Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dreaming through a White Christmas

We've had full days this Christmas, punctuated by long, fitful sleeps and daytime naps. More dreams than we know what to do with. Ken and I know better than to come down from our sleep and try to tell each other the guts of our dreams. We can never quite pull off the emotions or the fantastical settings or plots. I keep a journal and sometimes I write about my dreams. The other night I had a dream that Ken and I had invited another publisher in town (a competitor, really) over for dinner. The publisher came with his wife while Ken and I, new to our dingy apartment, were still trying to set up our Target-purchased furniture. (Section A fits into Slot B, watch you don't pull off the plastic veneer). They were calm and composed (and we were not). They had brought many expensive bottles of red wine ($30 and $40 and $50 each) and we were scrambling to find a place to set the bottles and glasses to pour into.

In my journal I named that dream "Inadequacy."

The night before we left for the Gunflint Trail, where we spent Christmas with Megan, Tim had a reaction to the powerful antibiotic Erythromycin. The adverse affects of that wide-spectrum drug, which he'd been prescribed for bronchitis, include pyschotic reactions, night sweats, and allergic reactions that include swelling of the face and neck. Tim panicked when he felt his throat begin to swell. I called the doc on call and she told us to run out for some Benadryl. It was now 10 PM and Ken and I had been running all day, buying our Christmas food, wrapping presents, taking Tim to the clinic. This would be Ken's third trip to Walgreen's but he was out and back in a flash. We gave Tim the Benadryl and the measure alone made him feel less scared. But then he got mad. The first doctor, not our regular family doctor, "hadn't even checked" him. Didn't test him for strep throat, didn't have him breathe while he held a stethoscope to his back. "How did he know what I had?!" Tim implored me. Because the medicine he had been given didn't make him feel better but rather made him feel much worse, he thought the doctor had done a really poor job.

Ken and I slept fitfully that night, each of us tiptoeing in to Tim's room to check on his breathing (what if throat closed up in his sleep?). Tim slept soundly and got progressively better each day.

That early morning we got another four inches of snow, but not so much to keep us from driving up to camp via Highway 61. It was a beautiful drive, full of snowy treetops and a metallic sparkle coming off Lake Superior. There were still freighters in action on the big lake and we guessed where they might be coming from: Norway, Russia? (We had heard on MPR that shipping action out of the Duluth port was up 25% this year.) We spotted four bald eagles sitting close and low to the highway, always near a dead deer in the ditch, always near the murder of jet black crows pecking away at the road kill.

As we made our way around one of the last bends on the Gunflint we came up on two incredible moose. They were big as large horses and when they saw us they walked slowly into the woods, stopping on the trail to turn their necks and look back at us.

Megan met us with the snowmobile at the camp drop-off point and made two trips hauling us and our gear and presents and food and bottles of wine across West Bearskin Lake to the camp itself. As we were bringing everything up the hill to the main hall, Ken turned to Megan and said, "I haven't seen Tim smile so much in weeks." It was Christmas Eve and the sights and sounds would give us much to dream about.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Yes, it is 3:59 a.m. I am nursing a very sore throat. Started last night on the road to Duluth. Woke up a few times throughout the night with it. Tried to suck a Fisherman's Friend cough drop in my sleep, but drooled on my pillow like I used to when I wore orthodontia head gear.

And, by the way, good morning, Mr. Dayton. Congratulations on your new job. We're all counting on you. Please stick with it, hang in there, give it all you've got.

On Twitter, this post was retweeted: "What women want: chocolate-covered pretzels and Gabriel Byrne." If I had a season's worth of In Treatment I'd go back to bed and watch the whole thing. Instead, I have Thera-flu. I'm typing only as long as it takes me to down this mug of it. The narcotics in it make me a little goofy but I'll take the throat relief.

Someone yesterday sent me a list of "you know you're getting old" items, which often are repetitive and not too funny but all of these seemed right-on. One was "Seems hard to remember the last time you weren't a little tired." Or, "Why doesn't MapQuest simply jump to #5 on the given directions. I mean, we know the way out of our own neighborhoods."

If you sit alone in your house in the middle of the night, what do you see? What do you hear? I note:

*our quite-organized neighbors all have timers on their Christmas lights. The bright, twinkly lights are off now.

*Both guys (husband and son) are snoring. Both guys like to sleep with their bedroom doors swung open.

*We have no pets. If we did, I wouldn't be alone here at the dining table; I'd have company, I'm sure.

*It's good that we have modern, muted keyboards. If I had to do this on a Smith-Corona typewriter, I'd have to type in a closet in the basement.

*Just as the refrigerator fan goes off, the heater fan goes on. Forced-air heat is no friend for a sore throat.

*The neighbor two doors down lost his wife to cancer this spring. It will be his first Christmas without her. I wonder how he is doing and whether he is up nights, too.

*Yep, a Chevy Blazer just drove by with its flashers on. Stopped next door to throw the paper up the sidewalk. 4:21 a.m., 5 degrees here. Tough work.

My list is so much less than Robert Frost's in "Acquainted with the Night":

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Gentlemen, start your engines

I love the way that a deep snowfall muffles the city, packs it in, the clammering sounds softened by a layer of down and fluff. In the morning, feeling like you've fallen asleep in a snowbank, you hear nothing but the clear music of a morning cardinal, calling out with the sweetness of a young soloist in the metro boys' choir.

Well, that, and the roar of the neighboring snowblowers. Gentlemen, start your engines.

The back alley snowplow comes out earlier than anyone else. Snow = jobs = money. That guy is the first to scrape away the white stuff. Then, you'll hear my husband. And you'll, like me, be grateful for his brawn and his old-school ways. He shovels and scrapes by hand, stopping once in a while to look out over the lawns and streets. It's an easy rhythm. You lull back to sleep. And then the rich neighbor, the one who leaves for work every Saturday before nine, tries to start up his small snowblower. It usually takes him five or six tries. He lives on the corner and he's got a lot to blow. (He's from Wayzata but you'd think he moved in from the Carolinas the way he bumbles with that machine.) So you're back awake again. Then the guy across the back alley revs up his big monster. He's got two big lanes of driveways, suburban in breadth and depth, and while he's fast, he's loud.

Might as well get up and make some tea.

Ken is at the table, ruddy-cheeked, eating pan-made oatmeal and sourdough toast. He's got hat hair. His reading glasses were $14.99 at Walgreen's. He's got them on so he can read the local Highland weekly. He recognizes one of Tim's baseball coaches in the editorials. The guy wrote in to support the college's plans to expand their tennis courts. The other letters decry the expansion.

Tim comes home from an overnight. He had trouble driving home in the snow so he put his truck in low, 4-wheel drive, and backed up and flipped it into forward a few times to gain some momentum. He's wearing one of Ken's old roofing pullovers--and it fits. His cheeks are red, too.

Ken says, "We better go to George's to get your skates sharpened." Tim has a game today at one. Tim says, "I don't want to go back out." Ken says, "Then it looks like you won't get your skates sharpened." They start up the truck again and head out together. I know they're going by Bruegger's Bagels so I ask for a morning sandwich.

And so the house is quiet again. The sidewalks are scraped, the alleys are plowed. The men in the house are out. Our cottage is surrounded by snow. Even the birdhouse roof is loaded with three inches of white.

My ears are perked. I wait for the soloist to call out again.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holidays on Ice

Sunday morning, the one before Thanksgiving. Drinking chai tea in a silver thermal mug. Feet up on the dining chair, facing laptop set on dining room table. Windows to the front of me, windows to the side. Just saw a teen in a Nissan race up to the stop sign and skid. Skid-d-d-d-skidddd. Night brought a sheet of ice, making everything, as my friend Julie says, "like a glazed donut." Tim called at 12:08 a.m. (last night) to say he was sorry he had just missed curfew but the people he was going to catch a ride home with were having trouble on the ice and they were standing out near Michael's house looking over at a few accidents on West 7th and seeing all the red police lights. We told him he should just spend the night there, because neither one of us wanted to venture out ourselves. And then we both let out a sigh of relief.

Funny. I was eager to try out my new hockey skates at open skate today but I'm a little leary about driving out on the ice.

I've had a few Saturdays in a row now where I don't leave the house all day. Even though I am cooped up too much all week, I am always on the run during the work week. I get an e-mail every 45 seconds. And run to meetings or off-site events. So come Saturday I am content to putter around the house. Yesterday Ken made a bacon-eggs-and-biscuit breakfast and I read the early Sunday edition with tea. I vacuumed one bedroom and picked up. I opened the mail. I Tweeted and Facebooked. I watched Lidia's Italian Kitchen. I got Tim's help to make a pumpkin pie. He stirred up the filling and I made the crust.

Now that was a small accomplishment. About 15 years ago my dear neighbor Pat, a scholar, mother of four, and terrific southern cook, told me I should learn to cut corners to manage things. Because she was such a good cook, one piece of her advice I embraced was using Pillsbury frozen pie crusts. I used those dough wands for years, even when I recreated Pat's prize sweet potato pie recipe. But I never really liked the taste and the way the crusts shriveled up. Yet, I feared the failed homemade crust. Silly, now, because it really is as easy as they say. I used a combination of butter and Crisco and threw some whole wheat farmers' market flour into the dough. It was just right.

Megan will drive home from the Gunflint Wednesday and we'll all have the long holiday weekend together. Today I'll make myself leave the house if I have to, just so I get out in the fresh air and elements, even though it would be so easy to stay in my pajamas all day, cooking and puttering and listening to football.

I bought my new skates at Hockey Giant, a Bloomington store Ken has been frequenting for years. He scopes out the merchandise--sticks and pads and skates--so that he knows when there are good deals to be had for Tim. It's expensive to play hockey but Ken has always managed to outfit Tim on a budget. He tracks all the gear Tim outgrows and turns it in for credit at Play It Again Sports. He bargains with the floor people on last year's models. I appreciated Ken's efforts more now that I was buying my own skates. Once you settle on a pair and pay for them, you bring them back to the skate sharpening station and have them baked in a small convection-like oven. That softens up the boot. You sit in your laced-up skates for five minutes and then you walk around the floor for another five. The boot molds to your foot as if you've broken them in by skating four or five times. The floor guy helped me lace-up the skates for the fitting, placing his thumb on the crossed laces like all of us Mighty Mite parents used to do with our kids. I ran through the criss-crosses and lace pulls like lightning and he paused, looked up, and said, "You don't have to rush through this. Take your time and get it right. You don't want to have the boot tongue crooked." The way he said it, so grandfatherly in his tone, and the fact that he took the time to say it when retail experiences are normally so rushed and impersonal, really affected me. You're lucky when you get personalized advice from friends and family. Makes you feel surrounded by people who care. And sometimes it takes a stranger to say something you need to hear. Slow down. Take your time. These are the things you really want to take some time with.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


My last day at work this week and then I'm off to Chicago with a friend for a weekend getaway. Hooray for that! I had 13 items on my to-do list for work and I'm down to 8 now. Progress.

Other more important news, my dad is home from the hospital with plans to return Sunday night for an aortic valve replacement. He's super-excited and anxious to get his heart repaired (it was a year ago today that he had heart failure) and get on with his life. My brother is flying down Saturday to stay with Mom for a week and I'll look for flights to go down in early November. I've been talking with Dad every day and that's been good for both of us.

Tim's team beat Woodbury easily last night. Ken and I made pulled pork sandwiches and had some people over for dinner and beers before the game. We thought, "We definitely need to use our crock pot more." I've been reading on Twitter about Roger Ebert's cookbook The Pot (or something like that) and so I should give some of his recipes a try.

They're replacing the telephone poles around our house--two of them, to be exact. The old poles were loaded down with all the cables and such that our modern households need so I'm glad to see we're getting reinforcements. They've been working on the transfer all week (they set those 40- or 60-foot poles so that 1/3 of them is below ground; yes, I just Googled telephone poles) so our clocks are all awhack and blinking when we get home.

Must get through another coupla items on this list. You have a good weekend.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Matters of the Heart

My dad is in the hospital today, coming out right now from anesthesia. He had a heart catheter inserted this morning at Doctors Hospital in Edinburg, Texas. (Goofy hospital name, eh?) Mom called me at work, cell phone to cell phone, to tell me that he's awake now from the morning's procedure and will now wait six hours for them to investigate and take x-rays.

I've never seen my dad in a hospital bed. Never seen him in a hospital gown. Never even seen him in a hospital, except twice when he came to visit me after the birth of each of our kids.

I hate being so far away. I'd like to help him pass the time today and help my mom cope with the day's events. Go with her out to the hospital's back lot with all the orderlies so she can have her cigarette.

Mom said they've already had an initial look. Dad's heart has healed some from his heart failure of a year ago and that the stent they put in then is working. But, as we all suspected, the valve is in terrible shape. He may want to do heart surgery as soon as possible--maybe as early as Wednesday. Mom wasn't expecting to hear that news. She'd rather stay ahead of her options--planning things carefully--and this one caught her off-guard.

My favorite Aunt Pat lives near Mom and Dad and is probably up at the hospital with Mom now. It's all I can do to keep from calling them, but I told Mom I would wait for her call this afternoon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Mother and Child, Kathe Kollwitz
I woke early this morning; Ken was already in the bathroom. I laid in bed a few minutes and then heard Tim's alarm go off. Jumped out of bed then since my window of opportunity to get into the sole toilet of the house was about to vanquish. I was gruff with Ken, again, and Tim was grumpy with me when he found out we hadn't gone to the instant cash machine for his lunch money, again. I flipped up my laptop and let people at work know I was staying home another day. Viruses have been taking a toll on me harder than usual.

It's the beginning of fall here. The air is crisp and the squirrels are busy digging hiding spots and Margaret Atwood--on Twitter--says Mercury is in retrograde until September 27, and then things will get better.

Tim came out of the shower and asked if I was going to take one, too. Because if I was there was a big cockroach in there. "No, its not a cockroach," I say. "Probably a centipede."

"Centipede or cockroach, whatever it is it's big," Tim says.

"Why didn't you kill it?" I ask, knowing full well Tim is afraid of spiders.

"I couldn't reach it," he answered.

I fielded about ten e-mails and then, after Tim left for school, I went out to cash my reimbursement check and to stop by the bakery, La Patisserie, to get a croissant and some pastries for the guys. The rising sun was so bright that I had trouble seeing my way. Megan's old day care teacher, Lisa, was at the crosswalk at the Bean Factory and I stopped abruptly for her--hadn't spotted her ahead of time because of that blinding sun.

I saw mothers at the bus stops with their kids and one who hugged her child before she left her to the walking patrol lines. I thought to myself what it would be like to stay home to care for the family. Then I saw a slightly older woman--mid- to late-thirties--trudging up the sidewalk on Montreal lugging her baby in a car seat, and I immediately recognized that unwieldy pull of the shoulder and the feeling of that precious cargo hitting aginst my hip or knees. Why do we have to return to work so soon, leaving our babies with strangers? Norway and Sweden are so sane, so smart to allow for such generous parental leaves, all the way around. If I had any do-overs it would be to enjoy my babies more, to have protected more time with them.

The village was quiet for the most part this Tuesday. Protestors were just getting out in front of Planned Parenthood. Catholic school kids were crossing the street in uniform. The Tiffany Lounge neon sign, with the outline of a martini glass with olive, was off. The bulldozers were breaking up the old Snyder's lot. A semi-trailer full of new cars was pulling into the Ford plant. I pulled into the TCF drive-thru and sat waiting for my cash, taking in this morning scene.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What Franzenfreude?

The talk of the book world is Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. Haven't read it yet; haven't even seen it yet. Did read an article in the Times about Franzen's chic book launch party. The name dropping, the pictures of svelte women of the publishing scene. Me, I'm re-reading Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. In sweatpants and a tee-shirt, windows open for this September breeze, college football on TV.

Speaking of football, Tim's playing pretty regularly in varsity now. Last night we sat through winds and rains, pants and shoes soaked to our skin, to watch Tim's team beat White Bear Lake. He plays wingback on offense, blocking for his runners, and middle linebacker on the second team defense. He's happy.

My BWCA trip was lovely. Easy and relaxing. We went about seven miles the first day with many portages, one 180-rods (1/2 mile). We camped for two nights on Lake Polly, spending one day reading, swimming, exploring, and cooking. I loved sleeping outdoors in a tent, loved swimming in that cold clear lake, loved paddling in the Kawishiwi. Saw eagles, whiskey jacks, scolding red squirrels, a huge beaver making its way across the lake. Our campsite was on an island filled with white cedar. We ate campside bruschetta, quinoa with salmon, zucchini and onion pancakes, and I brought a bottle of Calvados for the end of our evenings.

I'm all worn out today--by a bad cold I picked up from the kids, by the rush of work and back-to-school, by our quick trip up to see my parents, and our press author picnic today, which was fantastic but filled with at least thirty 5-minute conversations. It was like speed-dating, I'd guess. Whew.

Now for that Franzenfreude, many have used it to mean the pain one feels in all the showering upon Franzen but as the president of FSG, which published Freedom, says, freude means joy. I'll leave that discussion for the glamorous Manhattan crowd. A nap is in order. Let it be then: Napfreude.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I'm at work for a short day, then off for a short trip in the Boundary Waters. My paddling friend was mostly packed two weeks ago. I started putting it all together last night. Today I pack my clothes, my gear, my overnight bag for the motel out, my share of the food. Okay, everything. But I've got most of it ready and laid out in the den.

I get anxious the day or two before I take a trip, lists running through my mind, so I was up a few times last night. At midnight, I heard Tim downstairs playing a video game. At 2:30 a.m. he was up and in the bathroom. I knocked on the door and told him he shouldn't stay up so late and to get to bed.

I suspect he's a little anxious and full of anticipation, too. His first intra-squad football scrimmage is today, that kind of showcase where coaches can see how it's all fitting together and who is up for the call to Varsity and who's not. Tim was really tired last night at dinner; had given it his all during yesterday's practice. This afternoon the boys will have team pictures at 3, practice, a meeting, and then a team scrimmage at 5:30, followed by a family BBQ. It's a beautiful St. Paul day. 62 degrees when I drove in; temps not expected to rise above 75. I'm hoping to be all packed, free and easy, and ready to take in the preseason show.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday, a day of rest

Relaxing on a Sunday, combing the sports pages

Did you read Ruth Riechl's Sunday routine highlighted in today's New York Times? Now that's my kind of Sunday. Except I'd rather not do all that cooking. Nonetheless, Ken and I do cook quite a bit on Sundays, and often the morning starts with a big, wonderful breakfast. Ken makes a great from-scratch buttermilk biscuit and that will be the cornerstone to fried eggs and bacon, or sausage omelets, or eggs, potatoes, and gravy. Megan and Tim LOVE these Sunday morning breakfasts. They call about them; they write others about them; they plan their social lives around them.

But this morning, Ken has left the house early for a trip to Cabela's in Owatonna--to return a cot he bought and to buy me new rain paints for my BWCA trip--and Tim is still sleeping. Tim got together for a bonfire with friends until midnight last night and tomorrow is week 2 of football practice, so I'm glad he's still sleeping. Plus, it opens up the living room for me where I can watch Almanac and read the newspapers online, without complaint.

We'll make a big dinner, maybe grill something (last week we grilled an organic chicken with thyme and sage), and finish up our laundry and preparations for the week (lunch supplies in order, bills to pay, compare our schedules). I hear the Vikings have an exhibition game on TV tonight; we'll watch that (I'll watch only until Mad Men is on!).

Friday football ended with a watermelon feed for the boys. Tim came home and said there was bad news. One of his teammates broke his ankle and ripped three ligaments during a drill. Kid's out for the year. The player works hard at football and gives it his all in practice and games and I feel for him, having a chance to make varsity and then having to sit out his junior year. Plus, the injury sounds bad, especially the torn ligaments, which could cause him a lot of problems beyond high school.

The news came a day after Percy Harvin's collapse on the Vikings practice field. Football is a dangerous sport. It's not easy to be a parent of a football player and not feel conflicted about this. At dinner Friday night, as Tim ate with his elbows on the table (a kid takes home the manners of the school lunchroom), I could see that his forearms were bruised from wrist to elbow, on both arms. He had deep scratches on both arms as well, from helmets, he thought. And they haven't even faced an opponent yet. Some people ask me which is worse: hockey or football? I don't know, the potential for serious injury--and the rules that accompany each of these sports--is probably equally dangerous. The part I'm most worried about is the head, however, and football seems to be the leader in head injuries. Reports last week reported whether Lou Gehrig might have died from injuries related to repeated concussions rather than from ALS.

But I can see a new confidence in Tim this week. He speaks with pride about what he's learning in pre-season and he can't wait for the first game in a few weeks. He's been involved in both defense (as middle linebacker) and in offense (as guard) in the last few days. He'll take whatever role they give him. When I asked if he was sore, he said he was, but in a good way. When I asked if he knew all the plays, he said he knew the defense pretty well (from last year) but not the offense, so he'd have to study the playbook.

Ken called me from the car on Friday and I asked him where he was. He said he was in the area (of Tim's school, which is a few blocks from our house) and thought he'd stop home, grab his lunch, and spend 10 or 15 minutes at the practice field watching the boys. Then he called later in the afternoon and I asked again where he was. He said though he stopped home in the morning to get his lunch, he got distracted and forgot it, so he returned back to eat it, and then took another 10-15 minutes to watch more of practice. Guy cracks me up.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

2 days 'til Saturday

Boys practice in full pads today.

Extra chocolate milk is in the fridge. A study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed that plain chocolate milk is as good--or better--than sports drinks like Gatorade at helping athletes recover from strenuous exercise.
Last night Tim made himself a Digiorno pepperoni pizza, then loaded the top with fresh mozzarella and hot Italian sausage. He said it was a pizza made for a fork.

Read an interesting story about the Vikings accommodating better their safety Husain Abdullah during his observance of Ramadan.
Last year, Coach Childress said, he shouldered the fast by himself.

I had to drop off a check at the school and so swung by the practice field and saw all the players going through offensive drills. Some of those O-Men looking mighty big. I was just saying that I could have brought a worry stone to the dentist yesterday; I got a little anxious about them poking around a sore tooth. If Tim makes varsity and plays against these lumbering boys I'm going to need a worry stone at games, too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Aches and Pains

This morning we three each felt a few aches and pains. Ken's left knee hurt because of all the house chores he did this weekend. His right knee has been replaced with titanium so it hardly hurts anymore. He can't kneel on that knee though so all the kneeling he had to do (installing washer and dryer, trimming grass) was on his left--hence the hurt.

My right foot is tender and sore. I dropped my laptop on the top of my bare foot. I've now developed a bundle of nerves in the tissue between those bones in what's called Morton's Neuroma. Makes it sound like a movie starring John Cusack.

After a full day of football practice, Tim's ankle, thighs, hips, and back were sore. Ken and I got to go to the office to sit for a spell. Tim had to go back to another day of two-a-days.

After practice yesterday Tim and some teammates went swimming at a friend's above-ground pool ("fits 8 comfortably"), watched a few episodes of Entourage, and ate dinner at Cleveland Wok. Doesn't sound too shabby to me. I, on the other hand, worked 'til five, pulled weeds in the garden, and had frozen pizza with the hubby.

All summer I've given Tim a small chore list during the week, nudges for him to do things like empty the trash, put away clean dishes, and mow the lawn. I noticed in his gym bag last night that he had grabbed the notebook in which I wrote him these notes and the first two pages have marked in black Sharpie: "Tim, wash dishes before I get home." Or, "Hi Tim, there are leftovers in the fridge and please also mow the lawn. Do a good job, okay?" Annoying, annoying, I see how annoying these are now. He'll use this 3-ring notebook to write down plays and such from his football meetings. I bet he keeps 'em just to get him fired up for football drills.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I never had to do two-a-days. I did work three jobs during the summer between my junior and senior years in college and on a few crazy days put in back-to-back shifts on all three in one day. I was Parks and Rec youth guide and a waitress at a hotel restaurant, and for a few weeks each month, a gymnastics and dance instructor for the same Parks and Rec division. But that's not the same.

I was a dancer for much of my youth and took both modern and ballet classes for a number of years. The hardest workouts were when I danced at the University of North Dakota as a 16-year-old. I also ran track and played basketball in high school. The track coach at the time didn't trust us girls to run our requisite four miles each day in the first month of training and so she'd take us in a van out to the "fourth-mile" on a country road and then tell us to meet her at the track for the next stage.

I also played hockey for a short while and I do clearly remember the grueling hours we girl hockey players were assigned for ice time (back in 1976). We carpooled, in the deep-freeze of northern Minnesota winter, to get to the rink and on the ice by 5:30 a.m. Ladies' Night Out, I guess, it still being dark and all.

Tim is trying out for his high school varsity football team. Fall practice opened today with a 7 a.m. (sharp!) meeting. The practice times this week are 7:30 to 2:45. Today and tomorrow they wear shorts, tees, cleats, and helmets only. Players are advised to pack their lunches in coolers and bring foldable chairs for meetings and film reviews.

This weekend we helped him get prepared. Bought all kinds of fixings for his lunches. Gave him the $21 for the team-required practice stuff from school. Bought a high-end girdle and some quick-dry practice shirts from Dick's: $91.00. (I asked him why he needs new shirts for football practice when we have a gazillion old t-shirts available at home and he told me the ones we had were too hot and too big for a day of practice. Okay. I buy that.) Ken set the alarm for 5:15 and made himself and Tim turkey sandwiches. He had cleaned out our empty Gatorade bottles, filled them with water, and stuck them in the freezer Sunday night. That way the bottles can keep the lunch cold in the cooler and Tim can drink from them by the end of the day.

Tim has his own car now so he got himself up, had a toaster waffle and some milk, and headed out the door with his cooler and his gym bag at 6:45 a.m.

In solidarity, I did 50 crunches and 5 push-ups before work this morning.

He's a linebacker and will be working to make the starting squad on a pretty competitive team. There is also the option of making second team or playing junior varsity. Last year he started for his 10th grade team, played some junior varsity, and suited up for varsity. He's been working out all summer and also worked the high school camp for younger kids, so he's definitely prepared for today.

I got the first two seasons of Friday Night Lights at the library Saturday and we all watched many of the Season 1 episodes over the weekend. Now there's a hyped-up phenomenon: Texas high school football. I was encouraged to see that the women of the series--by the end of the season--started to have more substantial roles and better character development beyond cheerleading and girlfriends who do or don't have sex. I was pretty fascinated with all the context the show's creators brought into the show: the pressure by the townsfolks, the dynamics during practice and on game days, the toll such competition takes on families.

More as documentation of something I find really compelling (because I was an athlete, because I still know so little about football and the systems that keep it a national pasttime) and less because I'm a fawning helicopter mom, I want to post a few summaries on practice and try-outs for the next month or so. Bear with me or visit again in October!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Getting by

"Suicide" has barged into my life three times in the last month. Too much for my psyche. My good friend's brother committed suicide and my friend worried about her elderly parents' ability to cope. One of our Press writers lost her sister to suicide and our writer was next of kin and had to attend first to the funeral service and then to an appropriately meaningful memorial service weeks later. Today we learned a former colleague killed himself on Friday, after a lifetime struggling with depression and a summer with additional work stresses.

Today's news stopped me in my tracks. Our editor in chief commented that on days like this it is hard getting by. What other news will we need to cope with? For those of us without the extra burdens of depression, chronic illness, severe poverty, it might seem trivial to say, but we all can be worn down by the coping, the constant coping. And she said it's as if we need to keep our view on the long gaze, keep looking ahead, keep our visions clear to the future. Otherwise, if we look down or too closely, we may stop in our tracks for longer than we hoped. Stop and wonder about this grace of God.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Making Saints and Pulling Bishops Weed

I ventured away from home only twice today: to the Pleasant Ave. compost site and the Merriam Park Library. I worked in the rough-and-tumble yard 'til late afternoon. (Don't ask me to get up or anything because I'm sore and stiff and planted in this leather chair right now.) I could only tackle a few large areas today: the rusted Snow-on-Mountain or Variegated Bishops Weed all along the line of the picket fence and the rock steps leading up to the back yard. While I was at it, I pulled out some nasty crab grass and Creeping Charlie and even leaned over the picket fence to chop down the purple aster, which I had hoped to cut earlier to stop its legginess; two pickets were quite rotted from age and their tops busted off on my lean. Anyway, I cut and pulled and filled two big leaf bags with the green refuse and so Tim and I headed over to the compost site together to dump them. I still have the inside of the fence to clean up, which is now so completely overrun by that Bishops Weed that I'll be pulling those deep roots out much of tomorrow. Most gardeners will tell you to say no, just say no, to any offer of a gift of Bishops Weed. Too invasive! No matter if its free--that plant has been crowding gardeners for centuries.

I found "The Herbal” by John Gerard, who made this comment about the also-named Gout Weed in 1633:
“…..Herbe Gerard groweth of it selfe in gardens without setting or sowing, and is so fruitful in his increase, that where it once hath taken root, it will be hardly got out againe, spoiling and getting every year more ground, to the annoying of better herbs."

I returned my two rented DVDs at the library. Of course they were overdue, putting them at the same price as the Red Box movies at McDonald's on W. 7th. Still, at least this time I watched them both. Sometimes I rent library movies, keep them too long, and then return them late without ever having watched them. One of our authors at the Press recently told us she no longer uses her library anymore. She loves libraries, sure, but with all the late fees she pays, she can't afford them anymore.

Last night I stayed up past midnight watching the terrific French film Séraphine, based on the life of French painter Séraphine de Senlis--"a beautiful portrait of an artistic mind." Forget Bravo's Work of Art, this movie was a work of art. From a user review on the IMDb site:

Seraphine recalls other outstanding understated French films like La Dentelliere and Brodeuses, films in which female acting transcends subject matter. If Marion Cotillard was born to play Piaf then Moreau was born to play Seraphine, the beautiful innocent, condemned to a life of harsh servitude yet never wavers from her simple faith and sings to the virgin on a daily basis. Completely untrained she uses what little spare time she has to paint flowers and fruit with no thought of reward, a real definition of Art For Art's Sake. Because this is a true story about a real person her gift is, ultimately appreciated by the German art collector/critic who also 'discovered' Rousseau; for a mayfly moment she knows something akin to happiness/contentment before spending her last years in an asylum. The film scores on all levels, not least the visuals in which almost every set up whether indoors or out, reeks of paintings we can all but name but ultimately remain elusive. In the leading role Yolande Moreauis beyond praise.
In the movie, Seraphine cleans houses--often barefoot--all day, walks miles to and from her home, her employ, church, and the fields, and paints on her hands and knees, her humble supplies and wood panels spread flat on the floor. Yet, despite all this hardship, her physical life beckoned, entwined with art and nature in such a way that a day in front the computer seems so much like penance. So I didn't really mind all that Bishops Weed. It got me to dig my nails into the ground.

Speaking of art and faith, I just learned about a talented typesetter and book packager I worked with years ago who has a practice of making Saints, by hand, in cast stone and pewter. He writes in the Artist's Statement on his website, In the Company of Saints:

Why Saints? My first contact with saints came when as a little Presbyterian kid I found a tiny plastic statue of St. Christopher, in a leather case, in a parking lot. I picked it up and put it in my pocket (thus unknowingly allying myself with St. Dismas, patron of thieves). I didn't know much, but I vaguely knew that I'd found a religious object. I felt comfort. No matter how humble the image, it seemed to me to intimate a binding of the spiritual and physical, something everyone longs for at some point in their life. Years past. I forgot my little St. Christopher until I studied European medieval literature and then taught it. Saints, of course, are a major theme. In the Canterbury Tales, for instance, saints, in a way, trot along with the pilgrims. I started to feel like those pilgrims. I started thinking of saints as spiritual aunts or uncles, figures who could give you advice and compassion without large doses of the doctrine you might get from parents. I ended up editing Catholic theological books for fifteen years, many of the books about or by saints. Finally, I wearied of words and started trying to carve my own images of saints. I had no training, no idea what I was doing. I just went into a garage and started trying to make statues of saints. ~Hank Schlau
Check out his work. You can order statues or medals online. There is St. Anthony, Finder of Lost Things; St. James, Patron of Walkers, Runners and Pilgrims; St. Jerome, Patron of Booklovers and Librarians; and many more. I think I'll go with Hildegard of Bingen, Patron of Gardeners, Musicians and Artists. Seems a perfect choice.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Night Vice (cheap)

No smoking, no nightclubs. Just Laurent Bros Kettle Korn, Trader Joe's Honey Moon Viognier, and the July Elle interviews with Drew Barrymore and Javier Bardem.

It's payday and I was finally able to book an appointment at the salon to fix the hot mess that new Aveda graduate left me with over a month ago. I knew when he gasped, like a woman in the dark during a horror movie, after rinsing my hair that he had blown it in the foil and color department. Then he said, "I'll be right back," and rushed over to get his instructor. A bit like that scene in As Good As It Gets when Cuba Gooding Jr and his assistant get a good look at Greg Kinnear after his mugging.

I stopped by the St. Luke's Farmers Market on the way home from work and got that great kettle corn, bok choy, Yukon Golds, four new tomatoes, and some white and red onions. Then I washed the dishes and watched the Twins with Tim, who was multi-tasking--watching music videos with earplugs on the laptop, catching some plays of the game, and nodding to me every once in awhile (when he saw my lips move, I suppose). "Can you believe Casilla got a home run?" I say. He looks up, looks over, nods, and looks down.

In that interview with Drew Barrymore in the new Elle, which I read at the salon, she says something that I will cop for my new line when asked about how I sleep: "I have the ears of a new puppy." Lately I too have jumped and startled awake at the sound of every creak and pop. I've started to sleep with a fan just for the white noise. Sounds like a fussy stage to be in but I can't seem to help it. We leave next weekend to attend the VFW state tourney in Austin, Minnesota, where we'll share the Holiday Inn with dozens of high school boys and their families. Whoa, boy, I'll have to bring my ear plugs, turbo fan, and a couple bottles of that Honey Moon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

36 Hours with the Teens

So last night I walked into the living room and the two teens are in chairs, three feet from the TV, playing the video games they had just purchased from GameStop, where they traded in their expensive Christmas and birthday gift games for used ones. Not a great deal to me but whatever. I remember as a teen blowing all my waitress tips on clothes I would discard after one school year, so marked by that year's fashion that I'd be dated in the eyes of others if I had carried them through another year.  A Hoodie and jeans with elephant bells, one year, set me back more than any other one outfit until my twenties.

At any rate, I walked into the living room where the boys were side by side, controls in hand, like a pair strapped into a roller coaster, and they put the game on mute. I looked over at the screen and saw it was another war game. Then they paused it. And waited. I wanted to drawn down the blinds in each of the three windows and they just waited. And watched me as I went over to the windows, one by one. Then waited. As I left the room the action came back on. Then the sound, beginning with some animated soldier saying, "Fuck you."

Remember when we muted the set because our nighttime drama might be too rough for the children's innocent ears?

Tim knows I hate the war games. Sometimes he tries to discuss the merits of the games, such as interactive maps that lets him discover the Middle East, or role-playing games that include decisions of ethics or humane efforts. I listen, because I know it is important to him--these games, the whole range of them--but I don't buy it. His friend had purchased a skateboarding game and Tim had also traded for a mysticism game so I'm hoping they will mix up this assault on their brains today.

His friend is spending the weekend with us while his parents are out in Bayfield with friends. Ken's up on the Gunflint so I'm host. The two sixteen-year-olds have been friends for years so it's a welcome change for me.

Last night I kicked them out, though, so I could have some quiet and also some time to clean the house. I only got about a third of the way on the cleaning. I forget how much work it is to clean. Up and down the stairs, I spent half my time putting things in order, divvying up people's belongings and restoring back to their respective places.

Dinner last night was marinated sirloin on the grill, sliced and served with a mayo-Dijon sauce (which no one else ate but me), fried Yukon Golds, salad, and the New French baguette that you bake in your own oven, always a hit with teen boys.

I cleaned up the spare room for Adam, an act I've always loved doing for others. I suppose I love it because people have done it so nicely for me: fresh sheets, plumped pillows, the best quilt in the house, a set of towels placed on bed's edge, night lamp left on as welcome.

This morning Tim had to leave early for his baseball game and he popped into Adam's room to tell him he was leaving. I had been awake for awhile with tea and the NYT. Adam got up soon after that--and our house was very quiet. He didn't seem too uncomfortable and when I asked him if he wanted breakfast he quickly said yes. While we ate we shared some stories. He talked about his grandparents, whom I had seen over the Fourth, and how his grandma had called wondering his sister's shoe size. His sister is in college and away for the summer, working. So Adam told his grandma he'd call her back and then went into his sister's closet and checked out the sizes of all the pairs of shoes in there, hoping to come back with an average, which was size 8, he determined. With so much eye aversion and mumbling going on among the teens of the world, I so appreciated this effort at table conversation.

Adam's gone home for some down time while I head over to Tim's game. Tonight the three of us are making homemade pasta. Adam knows how to make Alfredo sauce from scratch (he brought his shaker/strainer and the recipe) and Tim learned how to make egg noodles while on a retreat at school. We'll head to Cossetta's for some semolina flour and Italian sausage.

Food, the great mediator.

Monday, July 05, 2010

What we're up to

What we're doing
I'm upstairs in bed, no TV, checking e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, daily newspapers. Guys are downstairs fighting over remote control. Back from a long weekend away together near Finlayson--a quick last-minute change in our 4th of July plans that really turned out fun. Adam is spending the night because our friend, his dad, just got diagnosed with Lyme's Disease, literally ten minutes ago. He didn't feel well much of the weekend (though was a trooper about it) and the long, stormy ride home did him in. Got in to urgent care just in time. If you've been out in the woods, check yourself for ticks, please.

What we're eating
Lots of great meals outside and around the kitchen table. Watermelon, chilled linguine salad, slow-grilled barbecue ribs, fresh strawberries, homemade carrot cake, kielbasa with fried potatoes, hazelnut/chocolate rochers. Maybe should feast on salads and lighter fare this week!

What we're wearing
It was such a hot, muggy weekend that we've all had showers and are wearing tee-shirts and jammy pants, the house air-conditioning feeling like a spa hotel.

What we're reading
I started Sam Lipsyte's The Ask. Tim is re-reading Anne Ursu's first novel. Our friend Rhonda started Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna (?) and hates it.

What we're buying
Smoke balls (fireworks) at the shop in Finlayson, Leinenkugel's variety pack, a very beautiful, stark, handmade wooden chair ($25) from the antique store in Griese; also, a country red cake tin with carrying handle (2.50), and Graham Greene's The Quiet American (50 cents). Coca Cola (me), Starburst popsicles (the boys) for the ride home.

What we're playing
This weekend, bocce ball, wiffle ball, four-wheeling on Dick's 80 acres.

What we're hoping
That it will stop raining, cool off, and hurry up and be another weekend.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Finally, a beautiful breezy summer night. I've thrown open the windows and it was fun to read quietly while listening to the sounds of the neighborhood. We have the happiest child who lives across the street and he talks and sings in his backyard all evening long. The triplets on the other side of us are now big and loud and they jumped on their trampoline so boisterously you'd think they'd fly off in different trajectories. Tim burst in the door and asked if he could spend the night at Connor's. He had brought over his cheesecake dessert to share at Connor's house and together they made fettucini with peas, he told me, emphasizing the "peas" for my benefit.

My dad's blood pressure is back to a more livable level and he stopped taking a new medication that had precipitated the drop. He and mom went into the doc today to check in about it all. And, Mom sounded better on the phone. I called her at lunch today while sitting outside in the sun, a practice my colleague has embraced for better connections with her mother. It's a good routine. Thank goodness for cell phones.

I started Olive Kitteridge and love it; can't put it down. Another reader posted this picture that she named "old people kissing" to illustrate two lines from the book: They weren’t young anymore, this was the thing. They kept telling each other as though they couldn’t believe it. I made a Paul Newman thin-crust margarita pizza (ridiculously low price at Target this week) and ate slices while I read on the porch after work. Ken worked out at the gym so my dinner was solo, which was okay for a Monday.

This Monday was full of meetings, including one about three new technology projects. But the internal network connection in the conference room didn't work so we couldn't view the beta tests on screen. Figures. Another meeting was one full of thoughtful people and I was encouraged by the outcomes today. Plus, the meeting leader had a knockout dress and show-stopping jewelry to go with it. A pleasure.

I read that Meritage is serving up a fabulous lobster roll and it sounds so good I'll have to treat myself to lunch there sometime this week.

And now, back to Olive.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sifting through these feelings

3:30 Sunday afternoon. Tim and I sit in the air-conditioned living room, unwinding after lunch of tacos--beef, onion, cilantro, corn tortillas. Ken is upstairs watching tv and, most likely, about to take a long nap. I could jump in the car and drive up to see my parents. My mom called about two hours ago crying, upset, overwhelmed. My dad, who has been suffering after heart failure almost 8 months ago, was weak and tired and in bed for much of the late morning and his blood pressure had just dropped to 84/53. When I picked up the phone and heard her words and sobs I thought my dad had died.

They're mostly alone up at their home on Lake Beltrami and they both could use more companionship and assistance.

I suggested Mom call the ER and speak with a nurse or ask to speak with a cardiologist before bringing Dad in anywhere. She did and seemed to have a good conversation with an on-call nurse, who said if my father's blood pressure didn't rise in the next two hours they should come into the ER. Mom just called and said Dad's pressure had gone up four points, he was irritated but not confused, and she was feeling better--had just needed someone to talk with.

I could still drive up there anytime and now am thinking of changing plans so I can drive up there to see them this weekend.

Worry takes so many forms. I've gotten pretty good at masking it with busyness or a feigned calmness, but I really am worried.

So Tim can sense that and he's sitting next to me reading The Lightning Thief and we're going in to the kitchen soon to make a few desserts. He'll make a no-bake cheesecake and I'll make a chocolate chip/date cake that both he and Ken love. Did anyone see that movie with Jessica Lange, the one where she bakes muffins in the summertime to ease her worry and sadness? Tins upon tins of muffins cooled in her city kitchen while she smoked cigarettes in the window casement overlooking the fire escape. I don't smoke anymore so I'll have to settle for the calming ritual of measuring, sifting, stirring, and baking.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Gingerbread Room of Her Own

" 'My refuge,' she calls it." If this isn't a study in modern American living, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Room of My Own

Decadent. That's all this is. Decadent. I'm on my crewel-embroidered loveseat in front of my wrought-iron balcony, the white sheers blowing softly in the breeze swirling down off the mountains. I hear music out in the distance. It's a beautiful 75-degree night in Salt Lake City; they've definitely kicked off summer here. The open-air Farmers Market began last week, there'll be outdoor jazz on Thursdays. I'm in the glorious Grand America hotel, built special for the 2002 Olympics. I'll be participating in a conference come Thursday but I so needed a getaway, a regrouping, that when I found an amazing deal on Expedia for seven nights at this grand place, I jumped on it.

In a few weeks the press marks its fiscal year end, a mark that we use to measure and look back on our previous year, and in this case it is one in which we cut staff and operating budget and new title output 30%. A risk and a triumph--we hit our sales goal a full month early and garnered a lot of great media attention and book awards. We dug in, this small team of publishing professionals, working as hard as we could to make this year a success. As if we owned the press and our lives depended on it. On the personal front, this month marked a lot of other milestones as well, not least of which is Megan graduating from college and Tim making it through his "underclassmen" years of high school. Two years ago he looked to me, after we both had sent in our applications--he for Cretin and me for the press director job--and he said, "We're both either going to get good news or we're going to get bad news. Either way, I predict we'll get the same answers." And we did; he called it.

I felt a real need to celebrate these accomplishments. I've given up a lot the last two years--mostly my free time and my carefully developed buffer against stress. After these months working like crazy to keep ahead of things, juggling books and authors and organizational-wide committee meetings and the ever-changing publishing industry, among so many things, I was starting to lose head capacity. My mind felt so full and so often my decisions had to be handed down quickly after rapid fire, and I needed to get back the clear-headedness and reasoned deliberation a good leader needs.

This guy writes in an SLC alternative paper under a feature titled, “As good as it gets: City Weekly designs the perfect summer day, “ . . . Having a whole day with no agenda and no people in my face is always a treat. . . . Friends naturally drop in and out of these “me” days, but I try to stay highly flexible and unscheduled. As a working professional . . . finding a way to schedule a full day of nothing in particular is hard work in itself. How often can any of us honestly say we have nothing on our daily schedules? No yard work to be done, no chores around the house, no family obligations. Even when your day is full of fun, like dinner parties with friends . . . you’re still sacrificing some quality solo time. It’s a life full of compromises, and we all just try to find a balance we can live with. My “me time” days help me keep balanced" (Dan Nailen, Utah City Weekly music editor).

That's exactly what I came out here to do. Find that me time to get me back in balance.

So tonight, after a long stint at the outdoor pool, where I wrote my Aunt Sue a letter and read some more of the mesmerizing book, This House of Sky by Ivan Doig, I have showered, drenched myself in Gilchrist & Soames primrose body lotion, and am wrapped in the terry hotel robe, waiting for room service to deliver my house salad and bread basket. Utah airs Colorado Rockies baseball and they're playing at Target Field this evening so I even have the Twins on TV.

The thing about down time is that you finally get the chance to free your mind, let it roam. Lately, when I give it the chance, my mind has been developing an urge to explore the Southwest, my birthplace. I was born in El Paso, Texas, and for the first five years of my life we lived in the middle of the Texas desert and took our vacations in the mountains of New Mexico, camping and picnicking and hiking. I've lived in Minnesota a good thirty years now but I've been feeling a pull to those places of my past. Coming here to Salt Lake City, seeing the mountains surround this basin and breathing in the crisp, tight air, I feel a bit of that Southwest vibe. But this is the Great West. Wagon trails and cowboys and sheepherding.

So I've had this freeing time these last two days--long sleeps and walks and swims by the pool--and I was thinking of my youth. This morning I took a walk to the fantastic SLC City Library. I love visiting city libraries. In Norway, where I met up with Megan last spring, I spent a morning at the National Library in Oslo while she attended class. I love people-watching at libraries. I love browsing the shelves and the displays and picking up books that fit my fancy. After taking in the breathtaking 360-degree from the rooftop deck here, I settled into a chair on the fourth floor, right along the glass edge of the steep overlook into the atrium, and read the poetry of Alire Saenz, The Book of What Remains. There is luck and there is chance and there is fate. I hope you can get out for some me time, some down time, because see, Saenz, as luck or chance or fate would have it, is a former Catholic priest who lives and teaches in El Paso. His poetry included many meditations on the dessert--what I craved. And also this passage. I'll be reading more of his work.

One time I was
At a party. Some guy asked me: What are you, anyway?
I downed my beer. Mexican I said. Really he said. Do
You play soccer? No I said but I drink tequila. He smiled
At me. That's cool. I smiled back So what are you?
What do you thnk I am? he said. An asshole I said. People
Hate you when you're right. Especially if you're Mexican.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Do you remember your first car?

We pooled our money with the teen kid and bought a 1998 Chevy Blazer for him. Good-to-excellent condition, V-8, automatic, 4-door, air, 149,000 miles, $2800.00 from our friend and neighbor Jim. Tim took Ken and me out separately for test drives. He showed me the 6-CD holder, the cassette player (which he probably won't use, he said, so seriously), tested the cruise control, and told me you could get in the locked doors only by inserting the key into the hatchback, which then released all locks.

It's the perfect first car for a teen guy and I hope it lasts him well through the rest of high school.

Our neighbor John, who sold Megan her first car--an old 2-door Ford Explorer--waved hi to Tim as he pulled into the driveway. "You behind the wheel now?" John asked. "Yep," says Tim. John says, "Want to buy my old truck?" "I just bought this one," Tim answered quite proudly. "Looks nicer than mine," John replied. A nice exchange between neighbors.

As a parent, I feel the loss of control, bit by bit. Your kids get their license and you no longer drive them to and from places. They get their own vehicle and you can no longer say quickly, without advance warning, "Have my car home by 3; I need it for work." Tim was out and about today with a few friends, from noon to five. Where did they go? What did they do? I know they had lunch together at Cleveland Wok. Where did the other four hours go? For him, it seems pretty seamless and easy. I asked him to be home by 5:30 and he was. No problem from his end. Meanwhile, I wonder and worry a bit what shenanigans they're up to.

Take big breath now.

Two years of him growing right before our eyes.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

10 Things to Do in the Garden

1. Cut mint. Make Mojitos. (Write on back of hand: buy rum on way home)
2. Water new seedlings of carrots and red onion.
3. Keep pulling out sprouts of morning glories. Doesn't seem quite right to swear in conjunction with the word "glories" but fucking morning glories from last year have invaded my garden plot. More glory sprouts than mayflies in Winona.
4. Stand on raised garden bed edge and talk with neighbor over chain-link fence. Invite her over for Mojitos, #1 above.
5. Plant bean seeds which were left out of frenzy of planting three weeks ago.
6. Cup new basil plants with halved milk/orange juice cartons to keep bugs off low-lying leaves.
7. Cut white and magenta peonies for bedroom. Savor white peony scent during sleep.
8. Bring out new pail of kitchen compost to add to backyard compost bin. Rinse and repeat in two weeks.
9. Dig up chaotic grass/weed/vine/undertended mess behind garage and plant new native grasses and hardy-as-heck perennials to fill.
10. Oh yeah, buy new sunscreen and wear it. Religously.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lunch Breaks

Last week I was determined to make the most of my lunch breaks, after a stint of lunching at my desk, in front of my computer, for what seemed like weeks and weeks. I'd get home each night feeling completely drained and you know what? I was.

So last week, with that beauty of a Minnesota spring still wowing us, I popped my bag lunch into my tote, with my book and my camera inside as well, and hiked to spots about town.

A favorite is the Kellogg Boulevard-side park of St. Paul's Central Library. If you can score a bench under a tree, you get a great view of the passersby--joggers and office workers walking and talking, out-of-towners taking in the sights. Out beyond, the High Bridge and a nip of the Mississippi River, and by your feet, the park birds skittering close to catch any extra crumbs.

I went twice last week, once to check out some books (Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook and two of my favorite picture books, The Gardener and The Journey, by Sarah Stewart, both illustrated by David Small). There is a third, The Library, but it was checked out (as it should be!). The second time to share the spot with a colleague--and catch up on work news.

I felt renewed by Friday. I had explored the city a little (also had a fun sidewalk patio lunch at Cossetta's; a leisurely picnic on the grounds of the Capitol), got some exercise, and some fresh air and dappled sun.

This week--hmmm, I'm thinking of venturing farther. Irvine Park, Upper Landing, Lowertown's Mears Park?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Work day

So gorgeous in Saint Paul this morning I can hardly stand it. I read in a blog that that writer's day was divided into many different discrete increments, all of which were part of the big orchestra of her packed day. That kind of phrase makes me panic, to tell you the truth. But I live it as well and if you see me hunkering down, with a scowl on my face, hunched over my keyboard or my steering wheel, it's because I'm trying to keep up.

But on these paradisal days of spring and early summer, I just have to loosen up, expand the routine to include as much of this sweet air as possible.

I slept with all the windows open last night and had that perfect morning chill, where I reached over and grabbed the extra quilt for another snooze before getting up at six. I knew I'd be on duty for Tim's start to the day--he needed a lunch, his uniform was wet in the washer, I'd give him a ride. I made the sandwiches, started the dryer, took a shower, and then in my briefs and bra did yoga in front of the sunrise.

Since we left early, I took the long route, past all those still-blooming lilacs of St. Kate's, and along Cleveland Avenue with the bicyclists, the bus riders, the college students. I stopped at my favorite morning cafe, Trotter's, and got a chai and a loaf of their honey wheat bread, still so warm from the morning bake that they put it whole and unsliced in an open paper bag, so the steam wouldn't get it all wet.

I dropped off my books at Merriam Park Library, corner of Fairview and Marshall. The church was for sale next door earlier this year but now it isn't. When I saw the For Sale sign in front of it I wondered who might buy it. What were the contingencies? Have you ever seen a for sale sign in front of a church? I had my camera along and after depositing the books into the return bin, one by one--the way that Meg Ryan deposits her letters into the mailbox in When Harry Met Sally--I took some pictures of the morning light against that now-saved church. The colors of that shot--morning blue and sun-soaked Minnesota limestone--are my favorite colors in the world.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Field Hands

I submitted this to the Short Shorts call for entries. It had to be 400 words or less. The piece wasn't selected but had fun writing for pleasure again. In this scene, I am sure I'm thinking about the anti-immigration sentiments around the Southwest and my own experience with the Mexican and Mexican American communities in the Red River Valley.

Field Hands
I was fifteen when you sent me out with the migrant crew that summer. I know why you did this. Our neighbors, the Gamboas, were Mexican; they had settled here after years on the migrant circuit. You had arranged for me to ride out with them to the farm near Argyle each day. Joe and his wife and Joe Jr. They’d wait for me in the alley before dawn and the Tejano music played loud in my ears from the store speakers in the back of the sedan.

In Argyle, we met up with the Mexicans just in from California. The farmer handed out supplies and then pulled me aside, telling me what to do: hoe every third sprout, take care walking between the rows, work my way down to the end of the half-mile, and come back on my left again.

We gathered at the west end of the field. They were all speaking Spanish, even the Gamboas. I measured and walked—1-2-3, hoe; 1-2-3, hoe, like a young boy, carefully learning the box step or a very slow waltz. When I looked up the others were far ahead of me, the rhythms of their hoes pricking and clicking, steel against dirt, fast—like their Spanish--and they kept it up all morning, da da deem, da da deem, da da deem.

Each day I brought something new to the fields. A scarf for my hair. A roll of toilet paper. A better lunch. Each morning we would ride the thirty miles to the fields, and every night at five back home again. At lunch break we’d sit in the shade of the cars parked in the ditch and the Mexicans would unwrap the most beautiful things from tinfoil: tortillas filled with rice and meat, corn tamales with hot peppers, orange soda in bright red water jugs.

I was getting stronger and darker with each day. My arms and legs were brown and taut and you could see the muscles in my hands and the veins blue near my bones. You told me there was a point at which a woman moves from being strong to being hard. But I did not believe this. When I looked in the mirror after my cool bath each night I’d see my torso, soft and white, a perfectly framed outline of all my private territory, all my virgin sweet spots. Tender, bright. Ready.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


We're working hard this weekend. Megan graduates on Thursday and Ken's side of the family is coming in Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. We decided to paint this front living room, which had some water damage from the fall rains. Ken late fall fixed the flashing on either side of the fireplace but we hadn't had time to patch the plaster walls until a few weeks ago.

I found the color I liked from Restoration Hardware but when we tested it thought it was too dark. So I asked Ken to get a few gallons only a "tad" lighter and he came back with "'Blue Mist" from Abbott. It's close but a little more blue, a little less silver than I had hoped. Still, you can see here it will catch the light nicely.

We haven't seen Ken's mom for a year-and-a-half and we're excited to sit on the porch and listen to her stories and have her undivided attention for ours. She's wheelchair-bound (she has had MS for thirty years) and we have 23 steps up to our only bathroom on the second floor. Last time she visited--for Megan's high school graduation four years ago--we were able to get her up those stairs. We'll see this week.

We have a full itinerary: Tim's baseball games, grandparents' mass, Megan's Am Studies celebration, big dinner out together, a party at Crosby Park for all the friends and family.

My parents fly in Friday night and this will be the first time I've seen them since Dad's heart attack last fall. I'm anxious: about their flight, about their stamina and moods with all the commotion.

Whew. I'm glad Ken and I are partners--he gives me confidence and energy to take on this full week. He's funny enough to get through the anxiety, strong and steady to take charge with the Honey-Do list.

But now we're breaking out the Knob Creek. The kids are both gone and we've worked really hard the last three weekends. Hmmm, I wonder if Grand Shanghai still delivers?This could be the night we let loose before the big week!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday is Chipotle Night

It's 9 pm and I'm in bed early. The Twins are on TV. I just finished three carnita tacos from Chipotle. It's not my usual--I normally order barbacoa tacos but Ken said they had run out. Tim's usual is a burrito with extra chicken, rice, black beans, and extra cheese. The thing comes back as bloated as the Goodyear Blimp. When one of us makes the Chipotle run it's a hard task to call down the line for one order while you're naming out the other, three in a row. You have to be very systematic or you forget an ingredient. Once I agreed to get Chipotle for an entire baseball team; I took notes, one-by-one on the back of some bank deposit slips but I was still stressed out. The counter help handled my large order without batting an eye.

It's Tuesday night, which has become take-out night at our house. Tim had a baseball game up in Shoreview and on game nights, by the time we all get home it's 7:30 or so; too late to cook. Last week we ordered Pizza Hut's $10 pasta special. Thick, gummy chicken alfredo--the kind a teen boy can love. I'm hoping to convince them on a Pizza Luce delivery next week.

Tim smacked a 3-run homer in the first inning, 291 yards to the right field fence. Or do I say "over" the right field fence? We pulled up to the game about three minutes after he crossed the plate. Traffic from St. Paul up 35E and 694 was slow-pokey. But we got some nice play-by-play re-creations and then when Tim got up to bat the second time the opposing Mounds View coach said, "Let's strike out Thome here." Tim's not nearly as thick as Thome but resembles him, relatively speaking. Compared to football, a lot of beanpoles play baseball. Tim is 5'10" and 215. Thick.

Today I had three meetings and a few complicated e-mails. I got two things crossed off my to-do list. I took a short walk up to the Capitol and pulled a couple of blooming lilacs off the bushes next to the freeway for my desk. I went in early so I could leave early and Ken picked me up for the game. I changed into my jeans and sweater in the car and when we got to the game I went barefoot until it was time to leave. I petted the dog "Rudy" and quizzed our third-grade friend, Gino. I met Tommy J.'s old grandpa and then, when we got home, watered the herbs and plants. A very nice Tuesday, for a Tuesday, even if they were out of barbacoa.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


We're thick in the spring cleaning/spring sprucing up. Dropcloths cover the living room and we've got the two sections of painted wall to compare: blue pewter and blue mist. We're going with blue mist. Ken patched the water damage above the fireplace and it looks terrific. I've been backup. Boxed up all the books from the shelves, found trim paint downstairs, washed alcoves. Tomorrow we paint.

Megan graduates May 13 and a lot of the rellies are coming in for it: from Colorado, West Virginia, Chicago, and South Texas. Ken and I had been so busy last winter with work and with keeping up with Tim's teenaged life (and Megan's intermittent needs) that we haven't done much of any housekeep except, cooking, dishes, and a quick run-through of everything else once a month.

I am, therefore, a rather slow backup to Ken. He simply jumps in and starts moving stuff without regard to a staging plan. I like to be a little more systematic so we don't live in chaos in the rooms to which he's moved everything. But, that's how we're different. As I was putting away books, I found:

1. My skinny, extremely modest engagement ring
2. The prayer card for Ken's dad
3. A little dish of kyped Legos and other little plastic things that Timmy took from his day care a couple of times a month in his young days. Only a piece here and a piece there. I'm not sure exactly why he took those things but I guessed there was a good-enough reason, like he had a hard time transitioning from day care to home each day.
4. The garden book that the kids made me for Mother's Day one year. Colored construction paper with pictures of flowers pasted on top, interspersed with white pages that they named "Notes."
5. Megan's baby book and Tim's baby book (which I hadn't done until 8 years after he was born when I came across Megan's baby book and felt bad I had never composed his).

Needless to say, I paused in my painting prep work and sat down for about 90 minutes looking through everything. Ken was disappointed when he got back this evening and saw I hadn't made great progress.

This morning, while he sanded, I picked up all my garden items at the St. Paul/Lowertown Farmers' Market, which opened for the season today. I'll plant the herbs and veggies a little bit each night after work. Beans, carrots, red onions, rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley.

After that I stopped at Mississippi Market, got all the things we normally get from there (milk, pak-our-own eggs, bulk pantry items, refill of our laundry detergent). When I brought home everything and started putting away groceries I saw our fridge was as groddy as the shared microwave in any employee lunchroom. So I scrubbed it. Another chore checked off my list!

But now we're both tired. Ken's knees hurt and my feet are sore. Last time we worked this hard on our house was for Megan's graduation. Which must mean that in two years--for Tim's high school graduation--we'll be back at it again.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day

I took a long walk through the Superior National Forest on my way back from Nett Lake. The leaves were just beginning to bud and all those white and yellow spring flowers were still tucked under the forest soil, waiting to burst up. The woodpeckers were especially energetic.The sun was a bit pale but the breeze was sweet--spring had arrived.

I'd like to continue on with my best late-night prose but I won't. Or as our dear colleague Will Powers would say, "I shan't."

Because right now you should click this off, turn away from your computer, and get outside. Get outside, dammit.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Country Roads, West Virginia

None of my in-laws work in the coal mines anymore but they all live in or are emotionally connected to West Virginia and are deeply concerned about the mine blast and deaths today.

I have a soft spot in my heart for West Virginia, seeing it for the first time through my husband's eyes. He introduced me to Meadow Bluff, Bad-Off Mountain, Rainelle, Beckley, the New River Gorge. I was pregnant with Megan and I felt like I was at a Baptist church picnic, everyone blessing me with their words and their kind eyes. No hail Jesus or real God-talk but the personable faith of country folk.

I met Lacy and Bill and Tommy and Grandma Berry and mean Uncle Oakley and more. We shot old pump shotguns and made cast-iron skillet berry pies and hiked up through the family cemeteries, learning the stories of all those who came--and died--before us. I walked with Lacy; he hitched his broken body up and through the stepped ridges of the lines of headstones. When I asked Ken's dad what had happened to Lacy, he just said, "the mine." An accident with a cart and a plunge down the mine shaft. Lacy lived on whiskey and painkillers.

Our next trip, years after Megan was born, we took the four-wheelers up the mountain backing against Ken's parents' place and explored the terrain of an abandoned mine, land stripped, lots of erosion and tumble-down parts leftover from the rigs. I took a steep bank too sharply and tipped my four-wheeler on to two wheels and the young teen who had led the way was immediately by my side, holding back my fall like Hercules in the cartoons.

It's easy to make jokes about West Virginia, the old couches and velour recliners on the porch, the welfare whites and Oxytocin epidemic. Jamie Oliver decided to kick off his Eating in America series in West Virgina, focusing on the community with the nation's worst obesity rate, I believe. When you think about the constant threat of working in the mines, you can see why people might not button down their health habits. The Irish depended on the mines, too, and yet we cut them slack for poor drinking and eating--it's almost romantic--but the West Virginnies are mocked.

But like any impoverished or marginalized community, you really can't speak the truth of it unless you get inside it. And the thing about West Virginians, they'll definitely let you inside. C'mon in, door's open, they say.

My husband likes to tell the story of how I went to pick wildflowers up on one of those ridges after a couple of big swills of neighbor Herb's clear moonshine. I came back scraped and scratched and all the kin who had come over for the Sunday picnic were concerned until I laughed and told them that I "fell right off the side of that mountain," tipsy as I had felt from the strong brew. They all laughed but only after I had laughed, and one auntie said, "Well at least you got yourself some flowers."

Monday, April 05, 2010


Here we are, the first Monday in April. It's 58 degrees and cloudy. I've turned the heat off in the house but I'm home for the afternoon and I think I'll just reach over to the thermostat and turn it on. There.

We finally got out in the yard for some raking and garden tilling. Handspade and shovel tilling. My raised bed has some rockin' soil. I did the squeeze test on it: "Take a loose ball of soil about the size of a ping-pong ball in the palm of your hand. Gently squeeze it between the ball of your thumb and your index finger.... If it crumbles, it has a reasonably balanced texture" (Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening). The other test is the "undercover test": "Observe your soil closely. [Look for] abundant earthworms and other soil organisms." Turns out my raised bed of dirt passed both tests. Healthy topsoil, good balance of moisture, earthworms galore!

Megan was home for Easter break and she and Ken raked the yard, Tim pruned wayward branches, I started in on the gardens. One down, three to go. Days like that makes me realize we can achieve family harmony. Many times in the last twenty years I wondered if we would, if we could. But this weekend we played together, cooked together, worked together. We're such a small family unit you'd think, piece of cake. Compared to the big St. Paul Catholic families or our own original families, which were often double in size, and four seems completely doable. But we're a stubborn group, sensitive and boisterous at once. Seems sometimes no one is willing to back down. Now that the boy is a card-carrying teenager (driver's permit--license soon to come) he's got a whole new world to claim. We used to be able to plan a movie or a meal with relatively easy buy-in from him; now he too wants full say.

Which is only right.

As long as he helps with prep or clean-up.

So the garden. Early warm spring means I might actually get some things planted and moved in time. Last year I didn't take enough time to weed in the spring so I had wick-wack in all my beds and then never could catch up with it all. And I rushed the planting of herbs and tomatoes so that the basil was crowded by the sage was crowded by the tomatoes. No harmony there.

The first Monday in April. My fingers are fat and dirty, swollen from the first day out in the garden, the first dig. It's a good feeling. Goes well against this sterile keyboard.

The hope of spring--keep that soil loose and balanced, those earthworms actively content.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Mid-February and the sky is filled with snow. Ken is making buttermilk biscuits and bacon, Tim is playing Call of Duty on the downstairs TV. I'm in bed with tea and a laptop, wearing SmartWool socks and some flannels. I can see why we give in to the urge to shut in. I remember someone in a writing workshop, where we were talking about settings in novels, saying,"What's wrong with the domestic life?" Be all that you can be right here in the slatted light of your bedroom with tea and laptop and biscuits and bacon on the way. Yeah, my fortune would have me as one of those 500-pound shut-ins who have to be forklifted out of the room. Especially with my husband in the kitchen. (The man knows no cholesterol boundaries.)

Here's what I like to do lately: come back to bed with my chai, open up the NY Times on my computer, and click through all the slide shows in the Real Estate section. Today I was richly rewarded with the whimsical and inspiring story of the West Village woman who makes her living in food and runs the TreatsTruck streetside vending company ("Not too fancy, always delicious"). How lovely--her apartment a perfect collection of all that is meaningful to her: pastel vintage aprons, cookbooks interspersed with jars of FLUFFY for color, handmade vanity in red shellac.

(; NYT photo by Mike Appelton)

My son and I met in the living room for a quick morning chat. I can see he is settling in for a domestic day himself. Hockey is over for the season; he can put away his gear for awhile. I noticed we both had greasy hair and bed-mussed houseclothes. He said he was hungry and I said he should ask his dad to make breakfast. Tim shouted to Ken, "Mom and I would like to request breakfast." And then, "And Mom and I would like biscuits. With gravy." And finally, "And bacon." And then he looked at me with a conspiratorial eye as if to say, "I got you covered."

We're going to write letters today, motivated in part by Tim's late Christmas thank-yous. I haven't connected with my mother-in-law in over a month and I know how much she likes getting mail. Tim has a list: Grandma McClanahan, Grandma and Papa, Aunt Pat, Aunt Sue and Uncle Larry, Aunt Kathy and Uncle Mike, Aunt Katrina and Uncle Ed, Owen. I woke in a start last night (my room is cold and I had that post-martini jolt that always hits me after a night of cocktails) and I read for awhile but then, as middle-of-the-night-minds are wont to do, I obsessed. I blocked thoughts of work but fell into a worry-bead pattern of family concern. Who will I call first if something happened to Ken? What is the name of my father's heart doctor? How will we know if Ed and Katrina capsize their boat down on the Mississippi? What is our emergency plan? I was determined, at 4:30 a.m., to come up with an emergency plan for EVERYONE.

I'm sure my mind was reacting to back-to-back outings with Cheryl, Will Powers's widow. She is coming up on the six-month mark without Will. WE are coming up on the six-month mark without Will. She is articulate and sensitive in revealing only a fraction of what her life has been like without the love of her life. One of her stories stayed with me. She described how she and Will would have Friday Nights. Friday Nights they aimed to do nothing outside the home. After a long week of work and obligations their goal was to meet at home, settle in with martinis or some other libation (it was okay if they had one, or okay if they had two, they weren't driving anywhere). They'd make dinner together and set the table (always with a bottle of wine) and then, just before sitting down, Cheryl would turn off all the lights so that their meal was centered by the glow of the table candles. And she described it was like the darkness enveloped them and let everything else fall away. And then they'd just talk and talk until sleep.

In seeking out book titles yesterday I came across the phrase, "Home is the new normal." I tend to avoid phrases like that but in this mid-winter, I can feel the pull: "There is no place like home."