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!