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.


"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."



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.

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:


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.


"...." "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.