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.