Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Permanent Collection

The fourth floor of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is a busy place this time of year. The period rooms are all done up for the holidays, and families and school groups wander through to see the glitter. Anyone who has ever had a doll house knows the fascination of the period rooms. We long to rearrange the furniture, we imagine dramatic domestic scenes around the fireplace, and we picture the people readying themselves for the night in that tiny colonial bed. I have a special fascination for the period rooms, because all the years I was a child I didn't even know they existed (did they exist then?), and it wasn't until one Christmas that my step-mother took me to see them in their full splendor that I discovered a whole wing of the MIA my usual tour guides (Jimmy, Claire, my dad) must have avoided on purpose. Still, as I've gotten older I've realized that the period rooms never change. Even the holiday dazzle is the same year after year. The sameness of the rooms makes them uninteresting. I've seen them. Done that.

Meanwhile, the rest of the art on the fourth floor is the same as it always was, but it just gets better every time I go. There's the stunning one of woman lying in the grass eating an apple with her baby (Cassatt, I think. I'm not very good at remembering to read the tags). There's a nude painted by a man who has never seen a naked woman. There's a baby painted by a man who has never seen a baby. And then stop! Here's that breathtaking scene of Lucretia with the knife. Rooms of angels and religious paintings lull me back into my museum stupor, and then she catches my eye again, the woman with the candle, the flame of it covered by some man's arm, but the glow of it perfectly reflected on each of the faces huddled urgently around her. There's the couple in the moonlight. I'm not sure I love Gauguin, with his bold swatches of color, but used to have a puzzle of one of his paintings, and so I spend some time reuniting with it in the museum. And of course, I have to pause each time at the bust of the Algerian, stark contrast of bronze and stone.

Around me, on the fourth floor of the museum, the ones who make it past the period rooms to look at the permanent collection gasp along with me. I think they must gasp each time at the same place in the room. I know I do. The best paintings are old friends that still catch me by the shirtsleeves each time I see them.

"Look!" says a man to his son, "If you stand close, it's just dots. If you back up you can see the picture. He did it all with dots. Can you believe it? Just dots."

"Oh no!" shouts a woman to her out-of-town companion. "They moved it. Where is it? Oh! Oh! Here it is. Isn't it breathtaking? Isn't it wonderful?"

"It's perfect," says the man of the elderly couple to his wife. She agrees, and they stand silently in front of the Carpet Vendor for a minute, just looking.

I wonder if the way we enjoy art is Minnesotan. If we lived in Manhattan, we'd have so many more paintings to see that it would take longer to make friends with our favorites. We'd have traveling shows come and visit us, and we'd be able to make new acquaintances so easily that we might not cling so steadfastly to what we know and like. We might not notice if they move one of our favorites to a different wall. We might go to the museum not to see the dozen paintings we already love, but to meet new ones and allow them to impress us. We might not spend our entire play-going budget each year on the same old "Christmas Carol" at the Guthrie.

I don't know, but I do know that I can't wait to go back again so I can see Lucretia without the tour of catholic school tenth graders blocking my view.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Those Crazy Japanese

I wasn't blogging, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been any action on this site.

I have mixed feelings about people reading this blog lately. Part of me wants to be famous with legions of fans. I want to use my blog fame to make friends and influence people. I want to flash my fame when I enter a restaurant so I can get a better table. But another, equally real, part of me, feels a little bit naked on the Internet, and I think about closing this site down so that I can get dressed and stop over-sharing with the whole wide world. That part of me kind of hopes that no one is reading these words, and figures that long periods of silence are a good thing because they drive down my readership.

So, I haven't written anything or checked this blog for comments for about a month. But that doesn't mean that there hasn't been any action on this site.

When I logged in recently, I noticed that one of my posts had eighty-four comments! Oh, the mixed feelings began to crowd out all other thoughts when I saw that number. Eighty-four people care what I have to say! I'm famous! Oh, crap. That means that eighty-four people read my post. Damn it. Did my students find me? What did I write? Crap. Crap. Crap.

So, I was filled with eagerness and dread when I clicked on this post to discover that in my absence, it has become some sort of Japanese sex chat room. At least, I assume it's Japanese. I use Firefox, and I've noticed before that Japanese characters display as a block of four numbers for Firefox users who don't bother to get the Japanese plug-in. I assume it's about sex because every once in while, embedded between the non-English characters, are words that hint at sex. Words like "sex", for example.

I deleted a ton of the comments, but there isn't an easy way to delete mass amounts of comments on Blogger, so I got lazy and decided to be content with zapping all of the ones that had English-character email addresses in them. I've also disallowed anonymous comments on this blog.

Anyway, I guess I got exactly what I wanted. I got legions of people to come to my blog. Fans, if you will. Chances are, they don't really read English, though, so I got the other thing I wanted: None of them is reading what I wrote. Perfect.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The One Without a Title

You know what, you guys? I cried. Pretty much all of November, I cried. You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I can make a lot of tears when I get going.

When you start crying like that, you don't really need a reason to keep crying. It just does itself. Tears upon tears. Thinking about all the people who saw you cry, or suspect you cried, or might just think you are crying without having seen you in years can be enough to bring more tears. Writing the words "I cried" was enough to bring some more, even though today's tears are stoppable, which is the difference.

All through November, it was a torrent of heart-crushing grief. There were phone messages from my mother I couldn't play, because they were going to make it start again. There was incredible guilt whenever I did talk to her, because every conversation ended with me unable to speak past the lump in my throat and the ache in my heart, and I know that she worries and it's not fair to still do that to her after thirty-six years. There were car rides to and from the Suburb throughout which I was so wracked by sobs, I could barely see the road.

Some of it was logical. I got dumped in November, twice, including once by a guy so unworthy of me, he ignored me for a week, and then finally (and only after I asked him to explain himself) wrote me an email explaining that he wasn't ready for a relationship. I gave him three months of precious teacher-weekends, and he couldn't take the time to dial the phone to say "no thank you" in person or at least in voice.

You know it's a bad month when you end it by thanking a guy for taking the time to dump you in person. I thought I met someone really, really good in November. His emails said all of the right things. He was charming and cute in person. Our one and only date went so well I felt something I haven't felt in a long time (something like lust. Desire maybe.). Maybe if I weren't so very ready to find someone charming and cute, and if he weren't so very not, this story would have ended happily. It didn't. It ended familiarly, at least. One good date, followed by silence. And then that final conversation.

The problem is that logical or not, crying over break-ups does you no good. No one wants to hear about it when you're 36 anyway. They would have been more sympathetic when you were seventeen (not that you dated, then, because of the whole thing where you never talked in high school). Nowadays, the world likes to tell you that you can be happy by yourself. The world likes to tell you that you'll find your match when you're least looking for it (Is this the advice you give to your unemployed friends? You'll find your job when you stop wanting a job?), and you should get busy living your life alone. I do live alone. Every day. I've lived alone for more years than most of the world ever does.

So, you have a choice, ultimately. You can choose to think about how much you hurt or you can choose to not. It ends when you find the strength to choose the latter. Then the tears stop. You find your humor again. You can talk to your mother and neither of you has to end up in tears. You can go to school and you can even come home and grade homework. It doesn't hurt so very much because you decided not to let it hurt so much.

Thank you, you say, with real grace. Thank you, for taking the time to meet with me in person, to have this real conversation with me. Thank you for saying what you think will help me. Thank you for being my sweet mother who doesn't deserve to have to worry. Thank you for being my friend with an extra N who will feed me soup and listen to me cry. I live alone. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me in person. I'm worth it.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


When I have a ton of work to do, often I'll get overwhelmed. I'll stew on it, worrying about it. I'll put off friends who want to have fun, because I have all this work to do, and then I'll feel sad about missing the fun that I'll procrastinate for so long that I might as well have just gone out and had the fun.

So, today, I finally just decided. "Crap," I decided. "I have a lot of work to do. I'm going to have to pull an all-dayer." So I got in my car, and I drove to the suburb, and I sat myself down and I graded paper after paper. I didn't let myself relax until I had graded every last test - all 80 of them, two pages, double-sided, crammed with tiny little numbers, written in haste and not-tidily by 80 stressed-out high-school students. "I don't understand how to do any of this," they said on Friday, the first hint of a whine I've had all year (it's been a good year). They had five tests yesterday. I'm thinking they'd know if they hadn't had to study for four different tests (and what are they doing putting other subjects ahead of Calculus, anyway?). Test results do not back up their claims. They know how to do some of it. One of them even knows how to do all of it, plus the bonus.

I still have work to do, but after my all-dayer I know that I can do it in the 24-hours before I have to be back at school. Enough with the whining. Just do it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Something Small

The reason you haven't heard from me: I was thinking about me and dating, and I decided that I'm not going to let myself think that it's my fault that I'm single, anymore. It's just plain, dumb luck, and while there are lots of ways you make your own luck, there are also lots of ways in which your plain, dumb luck is Not Your Fault.

Like, for example this: You meet a guy. He's attractive and he seems to be into you. You're into him. Then, bam, he stops calling. What happened?

Correct answer: God only knows. Do yourself a favor. Stop thinking about it.

Or this: You meet a guy. You like him. He likes you. Then, bam, everything he does annoys the crap out of you. You can't even stand to be in the same room with him. What happened?

Correct answer: Who cares? Stop thinking about it. Just get out of the room as fast as you can.

Advice by Al. Free. And worth every penny.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dog Days

Summer is winding down here in Minnesota. We have a law which prevents school from starting before Labor Day, and it means that we're at the end of the longest summer ever. I am not complaining.

I spent a big chunk of the summer making my home more homey. I'm not with-it enough to have before pictures, but here are the after pictures.

I got a new bathroom faucet. This is the kind of thing you use before pictures for, I think, but it makes a big difference to me, and so it makes the photo gallery.

I tried to take a picture that looked daunting, because that's what it felt like to think about the task of replacing the bathtub rubber hose with an actual diverting faucet. I did the plumbing myself, with just a little bit of last minute rescue help from a good friend. This change may have improved my lifestyle the most. I can now bathe, not just shower. I love baths.
The second biggest lifestyle change is hidden in this picture. Can you find it? It's not the beaded unicorn or the spice rack. It's the remote control light switch for my kitchen ceiling fan. Now, instead of groping around in the dark for the pull-chain I get to flip a switch, just like a civilized human being.

The kitchen received the most attention. You can't see them, but I refinished the floors (hired someone to refinish the floors). I sold the World's Heaviest Butcher's Block (good-bye. Don't let the door hit you on the way out) which made room for my great-grandparents' kitchen table.

And I bought the Best Thing Ever on Craigslist. It's called a Hoosier cabinet, and now I finally have more counter space and more storage, and I didn't have to buy crappy Ikea cabinets to do it. Also pictured is a broom that is so attractive I don't have to hide it in a closet. It's called "Sweep Dreams". Are you cracking up?
The Hoosier cabinet gives me room to store my food, and it also helps me answer one of life's most persistent mysteries: "Where are my keys?" I try to hang them on the hook in the cabinet as soon as I come home. I'm not perfect, but I can see perfect from here.
There actually is a before picture for my two-tone cabinet paint job. Painting is a lot of work, but it makes the kitchen feel lighter and airier now that it has mellow green trim. Besides, who am I to complain? I am legally required to stay on vacation for three more days. Oh, and just so you know, I do have dish towels to match my trim. I'm so Martha Stewart. They're just dirty. I think Martha has people to do the wash for her, now that she's out of the Big House.

Here's the dining room, getting all decked out for Tuesday's dinner party for eight people. I can throw dinner parties now that my house doesn't suck anymore.
The book I was following ("The Eight Step Home Cure"), said to put the bed where the king would sleep. I know a certain older brother of mine who would freak out that it's not centered on that window, but I'm willing to trade symmetry for being able to navigate past my dresser. The king has never slept in such tight quarters. It's good for him. It builds character.
My yarn stash gets its own cabinet. The artwork in my bedroom is courtesy of my three-year-old nephew. Nothing like a cheery scribble to greet you first thing in the morning.
Here's my writing corner. Even though I don't use it religiously, it's good to know that it's there for whenever I'm ready to start my novel. And it's labeled with my name, just in case I get confused and think it belongs to someone else who lives here.
New couch, chair, and footstool courtesy of Craigslist. I rented a moving truck and conned my brother into helping me carry it, and then I got it all home and realized that it stunk like someone else's house in such a way that I couldn't even stand to sit in my living room. I spent an entire day throwing as much of it as I could into the washing machine, and then airing it out in the yard. It now smells like me. Thank goodness. I might not always smell great, but at least I always smell familiar.
Yes, that's Buddy sleeping next to his bed.
With my new system, everything has a place. The place for random papers waiting for me to eventually sort them, is here in my sun room/office. Well, at least they aren't all over the house.
The daybed isn't new, but doesn't it look nice? The drawers under it are newly sorted. If you were a small child who visits me, you would know that the one of the far left contains all of my stocking-stuffers from recent years, and it's the one place where Auntie Al has anything fun.

So, that's it, then. My house. I now know what I want my house to look like. I just have to manage to keep it looking good while concurrently working full-time. We'll just see about that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Just Plain Mean

I just read an article about a survey about sarcasm, and I'm not sure it would have spoken so directly to me, except that I've been reading a few Internet dating profiles recently, and I've noticed that a lot of men describe their sense of humor as sarcastic.

According to the article 55% of respondents to a sarcasm survey, when asked to report a sarcastic comment that they had made, wrote down a comment that contained no sarcasm.

It’s no wonder why sarcasm is so often misused or misunderstood — half of us can’t recognize sarcasm in the first place. Something we may mean in a sarcastic manner may be seen as being just plain mean because it was never actually sarcasm in the first place.

I've stopped scouring the profiles of self-proclaimed sarcastic men for sarcasm. I'm starting to think that most of these "sarcastic" men are really just mean, because well over half of them display not only no sarcasm, but no humor at all in the 1000 words they are allowed to use to describe themselves. Turns out my time would be better spent reading psychology articles than dating profiles.

Tonight, I'm not doing either. I'm biking to the discount theater to watch "Up". I'm hoping for it to be amusing without being mean.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Ate a Rabbit

Once upon a time, Sarah and Alex joined the liberals from the city in driving their fuel-efficient cars to a farm near Duluth.The chef, Scott, from the Corner Table in Minneapolis, joined forces with the chef, Scott, from the Scenic Cafe in Duluth to cook us all dinner at a big table under the open sky.
The wind blew over our wine glasses, and it threatened to rain, but we held onto our glasses and zipped up our hoodies, and hoped for the best.
The best turned out to be a platter of sausages dipped in fresh mustard to whet our appetites. It was also bowls full of gazpacho eaten too quickly for photographs. It was carrots grown right on the farm marinated in a little bit of vinegar and cornichons and olives paired with a Mesabi Red from the Lake Superior Brewery just down the way.
Then it was time for a Caprese salad paired with beets of all things. Root vegetables do well in the climate of Duluth. Every course came with a matching wine, which I allowed myself the smallest of tastes, for I had to drive home that night.
The dinner was rabbit. The little furry varmint was cooked in duck fat and wrapped in prosciutto, so every bite was delicious. I've never had so many courses (good thing I ran my half-marathon on Saturday), so I was afraid I wouldn't have room for dessert.
But there's always room for goat-cheese cake with fresh berries on top!

The Scotts did themselves proud, the food was delicious, the company was delightful, and after the salads the clouds even blew away and the sun shone down on the table. It was a miracle as big as eating beets and liking them.

P.S. Happy birthday to me!

Friday, August 14, 2009

I Hate Everything About You

Even though I'm trying to be positive, I went back to the periodontist today. He's the man who hacked away at my gums, rearranged them, and then sewed them back in new places. I hate him.

It was the kind of trip where you're walking down the street and you meet Angry Spitting Man, and the way you meet him is he hocks one right at your feet while you're waiting for the light to change. In the block or two before Angry Spitting Man storms out of your eyesight, you see him spit three more times, twice at the feet of well-dressed women and once next to a shiny red bicycle.

Then you show up in the dreaded office, the place that made you weep last time because gum surgery is worse than they say it is, and the receptionist is gone, so you sit down, awkwardly, wondering whether anyone will figure out that you're here. You hope they don't. They do.

The dental technician leans you back in your chair and aims the light in your eyes, just like she did the other two times you were there. The light is blinding. Your regular dentist doesn't do this. She knows how to aim the light at your mouth without hitting your eyes.

"Um," you say, "my tongue turned black. Is that normal?"

"Yeah, it's the rinse," she says.

Nobody mentioned that the rinse would make your tongue turn black when they prescribed it.

"It looks better now," she says.

"Yeah, I stopped using the rinse, because I can brush now." You're proud of this, the brushing of your teeth. The novelty of it. How quickly and well you heal.

She gives you a disapproving glare. "You're not supposed to brush! It's too soon to brush. It won't heal properly if you brush. How long have you been brushing?" She has your lip in her hand when she asks you this question. You don't answer. If she wants you to talk to her, she can take her damn hands out of your mouth. And she can move the light out of your eyes.

Nobody told you how long you weren't allowed to brush your teeth when they hacked away at your gums and rearranged them. The light shining in your eyes for an hour and a half. The sound of slicing. One small red dot of blood on the dentist's hands right in front of your eyes. Awareness of exactly what they were doing, even though you couldn't feel a thing. The way they kept going while tears rolled down your temples and into your ears.

She flips off the light and exits the room, leaving you alone leaning back at that awkward turtle-on-its-back position, worrying that you won't heal properly, and they'll have to do it again, not sure that you'd be strong enough, really, to do it all over again. You, who are usually so quiet and mild, swat the light down, away from your eyes, just in case they come back and turn it on again.

The dentist comes in, reaims the light directly in your eyes, and then realizes he's missing the chart. He leaves you again, a blinded turtle trapped in a chair. You hear him ask for your chart. You hear whispering. She's telling on you, about the brushing. Fine.

Nobody told you when you could brush again.

He says your gums look good. They healed quickly. Then he stops. "Candace tells me that you've been brushing. Just the teeth though? Not the gums?"

"Yes," you say, meekness returning, damn it.

"How long have you been brushing?"

"Just a couple of days," you lie. How long? You don't remember. As soon as it didn't hurt. As soon as you could, because of the black tongue and the grossness of not brushing. And because no one told you how long you couldn't brush.

When he's done giving you more specific brushing instructions, he says, "OK, I'll tell your dentist that you healed nicely," and he walks out of the room.

No one tells you that you can leave. No one guides you through the maze and back to the lobby. You just pick up your bag and go. You are in the elevator before anyone can stop you. You keep thinking about the $800 you will pay these people, and you swear as the elevator takes you back to the street that you will never, ever allow anyone to rearrange your gums again as long as you both shall live.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Oh! And Nieces and Nephews.

I forgot to mention how grateful I am for the nieces and nephews in my life.

Right now, five of them are staying with my parents. I've been over to visit a couple of times this week. If I don't bring Buddy, he is the first topic of conversation.

"Where's Buddy?"
"I left him at home, because I just went running."
"Because I ran ten miles and he can't do that."
"Because he's old."
"Can you go get him?"

So last night, I brought Buddy to a family pizza party, where the two local nephews joined the five out-of-towners to create the annual cacophony of familial joy. Buddy's arrival was heralded by the shouts of seven (well, maybe six, since the baby doesn't care) nieces and nephews. He was, once again, the first topic of conversation.

"Buddy! Buddy's here. And Alex!"
"Buddy! Buddy! Buddy!"
"Did Buddy have a bath?"
"Sit! Buddy! Sit! Sit!"
"Did you bring any treats for Buddy?"
"Buddy! Sit!"
"Can Buddy fly on the airplane?"
"Buddy! Lie down! Play dead! Buddy!"
"Buddy licked me! Why did Buddy lick my leg?"
"Buddy! Shake!"
"Buddy! Stand up! Stand up!"

Did I mention that I'm grateful that Buddy is such a good dog? He doesn't know what all of these children are yelling about (and he only obeys their insistent commands to sit when I'm in the background with a stern look), but he accepts their eager attention with a calm submissive demeanor which endears him to them (and to their parents), even though he obviously doesn't know any tricks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gratitude (this one's kind of sappy)

Some things for which I am grateful. In no particular order.

I am grateful that Buddy is a good dog who doesn't bark too much. I am grateful that he needs me to walk him three times a day, and that he forces me out of the house, even when it's cold or rainy.

I am grateful that my family is full of good, loving people. I am grateful that my parents believed in my education enough to pay a lot for it. I am grateful that I never had student loans, even though I don't usually like to admit such a terribly unfair thing out loud.

I am grateful I went to Carleton where I learned to be myself among peers who finally understood my sense of humor. I am grateful for the friends I still have from there, and especially grateful that I've been able to be part of their lives as they've grown and changed since then.

I am grateful for the friends I have who weren't from Carleton, because they remind me how to be myself without the crutch of a shared life in Northfield.

I am grateful that I have known romantic love. I am grateful to the men who loved me even when I didn't love them enough back, and I am grateful to the ones who were gentle when I loved them too much.

I am grateful that I learned how to teach - and grateful that my education was, once again, debt-free, thanks this time to the government and the Minneapolis Public Schools. I am grateful that I've never worked in a school where I had to buy my own paper and that my students each get their own textbooks for the year. I am especially grateful that I found a career that allows me to be creative and active while still doing good in the world. I am grateful for summers off and long days that allow me to create my own projects.

I am grateful for good food, eaten with people I love. I am grateful that I have the kind of body that doesn't put the good food in unsightly places, and I am grateful that I finally learned how to run when I was in my late twenties, and I am most grateful for an injury free running life.

I am grateful to MPR and NPR and podcasts and the sound of Terry Gross's voice when I'm stressed out, and the way the Slate Political Gabfest team bickers, and the stilted way Josh and Chuck from "Stuff You Should Know" speak.

I am grateful for my health and my health insurance, and I wish I lived in a world where no one had to think about whether they could afford an annual exam.

I am grateful to live in a space that is my own and grateful that it is comfortable and fits me so well. I am lucky to be able to afford solitude, and (with apologies to Bev who lives next door and might, possibly be able to see from her living room) every day I am grateful that I don't have to shut the door when I pee.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Off the Grid

When I was a kid, we used to go to the North Shore every summer for my birthday. To celebrate the day, Margot made some kind of a cake in a bundt pan (When I got older, because she hates to bake and I love it, I baked my own cake). My dad made Dutch Babies with lemon juice and powdered sugar for breakfast. I got to bring a friend, who for many years, was Emma, my red-headed friend who lived in Finnlayson, MN. We reconnected every year, city mouse and country mouse, sharing a bed in a cabin, and exploring the rocky shores of Lake Superior together. We even "swam" in the lake, although this activity was reserved for extremely hot days, because the water of Lake Superior never rises above 50 degrees. You lose feeling in your feet before you gain the courage to dunk your head. Once you've gone under, you dash back to shore. If there isn't a warm rock baking in the sun for you to sprawl upon when you get out, it could be days before the blood starts circulating again.

This year, my friend was Buddy, the dog. Emma and I have lost touch, and besides, he needs a dog sitter when I'm gone if he doesn't get to come along. And so we drove up in my dad's car, just like Emma and I used to do. Buddy rode in the back, quietly. Buddy curls up in the car, and only sits up to look around when we slow down. Otherwise, he relaxes and enjoys the ride.

I realized, midway through the trip, as Margot and my dad adopted Buddy into our small family cabin lifestyle, that, really, I have a bit too much love for the beast. I'm a little too worried that he will endear himself to our companions when we travel together. I sleep with one eye open for the dog. Is he sleeping? Is he getting into trouble? Is he worried? Does he need me?

So, then, this is what happens when a single woman gets a dog. He becomes a lover and a child all wrapped up in too much fur. Oh, well, at least he's not a cat. At least (small blessing counted) I haven't become a Cat Lady. No. I've just spent the weekend excusing my dog's farts to two people who were kind enough to allow their love for me to help them decide to let him sleep in their cabin, but at least I haven't become a Cat Lady.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Perfect Distance

So I'm training for a half-marathon, which will be next Saturday. I use the word "training" lightly. I just run more often, and have increased how far I run. I thought I needed a goal, so on a bit of a whim a month ago, I signed up to run more than twice as far as I had ever run before. It turns out that if you run slowly, as I do, then there is no reason why you can't run twice as far as you normally do. Or, at least, that's what I found out, when I started running farther.

I used to run three miles two or three times a week. Now I run five or six times a week, and I run longer distances. My longest distance to date was about nine and a half miles around the chain of lakes in Minneapolis (and did I feel lucky to be a Minneapolitan when I ran that most beautiful nearly-ten miles in the country? Yes, in fact, I did.).

Still, the chain of lakes run took all morning, and it wiped me out all day. The perfect distance is the one I ran this morning. Six miles. There's a loop along the Mississippi that crosses the river into St. Paul and then crosses back over into Minneapolis. Six miles gives you time to listen to an entire episode of Fresh Air (and, let's be honest, if you run at my pace a little bit of Planet Money, too). It gives you time to be in a rhythm of running that allows all of that other stuff that you always think to get pushed all the way to the back of your brain so that you really hardly hear it any more. It also gives you a pretty good reason to stop by the Baker's Wife for a pastry afterward, and it forces you to leave the aged dog at home. I love six miles.

Now, if only I had signed up for a 10K. That would be perfect.

P.S. If you missed Terry Gross talking to Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, whose daughter was murdered, and you kind of like a good cry, then here's a link to it. I don't even like poetry and every one of her poems hit me right in the gut.
Note: This link is not here for my mother, so if you carried me in your womb for nine months, do yourself a favor and don't listen to this podcast. And if you know my mother, don't teach her how to listen to this podcast. Give her something fun, instead. Maybe she'd like a little Stuff You Should Know. Josh and Chuck can lighten any mood.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

People Think I Exaggerate

Recently, I decided to get more active on the dating frontier. I pulled up some profiles, and emailed a couple of dudes. One of them emailed me back, and it wasn't witty banter that made my brain tingle, but it was all right, and so we corresponded for a while until I suggested that we meet in person, because what's the point of sending emails to strangers, when they might turn out to be the opposite of attractive in real life?

And he said, "I'm too busy right now to meet in person. I'm just here for conversation."

Conversation? It's email, hoser. It's email with a stranger, and as far as I'm concerned email is the tool to get you to the real life. It's not the Thing. It's not the Reason We're Here.

Oh, and lest you think that this was all an elaborate brush-off, because I'm a repulsive email conversationalist, let me tell you that he promptly changed his profile to say that he was too busy to date and was just here to chat. Yep. On a dating site.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What I Wanted and What Really Happened

What I wanted was to go to an open mike night on my own. I wanted to enter a bar where a crowd of people were engrossed in what was going on on stage, where artists shared their talents in the dimly lit room, and everyone drank good beer out of pint glasses. I imagined drinking a couple of pints and then standing up to read my short piece. The crowd of people would be curious about this woman. They would be mildly disappointed that she wasn't here to sing. They would be worried when she began to read. Aren't we always worried by sincere people who try to share their writing on stage? What if it sucks? Then, I would start reading, and my reading would be good, and the silence would grow as would this imaginary crowd's interest me. How could so fascinating a character be here on her own and not surrounded by admiring friends? (Hey. It's my fantasy. Get your own if you want to be admired.) Maybe one of them would buy me a beer.

I couldn't do it.

I parked blocks away from the bar, hoping that the walk would give me courage. I walked up to the bar, feeling the crinkling paper in my back pocket. I opened the door, and through the dark screen of sad, lonely people drinking at the counter I saw a musician with lots of tattoos setting up his equipment in front of the microphone, and I saw no admiring crowd. And I realized that sitting at the bar drinking with the sad, lonely people was the last thing I wanted to do on a Monday, and the thing I was going to read would have been the last thing they would have wanted to hear, and it would have been terrible and dark and depressing. I pretended that I was checking my cell phone, turned on my heel and left before I even sat down.

So, I went home, and tried to watch "Six Feet Under", but it was terrible and dark and depressing, so I stopped the episode and went to bed.

Monday, August 03, 2009

My Bed's Broken

All of those things you just thought. Not true. Damn thing is just an antique.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Tastes a Little Like Car

I found an old transcript of a road trip I took with a friend. It was actually the move back to Minneapolis from Portland. I had a microphone and a mini-disk recorder (in one of my dream jobs, I was a reporter for NPR), and I spent the boring parts of the trip recording our interactions. Mostly we chatted about nothing. My evil cat was ill, so she made the first part of our journey memorably stinky. We had a gift for bringing out the humor in each other, and so we drove across Washington swapping the role of straight-man more times than I can count.

Partway through the journey, we decided to cook a meal by wrapping it in tinfoil, strapping it to some hot part of the moving van's exhaust system, and driving until it was done. My friend had been experimenting with this technique, made famous by the cookbook "Manifold Destiny". Here's what he said about his attempts to cook on his own small car:
I've tried cooking [garlic cloves] on the engine block which was the best deal for me, and that ended up getting it just a little bit warm, but not really cooked at all, and then the other two or three cloves that I've tried have ... either fallen off my car or they've been totally raw, and so I've eaten some raw garlic - really kind of bummed my coworkers out.
So, understandably, we were worried about raw food as a result of this experiment. We started with just one potato, figuring that if a potato came out raw, at least it wouldn't give us Salmonella. It was also a cold, windy day in early May, which brought some complaints from my friend as he crawled under the truck and wired a tinfoil packet of oil, garlic, and potatoes onto the exhaust pipe. Not wanting to eat carbon monoxide, I insisted on four layers of foil.

Here's what happened when we pulled the truck off the highway forty minutes later, and tried to talk into the microphone while struggling with wind and four layers of hot foil while crouched under a moving van in a post office parking lot in the middle of Podunk, Montana.
A: We have dinner. Well, we have something that resembles hot. J is unwrapping our dinner.
J: I still think it's bold to call it dinner.
A: Well, it was definitely just one potato. Whether it's cooked or not, it was still only one potato.
J: We're through the first layer. Looking pretty good. Oh, yeah. This looks good.
A: Smells better and better. It seems to be cooked in just that one spot.
J: Yeah. I wonder why that is. Maybe that's where the oil leaked out. But yeah, you're kind of right. Huh, that's interesting. All right. Here's the first food. It kind of looks cooked. Hey, want some potato? (chews) That's done.
A: We're geniuses!
J: I mean it tastes a little bit like ... car
A: ...carbon
J: Oh, my God, it is burnt. Look at this. It's totally burnt to a crisp. I mean some of these art OK, but most of it is just cooked. Wow. It was like it was on fire in there.
After burning our potato, we did make a second attempt. We wound up successfully cooking a complete chicken, broccoli, and potato meal, and eating it while crouched on my old furniture in the back of the van while the evil cat had the smelly cab to herself. The lengths I'll go to to avoid McDonald's...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Half-way Done

Jobs that are halfway done

1. Bathtub Plumbing
2. Kitchen Door
3. Rearranging Living Room
4. Toilet Plumbing
5. Cleaning

Notice how I didn't say halfway not-done. This is not just because this is a grammatically unnatural construction. It is also because I am an incurable optimist. Yep. That's me. Pollyanna all the time.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Day of Death Part 2

This story is so totally not worth the month-long wait. Not sure what happened to me. Not sure I'm back, but I can at least finish the narrative. I'm giving new meaning to the phrase "unreliable narrator".

Recall that we were on the train on the way to Kutna Hora's creepy bone museum, and the introvert (me) was for once in charge of our plans, while the extrovert (Byn) was not excited about them. Predictably, when we arrived in the small town, I chose not to ask for directions. (Talk to strangers who might not speak English? No, let's just wander around. I'm sure we'll find it.) We came to a cemetery, and I said something like, "Well, this must be the consecrated ground. Look how crowded the headstones are."

What you might not realize, if you've never been in Europe, is that even in death, Americans claim a whole lot more real estate than our European counterparts. We have all this space, see, so why not make a cemetery with rolling hills and spreading lawns and winding roads past trees and ponds? Why not choose a family plot that is approximately the size of your living room? Why not make a death room to match? We have space, and we can always head west if we need more.

So, yeah, the headstones were crowded together to our eyes, but it still might not have been the right cemetery. I don't know that it wasn't, because, of course, I didn't ask for directions, but it seems like maybe it wasn't, because we could find no evidence of the ossuary. What we did find, in the middle of the crowded, small town cemetery was a shed. Being tourists, we did what tourists do, and we snooped. We stood on tiptoes and peeked in the windows, and we found dusty stacks of femurs carefully piled up against the walls of the shed. We saw a rusty rolling cart full of old banana boxes, each one packed with skulls. We saw sunlight filtered through dust reflect off the grimy bones.

"Is this the ossuary? How old is that guidebook?" I asked Byn.

"Do you think these are spare parts for the bone museum?" he asked.

"It's creepy."

"Let's get out of here."

And so we left into the sunshine, past the Marlboro factory, over to Byn's cathedral where we hung out on the lawn smelling the tobacco in the air and awaiting the arrival of the next train back to Prague. Our willpower to see creepy bone art sapped by the stark reality of Dole banana boxes filled with ancient human heads. Perhaps, looking back on it, a trip to a cigarette-producing town with a bone shrine was not the best way to spend the afternoon with someone so recently grieving the deaths of two parents from cancer. Sometimes, I'm not as sensitive as you think I am.

The bone place does exist, and we even rode back to Prague next to two perky tour-guides-in-training who showed us pictures and post-cards of it. But the two of us never found it. We'd had quite enough death for one day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day of Death Part 1

One of the things that is floating around the Internet is a way to find your NPR name. Why should Kai Ryssdal and Mara Liasson have all the fun of having odd-sounding names? Anyway, the way you get your NPR name is you take your first name and insert your middle initial anywhere it sounds good. Then your last name is the name of the smallest foreign city you have ever visited. I'm a little bit in love with my NPR name. It's pretty good. Ready? It's Alexnis Kutna Hora. I know, right? And you thought Mrike Montreal was exotic.

Kutna Hora comes with its very own story. So, sit down, make yourself comfortable and prepare to hear about The Day of Death, starring Alexnis and her good friend Byn (not his real name, but it's close).

Byn and I met at the small liberal arts school many, many years ago, but we didn't become good friends until I moved to Portland. He had just moved there from California, having spent the years shortly after graduation nursing his parents who died, one after the other, of cancer.

Byn and I bonded over cards. He was hyper-competitive. I was raised to win at cards, and I can respect a good competitor. He used to have parties at his house for the "Quiets", during which he'd invite two other introverts and me over for cards and he'd watch us interact. We were Byn's own personal social science experiment. He also counseled me after my break-up, and he talked me through a year of hating my job.

He had a wisdom I couldn't match, because I hadn't experienced as much life as he had, but I like to think that I'm a good observer, so I nudged him when I thought there was something he had been too busy talking to notice. He encouraged me to write. I encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming the next Ira Glass. In short, we were good buddies and we were good for each other at the time.

And so, when he set off to spend his inheritance in a way he wished his parents had spent it when they were alive by traveling around the world, I knew that I'd miss one of my best friends in all of Portland. Weeks later, after I'd finally quit the hated job, he invited me to join him on his travels, and it didn't take much arm-twisting to get me to pack up a backpack, send the cat off to board with some friends, and join him for two months in Prague.

And now, finally, here we are at the story. We were in Prague. We'd found a wonderful hostel there called Sir Toby's run by a young German guy, but we'd gotten a little too comfortable around the streets of Prague and the kitchen of Sir Toby's, and we were looking for an adventure for the day. Byn had, thus far, acted as tour guide, because he was the one with the guide book, but the weather outside was February, which means I was irritable, and finally, he handed the book off to me.

"You decide," he said. "Pick something for us to do. Let's take a train, and get out of the city, but you pick where we go."

He'd been focusing on bath towns. I didn't much feel like being naked in a room full of Eastern Europeans, so I turned the page and found a grisly description of Kutna Hora. It fit my February mood exactly. In Kutna Hora, there was a bit of consecrated ground where people liked to travel to be buried. No problem. The death rate was pretty steady, so burying some non-locals in the town wasn't a very big deal, until the Plague came thundering through Europe. Suddenly that bit of consecrated ground in poor little Kutna Hora was overflowing with bodies. What do you do with stacks and stacks of extra dead people? Well, if you're some priest in Kutna Hora, apparently you make art out of them.

He made a coat of arms out of every bone in the human body. He made a chandelier of bones. He built a bone throne. I can't remember what else he made, but he was a very industrious priest, and he had a lot of raw materials, and so his little ossuary has become quite the creepy tourist attraction. Who wouldn't want to take a train to go see it on a grim February day? How much better was a bone throne than sitting in a steam room with sweaty Europeans?

Byn seemed to regret slightly his decision to hand over decision making authority to me, but he yielded to my wishes, and we figured out the train to Kutna Hora. We were off.

I reread the brief guide-book blurb about the town while we sat on the train. "Hey, Byn-Baby," I said. "Did you know that there is also a giant Marlboro factory in town?"

"There's also a cathedral," he said.

I scoffed. Really. How many cathedrals can one person see? And why would you see a cathedral when there were coats of arms made of bones? We were most certainly not traveling all the way to Kutna Hora just to see another boring cathedral.

...To be continued...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Old Notebook Uncovered During Cleaning

I, who am so practical and mathy, sometimes paint pictures with words. If you wanted to, I suppose you could call it poetry. I'm not so sure about that.

Silence Doesn't Bother You

The fridge kicks on and we both look up from our plates.
I catch your eye before your gaze returns to you food and
your fork makes another round trip flight from
potatoes to
to potatoes to
The silence which is killing me doesn't bother you.

I wonder if I am losing my mind.
I wonder if the fridge is broken again and stuck in the on phase of its cycle --
and then it stops --
leaving me cold,
but the silence doesn't bother you.

I repeat the word "wonder" in my mind and
I wonder if it's the only word in English that doesn't lose its meaning upon repetition.
I try another
another another another
And still the silence doesn't bother you.

You chew each bite five times.
Two heavy chews, and then three fast ones.
Slow, slow, quick quick quick
Slow, slow, quick quick quick
Look at me.
Down at my plate.
Back at me.
"You gonna eat that?"
I shrug.
The silence doesn't bother you.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Kitchen Project

So I was doing this book called the "Eight Step Apartment Cure", and I was supposed to thoroughly clean my kitchen, and the thing about my kitchen is that I only have three cupboards, unless you count the one under the sink, in which case I have four. I have a dishes cupboard, a pots and pans cupboard, a food cupboard, and a nasty under-the-sink cupboard. Oh, and not to brag or anything, but I also have a drawer. One drawer. It squeals like a pig on slaughtering day when you open it.

You might be able to guess that in my thorough cleaning, which involved throwing away a ton of stuff, I still ran out of space in my three cupboards. Where do you put your dishtowels, for example, when this is the entirety of your storage space?

There's room in the kitchen, too. It's actually a big room. So, I'm thinking I need another set of cabinets. Unfortunately, thoughts of new cabinets caused all kitchen cleaning to stop (as careful observers of the photograph may have already deduced). Obviously, if I am getting new cabinets, I need to spend less time tidying these ones up. And if I'm getting new cabinets, something needs to be done about the floor. And the floor guy can't come until late July, so maybe I should do it myself. But I'm not sure I know how to do it myself, and then there are the cabinets. Can I use Ikea ones, even though I usually hate everything from Ikea? And how do I install cabinets by myself, anyway? Oh, and I really need new electrical throughout the house. How much is that going to cost? And would it be easier for an electrician to do that before I do the floors and the cabinets?

As you can see, I'm paralyzed. This is why my kitchen is always so messy, isn't it?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


So, I survived my first year. Tonight I led a line of ten graduates in green gowns to their seats, and I sat in my full regalia (such as it is, at BA plus nothing), while they walked carefully across the stage, not tripping, waving to their friends, and collecting the empty frame that will someday hold their diploma.

It's over. I did a year.

Here is what I learned:
  1. To the average person on the street, "I teach Calculus" sounds more impressive than "I teach algebra to kids who hate math." Since I was teaching academic kids for the first time, I thought they would be better behaved than they were. On the other hand, I thought the math would be harder than it was. So, in the end, it was a wash. Doing either one well is hard. If you do either one and do it well, then I am impressed with you.
  2. Some kids have an easier time doing a u-substitution if they treat dx as just another variable when they substitute it out for du. I'm just saying.
  3. School spirit can be oppressive. To the kid who didn't stand while the rest of his classmates chanted a cheer during the graduation ceremony, what else do you call it? He's alienated and alone while surrounded by a concrete example of group-think in green gowns. I remember how turned off I was every time my own high school principal ended her daily announcements in her thick Iowa accent with the words "Rocket pride." It's worse when everyone drinks the cool aid. Or eats the cake, as the case may be.
  4. Even for a tech-y teacher like me, technology won't get used in a school-setting unless someone outside of the classroom supports you. And by "supports you" I mean "gives you a phone number to call if the technology fails" and "prods you to see new ways of using the tools to reach more kids" and "catches hold of your enthusiasm for creative uses of technology in your classroom".
  5. Leaving your room is important. Next year, I'm going to have to leave my room to team teach two periods a day. I can't wait to form new relationships and get to know new parts of my building. I spent one year on the Island of Alex. Year two is all about building a boat.
Congratulations to the class of 2009.

Monday, June 08, 2009

A Trend Such as it is

A pattern develops. You are the type to find patterns anyway. It's what makes you so good at math. You try to explain this to the children. Math, you say, it's not memorizing formulas and multiplying big numbers in your head. It's finding the pattern, the way things fit. When you know the patterns the formulas practically memorize themselves. Actually, come to think of it, you don't say it nearly enough. What you find yourself saying instead is, "Yes, you have to memorize it. Suck it up." Oh, well. No body's perfect.

Anyway, rambling aside. The pattern.

You go on a first date. You've reached an age of skepticism. You don't like it, but you can't change it. You're not inclined to like people right away. You are even less likely to like dates. Perhaps it's wisdom. More likely, it's bigotry.

So, the fact that he's charming on the first date creeps up on you. It takes twenty - maybe thirty minutes - before you begin to realize that your cheeks hurt from smiling so hard. It takes longer before you remember to hope that he feels charmed by you. You forget sometimes that you are as much on trial as he is. You have a big head, after all, so you usually figure that you are the more attractive, intelligent, and witty of the two of you at the table in the coffee shop.

Let's face it. Usually you are.

Your conversation meanders in a pleasant way. You are interesting. He is, too. You both leave stuff out, but put enough stuff in, that the conversational stew you create together tastes lively and rich. It's an appetizer for later conversations that you start to realize you are getting excited to have.

You part ways after spending more time together than you expected to spend. You might hug. You might even kiss, chastely, because it's a first date. You might mention later meetings. You might leave them hanging silently in the air between you.

And then. It's over. That's it. There's a call or an email, sometimes prompted by you, sometimes by him. He's not ready to date. He's met someone else. He's not sure what happened, why his last girlfriend dumped him. He's not over it. You are smart and funny and interesting, he says, and he wishes you all the best.

All the best.

Blah blah blah.

Not you.


Blah blah blah.

You've wasted all of your best ingredients on a conversational stew that you'll never get to taste again. If it happened just once, you'd sigh, and curse your luck. But it happens more than once, and so you feel that it must be a pattern. If only you could figure it out. It seemed easy and fun. And then it was not.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Ken Ken (or How I Spent My Morning)

Unfortunately, the online New York Times has six Ken Ken puzzles available for free. This means that while I've been awake since six, I am only just tearing myself away from my laptop to get started with my day. Furthermore, the Minneapolis paper is sitting on my doorstep as I write this, and I can hear the siren call of the puzzle from here. It could be noon before I shower.

It's not a big deal to waste one morning, right? It's gray outside, anyway, and all I have on my list of things to do today is a complete overhaul of my kitchen. I have time, right?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

An Actual Conversation

At the Farmer's Market this morning.

Sales Guy (in a non-Minnesota accent): Boiled peanuts! Try some boiled peanuts!
Guy on Cell Phone: Bull penis?
Sales Guy: Boil-ed peanuts.
Cell Phone Guy: Boiled penis?
Sales Guy (excitedly): That's right. Boiled peanuts. Try some.
Cell Phone Guy (looking down at his crotch): Well, as long as it's not mine.
Sales Guy: Why? Do you like yours roasted?
Cell Phone Guy: ???
Sales Guy (after a delay): Oh, never mind. I gotcha.

The cell phone guy gamely tried the boiled peanuts, as did I. Miscommunication aside, I'm not so sure boiled peanuts are going to become the next great snack food of the farmer's market. Boiling salt water dribbles down your chin as you try to crack the shell. The reward of soggy peanut pulp isn't enough to get me to come back for more.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Elephant in the Room

Well, you have to write something about the last day of school, don't you?

You have to at least acknowledge that the next three months or so are going to be relaxing, with some fun, a little productivity, and just a tinge of wallowing sadness, because that's what happens when I have too much free time. Oh, but don't worry. I don't plan to wallow the whole time. I'll also be going to Carleton and Macalester for some training. Maybe I only became a teacher in order to spend more time on Minnesota's most beautiful private liberal arts campuses. Campi?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Big Ol' Melon

When I was a baby, for some reason the doctors measured my head circumference, and concluded that I either had water on the brain or an enormous head. This prompted my entire extended family to wrap tape measures around their noggins, and conclude that my enormous head was completely within the range of normal for our family.

Of course, big-headedness has another meaning, and if you didn't know me very well you might assume that while it's undeniable that I literally have a big head, in the figurative sense, perhaps my head is not so very large. I'm shy, so you might think I'm modest. This is not true. Underneath my quiet exterior (and occasional bouts of crippling self-doubt), I have a pretty high opinion of myself.

Take Poland, for example. I was confident that I'd get that job, and all I had to do was apply for it and then decide whether I wanted it. Or take the blind date I went on this weekend. I just assumed he'd like me, because I'm wonderful, so I spent the whole date trying to decide whether I liked him, which is why it was such a surprise when he didn't try to arrange another meeting with me. Is is possible? Am I not as desirable a job candidate as I think I am? Could a nerdy man really meet me and not adore me? What is happening to this world?

I know. I'm as flabbergasted as you are. Whatever. I'll just go admire myself in the mirror until the world comes to its senses.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


So, anyway, I'm on this listserve for AP Calculus teachers, and someone on the listserve announced a job opening at an International school in Krakow, Poland. They are looking for a teacher who can teach all of high school math (from Algebra I to Geometry to Algebra II to Precalc to Calculus) to classes ranging in size from 2 to 9.

And of course it's crazy.

I mean, I live in a house I own and I'm committed to it. I have a dog and I love him. I have a job, and in this economy that's really saying something. I live within ten miles of all of my immediate family members (or I will in ten days when Amadeus leaves his mountain paradise for our land of 10,000 lakes). The spring and summer here make me so happy I feel like I'm on drugs. Or what I imagine it must be like to be on really good drugs with no side-effects (unless you count winter). In short, Minneapolis has always been the place for me.

Besides teaching all of high school math is a pretty big chunk to chew especially if you want to do it well.


Well, Minneapolis sucks for the elderly single women out here. Our friends are busy with their families. We can barely even find anyone to share a bottle of prosecco with us on a Saturday night. We've tried dating these shy, lonely Minneapolis men, and frankly it's bringing us down.

And so, I've been fantasizing. Thinking about my little class of two calculus students, my eight eighth graders in Algebra I. Dreaming about living in Krakow, walking the streets, ditching my car. I've been imagining the friends I'd make among the teachers at my small school. I've been wondering about the apartment I'd share with Buddy (he gets to move to Krakow in my fantasy), and dreaming about traveling Europe during my vacations.

Also, I could write a book about moving to Krakow to teach the math, and be famous and do book tours and sign autographs and answer nervous questions from young aspiring writers, while wearing a black dress and a flowered scarf and leather boots and maybe even glasses (which I don't need) and looking bookish and sexy at the same time.

I won't do it. Probably. But I'm giving myself a little more time to fantasize about it before I tell myself that.

Friday, May 15, 2009


To show you how busy my fingers have been, and, because if you're my mom, you'll want to see how your new shirt is coming along and if you're not my mom, you probably aren't even reading this thing on a Saturday, so you won't be too bored.

Hard to tell size in a photo, but it's about four inches tall. Not bad for two evenings of work.

Oh, and for the knitters out there: I was happily knitting away and I didn't have a marker handy. So I grabbed a plastic bag (dog owners always have plastic bags), and tore off a corner, tied it in a knot and looped it over my needle. More obvious than a bit of yarn, which is my usual go-to stitch marker. Less likely to become knitted into the project.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Knitting Binge (and Purge)

There has been a project on my knitting needles for several months. I had torn it out and restarted once before, because my stoopid pattern was translated from the Norwegian, and I kept missing vital pieces of information in it, and I kept not-noticing that I was missing vital pieces of information until I was several inches into the sweater. My New Rule For Knitting Patterns: Avoid patterns that say "AT THE SAME TIME". If it's not clear enough without the all-caps, then it's not clear enough.

Anyway, last night I made a grand gesture and tore the whole thing out again. Streamers of used, crinkled yarn fell into my lap. I left the offensive pattern at my parents' house, and stomped off to find a new one.

"You're crabby tonight," said my mom.

Hours of toil had been reduced to nothing more than string in ten minutes. Perhaps it affected my mood.

We found a pattern written in English for a short-sleeved lacy top. And tonight, after one false start (too small for any life-sized human), I finally filled my needles up again with tidy rows of loops. I hunched over my yarn, and allowed the television to drone on in the background while I counted "purl two, knit one through the back loop, purl two", and created new fabric out of what had just been string the night before.

I barely noticed, as I passed slipped stitches over, that in the year since I've seen it "Bones" has become a piece of total crap. I almost didn't get misty when Jim and Pam found out what they found out tonight on the "Office". I didn't spend nearly as much energy as I usually do wanting to like "30 Rock". And while my needles slipped through silken skeins of yarn, I found British television on channel 2, which seems to make the same amount of sense whether you knit while you watch it or not. And so time passed. The dog whined for his walk. The doorbell rang, and a strung-out canvasser tried to convince me to trust her with my money. Someone called for Fabian Floyd (who doesn't live here) for the thousandth time. Bedtime came and went. And two rows became four rows, and my hands filled up with lace, and over an inch of fabric hung from my needles.

Look out. After months of dormancy, I'm on a full-fledged knitting binge.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Time I Shaved My Head That Time

I moved to Portland with my first true love, and we proceeded to move into a grim apartment. It was the kind of place with a kitchen with all interior walls. It was the kind of place where we smelled it for days whenever our neighbor cooked bacon (and we called him Bacon Man, so it happened a lot). It had unattractive light blue carpeting throughout, which was newish, and which our landlady wanted to make sure would be compatible with our "lifestyle". I think she wanted to make sure we wouldn't throw any keggers on her unattractive light blue carpeting. Not surprisingly, given our surroundings, instead of throwing keggers, we immediately embarked on six months of communal misery.

First, my cat got sick. She ran back and forth between our bathroom and study, crapping in her box and vomiting all over our "lifestyle". I had a love-hate relationship with that cat, so it shocked me how devastated I was at the thought of losing her right after I moved to a new city. She had been with me since I was thirteen, so I couldn't imagine my adult life without her. Anyway, eventually (after some expensive vet bills) she recovered. I think she may have eaten roach poison in our new cheerless apartment. You could say her recovery was the second bad thing that happened to us. After all, she was an evil cat.

(Speaking of that cat, we moved a lot when I was kid, but one of my porn star names (name of your pet plus the name of the street you grew up on) could have been Stevie Stevens, which beats the pants off of Stevie First Avenue or Stevie Rural Route 6.)

Anyway, the next bad thing involved a job search. By today's standards, it was a short and painless search. By my standards, it was endless and resulted in one of the most painful things I have ever had to do - I couldn't pay my credit card bill in full at the end of the month. Josh came home and saw me weeping. Being a man of some debt, he failed to properly sympathize. Rocky times were ahead for us.

Meanwhile, there were nights when our sleep was interrupted by fire alarms. It seems that Bacon Man's wife sometimes fell asleep with the stove on. Evacuating your hideous new apartment at 3:00 in the morning because your neighbor might accidentally kill you in the pursuit of bacon can cause you reevaluate your life decisions.

There were more bad things. Josh got jealous of my relationship with a friend of mine. I didn't properly sympathize. Josh left me in the ugly apartment while he went home alone to Seattle for Thanksgiving. We both hated the jobs we got as a result of the long and painful search. We both questioned our life decisions.

And, so at the end of six months, despite being totally crazy about Josh, I dumped him. Sure, I should have dumped the god-awful apartment, or the bad job, or maybe the evil cat, but I was in my early twenties, and somehow he was the most obvious thing to eliminate and so I did.

Now the thing about Josh is that the whole time we were dating (and even now most likely) he had that shaved head look. I thought his shaved head was attractive, and he was also always attracted to bald women. And so, while my relationship with him was falling apart all around me, I asked him if I could borrow his clippers, and we wrapped my shoulders in a towel in the bathroom (where we didn't have to worry about protecting the lifestyle), and he helped me shave my head to the one inch setting. He said it looked sexy. He said it was too bad I had waited until our relationship was over to do it.

No one else particularly liked it, but then again I wasn't really trying to be sexy for anyone else.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Your Turn

OK, in an effort to convince myself that I'm not crazy, here's a question for you, gentle reader:

If you're in a committed relationship, how did you know he/she was right for you? How long did it take? How can you tell that it will work? More importantly, since I like things that are all about me: Would I be able to tell or would I be too crazy to decide?

That is all. Now write your essays. See you in the comments.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Wise and Otherwise

"Is it true," asked a student in sixth hour, "that you once shaved your head because you broke up with some guy?" I don't remember telling this story. For a moment I don't even remember that it happened. But it is true, and so I cannot lie, and must admit as much. "Oh," he says, "I gotta admire you for your nerve."

This is the post-AP nostalgia. They say things to me that are kind and sweet, and personal. We're playing games this week. In first hour, the small class, they got bored with Apples to Apples and asked for stories. "You tell the best stories," they say, buttering me up. And so I sit at my computer, pull up google, and read to them from "Mathematical Aphrodisiac," and they say "Aww..." when I tell them that it's a true story.

Then I show them photos of the famous potholder, and they ask for more photos, and pretty soon we're looking at all of my travel pictures from Kyrgyzstan. It's a love fest. I don't have to make them listen. They don't have to take notes. We just relax and breathe, and enjoy each other.

In sixth hour, we play Wise and Otherwise, a game in which you write a plausible ending to the first half of a not-so-famous saying. I sit down with a group of students, and laugh when one of them writes the wonderful ending "Endless chatter...never breaks the bed." And then the endings get raunchier, and I briefly wonder if I will have to excuse myself, when someone writes "A hoe in the shed is better than ... a stick in the bush." But despite its near triple entendre it turns out to be the actual Nigerian saying written on the card, and so I relax and laugh with the students.

We are post-AP, we can laugh, now, and play games and enjoy popcorn and Fig Newton's and Leibniz cookies. We have earned our rest and relaxation.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Sometimes I Disgust Myself

I'm sitting in my bed in a pile of sand that fell off of Buddy's fur during the day while he slept in my bed. I was running late this morning so I didn't make the bed, which meant that he got to do his favorite thing which is sleep directly on the bottom sheet on my side of the bed. The really disgusting part of this story is the thought that ran through my head as soon as I sat down this afternoon and noticed that my not-too-clean sheets were also infiltrated with dog sand. Unbidden my own voice entered my head, "God. I hope I remember to shake these sheets out before I climb into bed tonight." Apparently, it's not enough that my sheets are not-so-very-clean. It's not even enough that they are filled with sand transported by dog butt from bottom of the Mississippi river. Nope, until I caught myself thinking dirty thoughts about shaking them out and letting them go another night, I was STILL not going to wash them. Nasty.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

No one really gets a 5

My students have a test tomorrow. It's kind of a big deal. They're taking the AP test to determine whether they get college credit for the work they did in my class.

Today I heard one of them say, "I'm just shooting for a 3. I know I won't get a 4, and no one really gets a 5." She caught me staring at her. "Well, except for geniuses and really big nerds."

She knows that millions of years ago (or at least before she was born), I got a 5. I'm pretty sure the latter description was meant for me. In the nicest possible way, of course.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Last Five Letters of "Stable"

When my grandmother, June, grew too forgetful to live alone any longer, we packed up her Kenwood mansion. Most of it went into a dumpster. Some of it went to Goodwill. The real treasures were scattered among members of the family.

My cousin, Perley, gave a home to June's dining room table where we had all eaten countless dinners, including the first turkey dinner after the advent of microwaves, that, yes, had been cooked in the microwave. It came out looking like a dead baby. This is not the kind of centerpiece that puts you in the mood for Thanksgiving. Picture that Norman Rockwell painting. Now replace that delicious golden, brown turkey with a pinkish, grey corpse. That, my friends, is microwave turkey. It is also an example of one of my grandfather's famous experiments.

My grandfather, Eddie, was actually a successful scientist. And June was actually a successful cook, left to her own devices, but Eddie insisted when he bought that microwave that she try cooking the turkey in it. Scientific method, you see. You can hypothesize that a nuked turkey might be bad, but you can't prove it until you actually try it. The dead-baby-turkey was a gastronomic failure, but a scientific success. It proved the hypothesis, you see, and that was all that mattered to my grandfather. June, on the other hand, wanted the Norman Rockwell painting of a turkey and a family eager to share it. Therefore, her table is the kind of table suitable for a big family and a vast spread of delicious food.

Meanwhile, there was another table that we moved out of that Kenwood mansion. This was Eddie's wackadoodle table, which came to live with me in my duplex, and which has been the source of endless frustration - and some amusement - since it arrived.

You see, Eddie always had shy graduate students in physics working with him on the science. At some point, he came up with a brilliant idea. His students weren't sharing their results. They could all be sitting at the same table, working on the same problem, and none of them would be working together on the problem at all.

OK, let's step into Eddie's brain for a second.

Problem: Shy physics nerds don't share their data with the guy next to them.
Solution: The table will share it for them.

He took a round solid oak table, and he sawed off the top of the table. He installed a spindle and some ball bearings, and voila! The entire table top became a lazy Susan. Now, if that guy on the other side of the table had a break-through all you had to do was clutch the edge of the table, give it a yank, and his work would come orbiting around to you. It seems brilliant at first. Of course, everyone else also loses his work to the guy sitting across the table, but this was not a concern of my grandfather's. After all, those guys probably needed to collaborate more anyway.

I'm not sure how well the shy-science-guy-table worked with the shy science guys, but I can tell you that it was crap as a dining room table. First of all, somehow, in the sawing off of the table, my grandfather lost about half a foot. Half a foot really matters when you're sitting on a chair at a table.

Second, imagine happily eating your dinner when your friend decides that she would like the butter which is sitting at your left elbow. It seems tempting for her to spin the lazy Susan a retrieve the butter, right? Yeah. Except then your plates all spin away with the table, and you wind up with someone else's half-eaten meal in front of you. And the butter is way over there, instead of right at your elbow where you left it.

And, so, now let's step into Alex's brain for a minute.

Problem: Table is too short and the lazy Susan technology is actually a Bad Idea
Solution: Prop up the table top on blocks, so it can't spin and it sits a little higher.

It kind of worked. It worked well enough that I got to live with a handsome oak table for a couple of years, and it didn't spin. It was always precarious, though. My friend, Anders, pushed himself up from the table more than once, tilting the entire mess off of its blocks, before he caught himself and righted the table. Little kids do this almost every time they eat over, unless their parents happen to remind them gently, "So, remember kids, you're at Alex's house, so DON'T TOUCH THE TABLE."

Anyway, I tell you all of this, because Perley called me on Monday to offer me June's table. I gleefully accepted, thinking that my days of catching food before it falls off of my unstable table might be over. And now here I sit at the Norman Rockwell table. And off in the other corner of my dining room sits the other, odder table, staring at me in its too short and nerdy way. How will I ever convince anyone else to take it from me?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What I Love About Minneapolis

Well, one of the things I love anyway: The dog park.

Today, Buddy and I walked for almost two hours, taking the high ground over our flooded paradise. Below us, a boat of fisherpeople floated past the point where we usually walk.

I clutched a rope to drag myself up a muddy hill to the bluff trail, and instead of trying to make our way down to the mucky bottom land where the waterfall falls, we walked above the falls and past them to a part of the park we rarely visit.

I caught proof of the approaching spring on film (or pixels anyway), and despite knowing that Minnesota expects snow on Monday, my soul lifted to see blue, blue skies between branches covered with small buds. Soon, soon, friends, we will be able to say that we have triumphed over another winter here in the great white north. And this year was the first one in a long time whose winter really earned us our spring.

Oh, we also did not molest any government property. Even though that government property was totally asking for it.

Friday, March 06, 2009


If you've ever thought, "You know what I would enjoy watching for two hours? People who are miserable, living out a slow, hateful suburban life."...

If you've ever wished there more movies about being irreconcilably unhappy in love...

If you've ever wondered what to see on a first date with someone you just know you'd wind up hating in the end...

Well, have I got the movie for you: It's Revolutionary Road.

It's full of really pretty people, but they drink and smoke so much (to dull the pain caused by their miserable lives) that you won't even want to sleep with them by the end of the film.

As for me, I'm just hoping the sequel is about root canal or old people undergoing mortgage foreclosure, because anything less would be a deescalation of the anguish of the original.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

They Love Their Hockey

Student, clutching a wad of bills in one hand, having just completed a conversation with his buddy about how to buy tickets for the hockey game: Can I go to the bathroom?

Me: No, because you're not going to the bathroom. You're going to buy hockey tickets.

Student: Damn! How do you know that?

Student: Just let me go. I'll be quiet for the rest of the hour if you let me go.

Me: Why should I have to make that kind of a deal with you?

Later still...
Student: Come on, I really have to go to the bathroom. For real this time.

Me: Don't worry. They'll still be selling hockey tickets when we're done with the notes.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Doin' My Duty

I'm going to my precinct caucus tonight. I know. You didn't even know tonight was the night for precinct caucuses, did you? Well, I wouldn't go either, except that I was guilted into it by Gary Schiff. He not only had his minions call me, he also called me in person to invite me. God, I hope news of how easy I am to convince to do something sort of unpleasant at Gary Schiff's request doesn't get out. Otherwise, Sarah's going to get him to call me to tell me to shovel out the garbage cans. My students will call him to tell me to grade the tests faster (and more gently). Buddy will call him to tell me to step away from the laptop and walk the dog. It's already 5:30. Why am I still typing?

Monday, March 02, 2009

You Would Cry, Too, If It Happened to You

No, no, don't worry. I'm not going to cry. Or make you cry. Or say anything sad.

I just so rarely get songs stuck in my head because of my disability with music that I was thinking recently about things that do get stuck in my head. Some of them are bits of "music"- although I hear them in my head the way that I would sing them, so they are unrecognizable to people who aren't me as music.

Strangely I don't ever get "Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee," stuck in my head, even though it was the one song I have ever really, really tried to sing on key, because when I was a senior in high school I tried out for Grease, with disasterous results both in the singing and dancing segments of the audition. I think maybe Jimmy, if he read those words, just got the song stuck in his head. He's the one who sat with me patiently at the piano while I murdered the tune of that song 5000 times.

I do get that line from "It's My Party" stuck in my head: "You would cry, too, if it happened to you. Doo doo do do." In my head it comes complete with an uncertain trailing off of do's, because I'm not sure how many there are. I even had to think for a while to remember the name of the song, because that line is the entirety of what gets stuck in my head, not the chorus, not the title lyric, just that one line.

I know all of the words to "When I'm 64", but the only part that gets stuck in my head is "We shall scrimp and save." Now that I've written it down, well, of course that's what gets stuck in my head. Have you met me? I'm a miser. It's the miser lyric.

Sometimes I can't seem to shake sentences or bits of sentences. For a while, it was "Alex's head." Just the phrase, in the third person. When my mind was at rest or when I was walking the dog, I'd hear it. "Alex's head." And I'd wonder. Does it mean anything? Should I get a brain scan because maybe my brain is telling me that there is something wrong with my head? Is it a different Alex? Should I duck?

OK, carry on. I'll try to pay more attention to the voices in my head and report back tomorrow. Doo doo do do do.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Thank God That's Over

Now, let's see if March can snap me out of the funk that February has wrought.

I will begin the month with some thorns and roses, something that I just heard that the Obama family does every night. Thorns are bad things that happened to you during the day. Roses are good. This of course smacks of bigotry, since thorns are only bad if you're not the rose, but who am I to judge?

A thorn for me today has been a stack of tests. I put them off until the last possible moment, and they are taking a long time, because my progress is hampered by feeling like a bad teacher (and by wasting time on the Internet). We had a bad February, my class and I. I spent too little time on solids. They spent too little time on their homework. And the result is a pile of tests on which I have to stretch to hand out partial credit (and I feel as though I should be stretching because I'm the one who spent so little time on the topic.) Also, why oh why do I always procrastinate?

A rose today came in the form of leaving Buddy home when I ran. Free from the leash, I ran all the way to Nokomis. My plan was to run only around the small part of the lake, but the unshoveled walk forced me to take the whole loop around the lake. Also, since no one else was running in my direction, I felt fleet of foot, faster than the walkers I passed. The six miles cleared my head, which has felt muddled and cloudy all weekend.

And now I'm sitting down to grade. I appologize for the boring post. I'm trying that Nanoblopo thing again. If I'm going to write every day, maybe I should mark the ones that are worth reading with a giant star or a slab of bacon...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fear of Flocks

I used to work in an old grain silo building in Portland. It had been converted to office space, and so behind my cubicle was a hallway to nowhere with rounded walls where the grain used to be stored. It was a place of great echoes, but no useful purpose. This is the kind of office space that technology companies pay extra to rent, and it's the kind of office space that makes working for a technology company slightly more palatable. Yeah, I'm a cubicle drone, and no one talks in my office, ever, but I work in that pretty old grain elevator off of the Broadway bridge. You know the old Albers Mill building.

Part of my commute every day, because I didn't have a car in Portland, involved walking up a giant red staircase to the pedestrian level of the bridge. I tell people that I'm afraid of birds. It's slightly inaccurate. I recognize that a single, nondescript LBJ (little brown job) isn't going to hurt me. If I see a first robin of spring bobbing along in the park, I don't detour around it or anything. Even a lonely pigeon isn't all that frightening to me, despite its unnecessarily large size. The thing about my daily commute up that giant red staircase, was that the Broadway Bridge was just covered in flocks and flocks of birds.

What was terrifying to me was the sheer number of those birds, perched on the bridge, covering it in their crap, and looking at me with their cocked heads as I climbed my endless red staircase to work. What made my heart skip a beat was when something (and it wasn't me, because they were far too jaded to be frightened by a lone human) set those birds off, and then, as one, the flock would rise from their perches on the bridge and swarm, as if instead of being a multitude of birds with separate hearts, brains, and bodies, they were a single organism stretching out to the edge of the flock, moving as one, out away from the bridge and then back again, before darting off again in some direction all together.

They never did anything to me, those birds. They just frightened me with their single-mindedness and their group-think and the sheer number of them. I was reminded of this near daily experience in Portland today on my evening run, because just as I arrived at Lake Nokomis at dusk, something set off the murder of crows that had hidden themselves in the branches of the trees, and as I ran, each tree came alive with caws and flapping of wings and a lifting of big, black bodies moving together towards nothing and away from something, with what must have been crow-logic, but which looked to me like a chaos of wings and claws and beaks and shrieks. Beautiful in a way, but only in the way that dark, frightening paintings can be beautiful.

It's like snakes. I can tolerate just one of just about any kind of snake. But when I see a whole mess of them slithering together, I just can't talk myself out of the shivers running down my back.