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)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Pick Me! Pick Me!

'Tis the season of school applications. I just ran across my journal entries from a few years back, when my daughter was a high school senior. The entry I'll share with you below was written in March, when application decisions were starting to roll in. This month, my son and I are now preparing his high school applications, a process very much like college for the students hoping to be accepted into the private high schools of the Twin Cities. It's good for me to remember the anticipation and anxiety of the process, as well as the knowledge that in the end, everything seems to fall into place.

My daughter had applied to a number of colleges, from the University of Minnesota, to Loyola/Chicago, to Brown University in Providence, RI, her "stretch" application.

March 30, 2005:
Now I’m four minutes away from seeing M.’s admission decision from Brown. She's on her way to Ireland for an early graduation gift so she gave me permission to check the decision notice. I peeked at 4:30 pm but the site only said to return according to the dates shown on the main admission page. The University of Wisconsin-Madison this year fielded over 21,000 applicants but had room only for 5,600 students. I wonder what Brown’s numbers are?

1 more minute. I wonder how many students are waiting, like me, to click open the decision. Rather than waiting for the “fat” envelope to come in the mail, rushing home each day to pull the mail out of the mailbox, they wait next to their computers, in coffeeshops, at home in the study, in their rooms using their WI-FI connections. The time is exact. No guessing when the letter will come. No blaming the weather or the post office if the letter doesn’t arrive when they think it will.

But what if Brown’s server backlogs? Shuts down. How many will have heart palpitations and sweaty palms? What’s wrong? they’ll think. Why isn’t this working? I knew this wouldn’t work? Ugh, I didn’t get in. How many already know, either through connections through sports (if they were recruited isn’t it all a formality?)? How many will be expecting an easy “yes” to go along with their 6 or 7 other yesses, from prestigous places like Yale, and Stanford, and NYU? How many, like my daughter, did not ace her ACT? Or failed Physics? How many had to tell their own school counselor about Brown, a counselor who said she had never written a letter of recommendation to "that college"?

How many will be awkwardly sad, not the kind of breakdown sad but the kind that hits them silently and hard and they won’t know what to do with themselves because they didn’t realize how much they really wanted to get in?

Four minutes after. I should check. I’ve liked thinking about her at Brown. And then I worry, instantly worry over my own fantasies: What if she makes it in? How the hell are we going to pay $44,000/year? How will she survive in such a hyper-competitive and high-level academic environment? Who will take her under their wing? Who will snub her and make her feel bad? Who will she fall in love with? How little will I see her? How will she feel about her dad as she grows in competence and awareness and savvy? Or me?

Enough. Check. Now. I clicked on the link. No action. It won’t let me move on. It really is overloaded. What if the system breaks down, recomposes, and sends out all the wrong decisions? What would that do? If a freshman class was admitted strictly by lottery, who would survive? Would it really matter, in the long run? Wouldn’t most of those students survive and thrive anyway? Aren't most of these applicants poised to succeed? Isn’t it a self-selecting group?

Check again. Nope. There’s that feeling. Aww.

“The Brown Board of Admission has completed its evaluation of more than 18,000 applications to the Class of 2010, and it is with real regret that I must inform you that your application has been denied.

The great majority of the young men and women who applied to Brown this year are very clearly capable of satisfactory academic performance and of making significant contributions to the college community in other ways. With nearly thirteen candidates for every available space, the Board's task in selecting the members of the Class of 2010 has been extremely difficult.“

It was a long shot. She gave it her best shot. The best she had. I don’t want to spoil her mood on this trip now. I’ll wait. It’s hard to hear no. It’s hard to feel that my daughter isn’t going to get the same amazing experience that those attending Ivy League schools will get. They get it. What do you do when you want the very best for your child and you can’t get it for them? Oh! I could have spent more time with her on her essay! We rushed it all. We sent weak recommendation letters from public school teachers who didn’t really say much at all about her that was unique and witty and splendid.

Well, there you go. It’s in. We can move on, at least. Now, the others are there for the choosing. Pick one. Pick one soon.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Mmmm, yes

Santa, oh Santa, if you've got to make a return trip for some reason (lost your red sack, remembered you left the Witherington's gift of scotch up on their roof, decided to take back the X-Box 360 from that mean Bosley kid) won't you grant me more of the wet wilderness for the new year?

Monday Morning Report

"How'd you sleep last night?" I asked my son this morning as we put on our shoes and overcoats for the short commute to his school. It was his first day back after Christmas break.

"Not good," he said. "I got up three times."

"I know, I heard you," I said, "I didn't sleep well either." I didn't tell him I've been agitated these days, though he most likely knows.

"First, I got up to use the bathroom. Then I got up to turn the hall light on. Then I got up and splashed cold water on my face. That usually helps me fall asleep, for some reason," he said.

Though he's thirteen, I know he sometimes still gets scared in the night. Both of my kids have always had some night frights. When they were younger they'd tip-toe into our bedroom and come really close, right up against my sleeping face, and wait for my dream brain to recognize their presence in the room. Sometimes my daughter would brush my closed eyelashes with her damp and pudgy finger, her idea of a gentle waking.

I get wistful when I see them creating their own ways to deal with things. A bracing splash of cold water on the face is my son's replacement therapy--and that's not a bad thing. As pragmatic and self-satisfied parents say of their adult kids, "They've flown the coop. That's a good thing. That's what they're supposed to do."

As we drove along Ford Parkway, my son asked if he could put on KDWB 101.3. We listened to the drive-time DJ talk about his raucous weekend. My son looked over and said, "I could tell you weren't sleeping well either last night. Every time I looked down the hallway, I could see your light was on. I would have come in but I didn't know if Dad had fallen asleep with the lights on so I didn't want to wake you."

I thought about our morning talk all the way to work: his growing up, his changing needs, how my caring turns into his caring. Isn't that the best legacy of all--to teach the love of self-care that also includes caring for those you love?

Friday, January 04, 2008

"I read, I edit, I pine." (six words) Or, "I live my life on Saturdays." (six words) Or, "The perfect gift for Valentine's Day? (count 'em, six words)

A Minnesota writer and recent Loft Mentor series winner, Rachel Hanel, is one of a thousand writers included in the forthcoming book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure. The book, which includes such biggies as Dave Eggers and Joyce Carol Oates, is published by Smith Magazine, and here is their pitch (you can also try your hand at your own six-word life story on their website):

Six Perfect Words

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in six words. The result was "For sale: baby shoes, never used."

Since SMITH celebrates the personal side of storytelling, our twist on this classic concept is the six-word memoir--the short, short true story of your life. It could be the title of your autobiography, or maybe your epitaph. Shorter than haiku and meatier that a one-liner, it truly makes you take stock of who you are. Try it.

"Me see world! Me write stories!" – Elizabeth Gilbert

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New day, new year

*Painting, "Contemplation," by Sharon Rost, my mom