Monday, October 17, 2011

We Are Forever Changed

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins

And so it was on the out-going portion of our journey that A and I found ourselves embarking on an adventure unlike any other we had on our journey. And so it was that our bodies collided with the earth. And so it was that we were compelled to grapple with limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty. And so it was that we were changed at a place where nothing was ever black and white: Sesame Place.

I had decided, a few days earlier, that we'd make one stop on our four hour drive from New York City to Washington, DC. We'd need a break and we'd need it to be kid friendly. Our good friend the Internets led us to Sesame Place. And here is what I thought, "This place is perfect for A. I love PBS. An oversized Elmo is going to blow her mind and I am going to be there to witness and document the look on her face." Also, we could get a discount (see below).

To build excitement (and lessen fear when the actual moment arrived) I told Ada we were going to see a "big Elmo."

"BIG! Elmo," she'd repeat, motioning her arms wide overhead.

"That's right," I told her. "Big Elmo."

Here's what actually happened.

When we pulled up to the parking lot, we forked over $15 dollars to park for the day, which caught me off guard because not only had I just driven halfway across the country without having to pay for parking a single time but, for some reason and in spite of having been born and bred in America, capitalism still catches me off guard every time. At the gate, we paid $30 to enter the park. We would have normally paid $55 (A is young enough to be free) but it was Zoe's birthday and we got a $20 discount in her honor. Happy Birthday, Zoe. This is a discount I can get behind (mostly because there was no way I was paying $55 to get into the park otherwise). In fact, there should be more discounts in honor of fictional characters' fictional birthdays. For example, paper should be discounted on Michael Scott's birthday. Better than a discount: free chocolate for everyone on Willy Wonka's birthday! Discounted trips to the moon to celebrate Buzz Lightyear's birth!

Let me begin with the smell because Sesame is the type of place that has the smell of hot sugar (cotton candy) piped out of the doorways of their concession shops. Hot sugar mixed with popcorn.

Inside the gate, there was a topiary Elmo, bigger than any of A's (six?) Elmo dolls.

"Oh!" A said. "BIG! Elmo." Again, she threw her arms wide and high.

"That is a big Elmo," I said and she smiled. Oh, you just wait, kid, I thought.

I half-heartedly checked a map and then followed the signs to the toddler area. We parked our stroller and walked into Abby's maze. She had apparently lost her wand or something and the maze goers were supposed to help her. There were clues everywhere (which I didn't read because I wasn't focused on watching that bigger kids didn't plow into A and vice-versa). Some of the clues were related to how something smelled -- I think it was supposed to be pumpkin -- but all I could smell was cotton candy and popcorn. A stalled at a spot where pumpkins and Abby and her wand were projected onto the floor and she could "kick" the pumpkins and Abby and her wand and they'd bounce all over the place. Every so often a new crew of bigger kids would come rumbling through and A would move over to the side and hold on to my leg until the bigger kids cleared out and it was quiet again. And then she'd go back to her kicking and stomping.

At one point, another girl, a little older than A, but no older than 3 ran onto the projected pumpkins and bumped into another little girl who, domino-like, bumped into A who fell down. She cried, more scared and startled than anything.

The first girl's dad yelled at her, "I told you to quit running into people! NOW we're going to leave!" and he grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out. It was awkward because I felt a little bad that my kid had something to do with ending this girl's day of fun and because the dad grabbed the girl a little more harshly than I would have but not so harshly that I felt I should say something. And because, as my sister says, "Amusement parks bring out the worst in people." (Although my brother disagrees: he thinks it's airports.) And I realized that my sister is probably right.

We finished the maze and at the end, we were rewarded with a small banana, which A sat happily eating on a bench while kids ran past her to the next ride or event or climber.

I thought, "This isn't so bad -- the freebie hand-outs are bananas." But then later on, they handed out free smarties and some sort of salty snack that left A's fingers coated with an orange dust and I thought, "This is not the PBS I know and love."

A posed with a giant Abby and she was quite taken, but I was still waiting for a giant Elmo. She also posed with cookie monster, but she was less impressed by him and decided getting close to Bert and Ernie wasn't even worth the wait in the line.

A went on a little train that I pushed along on the tracks. She wasn't really interested in the playgrounds or rides and I wasn't interested in the potential of her getting pushed down again or waiting in line. So we walked around a lot and watched people and muppets.

We ate at a cafeteria where the offerings were mostly breaded and fried and where it all cost a bazillion dollars. The signs about "seasonal butternut squash soup" were all lies. Lies. 

A woman glared at me because I didn't hold open a second door for her and her double-wide stroller. We watched a mom put lip gloss on for her picture with Cookie Monster, that her kid didn't really want to take and parents yell at each other for not doing a good enough job holding a place in the line for the Halloween Spooktacular stage show. I thought, "This place really does bring out the worst."


And still, no Elmo.

She danced a little in the street, where a line was forming for a coming parade. She looked at a few things in the gift shop and clung to an Abby doll briefly. I'm so grateful that she still buys it when I tell her that things in the gift shop stay there and that she doesn't beg and plead (yet) to take things home.

On our way out, I lamented that there hadn't been the big Elmo I had promised, that I had spent all this money at a place where, as an under two year old, there were many things -- rides, shows, grown adults in furry costumes -- that she wasn't really interested in. I lamented that amusement parks seem to bring out the worst in people.

We made another trip to the potty, where she looked at a picture of Elmo.

"BIG! Elmo," she said smiling.

"That's right," I told her.

And she seemed satisfied with that.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Good Clean Fun

If day two of our road trip brought us to the gates of hell, day three brought us a little closer to the pearly gates.

We awoke to a beautiful, sunny, warm autumn day. Cows chewed their cud in the field across the highway in front of the motel we'd stayed in. A freight train screeched past, thrilling and startling Ada. But the best part of the morning was yet to come.

We drove a half mile down the road to our morning's destination: Amish Acres.

Amish Acres is an Amish amusement park. People who work there wear "costumes" - for the Amish workers it's their everyday wear. There are rides (the Carriage Ride of Terror and the Horse and Buggy of Death - not the actual names). They have a theme restaurant (Eat like the Amish without all the back breaking field work and barn raising! -- not the actual slogan.) There are gift shoppes ("fun" old timey amusement park spelling of shops) filled with apple butter, zucchini bread, and Amish action figures. It's sort of like Disneyland ... minus the technology. Needless to say, parking was easy and there was no tram from the lot to the gate.

We began our visit with an early lunch: bean soup, roast chicken, bread, green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy. Thanksgiving in September. When I asked the waitress explained that some employees are "Amish" and some are "English," which is what the Amish call the rest of us.

"I'm not Amish," she added, in a tone that suggested "There is NO way I am Amish."

We gorged and then bought our ticket for the horse and buggy ride. We waited. It wasn't like a Disneyland, where people shuffle forward in the seemingly interminable line; it was more like it takes time to hook the buggy to the horse and to roust the driver.

The ride was ten minutes around the property and A loved it. Our driver talked about how his family had a horse farm and how hard it was for them to work it for any profit these days and, therefore, to keep it. He had a beard and wore the Amish clothes but it took me a while to sort out if he was Amish (he was) in part because I thought it might be rude to come right out and ask it and in part because I'd never spoken to an Amish person directly so I didn't know if they should have a unique accent and he didn't.

A few days later, outside of Buffalo, I met a friend of a friend who worked alongside some Amish loggers.

"Oh, it's a scam," he said, referring to the Amish lifestyle and how they seemed to be making up the rules of what technology is and is not allowed as they go along.

He also explained that one of his Amish friends, who had been English for a period of his life, said to him, "I don't know how you handle those English women, they're too smart for me." It made me chuffed to know that an Amish man thought so highly of me and my English sisters, but it also made me think that the Amish women are probably too smart to let on how smart they are.

The buggy ride complete, A and I wondered around the gift shops. We bought apple butter and A sat in a child-sized rocking chair, which was sort of like another ride, and eyed up the Amish "action figure" dolls.

We finally went back to the car for the next leg of our journey. On the road out, we saw a lot of Amish on bicycles, which reminded me of Minneapolis only with more bonnets. And probably just about the same number if beards.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I Have Seen the Gates of Hell

When Little A and I started this journey, I claimed it was in part because I wanted to prove people who said I was crazy for hitting the road for two weeks with just a toddler and no one else was crazy. I wanted to know that I could take just about anything as a parent and preserve my sanity.

Sadly, on day two of the trip, I met my nemesis, the enemy of my sanity. Evil, thy name is "the traffic around the city of Chicago when one is trying to get through or around the city with a toddler in the car." It's a long name. For simplicity, we'll just say "evil."

I should have known it was going to be a bad day when we went to the Madison Children's Museum (lovely and creative and spacious and stimulating) and A used the opportunity to shove a few boys. The first boy tried to touch a baby doll that A was playing with, but I was holding. This victim got a swift hand planted on the chest which sent him to the floor. The other boy leaned in for a kiss and got shoved backwards.

I feel a little ambivalent about A's newfound pushing tendencies. On the one hand, I don't want her to go around shoving people out of the blue. And I want her to be empathetic (which she was when she saw how sad the boys were -- she said sorry and gave them each a friendly pat). But I also want her to feel like she doesn't have to kiss another kid if she doesn't want to. I always feel a little awkward when I say something like, "he just wanted to give you a little kiss." I know that when she's a teenager, I'll be singing a very different tune. It will go something like this: "If someone wants to kiss you and you don't want to say 'No.' If the person doesn't listen, then punch them in the face and kick them where it counts."

But I digress. I was on the topic of evil.

I was hoping that A would sleep from Madison through Chicago. I've made this drive between the east coast and the upper Midwest many times and I am no stranger to the trials of getting around Chicago. Everything seemed to time out well. For the beginning of the ride, we listened to some nursery rhymes until she fell asleep. She slept most of the time.

We were just outside of Chicago when she woke up and asked for the "potty." This was OK too. We stopped for gas and coffee and milk (when facing Evil one must be well fueled and nourished) and to stretch our legs (physical preparedness is key as well).

We ventured in, joining the masses of the righteous on four wheels.

The thing about Evil is that it is unpredictable, ever present, and sneaky.

Little A started in just as we were in the thick of things, cars on every side, no spot to stop (not that I would dare pull over in the middle of Evil anyway).

"Potty?" she asked, hopefully

We had just stopped. I knew it was a ploy. Evil had entered my car and was taking control of my daughter.

"Potty?" she said, still sweet and hopeful.

"Potty? Potty." She grew demanding.

"Potty. POTTY!" She screamed and wailed. I fully expected to see her head spinning around and green vomit spewing out of her mouth.

"Just a little longer," I cooed.

"Evil, you will not win," I thought.

I knew she didn't need to go- we'd just stopped. It was a ploy Evil was using to lure me in to stopping.

"How about some music?" I asked cheerily, as if this was the holy water with which we would defend ourselves against this traffic, the waiting, the stop and go, the wailing.

Almost as soon as I turned on the CD, I knew this was a mistake. It was as if Evil itself had reached through the window and forced me to do it.

The nursery rhymes started. They quieted A for a moment.

I hummed along quietly and then, when I felt A growing restless, I became more enthusiastic. I tried one handed motions, dramatic head bobbing, cheery voices. It worked intermittently.

The nursery rhyme CD we checked out from the library is short. It has 23 tracks about a minute each. You do the math. This means we can listen to the whole thing about 1,278,417 times while sitting in Chicago traffic. And we did.

When A and I listen to music, we often just listen to what I want to hear and she's fine with that because she is a child and music is music and she does not realize that some of it was made and recorded for her age demographic. But I also realize that kids music and nursery rhymes can be entertaining for her too. They are short and becoming more familiar to her. They review vocabulary she already has (sheep, star, bird) and topic that she will one day have to know something about (animal husbandry, candle-stick jumping, the temperament of royalty, and, doe future weddings, that songs sometimes have gestures and movements associated with them). She can focus through an entire one minute song. Chopin's ├ętude? Not so much.

But here's the thing about this CD: some tracks have the electronic sound and needlessly complicated arrangement of bad Asian karaoke, some tracks are clearly done by a musical theater major in the tradition of Rachel Barry, and still others, like Humpty Dumpty, seem to be sung by Kenny Loggins (I actually checked the liner notes and the lack of information leads me to believe that it is, indeed, Kenny Loggins).

Evil was winning. I was losing my sanity.

Needless to say, we survived our trip through the gates of hell that day. But on the return trip, I will search for a quoted, gentler route.

Or else bring better holy water.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Epic Road Trip 2011 Day 1

While on the road with Little A, I often wonder how she is going to remember this trip. Perhaps she'll have memories like those depicted by Terrence Mallick in his movie Tree of Life -- warm, summery flashes of sky and grass and familiar streets and yards and voices. I hope that she has memories like that - only with less Brad Pitt and fewer voice overs. On case she does remember moments from this trip (and in case she one day makes a Mallick-style films about such memories, I always make sure that the left side of my hair is well styled and my back left shoulder is neat and stain-free. She's spending a fair amount of time staring at that part of me from the backseat of the car.

But maybe she'll have no memory of this trip. I'll have to implant memories. It will be like Inception but with less Leo Dicaprio and fewer plot twists. I'll take and show her tons and tons of pictures and talk about the trip constantly. "You remember when we drove out east, just the two of us, don't you? Remember the horses and the cows and the dinner we ate in Madison at Himal Chuli?" Until she doesn't know what she remembers for real and what she remembers because I told her to. And then she'll make a movie like Tree of Life ... or Inception.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Phase I: The Plan

Little A and I are planning a two-week (plus) road trip out East and back. On the way, we're going to visit friends and places, like zoos, where she can see animals. We're also going to try to eat reasonably well, meet up with old friends, and attempt to prove people who say, "Woah! You're taking a road trip with a toddler! You're crazy!" wrong.

Some thoughts as we prepare to leave.

We'll be visiting friends who I knew in Thailand, in grad school, in college, in high school, and childhood. We'll be seeing my parents and two of my brothers. So I've sort of been stuck in this haze of thinking about all these past places I've lived and been. The other evening, on a walk with Juno, we saw a glimmer of bright orange fluttering in the dark in front of us. As it crept closer, I realized it was a bicyclist wearing an orange cape. "Ha!" I thought. "Only in Minneapolis." But then I realized, no, it's not only in Minneapolis. The difference between Minneapolis and New York City isn't that one is a place where someone might bike down the street after dark in a cape; the difference is that in Minneapolis, I'd notice someone biking down the street in a cape. In New York City, I might not have.

***

My mom says that planning for our annual trip to the beach (sorting out linens, kids beds, toys, entertainment, maps, ferry reservations, food) is like planning the Normany Invasion. Planning this road trip, I feel more like a guerilla or a member of a special force: sleek, tactical, quiet, surgical. I'm only trying to move the two of us, after all.

***

People are nice. Really, really nice.... and hospitable.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Weekend Destruction

Imagine this.

You live in a sort of a cooperative. Let's say it's a three-story building full of others working for the betterment of the community. They're mostly females and you consider them to be sort of like your sisters, which they biologically are.

You work hard everyday, foraging a little out in the larger world, making your own food, storing it for the winter, looking after the young. At night, you huddle up with your sisters for warmth.

All seems well and good in the world.

And then, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, someone or some thing rips the roof off of your cooperative. This thing shakes it all up, moving stores of food hither and thither. Is it stealing your food?

You are on guard duty that day and you watch as some of your sister are enveloped in a cloud of smoke. They fall, fall, fall down the levels of the cooperative to the very bottom. What is that grey haze? It smells sweet and slightly skunky. Is that the smell of death? But no, they are not dying, they are... well, it seems like they are merely high. Woah, Dude.

Around you and them, the chaos continues. They building itself seems to be moving. It seems it is being moved by those two giant, white things.

"Sisters!" you call. "We must attack! We must defend ourselves!" You want to fight off those intruders, but you know that you can't do it alone. Your only defense is a sort of sword-like thing attached, more or less, to your butt. If you use it against these invaders, your butt will be ripped off and your entrails pulled out. You will die. In vain. BUT if only you can rally your sisters to join you. Enough of you together, a critical mass, can probably avert this attack.

"Everyone!" you shout. "Life! Liberty! Fraternity! A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse! Fight with us on St Crispin's Day!"

But around you, your sisters are shuffling their feet.

"Um, well," one of them says. "Let's just see what happens. It doesn't seem too bad. Maybe something good will come of this."

You seethe. "Good? Good?" you demand as the building around you shifts and moves and shakes. You watch, helpless, as a few handfuls of your comrades are crushed under the moving walls. You weep.

And then. It all stops. The walls are, sort of, in place. The roof is intact. Some of your food stores (along with a few larvae) have been tossed outside. And, oddly, it seems that the first and third floors of the cooperative have switched places.

You breathe. Gasp for breath. You stay on your guard, ready for another attack. You gather with the others to clean out the dead bodies and to try to recover the food lost outside.

"So, um," you say to one of your sisters. "What was that all about?"

***

That was what Eric and I did this weekend. It's sort of hard to explain, but we had to switch the top and bottom boxes of the hive so that the bees would be able to fill them up (and will have enough for the winter).

Afterwards, they were acting a little strange, lining up in rows on the outside of the hives, like they were getting ready for battle, but I think that was because they were trying to recover the honeycomb we had thrown on the lawn in front of the hive. We have to remove the comb because it was in the wrong places and made moving the frames and boxes nearly impossible, but we want them to recover the comb because, well, otherwise it's sort of wasted work.

Here's what they were doing:






In spite of all of the chaos we caused, our bees are very, very docile. Granted, we were both wearing our protective, full-body, white bee suits, but neither of us got stung, not even on our hands, which were bare and right in the thick of all of it. One bee somehow managed to get inside my bee suit (up the leg cuff, I assume) and didn't sting me.

Docile bees. Makes us seem not nearly as tough as we'd like to be.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Contact

The other day I got a text:

"We have a 4o cup coffee maker to use. We are gettin a room to. Yea!"

I have no idea what it means either. I mean, what do you do with a 40 cup coffee maker and a room?

Let me explain. Or try to.

I moved to Minneapolis nearly 4 years ago. When I got here, I got a new phone number, one with a 612 area code. Like many things I buy, it was second hand. Unfortunately, unlike a vintage dress, it's old life couldn't be simply washed out of it. For months and months, I'd get phone calls, voice mails, text messages for someone named "Keri" or maybe "Carrie" or "Carey" or "Karrey." Occasionally, I'd try to imagine who this Keri person was who had my phone number before. At first, it seemed like a lot of the people who were calling were old, so I thought that maybe Keri was an old person with a young person's name. But then she got phone calls from people who sounded young too. Maybe she was a young person who had a lot of old friends.

You'd think that such exercises involving imaging this other person who used to have my phone number would or could be mildly amusing. They weren't particularly. Perhaps it was because Keri isn't an interesting person. But, then again, I don't think that anyone listening to voice mails left for me or receiving text messages intended for me would think I was very interesting. They'd probably just think that I'm always apologizing for being late and that my sister leaves extremely long, chatty voice mails. And they'd be right.

So for months and months, I'd explain, with a totally exasperated tone of voice, "This is no longer Keri's phone number." Texts and voice messages, I'd just ignore. Gradually, the wrong numbers (on this phone number anyway) tapered off.

But a few weeks ago, I got one again.

"Keri, i forgot to respond for your shower on sunday. I cant come. I sorry. Its my bday and i had plans. U have fun."

One of Keri's friends still, after four years, had the wrong phone number programmed into his/her phone. Part of me thought about texting them back and explaining that they'd gotten it wrong. But, then again, if this person is such good friends with Keri, they'd sort it out.

Then came another text:

"Hi keri, I will b at your house at 4 tonight."

Surely this person would show up at Keri's house and they'd have this conversation:

Keri: What are you doing here?
Texter: I told you I'd be here at 4.
Keri: No you didn't.
Texter: I sent you a text.
Keri: I didn't get it.
Texter: Right here. [Shows Keri the text.]
Keri: Oh! That's no my phone number anymore! It hasn't been my phone number in four years! Here's my new one! That poor person who has my old phone number! We should send him/ her a box of chocolates for all of her trouble!

[scene]
... they'd be able to sort out what was going on and I'd receive a box of chocolates.

And then I got the coffee maker text. And finally, on Sunday:

"GREAT NEWS: PET scan shows no sign of spread of cancer to other parts of body! PRAISE GOD!!! Much love, Donna."

Eric and I discussed possible texts to send back, most of them were pretty snarky. But I didn't want to ruin Donna's celebration. And now. Well, now I feel almost too embroiled in Keri's life to just suddenly start texting back, "Hey! Wrong phone number, but congrats on the no cancer spreadage!" And part of me is wondering, if Donna and Keri haven't sorted this out yet, after four years, then maybe they're just not very good friends. Maybe Keri intentionally never gave Donna her new phone number. Maybe I'm doing Keri a favor by not responding.

There's probably some sort of a lesson or a short story or an essay in here. Something in this idea of making random contact with someone, about how much we all have in common, or about how little we all have in common, or about how technology both brings us together and separates us.

Or maybe not.

Maybe it's all just a misunderstanding.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Decision Fatigue

One morning last week, Little A and I went to the Minnesota Children's Museum. We haven't gone this whole summer and even though it was a beautiful summer day, it was pretty easy to decide to spend the morning inside. My sister gave us a membership last year so other than the $4 parking fee, it's "free" to us. There's an outdoor, rooftop art garden area, so we'd be able to be outside at least a little bit and the outdoor area is only open part of the year, so the days when we'd be able to visit that part were waning. Little A is finally old enough and big enough to enjoy areas outside of the toddler room (and I'm confident enough that she won't get plowed down by big kids that I can relax a little).

Not all decisions about how to spend our days are so easy. What am I in the mood for? What is she in the mood for? How much will this cost? Will we bike, drive, walk, or take public transport? What will we do for food? What is the weather going to be like? Is this an event, like the State Fair, that will only be around for a limited time? Will we be able to do this in the winter? Will she be stimulated enough? Will she end up over-stimulated?

By the end of the morning "what are we going to do today" planning session, I've reached near complete exhaustion.


I know: feel free to give a giant eye roll here. Trust me, I've rolled my eyes at myself often enough. It's not as if we're making decisions about curing cancer or brokering peace treaties. These are the small, day-to-day minute decisions of a stay at home mom and her toddler.

So I was kind of relieved when I read this article from the New York Times Magazine about "decision fatigue." This is the thrust of it: making decisions is tiring. We can only make a finite number of good decisions in a day before we run out of decision-making juice and start making bad decisions. Also, one so-called (at least by me) "decision-making juice" is basically sugar. Eat a candy bar, make good decisions again.

I realized that this daily question of "what are we going to do?" was using up a lot of my decision-making juice. On the one hand, being at home with a toddler is great. We have a wide-open schedule. We can do what we like, when we like. We can have picnics when the weather is beautiful. We can go for bike rides. We can take trips to the zoo. We can finger paint. We can wake up when we want to. And both of us have loved not having to be anywhere at any particular time. I noticed that tears and frustration (from both of us) mostly come up when we have to be someplace at a specific time. The running around to pack a lunch and a diaper bag and to get loaded into the car has us both in a bit of a panic. We're used to running on our own schedule. The problem is when just the mere act of deciding what to do is so exhausting that we end up doing not much more than playing around the house (which, granted, is something that Little A does need every so often). The problem is when I use up all of my decision-making juice on just getting us out of the house so that by the time I get to "what are we going to have for dinner?" I'm exhausted. I've been making decisions for two every day. "Throw another brat on the grill!" I've said, too often, perhaps, this summer. I've been too tired to blog or to write because what is writing, really, other than a series of decisions about which word to put on the page next.

I have sometimes scoffed at the idea of having a schedule, of strictly enforcing a routine, but after months and months of us flying by the seat of our pants (and reading that NYT Magazine article), I can see the beauty of a routine and of scheduled activities. I'm looking forward to our regular ECFE class this fall, to Little A's scheduled classes at the Y this winter. I'm looking forward to having some of these daily decisions made for me -- for us. I'm looking forward to more trips to the Children's Museum. I'm looking forward to something other than another brat thrown on the grill at the end of the day. And I'm looking forward to choosing more words to put on the page.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nice, Smart, or Athletic?

This morning was the perfect weather -- clear, sunny skies, cool breezes -- for a trip to the Como Zoo. A trip to the zoo with a toddler is sort of like shepherding. Shepherds might disagree, but ensuring the physical safety of a toddler can be fairly mindless. It gives me a lot of time to think.

I spent a good deal of my time reflecting on this conversation that my husband and I have from time to time. Smart? Nice? or Athletic? We wonder out loud about, if we could and had to choose one thing for Little A (and our imagined future kids) to really excel at, which would it be.

"Not athletic," my husband has said, which surprised me. He's kind of in to sports.

"Really?"

"Yeah. One injury and you're out. It doesn't last," he explained.

"But what if, in this scenario, there was no injury."

"Still. I wouldn't want her to be a dumb jock. I'd want her to be smart."

"But what about nice?" Part of me is always pushing for nice. I think it's because, even though it's not necessarily true, I equate nice with being happy.

"No. Not nice. Nice people get taken advantage of."

Giraffe licking the wall at the zoo. He might not be too bright, but maybe he's really nice?  
"But they don't have to be."

"She will be if she's nice.. and dumb."

The trip to the zoo gave me a fair amount of fodder to think about this whole thing of what characteristics we would choose for our kid if we could. We were standing in front of the gorilla habitat when another kid, a little bit older than mine, came up next to us.

Little A turned to her, said, "No!" and then smacked her on the arm. The other little kid seemed unfazed, gave Little A a look, and then walked away to watch the gorillas further down the glass. Even if I do choose "nice," Little A doesn't necessarily want to cooperate with those hopes and dreams that I have.

"No hitting," I told her quietly (this was not the type of conversation I wanted strangers to be a part of). "It makes people very sad." She sometimes responds appropriately when told that other people are sad. This time, she didn't. She seemed indifferent.

At several enclosures -- the giraffes, for example -- each time another group of kids came up to the fence, she'd yell, "No!" at the animals and then "No!" at the people. I'm not sure if she didn't like the way that they were interacting or if she felt that she should be the only one enjoying the company of the animals. It's also possible that the human-animal interaction she observes at home is one in which Eric and I mostly say, "No!" to our dog. She learned it from us. She learned it from watching us.

"Little," I said to her. "Just say, 'Hi!'" I'm trying to replace this behavior of shouting "No!" with a more desirable trait. "Those kids are so nice!" I explained to her. "Just say, 'Hi!'" Sometimes she'd say, "Hi!" with a big cheesy (false?) grin on her face. I don't know what is worse: the cheese or the meanness.

Still, I stand by my desire for "niceness." She doesn't seem particularly happy when she's being mean.

After we visited the animals, we went outside and she ran in the open grass for a while. "Mama! Mama," she'd chant. "Run!" And I'd have to run after her. She watched groups of bigger kids trail past us. She seemed a little sad that she wasn't part of their fun.

But then she'd start running again. Running in circles. Running back and forth. Running into my arms. Running and laughing and giggling. And smiling. Maybe I should choose athletic after all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This Table Will Eat All Other Tables for Breakfast


A few weeks ago, Little A and I ventured off for a little drive southwest of Minneapolis. We were looking for, amongst other things, a dining room table. On our drive, we found Antique Woodworks. (OK, a confession: we found them a week beforehand on-line and had arranged a visit to their workshop.)


They were in Gaylord, MN (yeah, yeah, "So your name is Gaylord Focker?") and had invited us to visit their workshop, a large, dusty, splintery space full of piles of reclaimed wood and hefty tools and manned by Kevin, his wife, their son, triplets (yes, triplets) and their friendly dog. Little A loved having some time with the kids and the dog and I was instantly charmed. They showed me a few pieces they were working on and explained the process of how to get a custom table made.


A week or so later, Eric and I made the decision to invest a hefty chunk in a table that we assumed will be with us for many years and many meals to come. Kevin came up with some sketches and, together with the blacksmith he sometimes works with, figured out an estimate.

But here's what really sold us: Kevin had just gotten in some beautiful cherry floorboards from a factory in New London, WI that used to produce cabinets for Thomas Edison's phonographs. The wood was beautiful and we loved the story behind it.

This weekend, Kevin and his son arrived at our house with the table in tow.

We love, love, love the table. It suits our space and needs. It has this great iron trestle base, which is out of the way so that we're not contending with legs. The wood has an incredibly rich color, interesting knots and textures and nail holes...

 


And, of course, there's that we can say, "Thomas Edison might have walked on our table."





Monday, August 15, 2011

Sign in Small Town Minnesota

This weekend, we took a couple of road trips, which meant that we spent a fair amount of time (nearly seven hours, all told probably) in the car driving through small town Minnesota. Even when I'm just going "out state" (Minnesotan for outside of the Twin Cities, equivalent of "up state" in New York), I feel like I've put on "outsider" or "travelers'" goggles just by stepping out of our normal routine. Apparently sometimes those goggles disrupt my husband's vision too.

As we drove through one town, he suddenly looked up from the road at a sign.

"Hey. Burger King as BK mini burgers, beef orkicks. What are beef orkicks?"

I looked at the sign: BK Mini burgers. Beef orchix.

I laughed.

"Beef or chicken."

"Oh!" Eric said. "I thought it was a cut of beef I had never heard of: beef orkicks."

"Sounds gross," I said. "Like something out of Oryx and Crake." And then we nerded out about Margaret Atwood's book, one of our favorites.

And then, a little silence as we drove past fields of corn and railroad tracks.

"...."

"Hey," Eric said. "Can we have beef orkicks for dinner tonight?"

No, Eric. No. We cannot have beef orkicks for dinner tonight. Or ever.

Friday, August 12, 2011

From Gaga to Dolly

Little A loves to dance. In the evenings, after dinner, I often turn on music and we bop around the living room. She marches and waves her hands and shrugs her shoulders. It's pretty fun. And funny.

But last week, I made the mistake of putting on Lady Gaga a few times. Now she's fixated on "Gaga" -- especially "Born This Way," which is basically Madonna's "Express Yourself."

So in the evenings, she'd say, "Gaga!" and I'd have to turn it on. Well, I wanted to expand her musical taste (and not drive myself completely insane with Born this Way on repeat), so one evening I suggested, "How about Madonna?"

She shook her head. "Gaga."

"Madonna?"

"Gaga."

I turned on Madonna anyway, thinking she didn't really know the difference.

She did.

She threw a minor fit.

I turned on Gaga.

In recent days, she's started to mispronounce "Gaga." It sounds more like "Ga-gong," which is also her rough approximation of what the grandkids call my dad: Ah-gong. (It's a Chinese word for Grandfather.)

"Ga-gong!" she'll say. And I'll turn on Born This Way. I try to get her to pronounce it correctly, but I'm fairly certain that she thinks this person:



Is actually this person:


Fortunately, this week, she's been willing to start to listen to other music. I eased her in with a little Madonna and then started, more or less, playing what I want to listen to.

The other evening I was listening to a little Dolly Parton.

Little A was pretty into it. "Ga-gong?" she asked.

"No. Dolly," I said. Problem is: she already has a Dolly in her life.

So I'm pretty sure that she now thinks that this person:


Is actually this person:


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Made by hand, made in China

Last weekend, Eric, Little A and I went to the Uptown Art Fair, part of a big two-day affair here in Minneapolis in which hundreds of artists gather at three locations and thousands of buyers come to look and, well, buy.

I got this bowl from Monica Rudquist (and a strawberry ice cream from Bridgeman's for Little A):


I love Monica's ceramics. I also have one of her mugs and I use it everyday (form meeting function). She makes clean, modern, seemingly simple pieces. The trick is that each piece is full of detail and thought. I love the ridged texture that is her trademark (and the crackled glaze that is a new technique she's been working on). I love the subtle pink line around the edge of the bowl where the two glazes met. I love that I got to meet Monica -- that's part of the charm of the art fair: you get to meet the person that made the work.

But why?

I don't know why I love having handmade items in my home, items made by people I may have actually met or know a thing or two about.

Is there something about the narrative of the object that makes it more desirable to me?

I love it when an object has a story or history behind it. I love imagining an artisan sitting at her potter's wheel or in her studio or at her sewing machine, creating something beautiful and unique. I love that something in my home came from somewhere other than a factory, that my dollars are spent to support an artist, a member, potentially, of my community.

Sometimes I'll buy something second-hand at an occasional sale or a vintage store and I'm drawn to the idea that it was used by someone else. I bought this child's wicker rocking chair at Flamingo's Divine Finds.



Little A likes to sit on the front porch and rock in it. I like to imagine that (and am a little creeped out by) another child enjoyed it before Little A.

Here's the rub.

In addition to going to the art fair, I also recently saw an article about this exhibit, Made in China by Lorena Turner. In her work, Turner takes items that were made in China, removes them from the plastic boxes in which they were seemingly entombed (untouched, sans history), dusts them for fingerprints, and then photographs them under a black light. The photos reveal that these previously-thought-to-be-sterile objects are covered in fingerprints, evidence that even items made in China have a history. A handmade history.


Turner's exhibit has flipped what I'd thought about consuming on its head.

I used to think a lot about this when I was making things for craft fairs. I'd be watching Law and Order or CSI and I couldn't help but think of all of the fingerprints, epithelial cells, and hairs I was leaving. Traces of DNA and other identifiers. But even though I was thinking about it in the context of a crime scene, it wasn't creepy or gross. Because, absent a belief in some spiritual essence or aura being left on these objects, wasn't it precisely this physical humanness left on handmade items that made them attractive. Isn't one of the reasons why I buy handmade now is for some connection to another human being even if I mostly think about it in terms of (the relatively sterile) concept of design?

(The above item is a threader -- I thought it was appropriate to include given the context of "handmade" versus not.)

And yet there's something disconcerting about Turner's black light revelations. These mass produced items were made and packaged by someone's hands. They, too, have left their mark. How different is that from a charming piece of pottery or artwork that I buy from an artisan? Is it different because I've removed the middle man? Because some third party isn't making money off of their labor? But what about the art fair vendors or the team of people who developed and maintain a website like etsy?

How, then, is the story of the factory worker in China different from the artisan in smalltown USA?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Shopping Day in Three Acts

Yesterday morning, Little A and I headed off to Toys R Us in the suburbs. This is not typical for us. We don't often just go shopping -- and especially not to a toy store. But we needed something for an upcoming trip and it seemed the best place to go. They had the thing we wanted. And they also had a lot of other things. A lot. I debated getting something for Little A's play kitchen, but everything seemed so plastic-y and cheap. She doesn't need this stuff, I thought to myself, as I pictured our living and TV rooms, already overwhelmed by her toys. We left with promises of finding more "babies" elsewhere. I am grateful that she doesn't yet understand that things at stores can be bought and brought home.

We went to a nearby mall for lunch and on the way out we stopped in to another toy store, Creative Kidstuff, which is very fancy and pricey. It's the type of place where the people working there greet you and ask if you need help several times. Little A loved playing with the train table and the doll house that were set out. I considered getting her some clothes for her baby doll, but they were really, really pricey. She doesn't need this stuff, I thought to myself, as I pictured our living and TV rooms, already overwhelmed by her toys. I got her a small pack of stickers for $1 and headed out. The stickers will last her for weeks and weeks.

That evening we went to the Midtown Farmers Market. We walked there with Eric. I bought some jam and some vegetables the next few nights. Eric got us some burgers and stir fried vegetables for dinner. We sat out at a little table that even had a seat for Little A, who played for ages with rocks she found on the ground. She said hello to a few neighbors and a few of the farmers she knows. We walked home, our bellies full of food and our pockets full of rocks.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dear Mr. S and P,

I am afraid you are mistaken. In order to enlighten you, I have provided you with a list of 100 American items (in no particular order) for your perusal. I believe you will find ample evidence that the US should not, in fact, be downgraded from its well-deserved triple A status.

Sharktopus, basketball, Navy Seals, Little House on the Prairie, email, Michael Jordan, Garamond 3, bell-bottoms, bubblegum, The Simpsons, Georgia O'Keeffe, fast food, Al Gore, jazz, To Kill a Mockingbird, silica gel, Steve Urkel, GTL, Martha Stewart, coca-cola, jeans, the iPad, the credit card, Too Close for Comfort, Willem Dafoe, MTV, Breaking Bad, the cotton gin, the Segway, Atkins Diet, Babe Didrikson, jambalaya, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, John Steinbeck, bourbon, The National Geographic Society, John Coltrane, Free Willy, Tina Fey, Wilson Athletics, cotton candy, Larry Flint, Ansel Adams, the black light, the Constitution of the United States of America, the Muppets, tea bags, dental floss, choco taco, Rocky, crayons, Friendster, hip-hop, polymerase chain reaction, ET, Maxine Hong Kingston, Scientology, Charlton Heston, baseball, Lady Gaga, line dancing, Snoop Dogg, the phonograph, the pacemaker, Martha Graham, Chocolate Rain, Philly Cheese Steak, World of Warcraft, American bull dogs, Etta James, The Smithsonian, Ernest Hemingway, autopilot, cowboys, Alex Roberts, honey badger videos, nylon, Scrabble, Fox News, Seabiscuit, DC Comics, the shopping cart, Chuck Norris, Google, K-Y Jelly, microwave oven, Jason McElwain, the cotton swab, the internet, The Great American Hero, Sly and the Family Stone, Judy Blume, Jim Thorpe, the Civil Rights Movement, the electric guitar, putting a human being on the moon, roto rooter, the colt revolver, The New York Times, and the oil well.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look foward to hearing from you regarding our upgrade.

Sincerely,
Rhena Tantisunthorn

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Beez Kneez is the Beez Kneez

Last week, the people (by which I mean family) and I went to a bee event in a garden here in Minneapolis. Yes, scoffers, a bee event. We attend bee events because we raise bees and also because bees rule (and even more so when you write it: beez). Bees rule because they pollinate our stuff like flowers and vegetables and fruits and nuts. Without them we wouldn't have nearly as many of those things. So put down your carrots, those of you who scoff at bees. You don't deserve amenities such as food if you don't love and respect bees and the people who attend their events.

Just kidding about the carrot. Carrots are root vegetables, so they would grow even without pollination. But you need them to be pollinated if you want the seeds so you can grow them again next year. So put down your F2 carrots, you who scoff at bees. (If you understand the F2 reference, you are a big nerd.)

Anyway, Kristy from The Beez Kneez was at said bee event. She delivers local honey (made by her uncle's bees up north) and she obviously understands the finer points of the spelling of bees versus beez. Kristy delivers the honey ON HER BIKE. Wait, there's more. She delivers the honey ON HER BIKE, WHICH IS PAINTED TO LOOK LIKE A BEE. AND she delivers the honey ON HER BIKE, WHICH IS PAINTED TO LOOK LIKE A BEE WHILE WEARING A BEE COSTUME. A BEE COSTUME!!! In sum: Kristy delivers honey ON HER BIKE, WHICH IS PAINTED TO LOOK LIKE A BEE WHILE WEARING A BEE COSTUME EVEN IN THE DEAD OF A MINNESOTA WINTER. She is my heroine.

Also, she gave Little A a sticker.

Anyway, we bought some of her honey from her at the bee event. (Because our bees are still only producing enough honey for themselves to survive the winter and because it seemed straight up mean to ask her to deliver it to our house when she was standing right in front of us.)

It is delicious. You should order some (if you live in Minneapolis) because having a bee deliver honey to your door is so much more 2011 than a singing telegram, which leaves you with nothing but a memory. The Beez Kneez will leave you with this:


Enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Those Europeans Love Their Coffee

This morning, Little A and I headed out to do some shopping in a nearby suburb that is very chi-chi, which is French for, "Too fancy for you." We chose this locale because we had a gift card to a kitchen store (not to buy actual kitchens, just things to put in your actual kitchens) that we had been given when we got married. For those of you counting, Eric and I have been married almost 4 years and yes, we still have unspent gift cards. For those of you not counting, Eric and I have still been married almost 4 years and we still have unspent gift cards.

We wandered the aisles of the store, Little A taking off and putting back the lids on various baking dishes with a clatter that sounded distinctly like, "You break it, you buy it." A gleaming coffee machine caught my eye. It made cappuccino and espresso and hot tea and steamed milk and, yes, even just plain old coffee. It was priced at nearly $3,000. My $50 gift card was not going to make a dent in that. But it wasn't that I actually wanted the machine, it was that there was a demo set up where you could get a free little cup of coffee.

It was just what I needed -- a little boost for free. My $50 gift card would make a big dent in a lot of free cups of coffee.

Just as I was eyeing the machine, a saleswoman swept in to place.

"Would you like a sample?" she asked.

"Sure!" I said brightly.

"How about just a cappuccino? It makes coffee and espresso too. We have it all pre-set for our 1 point 5 ounce cups and to our chosen strength. Your grinds go in here. It tells you when it needs to be cleaned. This is the drip tray, which is all you need to clean..."

She had launched into her sales pitch. Clearly, she mistook me for someone who could casually spend $3000 on a coffee machine. She mistook me for someone who could spend $3000 on anything. She mistook me for someone who wasn't just coming into her store because she had a four-year-old $50 gift card in her back pocket.

Still, I wanted that tiny cup of cappuccino, so I adopted the appearance of someone in the market for a $3000 coffee machine: clean and well-groomed and interested but not TOO interested, someone who might actually make a $3000 impulse purchase. I shifted grubby-faced Little A on my hip, but I did it elegantly.

"So, you just plug it in...?" I asked thoughtfully.

"Yes."

"...." "What else does a person who makes a $3000 impulse purchase ask," I wondered quietly to myself.

"It's made in Switzerland. They're very popular in Europe. A lot of Europeans have them. They don't spend all the money that we do at Starbucks."

"Hmmmm...." I said. But really I wanted to affect a muddy "European" accent.

"Zat is zo interesting." I'd sound like Zsa Zsa Gabor. "I am European."

"Where are you from?" she'd ask.

"Europe!" I'd answer.

But instead I just stood there blankly, waiting for my tiny cup of caffeine, vaguely thinking about all those Europeans with their cappuccino machines.

After I tasted the coffee, though, I thought, "Those Europeans are brilliant! A mere $3000 for a coffee machine. And they're saving money by not going to Starbucks!"

I sipped on the coffee while Little A and I finished our wander through the store. We bought nothing because, even though we had that gift card, we wanted nothing...

... except that coffee machine... and to be European. Oh, to be European!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why My Husband is the Best One in the World Reason #1

This morning, as I was running around, trying to get Ada ready for her "Music and Movement" class (I know, I know, why does a 19 month old need to take a class in movement? Don't they just move on their own?), I noticed something floating in the toilet.

Before you get too grossed out, it was just a tennis ball. Well, a half a tennis ball. Our dog had chewed the other half.

With both the toddler (Little A) and the dog (Juno) in front of me, I asked them, "Did you put that in there?"

They were both silent.

"Who put this in there?"

No one was giving anyone up. I didn't have time to put them in separate rooms to interrogate them, nor did I have time to retrieve the ball and complete the clean up that would have been involved.

I'll get it later, I thought, and after kissing my husband good-bye in the driveway, I left to take Little A to class. I forgot all about the tennis ball in the toilet bowl.

A few hours later, after class and a trip to the wading pool and lunch and putting A down for a nap, I had passed by the open bathroom a few times.

Hmmmm, something is amiss, I thought.

"OMG!" I said out loud as I realized: the tennis ball is gone. Crap! Crap! Crap! It must be around here somewhere. I imagined toilet-water-soaked couch cushions or guest beds, trails of e-coli puddles under the dining room table and kitchen cabinets.

Where was that ball? Who removed it from the toilet? Where had Juno dragged it?

Finally, I remembered that my husband had left the house after me this morning. I sent a desperate tweet, "Seriously. Did you or did you not retrieve a half a tennis ball from the first floor bathroom this morning?"

"Yes, I did. I figured Juno or A dropped it in there, right?" he responded via e-mail. (My husband apparently does not think that everyone else in Twitter-land wants to participate in our tiny domestic dramas involving toilet water.)

"No," I replied. "I put it there for safekeeping." I couldn't help a little snark in spite of the fact that this incident confirmed for me that I have the best husband ever. I was willing to avoid the tennis ball retrieval for hours, and perhaps days. I would have just used the upstairs bathroom or (gasp!) the dreaded downstairs, creepy basement bathroom to avoid the clean up process.

But my husband took the matter, and the filthy tennis ball, into his own hands. As a real man should.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Those Danes Love Their Pancakes!

This weekend I made aebleskivers. I also tried, and failed, to pronounce aebleskivers.

My sister in law gave me an aebleskiver pan for Christmas last year. (Yay! She won serious sister-in-law approval points for that one.) I finally dared to give it a try.

I used this recipe.

Aebleskivers are basically round, hollow pancakes created and loved by the Danes. Those crazy Danes! (I also just realised that my sisterinlaw is married to my brotherinlaw whose name is Dane. Woah. I am not even stoned.)

Once the batter is made, it's all in the timing. You have to let a little crust form -- thick enough that it will hold its shape but not so thick that it will taste yucky -- and then use a skewer to start turning it in the pan. I made a few batches, but I still didn't get it right.

They are meant to look like this:

But mine were hiding a dark secret. The underside wasn't closed up, rather there was a gaping hole. I hadn't moved fast enough. I hadn't poured in enough batter. So they looked like that:
But as every good housewife knows: no kitchen goof can't be hidden with thoughtful presentation and powered sugar! In fact, I filled some of them with jam or syrup and butter and told my husband that's how they were supposed to look. He was none the wiser. Oh, men! They'll believe anything we tell them.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pilot Design Rocks My Mantel... and My World

The conversation went something like this:

Me: "We need something to fill that space over the mantel piece."
Husband: "Yeah. Also, what time is it?"
Me: "We need a clock in here too."

And then we bumped into each other and we were all, "You put your chocolate in my peanut butter!" and "Your peanut butter's on my chocolate."

Not really. But it might as well have.

We had space. We needed a clock. Enter Pilot Design and Keith Moore, a Minneapolis-based designer and wood-worker who I'd seen around town at various art shows.


His stuff is awesome. (See above clock -- the "splat" on my living room wall above the mantel.) Modern, sleek, functional and well made. Check out his website. Look for the wavy bookshelves. Your mind will be blown.

My husband also got to visit his workshop, which he deemed, "pretty cool" and then tried to explain to me how the clock was made but he was drowned out by me shouting, "Let's hang that thing up!"

I'd love to have his bamboo chests (that sounds weird) for the disaster that is our closet right now. Thanks for everything, Ikea, but your storage "solutions" have become storage "headaches."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Inoculated log

This is a log. An oak log that was cut this spring and that I bought from Cherry Tree Mushrooms, which is run by the same neighbors who I got the eggs from (I promise to stop blog-stalking them now). This oak log has been soaked for 48 hours in rainwater and then dried for 24 hours. The lichen was scrubbed off with a wire brush. I love lichen. What I don't love are the unwanted fungus spores that might be hiding under the lichen. This is because the unwanted spores might complete with those that I want to succeed: shiitake and oyster mushroom spores. The last thing we want in these logs are foreign spores. Hear that foreign spores? Go away.

This is a log. An oak log. An oak log cut this spring with holes drilled into it in a diamond-shaped pattern.

This is a cluster of wooden dowels covered in mushroom (either oyster or shiitake) spores. The dowels will be hammered into the holes drilled in a diamond-shaped pattern into an oak log that was cut this spring.

This is a blob of paraffin wax sealing the dowel covered with mushroom spores into the holes in a diamond-shaped pattern drilled into the oak log that was cut this spring. Again, further measure to keep the foreign spores out. You do not have proper passports and visas and documentation, foreign spores, and so even though you might work very hard and do all the jobs that we don't like to do, we do not want you.

In six to 12 months, assuming we keep the logs well watered and out of the sun, we will have lots and lots of mushrooms growing along the sides the logs.

Why are we doing this?

There's something very, very satisfying about working hard to produce something tangible and then being able to actually eat that thing. It's like gestating and then giving birth. Except, after nine months of pregnancy and labor, we didn't eat our baby.

I would like to be able to go into a forest somewhere and come out with baskets full of wild mushrooms that we can cook into omelets (made with eggs from our own chickens -- hint, hint, husband) and saute in butter, but I'm afraid that takes more mushroom knowledge than I have. I can play the part of mushroom forager on TV, but I'm afraid that in real life I'd end up accidentally killing off my co-stars. I'd end poisoning our dinner guests and everyone would end up either rushing to the emergency room or being very, very entertained by the bright, colorful trails at the ends of their fingers. Either way, that's not a good way to end a dinner party.

And so we're growing our own, which we will be fairly certain are not poisonous. Here's to hoping no foreign spores have made their way in!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sun Gold Eggs


I got these eggs from our neighbor who has chickens a few days ago. These neighbors have the life I want. They keep chickens and grow mushrooms and can food and garden and grow stuff and sew things and are generally kicking sustainable butt. They are like pioneers. But they're not obnoxious about it. There's nothing worse than an obnoxious pioneer.

I like buying eggs from neighbors. When stealing another creatures young, it's always nice to know that they are well cared for and that they, perhaps, have names. It's nice to know that they are fed on table scraps and insects that they peck from the ground.

The real reason why I like these eggs is the color and texture of their yolks.

Look! They're almost orange -- like the sun or like gold. It's much more appetizing to think that I'm eating gold or the sun than someone else's almost-baby. Eating gold or the sun is so much more indulgent. I feel like a very rich person with inconceivably strong teeth or like a giant God-like galaxy destroyer.

Some eggs I've eaten have crumbly yolks. Not so these ones. The yolks are rich and thick and stay together under pressure.

Also, they are naked baby endorsed and are packed even more full with good stuff than caged eggs. The vitamin D thing is of particular interest to me because I am terrible about giving my kid her liquid vitamin D. (Shhhh, don't tell our pediatrician because then she'll think I'm a big fat liar.) The thing is that a deficiency of vitamin D can lead to rickets, an old-timey disease of the skeletal system and one of the reasons (along with the rest of this list of illnesses) why being a pioneer sucked. (For those of you who searched the linked list for "dysentery" as in "You have died of dysentery", the pioneers called it "flux" characterized by "discharge of fluid from the body." The makers of Oregon Trail must have thought that "You have died of flux" didn't have the same ring to it. Although I like the sound of it.)

In sum, I like eggs from neighbors and eating gold and the sun and kindly pioneers, I sometimes tell our pediatrician little white lies, and I do not like rickets or obnoxious pioneers.

Monday, July 25, 2011

It's a Big, Beautiful Machine

Saturday night, U2 played TCF Stadium here in Minneapolis. It was the first outdoor stadium concert in Minneapolis in 30 years. My husband and I were there.

We were the snarky ones in Section 226. I spent a good portion of the night texting sardonic, not terribly clever tweets ("Bono, The Edge, and those other 2 guys are really rockin out." "I thought Bono could keep the rain away by the shear force of his will and the power of his sunglasses.") and shouting cynical comments about the size of Bono's ego into my husband's ears. We "people watched" and played "Suburbs? South Minneapolis? NE Minneapolis? Student? Uptown?" in which we tried to guess where fellow concert goers lived based solely on appearance. Bono, with his entirely leather outfit and sunglasses, stumped us. We don't get a lot of that around here.

So if we were going to be so jerky about it, why did my husband and I shell out 100 plus dollars and sacrifice a night away from Little A? We're not particularly huge U2 fans. I think that somewhere in the basement, I might have a Joshua Tree CD that never made the transfer to the hard drive. Even so, like most Americans, U2 has been unavoidable. It has, inevitably, been the background music to a high school or college memory. So, yeah, U2 has a little nostalgic meaning for us.

But the truth is, we had a great time on Saturday. Yeah, yeah, part of it is that I always have a great time with my husband, no matter what we're doing, but it was a little extra thrilling to be a part of this spectacle. There were 60,000 people out, energized and geared up to partake in a cultural phenomenon. The college girl on the bleacher next to us was beaming excitement like laser beams out of her face. She was so amped up and jittery and gushy, she could have easily been on something. But she wasn't. Her drug of choice was Bono's awesomeness.

We guffawed a little at the foursome entering the stadium, all swagger and soaking up the adoration, to Bowie's "Space Oddity." We sang along to the songs we knew. The stadium floor literally bounced. The rains came. And we stood in it, getting soaked, more or less not complaining. We watched the fireworks from a nearby festival explode behind the stage. We had to leave right before the first encore (see above mention of time away from Little A) but we could hear "Where the Streets Have No Name" as we walked through the nearly empty surrounding campus to our bikes. They riffed a little Purple Rain into "One," as a shout out to local hero, Prince. We biked home in the rain, my husband leading the way as droplets covered my glasses.

That Sunday, we still talked about the show and still marveled at the size of Bono's ego. The man had stood, listening to a crowd of 60,000 people sing his own song back at him and declared it "the most beautiful sound in the world." Really, Bono, really? Your own music being sung back at you is the most beautiful sound in the world? More beautiful than children's laughter? He'd mentioned the Peace Corps and Gabby Giffords and Somalia and Burma. Oh, man, did he mention Burma. (As a side note -- and it's a long random story that I'll post about at some point -- but I can read a little Burmese and someone needs to teach Bono how to pronounce Aung San Suu Kyi. I can do it. I can teach him. Bono, give me a call so that I can help you. Please. Call me.) We wondered, is Bono going to save the world or does he just think he is?

The next evening, while on our family walk, my husband brought up a book he'd read in college: Garcia by Blair Jackson about Jerry Garcia. (Yes, don't worry, I give my husband plenty of grief about his long-haired hippie days.) The thing that fascinated my husband about this book is that it looked at the entire culture and industry that had risen up around this stadium band, The Grateful Dead. Thousand of people followed them from place to place and bought t-shirts and food and transportation (and weed, lots and lots of weed). They had roadies and drivers and techs. There was a lot of money and a lot of jobs. And it all mostly centered around this one guy, Jerry Garcia. He didn't necessarily deal with it very well. In fact, he did a lot of heroin to deal with it.

Of course, this made us think of Amy Winehouse and other musicians (Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Robert Johnson) who flamed out at 27. Can you imagine being 27 and suddenly (seemingly) all of these people and industry and fans are relying on you? One day you were playing guitar in the basement with your buddies or singing at divey clubs and then the next you're performing in front of thousands of people and thousands of people are relying on you, your talent -- not just for their entertainment but, in many cases, for their jobs. That's a lot of pressure. When I was 27, I was mostly reading books and drinking in bars on the Upper West Side while in graduate school.

But not so with Bono. How does "the sunglassed one" not flame out? For one, he's quite a bit older than the artists mentioned above. But my guess is that he has to have a giant ego. He has to know that this entire tour, the whole machine, which costs three quarters of a million dollars in overhead every day even when they aren't actually performing, rests pretty much entirely on his back. No wonder it gave out last summer.

His music, his banter, the performance, the spectacle, it can't alienate anyone. So if it seems, at times, a little hokey, that's OK.

In other words, I get you, Bono. I get you.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Put a bird in it.

This is my new birdbath. You will please notice that it is wrought iron, simple, and features a thin wire with leaves and a bird perched on top. The base is slim. The bath itself is a pot saucer.

It was made by a local artist and purchased here. I often buy local because then more of my money stays in the local economy, which means that my money stays close to me. I do not like the idea of my money traveling far away from me. If it stays nearby, perhaps one day it will decide to return to me as a lottery win or improved roads in my neighborhood or as thousands of gold doubloons left by a stranger on my front doorstep. By buying locally, I ensure my own wealth and success.

Birds, I invite you to come and enjoy and bathe in the waters of 25th Ave S. Birds! Come, take a bath! Birds! Birds... Birds?

I don't know why the birds won't come to my birdbath. Perhaps it is too big or too small or too hot or too cold. Maybe they're a bunch of snobs and don't like this neighborhood. In which case, "I hate you birds." Maybe they're not dirty. Or they already took a bath. Maybe they don't like to bathe in plain view of all the neighbors, thank you very much. Maybe I should leave tiny bird-sized washclothes and soap and floral bath beads and light some candles and turn on some Enya. Maybe they birds have had a really hard day and all they want to do is have a long, relaxing soak.

Why do I want the birds to come bathe in my birdbath? The birds do not look particularly dirty. What I really want is for them to choose my yard. "Oh look!" they will say. "That is a beautiful yard free from cats and full of seeds and flowers that we can pollinate. And there's even a bird bath! And Enya!" And what they will really be saying is, "The lady who lives here is good and kind and thoughtful and takes care of animals (except for cats). But she's obviously not some crazy bird lady wanting to lure us into her yard in order to create some faux urban Garden of Eden and to bolster her own sense of self worth. No. Not this lady. She's the real deal. We love her."

Choose me, birds. Choose me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

500 Words and Counting

Here is the plan.

Write five days a week.
At least 500 words a day.

I am not saying that you bear any sort of resemblance to a furry rodent but you, dear readers, are my guinea pigs. Nor are you a large, sparsely populated flat plot of land but you are my testing grounds. Nor are you "a structure placed above or behind a pulpit or other speaking platform which helps to project the sound of the speaker" but you are my sounding board.

Enough with the dissection of analogous language.

This is my goal. Sometimes this goal will be met. Other times it will not. Isn't there a saying, "Goals are made to be broken?" I am a very, very busy person so sometimes I will just not have time for 500 words. Sometimes, if I have to choose between running and writing, I might think, "Which one will make me feel focused and energized and accomplished, and earn me the accolades of my peers?" The answer is neither, but at least with running I don't have to think. In fact, with running, thinking is discouraged because if you turn on an internal monologue it will inevitably tell you how much pain you are in, how slow you are, how hot it is, and how much farther you have to run if you plan on making it back home alive. But when running, I can press a button and my Nike+ will play my "power song." There are no power songs in writing.

I am also a stay at home mom so sometimes I will have to choose between feeding my child or writing. Feeding my child will win out, but only just barely because even though nutrients are necessary to keep my child alive, it is very discouraging when she just poops whatever she ate back out. I promise to keep discussions of my kid's poops to a minimum. (For your sake more than for the sake of her teenage self because I cannot wait to embarrass my 14 year old.)

Sometimes I will have to choose between writing and cleaning the house or doing laundry or gardening or sweeping the floor. I will often choose the cleaning because the goal of this blog is to write 500 words a day, not to appear on Hoarders. But other times I will choose to write even though there is dog fur all over the air vents and an unidentified sticky substance on the kitchen cabinets and a funny smell coming from the basement because writing is more fun than dealing with any of those things. That funny smell could be anything. ANYTHING. And I just hope it's not a dead rodent. That's no way to start a relationship with my guinea pigs.

Are we at 500 words yet?

Just over 400?

Good enough.

Welcome to the blog.