie. He told Hassler he loved the book but could Hassler change the main character (who has MS) so that he is not sick, could he make the guy healthy. Hassler said no, no he didn't think he could do that. Redford didn't make the movie--and has never made the movie. Some time after that call Hassler got another call, this one from Paul Newman's agent. He could hear Newman in the background. "Mr. Newman would like to make the picture. Is there any way you could get the rights back so Newman can make the picture?" In the background Hassler could hear Newman saying, "Tell him I'LL play the sick guy. Tell him I WANT to play the sick guy."

This week I prepare for a chance at a new venture that might take me further away from my time to make art. I can't burn the candle at both ends for long, the way that many starving artists do, working by day, creating by night. I just burn out too easily. But if I can pull it off a few days a week, writing while the stars are still out, I could make it work. And, when I stop to really think about it, I badly need it to work.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Star Power

There are only a handful of Hollywood stars I'd like to meet. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, together. Philip Seymour Hoffman, all day if I could. Frances McDormand. Sam Shepard. And George Clooney. There are more, of course. Sofia Coppola. Benicio Del Toro. Vanessa Redgrave. And face it, wouldn't Joan Cusack be a scream?

I was supposed to accompany an author this Tuesday to an interview with KARE-11's Showcase Minnesota. I saw that Aaron Eckhart was scheduled for the same hour. I love Aaron Eckhart! And then the author wrote to say that KARE-11 had posted George Clooney and Rene Zellweger as guests that same morning as well. Seriously, George Clooney! I imagined practicing my lines for the green room. But then I got the message that because George and Renee had been added last minute, our author was bumped--for the next day.

So close. Isn't that funny how when things don't work out you suddenly remember the most inane things from your adolescence? Like, "Close only counts in jarts, darts, and farts." Or how you could spend hours making funny faces in front of the camera? Back before Facebook. Even back when you had to pay for film.

*I took the top picture on the set of the movie Sweet Land. Shot in Montevideo, MN, these star trailers were set up in the farm fields. And the bottom pic is of my daughter and her beau, taken at one of our backyard parties.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring is for . . . yeah, well, you know the gig

If you're looking for a spot to enjoy this weekend, come on over to my neighborhood. See the review of Ran-Ham at Twin City Sidewalks. For a little more sunshine, take a walk south along Hamline, past Highland Parkway, and mozie on over the old stone bridge on the left (at the intersection of Hamline and Edgcumbe Road) to the redone Highland Park/Disc Golf Course. Or if you're in the mood to shop, pop up to Gypsy Moon near the corner of Randolph and Fairview in the old kosher market building across from St. Kate's. I love both her vintage and new items, the feel of the place (a cat or two wander in and out), and her reasonable prices (gifts often under $20).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spring is for thinking of Summertime

Excuse me, but screw American Idol. Go here, sit back in your chair, close your eyes, and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring is for Streaking

Be careful. It's still a little chilly out there!

See today's story in the University of Minnesota's Minnesota Daily.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring is for Taking Inventory

. . . of your fair-weather clothes

. . . of your fishing gear

. . . of your garden seeds and needs

. . . of your Easter basket loot.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring is for waiting

photo untitled from [via]

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeting lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

Excerpt from poem "I Am Waiting" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring is for poetry

God's Ode to Creation

Now there shall be tum-tiddly-um, and tum-tiddly-um,
hey—presto! scarlet geranium!

—D.H. Lawrence

Today's the kind of day when I feel good
about that dazzling stuff I've made down there,
everything so mixed up that even lies
turn out to be the truth. The legendary
amaranth, for example, somebody insists
they saw it growing down in Hell, and presto!
not only does it have a genus, and seeds,
but a real chemical formula so everyone
can dye their underwear dark purplish red.
You give me credit for the natural,
flame trees, tansy, sleek dangerous leopards,
and even tiny mites like the golden neotode
worming down into the rich potato plant,
the jerboa, the noon, and the stargazer perch,
but I'm the author of the artificial, too,
those bolts of homespun Khaddar cloth, and guns,
concertos by Mozart, and tiny micro chips.
I've always loved the way the invisible
gets to be visible, my big winds measured
by the Beaufort Scale, so that a sailor
blown off course by Force 11 knows
the velocity of the storm that downed his ship
and understands, as he slowly starves to death
on a rocky desert island without coconut palms,
that the time between new moons, lunation,
is divided into 29 days, 12 hours,
44 minutes and 2.8 seconds.

What glorious precision!
It's too bad, I know you're thinking, that my rules
don't allow me to help that sunburned sailor
and I do regret that a Java sparrow didn't drop
some seeds from the mainland two centuries ago
so that a bunch of fruit trees could take root.
No need to impute malevolence to me,
or even indifference, for I feel bad
about what happens most days, looking down
at another execution in Huntsville,
sighing over another quake in Turkey.
But today the blue planet, wreathed in clouds,
looks extra lovely as it spins through space,
and I want a little praise for my handiwork,
my fleecy altocumulus, my silvery mists,
even that fancy stuff you built for me,
pagodas, skyscrapers, the Eiffel Tower.
Prayers are rare these days—instead I get
millions of poems constructed out of words
that sizzle in three thousand languages,
a few of them paeans, but most ironic jabs.
But do I zap the ones who mock? I don't.
At night I see them sweat and yearn, dreaming
of that one thing I never made, and won't.

Copyright © 2006 Maura Stanton All rights reserved.
from River Styx . For more on the poet, see also here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Maria (muh-rye-ah), Maria, now that I can handle

I just finished watching Frida and everything is now back in perspective. Yes, yes, I will learn more about this woman. And Selma Hayek, too. She is on a mission to highlight the women of Mexico in American popular culture, yes?

Our short stay in Lake Maria State Park helped, too. We needed to get out of the city. Friday night I woke in a fright. Seriously. I remembered something I had written in a very important letter. I've been writing so many important letters lately. Letters of recommendation, letters of application. In this one, I don't know even know exactly why I used this particular place name--I really should have used the town name Pazardjik but I was in a rush and couldn't remember it right, so I used Sofia. (Juliloquy, you'll wonder what all this is about. It was a reference to our writing exchange with your Bulgarian and my American students.) So I used Sofia but instead I typed Sophia. And apparently, so did the Washington Post on December 20. I know that because Friday night I leapt out of bed, charged down to the Webster's 3rd International we have open on our credenza, and verified my mistake. It had come up in a dream I was having and in that dream there I saw my spelling error so clearly. Oh Sofia, Sofia! I Wikipedia'd my mistake and saw that the place name is often misspelled--saw even the online Washington Post errata column noting their error, too. Dammit. When I write these important letters I get carried away with my own enthusiasm and then I read the message over and over, forgetting to look over every single letter. It's the message I aim for, not the spellings. I think it's something I've been doing since third grade. One of my elementary teachers wrote on my report card that I was a good student and had a smart way of looking at things but that "Pamela makes careless errors in her work." I am doomed. I trudged back upstairs that midnight eve, not comforted by the fact that I'm not alone in my mistakes. The minute my husband woke the next morning I told him my woes. I hadn't slept well and look, look what I did! He said, "What will they think? Hey, it just shows you're human."

But luckily I was able to move on from Sophia to Maria. We were late pulling in to the park but there was still plenty of daylight when we checked in with the ranger. We forgot that access to the park trails and roads are different in the winter and instead of the quarter-mile hike into our cabin it was a full mile. They quit plowing the access road in winter and instead open it to cross-country skiers. My husband, with his new titanium knee and all, grabbed the plastic sled with our water jug and stove and a few other supplies. I put on the Duluth pack. We ran into a couple who had just stayed two nights in the same cabin and they assured us they had left it very clean and that the hike wasn't too bad, really.

You know how when you go out on an adventure and your traveling companion has something going on--they're afraid of flying or they hate not to be in charge or they suffer from low blood sugar--and you're so aware of this that all you can think of is their handicap or their discomfort and you forget entirely about yourself? It was all I could do to keep my focus on the snowy hill. I was so worried this would be too hard on my husband. Last time we had hiked was in Colorado and he was so cobbled and hitched-up it was a terrible sight to watch. But Sunday he pulled the sled up through the woods and around the bends and we only stopped a few times to catch our breath. I started to see the color come back in his cheeks. We both have been in the house too much lately. We came around the slough and saw the beaver dam and beyond that the simple roofline of the log cabin. When we got there, the wood was stacked neatly against the front landing and inside the cabin the wood floors were gleaming and the cast-iron stove was ready to be lit. We both agreed it hadn't been that long a hike. His knee felt great, he said. I took a deep breath and looked out over the hills. There is something I remember right about Bulgaria. Julie and her students had sent us a care package filled with cassette tapes of themselves and their favorite singers singing Bulgarian folk songs. And postcards of their homeland. And the red-and-white martenitsi: small, decorative pins, made of white and red yarn and worn from March (Marta) 1st until the 22nd of March (or the first time one sees a stork or swallow). The giving of the martenitsi is a Bulgarian tradition for welcoming the upcoming spring. The red and white woven threads are not just decoration, but symbolize the wish for good health, too.

We could have been wearing the martenitsi I kept from that care package. There is nothing like getting away together with an old friend, in the spring. Forget Sophia. Welcome Marta. And Maria, Maria. Now that I can handle.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

words, words, enough already with the words

This is just a fraction of the words I've taken in this Friday. Words, words, enough already with the words. Hubby and I have the weekend to ourselves so we're sneaking away for a cabin stay in one of the state parks. I'm aiming for that Zen state. In fact, I plan to give him the shush symbol every time he tries to strike up a conversation, so sick of words am I. I wonder how long it will be before he throws the aluminum coffeepot at my head?

Word on the street

"Those look like Penitentiary Potatoes," said the woman in line at the Dorothy Day Center.

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" asked my husband, who was volunteering on the food line, scooping scalloped potatoes and ham.

"Oh that's a good thing, let me tell you, that IS a good thing" she said.

Mucky math
"Just when I thought my head would explode from trying to figure out delegate math, I’m hit with call-girl math.

The arithmetic of procuring a prostitute who is both experienced and inspirational is even more complicated than the arithmetic of procuring a president who is both experienced and inspirational."--Maureen Dowd, NY Times column, 3/12/08

Two very different claims to fame
When it comes to Guitar Hero, a Minnesota teenager is on top of the world. Chris Chike, 16, is the Guinness World Record holder for the highest score for a song on "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock."--from the Mpls./St. Paul Star Tribune

Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and a cofounder of string field theory. . . .--From Papercuts blog

Good God, is it time yet?
17. Is sex possible after knee replacement?
Provided it does not involve chasing your partner around the room (or other obstacle-laden course) at high speeds.--from that notebook they sent home with us

And more sex
"To me, the most sensual food is scrambled eggs with caviar and creme fraiche. You have it on a Sunday morning when you lay in bed. You get up and make it with toast and a little champagne to start the day, and then you can go back to bed and enjoy life again."--quote from chef Daniel Boulud

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pop Not!

Last week I was anxious and neurotic and sat in front of the tube watching American Idol and munching mindlessly on those Pop Nots! (those half-popped corn kernels I buy in bulk at the co-op). I should have thought of my mom's warning (see other passalong wisdom here) instead of tossing back these insanely addicting but hard-on-the-teeth snacks. She would say, "You be careful. (Her favorite line.) Your body can't do the same things it could at twenty." In her book, that warning counts for skiing, pick-up basketball, late-night partying, working weekends, and, if she knew about it, eating Pop Nots! with abandon.

Sure enough, after many fistfuls of the Pop Nots! I felt a ragged edge at the back of my right molar. And a gap. With a little overhang of old filling jutting over the edge. I must have clamped down on one of those hard kernels and broken off a chunk of my molar at the point of a hidden break or deep crack. Didn't even hurt. Except now it does, but I just don't want to face the pain of a dentist visit. And this terrific post here doesn't help. Oh, here comes another one of my family's sayings, this one from my Grandma Teubert: "Gawd, woman, you are falling apart."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Yeah, have fun with that one

I got my first Netflix movie Saturday. My daughter gave me the three-month, unlimited subscription for Christmas. I let the boys fill up the queue first: they ordered The Pursuit of Happyness, Transformers, Flags of Our Fathers, etc. My film finally arrived. At breakfast my husband read the CD-sleeve description: "Also known for her controversial politcal and sexual reputation (she was a communist and a bisexual), Frida struggled with a life of wracking pain following an accident, the amputation of a leg, and finally, drug and alcohol abuse that killed her at age 47."

He looked at me and said, "Yeah, have fun with that one."

Monday Morning Report

How was your weekend? Do your colleagues ask you that on Mondays? A friend of mine works at a place where they never ask her. Another used to have a bunch of colleagues who spent all Monday morning talking over their weekends, one-upping each other with their tales.

I had to work yesterday at a day-long photo shoot, so I took off Friday in exchange, which was perfect since it was the younger kid's 14th birthday. How do I know he's 14? He is now, officially, one inch taller than I. We measured. He got 23 text messages between 11 pm and 1 am; I checked the AT&T phone bill. He quotes lines from The Office at the dinner table. (When I mentioned to both kids that it's amazing how much their generation loves The Office, even when they hadn't worked in a real-live office themselves yet, my son said, "Are there really people like those characters?")

He wanted a "light early breakfast at 8 a.m.," presents, and then all day to play with his presents. He's very exacting about his birthdays. When he was younger he never declared his new birthday age--such as, "Now I'm seven!"--until we had had cake and candles and the birthday song. If someone came over to the house earlier than the cake celebration and said to him, "How do you feel being seven, T?" he'd cry out, "I'm NOT seven YET."

So we had his favorite breakfast and then we gave him his presents, which included one of those new deluxe gaming systems, the one he'd been requesting for months. And then the kid expected to play it immediately. Except:

1. We didn't have the ethernet cable so he could play with his friends online.
2. We wanted to take him shopping to buy a game for it.
3. After shopping at Target, we discover the 7-foot ethernet cable is too short.
4. After a second trip to Target and threading the replacement 14-foot ethernet cable down through the back of our computer station, we find the internet won't connect.
5. Sony's Help Desk line doesn't pick up.
6. Best Buy's Geek Squad line doesn't pick up.
7. Comcast's help line DOES pick up.
8. Internet connection works but online game doesn't.
9. Finally, after reading the 9-point type in the 54-page user's manual, we discover that we need to set up an online account. And because by now the kid is so impatient, he doesn't want me to set up my full adult account with a sub-account for him. "Just set it up once," he implored. It was now noon and his precise birthday plan was fading painfully away. So the Sony research folks can now see that a 46-year-old female in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is all set-up to play Call of Duty 4 with the online name of Timbo.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

"It's a fool who plays it cool" and the advice we carry with us

Why is it still cold and snowy? I know, people don't use the Farmer's Almanac here to forecast the weather. They measure it by the state high school hockey tournament --"Always snows during the tournament"--and that becomes the local wisdom.

And you feel like you'll never make it to spring. Then a little voice in your head calls out something like:

"Keep your chin up. It's not the end of the world."

Maybe your grandmother said it. Maybe your favorite aunt. My grandmother would probably say, "Never liked this place anyway." She was not keen on passing along memorable nuggets of wisdom. You had to learn the moral of the story only after you actually sat through one of her stories.

I've been soliciting a lot of advice from people recently. My friend Klecko quoted me the line above from the Beatles' "Hey Jude." It totally convinced me. It went with the other one from a local dean,

"Be patient and persistent."

Klecko's also the one who said he goes by the un-PC wisdom gleaned from an earlier boss:

"Think like a fat man."

He explained: if one is going to think about how to go about one's job it doesn't hurt to think "how can I get this done well with the least amount of physical effort?" Ha!

But that conflicts with the advice I got back as a teenager, "Work like a banshee," as in,

"Hard work pays off."

There are all kinds of books of quotations and one, The (Girl) Power of Quotations, lists this:

"A lady only chews gum in the privacy of her boudoir." We learned this as kids and at 45 and 46 years old, my sister and I still do not chew gum in public.

My mom wouldn't have told me that one but she would say, "You gotta have a comeback." When my brother and I started to knock up against the mean people of the world, she'd always say, "You need to have some comebacks." One of the things that drew me to my husband, which I didn't realize until some years after we married, is that he is the King of Comebacks. He's got the perfect ones for parenting or for when he's sympathizing with someone having a tough time. Once our daughter came running into the house after a day care teacher had revealed the facts on Santa, and my husband responded, "Good. That's over. I never liked that guy getting all the credit anyway." It stopped her right in her tracks, no tears, just a quizzical look in her eyes and a cocked head. Sort of like, "Well, that was a pretty cool trick you guys just pulled off for the last five years. Huh." I have never really mastered the art of that but I always think about it when someone tears at me pretty hard. (Bud Light designed a whole ad campaign on the art of the comeback: dude! Dude! DUDE!)

Seems I must have put stock in some of those nuggets of wisdom by the looks of my daughter's writing. See her "Advice to a daughter" here.

See that picture above? That's me at 21, about to launch out into the world. My parents and I had spent the summer at Big Wolf Lake while my dad and I took classes at Bemidji State. This is one of those typical weekend mornings spent drinking coffee and waking up to the sights on the lake. My aunt loves this picture because we're all so relaxed.

It never went like this: "Mom, Dad, can I talk to you about something?" Nope. Dad would sense something was wrong and then he'd talk to mom and during this summer at the lake I slept in the front room of this tiny cabin with only a floral chintz curtain for a door and I could hear them talking about me. And then in the morning as we sat around drinking coffee, thinking about starting our day, mom would say something like, "Let me tell you a story . . ." and then she'd pair up her own coming-of-age story with whatever she thought I was feeling and when she was done Dad might say, "Nothing we can do about it now, let's go make breakfast." Funny thing is, they often never got around to asking me what the matter was.

Once, I had this powerful dream. I had just learned of my great great-grandmother, a Native American woman of the Wisconsin Winnebago tribe, a single mother, an independent landowner. In my own life, I had been struggling through a lot for months and I felt alone in the world, kind of drowning. I was torn at work and torn among my many other roles in life. I'm not normally a dream-watcher and I tend to run on the Margaret Thatcher-side of mystical. But in my dream this great great-grandmother with the dark long hair spoke to me and said, simply, only these words: "You belong here."

Wisdom can be passed along and it doesn't have to rhyme and it doesn't have to be witty. Sometimes all it has to be is spoken at the right time, with love, plain and simple.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tenuous Connections

Yesterday I read a piece in the Paper Cuts blog about Philip B. Heymann, an author and former deputy attorney general under Clinton, who wrote a book on civil liberties and national security called Terrorism, Freedom, and Security: Winning without War. The blog guest columnist Barry Gewen calls the book a standout. I’ve been paying closer attention to the issues of national security and freedom these days and have just subscribed to the outstanding Virginia Quarterly Review, in part due to their new issue on human rights. Check it out here. I’m very interested in learning about the details of our role in the world and those questions that Gewen poses so well: “The really interesting issues dwell in that difficult gray area where one is left wondering whether a particular curb on our freedom increases our security against terrorism, and if the sacrifice is worth it. This is not a realm for absolutists.” When I’m on my own, especially, I like to hang around in the gray areas, see where I really come up.

And that link to Heymann reminded me that he was the first author I published almost twenty-five years ago. He co-authored a book that was one of the first to analyze another first: the use of the insanity defense in a murder trial. The book, The Murder Trial of Wilbur Jackson, used gruesome photos of the crime scene (and this way before CSI and Cold Case and Law & Order SVU) and I remember weighing how many of them to put in, how far to go with the display of murder evidence in what was planned to be a classroom text. It was the days of keylining and Penta typesetting and I had to hand-crop all those 8 x 10-inch glossies of dead bodies and such.

I also had to design the interior text and the cover. I was trained-in by someone who lived by the constraints of the Penta system and her own limited design skills. “Never use more than two typefaces in a book, inside and out,” she told me. No gray area there. And then she gave me a list of typeface pairs and told me never to deviate. Palatino and Optima. Times Roman and Helvetica.

Here’s the amateur cover, still intact after all these years. You can see I followed her advice. Of course, now I know that rules and rulemakers are made to be questioned. There is tradition, yes, and that can act as a framework, yes. But in book publishing, as in life, there is plenty of room in the gray areas. Learning to navigate comes from sound advice, skill, training, and most of all, careful practice.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Season End

These boys they grow up fast. This is a shot I snuck of the locker room action a few years back. I wouldn't even be allowed past the back hallway now that they're fourteen and up.

Ah, god, hockey is finally over. The Bantam team lost a tight game and the chance to advance to the regionals; final score 2-1, with the winning goal coming on a power play in the last two minutes of the third period.

Later that night, after the kid had showered and eaten, I asked him how he felt. He said, "Why do you parents always ask questions like that? How do you think I feel? We lost the game in the last two minutes on a stupid penalty."


The secular rite of passage in these parts is the Bantam A tradition, when the coaches take all the boys out for a steak dinner at Manny's. Manny's. (I'm not even going to comment on the well-hung steer they have fronting their home page.) We chip in $30 and the good-looking young coaches, who all have good day jobs and get an additional salary to coach the kids, cover the rest. My son asked if he could order the double Porterhouse but they all said no. The kid is rarely seen without a pair of sweats and a tee-shirt so I took him out for a little shopping. We ended up with some nice black slacks and a Perry Ellis button-down. He was sharp. I forgot to take a picture.

So they all get together last Friday night at the local arena and pile into their coaches' cars, subwoofers and stereos blasting. The staff at Manny's is ready for all 17 of them. The kid said they had one waiter assigned just to them and he "worked them." The owner came out, apparently, and discreetly asked a regular if he wanted to take a different table in another room. The kids were on their good behavior but I don't blame the guy for saying yes. He moved. The waiter took them all into the back and showed them the cuts of beef and the live lobsters. They ordered appetizers to share and most of them had big steaks. They passed around large plates of fried onions and mashed potatoes and hash browns. Across the way, Brad Childress was cinching the deal with the wide receiver from Chicago, Bernard Berrian, and a few of the teens got up and asked them both for their autographs.

T. said the bill came to a thousand dollars after dessert and the tip was $225. Tim said it was the most amazing meal he had ever had and then said to me, "I had a taste of the good life tonight."


Lie, lady, lie

Mary Schmich, a Chicago Tribune columnist, recently wrote a column that began:

"Which of the following sentences is correct?

I am going to lay down under my desk and weep.

I am going to lie down under my desk and weep."

If you're a writer or an editor, it's good reading. She talks about her newsroom copy editor, who despite his "intellectual finesse," couldn't remember the right usage of lie v. lay. She says,

When someone with his intellectual finesse confuses "lie" and "lay," it's obvious that the distinction has been lost to all but the crotchety few.

And she explains further:

I blame the defeat of "lie" on the rise of yoga. Or maybe yoga class is simply where I've accepted recently that it's time for purists like me (purists such as me? such as I?) to surrender.

"Lay down on your backs for bridge pose."

"Lay down on your bellies for cobra pose."

I've heard yoga teachers say those things thousands of times. And thousands of times I've wanted to shout, "No!"

I've wanted to leap up and explain that "to lie" is to recline, "to lay" is to place.

You lay your yoga mat on the floor. Then you lie down.

It's true. Our language changes all the time. When my kids used to ask for grammar advice I'd look up a rule or two. But now I ask them to read a sentence aloud or break it apart. And then I say, "Keep it if it sounds right."

What my own Mrs. Gray--my aged seventh-grade grammar teacher, the one who wore wool, two-piece skirt suits and weighed about a hundred pounds, twelve of which were devoted to the stacked and teased hair bun on top of her head--would say about the new slackening of rules. She would say, "It will sound right if it is right. You will will learn to recognize right with practice."

There are days I wish she worked in the office next to mine. I could fritter away the rest of a long Monday afternoon picking her brain with all kinds of persnickety questions.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Frozen Grand Central

Speaking of human kinetics (baseball and all), even if you're not feeling particularly athletic, you could still pull off this bodily feat, yes?

My own body this week has been either Stop or Go. Frozen or frenetic. That song by Johnny Cash and the Carters is a good one to sing about now: Life is like a mountain railroad, with an engineer that’s brave;
We must make the run successful, from the cradle to the grave;
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels; never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.

It's the weekend and I plan to do a lot of this: yoga. Have a good one.

And thanks, Julie, for the link!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

and more baseball

Baseball is just around the corner and, despite the recent trades and congressional hearings, we have nothing to complain about. We still have these guys to watch.

(AP photo)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

baseball is just around the corner

The Twins open their 2008 Spring Training home schedule at Hammond Stadium this Friday, February 29 at 7:05 p.m. (Eastern) hosting the Boston Red Sox.

See "Chief Bender's Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star," by Tom Swift, to get the story of an American Indian baseball player and Hall of Famer who grew up on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. The publisher, the University of Nebraska Press, calls this book a "portrait of greatness . . . of how a celebrated man thrived while carrying an untold weight on his shoulders."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Momma's Quarter Jar

I've been too busy to write much lately. A typesetter friend of mine has been overworked and she wrote me, "Even my fingers are tired." But if you write yourself, you know how even if you can't find time to write, topics bubble up during your day: the lunar eclipse makes you think of the first time you felt people may be watching down on you from another world; the "Norm '08" bumper sticker you saw and the dinner conversations you imagine at that house; and this section from John Gardner's guide for novelists:

"Like other kinds of intelligence, the storyteller's is partly natural, partly trained. It is composed of several qualities: wit (a tendency to make irreverent connections); obstinancy and tendency toward churlishness (a refusal to believe what all sensible people know is true) ; childishness . . . ; a marked tendency toward oral or anal fixation or both . . . ; a strange admixture of shameless playfulness and embarassing earnestness . . . ; patience like a cat's; a criminal streak of cunning; psychological instbility; recklessness. . . ."

Gardner's list goes on. And we wonder: how does he know our extended families so well?

The practice of swearing has come up in my thoughts, and I don't mean so much in the way a Presbyterian pastor ponders about how to address the problem in his Sunday sermon, but that I've been thinking about my doing too much of it lately. And then it--swearing; a certain four-letter word, that is--has made the headlines with the restaging of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Instead of using the work "f***ing," the earlier staged versions used the euphemisms "ducking" and "rutting."

My daughter came by to visit us and shared some good stories about the first- and second-graders she tutors at an inner-city charter school, a job she has with the America Reads program. Last week they celebrated their 100th day of learning by bringing in 100 multicolored balloons filled with air and letting the kids jump on and pop all the balloons before class. My daughter has a short video of the glee on her cell phone.

The kids have many behavioral problems and psychological issues but the staff is committed to mediation and self-awareness. There is a "peace rug" out in the hall and if two students get into it, they first have to go try to work it out on the peace rug. One bubbly but rambunctious kid sometimes gets himself so worked up that he raises his hand and shouts out, "I need a break, need a break. I'm sending my own self for a break on the peace rug."

And after a discussion about being good, one second-grader said to my daughter, "You should see my mom's quarter jar. It's already half-full and it's a big jar." She said it was her mom's cussing jar and did her mom ever swear a lot.

If I kept a quarter jar these past weeks we'd all have a heyday at the arcades. Last week, when it got so cold that the streets were coated with that black ice, my son and I were heading down Highland Parkway going about twenty when a woman in front of us started backing down the middle of the street. I was so surprised by her white tail lights that it didn't quite register I was about to hit her. She was completely oblivious that she was on a city street and here we were heading right for her back end. I slammed on my brakes and the anti-lock mechanism ground round and round and we kept skidding ahead and because I was worried about us and ticked off at this oblivious driver and thinking how I don't need to deal with a car accident right now I let out with "Fuck!" (That word--a first from me in front of my son.) And then the driver put on her brakes and we came to a stop about two feet behind her. When I looked over at my son he wasn't looking at the near-miss at all but over at me. With that look that is a mix of surprise and clear disappointment.

I remember when my dad first said that word. He had been swearing in front of me for years, but mostly just the drawn-out, completely frustrated version of "Jeezus Kee-rist." But one day he was working under the hood of my brother's Chevy Nova and it was hot and the engine had been acting up and my dad was always cracking his tender, balding head on something--the chandelier, the bottom edge of the corner cupboard. And so this day he went to straighten up and must have forgot his head was under the propped hood and he cracked that bald head again. And there it came. One loud, "F***!" He didn't even look over at me but I knew he was embarassed I had heard.

And I remember the talk of my neighborhood on an air base in Oklahoma, when the little four-year-old came out with a phrase everyone was sure he had picked up from his parents. Someone had souped up an old car and was showing off its style, its speed, up and down the street. The moms were worried--would this be a regular disturbance? The dads were fairly impressed--that car could go fast and loud. And then the owner did a fast sprint on the road behind the houses and that tow-headed four-year-old, who had been watching from his dining room window, came running out pointing, and said, "Look at that little mother fucker go."

Once when my daughter was five and in her pious stage, and my husband was on the road a lot, I went in to her daycare for the nightly pick-up. Someone was out casing cars and saw mine--and that I had left my briefcase in the front seat. When we came out, my passenger window had been shattered and my briefcase with all my money and ID were stolen. It was very frightening for us. I know I swore mildly under my breath. When we got home I realized they had also taken my house key, which was on a different chain and in the pocket of my purse, so then I worried about them breaking into our home, too. The next day, when we were getting gas at SuperAmerica, our window fixed up with Saran Wrap and packing tape, the car in front of us took off without paying. The store clerks came running out threatening and shaking their fists at the air. I turned to my young daughter and said, "I'm sorry you've had to see all these terrible things this weekend." She looked at me and said, "That's okay, Mommy. But what's really bad for me is that you swore three times this weekend. I counted" And she looked at me accusingly.

So it's very funny that I also ran across this short video of an interview with George Clooney. Because in it he describes how as a kid he was sure he was going to break out with that certain four-letter word in his father's newsroom, with all the world watching. I swear--no really, I do--that I'm going to do the same thing sometime at the most inappropriate moments: job interviews, my kids' band concerts. . . . I better watch it. Maybe I'll get my own quarter jar.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Young Love

My mom and dad just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Here they are, as seniors in high school (Mom, 1957; Dad, 1954).

Don't you wish you had known your parents when they were young adults, just entering the wide-open stage of the world?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Post-President’s Day Report

Best YouTube video of the week: Charlie Bit Me. My son and I had some time together this weekend; he was working on his big History Day project; I was tending house. We must have pulled up this video three times in the course of the weekend, and then spent the rest of the time trying to master that little boy’s British accent. Here’s the part that amazes me: despite the little brother’s clamping down on his older brother’s pointer finger—until it “really hurts, Charlie”—the older bro never slugs him, never pushes him.

My own brother learned to talk in England. He was born in Hunstanton during my father and mother’s first Air Force assignment overseas. Then, the three of them moved to El Paso, Texas, where I was born and where I learned to talk. My mother tells of bringing us out to public places and I would have this heavy Texas drawl while toddling around in diapers (the way I would say “play” in three long syllables, like Paula Dean) and my brother would have this proper Queen’s English accent, and the Texas folks found that just so funny. However charming, I promise you that if I had bit my older brother like that Charlie, he would have dropped his proper British manners and pushed me to the floor.

Best drink of the week: Sapphire Bombay Gin martini, Il Vesco Vino. Could it be that it was our first evening out in a month, my husband and me? That it was Valentine’s Day and we planned for a brief foray out in the cold for a martini and a few small bites—my settling on the cod fritters, he going for the seared tuna with capers? That I got to curl up with my book, John Gardner’s On Becoming A Novelist, with one of the four truffles my husband had bought me at Just Truffles? Because really, that martini sustained me all evening.

Best TV of the week: A River Runs Through It, replayed on TMC. I forgot how much I was taken with Brad Pitt in this, before the whole overexposed Aniston/Jolie affairs.

Best mail of the week: My son’s acceptance letter to one of the three high schools he’s waiting to hear from. Next two due up this Saturday.

Best meal of the week: Those braised short ribs. We made them Saturday, letting them stew in the oven crock all afternoon. A mom from my son’s hockey team said last night, “What were you guys cooking Saturday?” She had given my son a ride to practice that day. I told her short ribs. She said, “I could just smell the herbs and spices on your son when he came in the car. And then I’m sure I embarrassed him because I said to him, in front of all the other kids, ‘You smell luscious, T.’”

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The apprentice

There is a perfect weekend in winter--the one when you don't have much scheduled, your two men are at home and your daughter promises to stop by for a lunch together. The house is cozy, albeit messy, and the cupboards are full. The teen kid has been easy-going and we have been together a lot lately: shoveling sidewalks, playing Scrabble (me pointing out the possibility for "drivel," which used up all his letters and added a double-word score thereby putting him ahead for the win by just four--I mock him and say your win was based only on drivel!), and cooking together.

Our house is known for big weekend breakfasts. Big, cholesterol-laden brunches with homemade buttermilk biscuits and thick-cut bacon, and fried eggs, over-medium. My son likes to cook and so we are teaching him a few standbys. He stood by the stove Saturday, watching the bacon sizzle, and said, "But how do you have the patience to watch this bacon fry?" He is a techno-multitasker; that is, he can play PSP in one hand, hold the TV remote control in another, all the while watching for text messages on his new cell phone. But I needed to show him what cooks do "in the meantime."

"You don't just watch it, you do other things to get ready for the meal," I say. "Like set out the jam for toast and bring out the eggs to cook from room temperature."

"Can I just go in and watch TV, then?" he asks.

"No, you can leave rising bread unattended or a pot of soup, mostly, but you probably shouldn't walk away from frying bacon."

"Dad does," he says.

"Yeah, well, Dad also once let your sister fall into the ice fishing hole. Only one leg fell through, but still," I say. He knows I'm joking. Mostly.

"Or a cook could read," he says.

"Of course, a cook could read." And so I sorted through a few cookbooks for a cake recipe while he sat nearby, drinking his hot cocoa and reading a novel about baseball.

I love these weekends.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

And even if you don't have a lover tonight . . .

Valentine's Day is a day for love: "Book-love, I say again, lasts throughout life, it never flags or fails, but, like Beauty itself, is a joy forever." The Anatomy of Bibliomana Vol.II - Holbrook Jackson

Check out these love books, as seen variously at the Book Design Review blog.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Saucy short ribs, sex on the side

This is mark bittman's attempt at soft porn, I guess. His come-hither poses don't get me but these short ribs do.

It's a good thing we can give food for Valentine's because it seems that's all we have on our minds these days. From MNSPEAK, in "Signs of Spring," editors ask: "Are there any other signs that winter is about to start its inevitable retreat?" Readers respond:


I know that winter is NOT almost over because I'm still eating everything in my path. I bought one of those 330 piece licorice buckets from Costco and I can't stop eating it. When spring is coming around, some sort of seasonal vanity kicks in and I start eating horrible foods like salads and fruit.

»» Submitted by »»» nateek at 8:53 PM on February 12


I agree with nateek, I'm still wearing my fat pants so it is definitely still winter. Of course the two bagels I had for breakfast might have something to do with the fat pants too...

»» Submitted by »»» mb21 at 9:31 PM on February 12


Cat, nothing says I'm glad you were born like a bag of bugels and a can of cheez whiz.

»» Submitted by »»» PwrGeek at 10:05 PM on February 12


I'm with Nate. I'm like a human composter right now. anything and everything.

pasty white
pants fell tight that a fudge delight?
mmmm....good night.

»» Submitted by grote at 10:20 PM on February 12

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cold Metal Kissing

This is my last winter life posting for awhile, I promise.

Remember the winter flagpole scene in A Christmas Story?

In Schoolhouses of Minnesota, Minnesota writer Jim Heynen writes "How to Kiss a Flagpole":

"What is the optimum time of day for flagpole kissing? Wait until the morning bell has rung and everyone else is inside. This will guarantee a sustained fifteen-minute flagpole kiss before anyone misses you. Then the real excitement begins. They'll try everything: soothing talk, encouragement to breathe really hot air, and cups of warm water poured continuously on the area of contact. Ideally, the fire department will come with sirens blaring and then use blowtorches to heat the flagpole below and above the kiss-point."

Now, think of the tongue-sticking on this cold thing:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Minus Thirteen and Sunny: Winter life continued

"Ice fishing" by Niki Grangruth ( [via]

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Clark, the Canadian Hockey Goalie

It's Hockey Day in Minnesota and even if you don't want to step out into this cold, snowy day, you can watch hockey all day on FSN. But you can also catch this video of Clark, the MVP Canadian goalie, which was shown to me by my own 13-yr-old defenseman. And he warns, "there's a lot of the Canadian version of the 'F' word in it, but it's hilarious."

Friday, February 08, 2008

Winter Palace

I'm thinking of NOT leaving my winter palace this weekend, much less building myself a new one out of ice and snow. But if you're out and about and crazy about winter life, you could check out this castle, built by James Westin, in his Edina backyard. His castle will be open to visitors tonight and tomorrow and all donations go to Habitat for Humanity. [via]

Photo Craig Lassig/Minnesota Sun Newspapers

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Winter Life

The big snowflakes this morning were lovely but on my drive in I was feeling a little tired of winter already. It's only early February!

You too may be tired of the bleak skies and crusty snow but read the tales--here of sheep farming and here of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing the North Shore--by these hearty Minnesotans and you just might feel rejuvenated.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

O v. C: Still on the fence after Fat Tuesday?

This article by Gary Kamiya in Salon starts out:

"I've been leaning toward Barack Obama ever since the presidential race began. But until recently, I haven't been ready to make a final decision. I admit that I was initially drawn to him primarily because of his race: As a black man offering racial peace, he promised a kind of national healing, a chance to both symbolically and literally affirm that America can overcome its greatest divide."

I, too, am still on the fence, but reading pieces like this helps me figure things out.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Citizen parties


And then,

Quote of the day, from The Old Foodie:"[The cocktail hour] The pause between the errors and trials of the day and the hopes of the night. (Herbert Hoover)"

Mary-go-round, Mardi Gras, photo by Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Carnival or Indianos on the Island of Palma

Men at Carnival in Rio

Monday, February 04, 2008

Their town, our town

On the way home yesterday, I read the essay by Nathaniel Rich in the New York Times about his native Manhattan, how it now resembles so much of American “mall culture,” with Crate and Barrels and Gaps filling three floors of real estate on many of the prime streets, bankers and investors occupying the rest. He mourned the loss of New York’s bohemia, and was glad he now lived in Brooklyn, where he could find comfort in the unique and modest spaces that don’t cater to the world’s tourists.

It does stink that, from city to city, what you might find is exactly what you might find at our own MOA. Bright lights, long walls of sectioned windows, spiral staircases, sales on cue in January and July. The patrons might be better dressed or darker skinned but the wares are still the same.

I was on the plane home from five days in Manhattan where I worked a table at a writing conference. The young woman next to me was a kind of Britney Act-a-like. She had shiny long hair and wore those really big sunglasses with the rows of rhinestones on the side. When she got tired she would fling her head on the fold-down tray in front of her, splaying her thick hair to both sides so that it hung on my tray, too. She fixed her make-up three times during the flight and would turn to me with random questions like, “Did you have fun in New York?” and “Are you scared to fly?” When I asked her about the places she had visited she told me Chinatown and then said, “There were some serious smells there.”

Before we took off she spoke on her cell phone with great exasperation:

“Where will you be? Where will I find you? Is this a surprise? Why won’t you tell me?”

And then she turned to her writing friend beside her and said, “I think he’s going to spring it. I really do. And I don’t have any tissues and I look like butt. I really look like butt.” Her friend, who was quite plain, told her she looked beautiful. They were both from southern Minnesota and had made the trek to New York for the writing conference, too.

She told her friend that she would never had gotten involved with this guy if she had known he was in the service. When the friend asked her where her boyfriend was stationed, she said, “Iraq. It’s a bitch. But we’re writers, right? We can handle crazy.” And then she said:

“He doesn’t believe in anything I do and I don’t believe in anything he does.”

When we landed in Minneapolis and we all turned on our phones, hers rang again:

“What do you mean hurry? WHERE ARE YOU?,” she screamed. “Okay, okay I’ll walk to the baggage claim but can’t I stop and have a cigarette first? Okay, okay, I’m just kidding.”

When we all got to the lower level baggage carousel there he was, holding up a big hand-colored sign on white poster board. I didn’t make out the front side but as she got closer to him he flipped it over to the words “Marry Me” and then he got down on one knee and proposed to her. She said yes and we all clapped. Her friends had come with him and they took pictures of the scene. The old couple next to me had only heard the clapping and seen the camera flashes so they said, “Someone is sure happy to be home.” I told them he had just proposed and the woman asked, “Did he get down on one knee?”

* * * * *

It was a cleaner, sparklier New York since the last time I had visited. I was too busy to poke around much but I did have a fun time. On my first day, after I had checked-in and unloaded the exhibit gear, I took a walk near Broadway. A man came up to me and said I should take his ticket to Spring Awakenings, that he had double-booked himself and was going to see the Letterman show. He said it was intermission now but I could walk over in time to see the second act—-it was really good. I knew it was good; I’ve been following that play. So I knew enough of the plot and if I was going to catch only the second act of any play, this would be it. Besides, all those Tony nominations! And at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. I had never been. It was the perfect New York moment. Of course I went. It was amazing and Jonathon Groff, who plays Melchior, was unbelievably good. The whole cast was! I felt the need to explain to the two women on either side of me—-in our terrific seats three rows from the stage—-why a man sat there for the first act and me for the second (as if we were frugal Midwesterners who couldn’t afford two full seats). But I didn’t.

One of my colleagues was in town for a day on a separate matter so we met for dinner at Resto, a warm and inviting Belgian restaurant. The beer list! We split the beef cheeks roasted with fries in a cast-iron crock, and another hot crock, this one filled to the rim with steaming clams in white sauce. Perfect! Then we took the #6 back up to Midtown to have a drink at The Algonquin Hotel. The famous writers don’t take up residence much there anymore but the infamous cats in the lobby still do. We drank Benedictine and ate decadent chocolate cake.

On Saturday morning, I took a long walk in Central Park. I hiked under the bridges and around the zoo and by the Wollman Rink. There, in the bright Saturday morning sunshine, were loads of kids—-some taking figure skating lessons and some playing in Mite hockey games. Parents filled the bleachers at one end, where I overlooked the scene from the viewing level above. As one team of Mites came skating with the puck towards the end, a parent shouted out: “Tackle him!” A few people laughed but a young guy with a blue jacket with, simply, “COACH” on the back, shouted back, “Sir, we do NOT tackle in hockey. Seriously.”

I bought a shiny green ring at a gallery on 7th and, because it was my last night and I wanted to get away from the writer’s crowd, I asked the two shy guys behind the counter where a person could go for a quiet drink. One said, “Are you willing to go to Connecticut?” and they both chuckled. Then the same one said he liked a place on 2nd Avenue. “And there are tables there so you can sit down. I don’t know about you, but I like to sit down at a table.” I told him, “I do. Sometimes when I sit at a bar my feet dangle and I feel like a kid.” Then the other guy, a noticeably short, rather sit-com character kind of guy, said, “I like to sit at a bar. It makes me feel like I’m up there with the rest of the adults.” The one gave me the address and told me to ask for Philly. He said she was an artist behind the bar: “It would be a disgrace if you went in and ordered a beer," he said. "It’d be like going to the Met and saying, ‘Oh look at how well they’ve painted the walls.” So there I was, heading over in a taxi, following the advice of two strangers, looking for a woman named Philly. But he was right. She took good care of me, the place was cozy and intimate, and I sat by the window, watching the couples walk by, drinking my good drinks, taking notes in my little red journal.

*photo by Sheila O'Malley. For my New York photos, see her website.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

2008 St. Paul Winter Carnival Ice Sculptures

I know, I know, it's cold again. But think of all the Winter Carnival sculptors spared the agony of watching that precious ice melt. . . .

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday down time

It's Sunday afternoon and my husband is upstairs going through the motions of the knee machine (sigh of relief when leg is lifted and set into the faux wool lining; grimace and teeth-gritting when the knee is bent up). Today he was able to sustain a bend of a hundred degrees.

Yesterday we watched a bit of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which are being held here in St. Paul. "Hey," I asked, "do you want to go out later for a little Bob Costas sighting?" He tried to humor me back. I give him a 9.7 for effort. I thought about his body--our bodies--as I watched the pairs skating and then I wondered what he thought; those Olympic-caliber athletes pushing their bodies through triple lutzes and the most amazing spins and him trying to decide whether or not he can walk with one crutch yet.

The treat for ourselves last night: orders of Steamed Pork Bao (dumplings) with slivered ginger and steamed cabbage, and sesame chicken from Grand Shanghai. Delivered! I took mine with a glass of Summit India Pale Ale. He took his with a side of Percocet and Visteral. We both relaxed some. We watched the rerun of the denim episode on Project Runway and counted the number of times Ricky cried.

Speaking of reality tv . . . I've been thinking about scars and that reminded me about Padma Lakshmi, the host on Top Chef. The scar on her arm has been widely

discussed and plays a part, I think, in her mystique. One can imagine Salman Rushdie writing of it, even after their divorce. And then there's Joaquin Phoenix. That scar on his lip, with him since birth, is sometimes mesmerizing. You know it comes up in casting sessions.

I was examining Ken's long scar and was thinking about how that scar is going to resonate with us long after the staples have been pulled out. We will think about the way we held hands in the holding room at the hospital, we will remember how we covered it with Glad ziplock bags so he could shower. That scar will remind him of the pain and then it will fade away, but from time to time will evoke memory and maybe tenderness. Scars do that for me. The one on my mother's forehead, the one she's ashamed to show--she requests that her hairdresser leave her front curls long so she can pull them over that long scar. She fell out of a car when she was very young and has been covering that now-faded scar some sixty years.

There's the scar across the bridge of my daughter's nose, the scar she got when she was fighting over a heavy Tonka truck with Eric Jon Bredesen at toddler care and he got so frustrated with her he just let go of his end of that tug-of-war. The yellow metal came rushing back at her face and cut her between the eyes. It's small but I still notice it.

My own scars, the ones on my skin, are limited. I have one I got when the surgeon had to lance open a non-recluse brown spider bite on my arm; I had gotten it sometime during the night on a camping trip. My mom noticed all the redness and swelling when I came down a few days later in my sleeveless nightgown and she saw the poison was not only up to my shoulder but had started to come back down towards my heart. Dad rushed me to the flight surgeon at the air base and he lanced that sucker open with the finesse of a sushi chef. And there is the scar from that farm horse who kicked me in the shin (exactly as I had been warned); the scars on the side of my thigh where I fell in high school running the low hurdles, landing with a skid on the old-style track turf, made up of ground-up rocks and rubber; and of course, the scars of childbirth, the ones we're supposed to call our medals of honor.

* * *

I leave Wednesday for a long business trip to Manhattan. I'm trying to organize the house and schedules so that my husband can manage on his own for a few days before my daughter comes over to help. I've got the hockey games listed on the calendar, along with all the notes for next week's "spirit days" at my son's school. I've got quick-make meals in the freezer and a jump on the laundry and bills.

This time I'm not pre-planning a thing for my trip. I'll sit at my publisher's table, mingle, sell the press, and then walk the city on my time off. I'm not planning a side trip to any museums or tourist sites. As my colleague, who just returned from NYC himself, says, the city will be my museum. I've been reading Patricia Hampl and she writes of one of her favorite cities: "[Prague] is a loved city, loved by its residents and by those who visit it. A Western tourist feels quite alone in Prague; it is an exhilarating, surprising sesation. . . . It is a good city for walking; and walking is a good way to feel love."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Awhile back a friend of mine told the story of how she cared for her sick and dying dog, Boo. Boo was on his last legs, literally, and couldn't really do the long stairs to my friend's upstairs bedroom. But Boo really wanted to sleep near his owner and she really wanted to sleep near him. Every night she would hoist Boo, a big blonde labrador, up the twenty steep stairs. Every morning, she would carry Boo down, carrying him like he was in one of those Coast Guard rescue carryalls, his front and back paws gathered together under him. He'd sometimes turn his long nose towards her during his carry and lick her neck or her cheek.

One night my friend was very weary and just flopped into bed after changing out of her work clothes. In the middle of the night she woke up to the panicky sound of her dog crooning and crying. Boo had been left downstairs and he was frightened. Out of a dead sleep my friend jumped up from bed, bolted down the long stairwell, picked up her heavy old dog, trudged back upstairs, and laid him down on the rug by the bedside. And then she sat at the foot of her bed, breathing so heavily she thought she was going to have a heart attack.

I thought of this scene yesterday, our first full day home from the hospital. I had work e-mails to check on and respond to, my husband's three meals and snacks, my son's History Day project resources to pick up at two different St. Paul libraries, a home health care assessment, three of my husband's knee workouts on the perpetual motion machine, one set of assisted exercises, two stints on the Game Ready ice machine, an orthodontist appointment for the kid, and his sports practice. At about five p.m. I said I just had to lie down awhile. Wow, I fell fast and hard asleep and didn't wake up until I heard my husband outside the little bedroom, shouting that Tim was downstairs and couldn't get in. Last I had left my husband he was strapped into the motion machine. He must have unstrapped himself, heaved over his legs, got up on his crutches fast, and come to get me. Meanwhile, my son is pounding on the door like there's no tomorrow. I jumped up so fast my head got dizzy and then I ran down those stairs to open the door. The kid just walked past me mad; he had been standing on the porch for ten minutes, wearing his practice shorts under his coat.

I just sat on the last step of the hallway, heaving and hoeing, trying to catch my breath like those firefighters who first come out of a smokey building.

I know some of you out there reading this are home with newborns and are probably thinking, that's nothing. Let me tell you about MY day. . . . But really, I thought I was going to fall apart for just a little minute there.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blitzed out/blissed out

I'm sure when the double dose of painkillers hits, my husband feels a little like this.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Got any drugs to go with that knee replacement?

Holy cow, that was something. The hubby finally comes home today, five days after getting his knee replaced. His doctor is an atypical surgeon, that is, gentle, kind, understated. After the surgery, which took longer than expected, he came out to say, "The x-rays didn't project how bad his knee was. I had to bear down and dig in. But he had a bad knee before and he has a good one now." The doc had to spend time getting rid of a lot of bone spurs and realigning the leg from the severe arthritis that had developed around the knee.

Needless to say, the patient was in a lot of pain and to top things off, the self-administered IV machine of morphine-like dope shut down for an 90 minutes the day after surgery so it took the staff about five hours to get back on top of things. As they say on the ward, "You gotta stay ahead of the pain." And they hadn't. At one low point, as my husband is fighting the pain, one of the charge nurses leaned over and said something about why men don't have children and that he needed to breathe through the pain as women do during labor. The look on his face was something, "Oh no you di-int throw the labor card at me."

I have the walker, the transfer bench for the shower/tub, the cane (which I must return for a different one, apparently), the raised toilet seat, the perpetual motion machine, the game ready ice maker, the new pillows and bed rest, and a gift certificate for some meals to be prepared by Sociale in Highland. Friends are bringing by a "meat-and-potatoes" dinner tonight. We'll bring it upstairs where he'll have to camp out for the first week, since our only bathroom is up the 23 steps to our second floor. All I wish go well right now is him getting up those 23 steps today!

While he was in the hospital, he got notice for federal jury duty. I'll have to figure out how to get him out of that one. No driving for three weeks.

Man, I don't know how people cope with serious illness and disability. I have the upmost respect for their will and strength.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Soon-to-Be Bionic Husband

The Big Guy goes under the knife at St. Joseph's Hospital Thursday for a knee replacement. He'll come home Sunday with a new titanium knee. I'll be at home for the week following, trying my best to care for him. We both agree this will be the 159th test to our marriage.

I can't wait for him to have a new lease on life and ease the pain of this bad knee (which has been, well, you know those teaching skeletons and their bone-on-bone joints, without any cartilage or ligaments? That's his knee except imagine a bunch of knicks and chips on the socket, like Goodwill china), which has been hobbling him for a long, long time now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Except for the money, we are very much alike

Steve Jobs made the news again today when he unveiled his newest, superslim laptop.

When I submitted my picture to one of those celebrity look-a-like websites, they told me I looked most like Steve Jobs.

(Well, maybe they meant Steve Jobs at 25, at left.)

Bundling Up

It's minus 12 with the windchill this morning and I need a new hat. I left my favorite beret in Denver, I think. I have a great knit beanie for play but I need a new hat for work.

These are the ones I like:

I've been walking every day at lunch, going up Summit or Portland or Marshall Avenues to Dale Street and back. Today I have some knit yoga pants to wear under my jeans, but I think they'll be rather bulky. I'll feel like Rhoda Morganstern trying to make it through the Minnesota winters, big thighs and all.

In Fargo, I admired these boots worn by one of the moms, whose all-time favorite clothing site is Athleta. They're having a sale now so you should check them out. I like this Athleta Snuggle Scarf, too, which has a slit on one side so you can easily pull one end through the other. I like the brown version better. . . .

In a few weeks I'll be at the AWP Conference in NYC. I'm sure it'll be cold so while I'm out getting my new hat, I should keep in mind these cold weather fashion tips, from the Village Voice.

Otherwise, my windchill-addled side might have me going to NYC like this:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday Morning Report

On our drive home from Fargo yesterday, we counted 13 cars and trucks in the ditch. The cold snap we've got here in the Twin Cities this morning was hovering around the Fargo/Moorhead area yesterday and the highways were full of that black ice. Black ice. Snirt. The vocabulary of the northern front. Do you know what those big chunks of ice and snow compacted behind your car tires are called? A blootzer. (From Urban Dictionary).

Fargo is blootzer heaven. I forgot about all that wind, all that icy snow. When I first moved to East Grand Forks, just across the Red River from the North Dakota side, I heard this joke: Why is Minnesota so windy? Answer: Because Wisconsin blows and North Dakota sucks.

But here's what I liked about Fargo.

1. It's hard to get lost. The city's freeways are not congested and even if you do take the wrong exit, it's as easy as the kiddie version of Pac Man to get yourself turned around again

2. Bar drinks are cheap. Very cheap. 24 oz. mug* of Bud Select, $2.25.

3. Everyone knows the official referee calls for hockey. The minute the refs balled up their fists and put their crossed hands over their chest, everyone in the Fargo Coliseum yelled out, "No way! There's No Way! that's interference." Often in the Cities, the refs will make the same call and the crowd of parents will be saying to one another, "Is that boarding? Cross checking? What's that call, anyway?"

4. The staff at the AmericInn (pronounced Amair Kin) posted our hockey team's picture on the home page of their shared wi-fi station. They also happily gave out extra keys, extra towels, extra blankets, and extra directions to any of us who asked. People all over were friendly to us. Even the minor leaguers from the Fargo-Moorhead Jets, an NAHL team, sat by us before their own game started and cheered on our players.

5. This place. Though I didn't get a chance to visit it, I hear it's the best boutique hotel in the tri-state area.

It is pretty funny to travel with a couple of dozen 13- and 14-year-old boys and their families. Here are some of the memorable quotes from the weekend.

1. "We're not renting a nasty movie, Mom, we're throwing dice. I'm already up $17."

2. "You're blinding me with your beautifulness," from the mouth of an eighth-grader to his attractive waitress at Buffalo Wild Wings.

3. "Yeah, he was hyperactive at dinner," from the teammate of the player who complimented the BWW waitress.

4. "Wow, those boys have better one-liners than I do," from their 20-something coach.

5. "Who threw Joey's cell phone into the pool?"

(Above: My son's preseason tryout team. He's in the middle of the back row.)

*I've been corrected.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"Oh sure. They say she's gonna turn cold tomorrow."**

We finished my son's second high school application last night. If you've been through this before you'll know what I mean when I say he was lying on his back, his head upside down over the side of the ottoman, his arms dragging behind him on the carpeting, and he was saying, "I don't know what to write. Really, I have no idea what to write."

Part of one of his application essay answers was this:

"The person I admire the most is my dad. He was the first person in his family to go to college and he worked hard to make a better life for himself. He got married and had two kids and tried to make our life better than his was. He coached in all my sports up to 6th grade and I feel he has made the most impact on my life, more than any teacher or family member."


Then I had a little meltdown--and I promise it had nothing to do with my not being most admired, really--because the printer connection was unplugged and it was late and I was too tired to figure it out. I'm surprised my son didn't sneak back into his Word document to add a footnote, "*the person who I think freaks out too much is . . . ."

One more application to go on Monday and then the kid will take his placement test. His first choice for high school is just two blocks away and is a school he's been admiring and hoping to be part of for years.

Now, I'm off to Fargo, with a carload of moms and a couple of Highland hockey teams for a big Bantam tournament.

**Quote from the movie "Fargo" (1996)