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.