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...