Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Scoundrel Cabbies: So Unfare"

This past weekend, I had to don a big mohair sweater of The Happies, as I spent four days in the mountains of Colorado, celebrating past, present, and future with two of my best galpals from college. To even divulge how long it's been since I first met these women requires that I sit down and put my head between my knees for at least four breaths before I can gasp out, "Twenty-one years." I am examining my crow's feet in a magnifying mirror as I type those words, remembering how unlined and dewy we all were when we first encountered each other on 4th Goodhue (our dorm freshman year) at a floor meeting, where one of these friends stopped the show by announcing, "And I have this new thing called a CD player in my room, so if any of you want to stop by to listen to a little Peter Gabriel, that'd be so rad."

In the ensuing four years, we drank a wheelbarrow full of Long Island Iced Teas, danced to The Gear Daddies and The Wallets and Modern English until sunrise, and occasionally even stayed up all night writing papers about "Meritocracy and Hegemony as Evidenced by Thomas Pynchon." Them's ageing activities, folks, and we might have engaged in them more sparingly, had we known that the real wrinkle-causers (committing to love, having children, and weathering dithering Demoncrats and a bellicose Republican administration) were still to come.

At any rate, this past weekend was our second official galpal weekend, wherein just the three of us gather together, away from kids and partners, to gab, eat, drink, reflect, and review. I have to say, my life ends up feeling completely inventoried by the time we're done, and I have a renewed appreciation for all the mundane things in my daily life that seem blase without the benefit of such an external processing. By the time we're done with our weekends together, I'm again awed that my husband has a chai tea waiting for me by the back door every morning as I dash out to work; that the shoes I bought last week are versatile and cute, simultaneously; that I live in just the right house for me; that I live with someone who reads and likes to talk about it. I get all oogie about my life, thanks to these benchmark weekends.

Even further, when The Ladies and I headed out for the weekend's big splurge dinner at a place called Samplings, I had cause to appreciate how the idea of "crisis" is a state of mind and mood more than an incontrovertible reality.

Here's what happened: we had a reservation for Samplings on Friday night, but then those wacky Colorado skies decided to dump snow for almost three days straight (someone should capitalize on that and build up some sort of skiing culture around the place, really; then developers could come along and clear cut all the beautiful trees on the mountains, making room for fifty thousand high-priced condos--you know, paving paradise and putting up a parking lot and all. Just an idea for any entreprenuers who spend their weekdays perusing this blog), so Friday night featured snowplows on the road and cars getting chains put on. This was not the right night to head out for a few bottles of wine and general gustatory celebration; rather, we decided to stay in and drink margueritas and eat a homemade chile with a mole sauce ("What, so the recipe tells us to add chocolate to our pork? It's so rare one has permission to act out one's most private dreams in a public arena!") .

Happily ensconced in the--you guessed it--condo, we moved the reservation at Samplings to the next night, when it was still snowing, but much more lightly. But the issue of driving coupled with bottles of wine still reared itself. It was time to tap into cab culture. After about eight phone calls, my pal Hoo learned that there are two companies that run in the area, each with roughly ONE taxi. The rates they quoted varied dramatically, so we decided to go with Cheap Guy Cab Company instead of Twice the Fare Cab Company.

But when we tried to nail the Cheap Guys down about a pick-up time, they slithered through an actual committment, giving us the "Call us back in 45 minutes, and we'll let you know." Eventually, we decided taking the free shuttle into Frisco would be the best idea, even if it did take an hour to traverse the ten miles from condo to restaurant. After dinner, now that's when we'd need a taxi, when it was late, and when we didn't feel like transferring from free shuttle to free shuttle back up the mountain.

The restaurant was terrific--just the right combination of relaxed and chi-chi. True to its name, the place offers either a tasting menu or the option of ordering multiple "small plate" dishes to share at the table. We went with nine small-plate choices--(get this, you foodies out there: roasted garlic and leek soup with fois gras butter; butternut and apple soup with pepitas; organice baby lettuce salad [with a Roaring '40s blue cheese]; roasted shiitake mushrooms with truffle oil; bruschetta with an eggplant spread on olive bread; duck confit ravioli with butternut squash and brown butter vinaigrette; top sirloin with roasted garlic and pearl onions in a red wine reduction; duck confit on a bed of wild rice risotto; and venison on a fig-laced quinoa over top of a roasted orange slice...all of which was followed by the Chef's choice dessert platter, including an espresso panna cotta that had me leaping into the mug to bathe in the velvety this was my kind of all-body exfoliant)--and let the sommelier hook us up with a terrific chardonnay and pinot grigio. There was talk, a toasty fire, and the usual Colorado "dude" vibe, provided by our snowboarding waiter who "got in 80 days last year on the hill."

Thus, when we finally staggered out of Samplings and into the snowstorm, the world was softly lit with pleasure and very tiny belches. We'd called a half an hour earlier and talked to Cheap Guy, who promised to pick us up at 9 p.m. When he didn't arrive, we just kept talking, ate snowflakes, and eventually started shivering. The toasty glow was threatening to wear off.

And half an hour after that, a feeling of crisis threatened to show up when Cheap Guy still didn't. Further attempts to reach him and discover his whereabouts resulted only in a rude busy signal. Feeling strung along, wondering how we'd ever back to our Aveda haircare products and leftover mole chile, we allowed a smidgen of "So what the hootenany are we gonna do?" to enter our minds and conversation. Eventually, we decided to show him who was boss and call the rival company, Twice the Fare Price Gougers.

TtFPG listened to our tale of stranditude with great interest and then assured us that, although they were currently on a call, and it might take them some time to get to us, they definitely would eventually show up, unlike the "scoundrels" over at Cheap Guy who would promise us the world, only to leave us standing decked out in winter white at the Samplings altar.

As the Cold War between cab companies gained heat, we glanced down the street and saw, emerging from the flakes, swaying and creaking towards us, the free shuttle. Hollering a quick "thanks for the update on mountaintop transportation relations" into the phone, we hoofed it to the bus stop and gratefully hopped aboard the shuttle, realizing that it only takes one solid option (and two bottles of wine) to neutralize a potential crisis...

...especially when that option, as it lurches up a mountainside for an hour and a half, covering its trusty ten miles in that time, blares from its speakers tunes-for-39-year-old-women-on-reunion. We had a group singalong to Four Non-Blondes ("And I say hey/yay/yay...What's goin' on?") while the weary bus driver announced each imminent stop: "Library." "Elementary school." "Wal-Mart."

It occurred to us to protest the need for stopping at the elementary school at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night (you'd have to get busted for doing more than simply giving little Skeeter Bejeesus a wedgie before you'd be kept that long in detention, right? Being kept after school for an extra day and a half would demand, at the very least, some serious cheating and fouling in the tetherball tournament. And then you probably wouldn't need to catch the bus home, as your mom would be waiting outside in the two-tone station wagon, spewing out at the sight of you and your Nikes dragging towards the wagon: "So you think cheating is fun? Let me tell you what's fun: laboring for 24 hours in sweat and agony, only to have the fruit of those labors, ten years later, turn into a big cheaterpants who's kept after school for a day and a half. Yea, that's really, really fun. Now get in the car. We're going to Grandma's for tuna casserole. And you better not have forgotten your homework.").

Yet we didn't need to protest unnecessary stops. Instead, we remembered:

We were safe.
We were moving.
The snow was lovely.
And we were together.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"Metallic Love"

I guess it started the night I met my husband, a very dreamy evening. It wasn't meant to be dreamy, for we were set up, meeting each other "blindly," as the rhetoric goes. But we were matched by my cousin, who had asked each of us if he could serve as our "agent in the field." Feeling agreeable, we met over a 5-hour dinner in a log cabin (my cousin's house), with the aforementioned cousin, his wife, and their two daughters present. We definitely weren't dealing with the nerves that accompany meeting a stranger in an intimate, romantic place. Tripping over Sleeping Beauty slippers while asking, "And you went to college where?" kept things light-hearted.

However, in one quick moment, things took on weight. Because Blind Date (aka My-Groom-of-Seven-Years) is of Norwegian descent, he does enigmatic pretty well, so it definitely struck me dumb--a rarity--when he announced, after a discussion of his love of cooking, "I've decided I'd like to get married so that I can get a KitchenAid mixer."

Frankly, I had to pause for a beat or two, just to be sure that he wasn't actually proposing something there. But then I realized he was making a general comment--wanting to highlight that the best way he saw to afford such a big-ticket purchase was through a wedding registry. Hey, wait a minute, he might be funny, methought!

Fast forward some months, and you'll see us, fresh after our wedding reception, opening gifts at a brunch the next day. Jehosephat, but there it was: the KitchenAid mixer. A large group of friends had each pitched in some bucks, coming up with enough for not only the mixer but for a few attachments, as well. My Groom's machinations had paid off; sure, he had to take me as part of the bargain, but he got his mixer, and leavened and unleavened breads alike would be his! Ha-ha-ha!!!

Keep your fast forward going, now, to Wednesday of this past week, when Groom-Cum-Stay-At-Home-Dad was feeling very tra-la-la at the prospect of a morning in the house alone (we'd sent both kids to a kibbutz or something, to learn the value of hard work). First, he would corral some of the dust bunnies, scour out the small family of five living in our toilet bowl, and do the bi-yearly changing of the sheets. After that, he'd read some gossip on the Web and prepare for a lurvely Fall run. Oh, and somewhere in the middle there, he'd make a couple loaves of foccacia, his donation to a friend's birthday party later that evening.

Because he's well aware that we're living in the "oughts" now (those antiquated 1990's are's a new millenium), he was multitasking, but instead of listening to his I-Pod while IM-ing his ten best friends and updating his MySpace "friends" list, he was hoovering, scrubbing, and letting his beloved KitchenAid knead. When an enormous crash echoed from the main floor, Groom knew it was too much to hope that our crusty, old, dark kitchen had just hatched itself off the back of the house and finally slid into Lake Superior.

Rather, the KitchenAid had developed feet during the kneading and walked itself right off the counter. I posit that its actions were snit-based, and it had seen its chance to take out all of its main competitors on its way to the floor. You see, a year-and-a-half ago, we invested in Miss Silvia--a sleek bombshell straight from Italy who happens to be an espresso maker (my love for her made me realize I am open to a marriage of three). Her paid companion is the burr coffee grinder, who lives next to the glass cookie jar (home of more love), who is neighbors with the snooty and smug French Press (that minx!), who, suprisingly, tolerates the O.G. of the countertop: the bashbox for the coffee grounds.

Actually, I should have used past tense verbs in my listing of some of those countertop residents, as Walking KitchenAid and her travelling cord cut them down in their prime. RIP, French Press.

Indeed, the KitchenAid cut an impressive swathe that day, using her long tail to tip over Miss Silvia, who then emptied her reservoir of water onto the floor, where it formed the base of a coffee grounds/broken glass/cookie jar/foccacia dough slurry.

True to her workmanship, though, KitchenAid held on, her cord remaining married to the socket, even as she dangled there over the slurry, realizing she'd gone too far in her spite. When Groom spied K.A. hanging there, looking a little overwhelmed by her work, he rushed to her side, pulling her from danger, taking her vitals.

Woefully, K.A. was out of commission; even Groom could not turn her on. At this moment, even in the retelling, I fear for my marriage--if the basis of our marriage is broken, well, then, what do we really have together?

After taking an hour to clean up K.A.'s temper tantrum, intrepid Groom gently pried K.A. apart, fiddled with some sprockety-knobby things, and had her back to humming in no time. She, and I, would not need replacing.

For me, I can't help but think that KitchenAid was sending us a health-conscious message that day, protesting the best she could, telegraphing her message of love: "Get rid of the caffeine. You don't need carbs. Spend your years watching me twirl, and get rid of these other bimbos."

Perhaps the most inspirational part of this mini-crisis is the fortitude of the coffee-grounds-encrusted Foccacia That Almost Was. Even after it was tossed in the trash, it continued its yeasty imperative and grew, grew, grew into the evening. We'd stop by the garbage can occasionally, opening it up and hollering encouragement down the hole: "Way to go, FTAW! You're getting really plump down in there, Junior!!"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"But We Don't Wanna Go Out For Sushi":

What To Do When the Kids Aren't Game

Short answer? Yank them along anyhow. It's a lesson in character building, right? But then they make that event--whatever it is--miserable: "I want to go home now." "When can we be done?" "Do they have any toys for me here?" "I don't like this food. And I'm hungry and thirsty." Many times, I would rather have kids with no character who just stay heshed up.

The more devious approach taken by many of us clever Big People when we want to do something that will result in whining protestations? Fool, fake, bribe, strategize. There is a small window in their lives when we parents are actually smarter--or at least more in power--than the kneebiters. We can use our adult-type smarts (albeit smarts that are riddled with brain holes due to three decades of drinking aspartame and Nutra-sweetened beverages...) to make the kiddles participate in our desired activities.

We took a low-key approach to this conundrum during this past summer, when we went on a family vacation to Canada--putting on toques and riffing on our favorite Mackenzie-Brothers-on-SCTV lines after the border crossing.

Thunder Bay as a city was a miss for all of us (after an hour of driving in circles, looking for an interesting restaurant, we conceded that McDonald's, indeed, was the best the city could do), but things looked up during our days camping at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. The kids were thrilled with the sandy beach and relatively warm water (being Northerners, we rate water according to a three-star "How Big Are Your Goosebumps" system: one star: minor, low bumps...they feel a little like the bottom of our bathtub mat but not much more; two stars: moderate bumps...we could put a piece of paper over them and rub a crayon sideways to make a fine transferred picture of the bumps; and three stars: big-old-hoary bumps...we could shave them off the body with a cheese grater), and we had caribou in the campsite during the night, sniffing the fatty remnants of our grilled steaks in the fire pit (who knew caribou were carnivore wannabes?), which thrilled the wee ones. Spirits were good, and we didn't need to wrangle them into anything.

...until we wanted to go canoeing. Now, our kids do enjoy canoeing, certainly, and have been known to kick into a pacific, mellow mood, mesmerized by the whooshing noises. But for my husband and me, an afternoon in a canoe is a good time. For the kids, fifteen minutes is more than enough time for them to size up the adventure of it all--the water, the sky, the rhythm of the strokes--and then be ready for the next thing ("Is it time to practice somersaults yet? And when can you hide in the tent and then jump out and yell 'Boo' to scare us? And could we put a sleeping bag over the picnic table and make a fort now?").

So how to keep them entertained enough to satisfy our efforts of driving the canoe to another country and then hauling it into the lake? In other words, how could we get 20 minutes out of them? Distraction was the answer.

We excitedly pointed out some Great Blue Herons...and, whoa, looksie-loo, a beaver dam! And not far away, lily pads! And cattails! This is way better than BLUES CLUES, right?

Yes and no. We kept their brains off the idea of boredom for 29 whole minutes, getting an added three minutes out of the deal by singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Lake" at the end. By the time we got back to shore, each of us was at least tepidly satisfied with the outing. Sweet Snoopy on a Cracker, but we had canoed.

Since that outing, we've become even more organized in our "we'll get you guys out there and make you have fun without your ever knowing it, and Mom and Dad will be doing The Running Man with glee when you're not looking" efforts. This Fall, as the leaves have reached a fevered pitch before dropping, and as the kids have shown signs of sensing the oncoming winter weather by becoming rammy, we've lured them out on mini-hikes by packaging these expeditions as "scavenger hunt adventures." I bag up a few cookies, fill each kid a canteen, and then grab other sundry items (i.e., a dog leash, not that we have a dog [see earlier post about dogs off leashes for more insight], a spider made out of pipe cleaners, and a plastic horse) from the house on the way out the door.

When we get up to the Superior Hiking Trail at Hawk Ridge, one of us takes a turn running ahead and hiding the various items along the path. The kids then haul their motivated selves through the Route of Hidden Temptations, looking for toys and goodies, all the while actually covering ground on a hiking trail. Once they've found all the treasures, they then want a turn to do the hiding, and so on. Before we know it, an hour or two has passed, and we've managed something that might be called, in greehorn circles at least, "a hike."

And I fully expect that one day my kids will head off to college (if we can fool them into going by hiding a dog leash in their dorm room and urging them to "Go find it!") and write papers for their Freshman Comp class entitled "My Parents Thought They Were Sneaky and Tricking Us, But In Fact We Knew What They Were Up To and Figured Out That There'd Be Cookies Involved If We Pretended to Rebel."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Trail Cam:

Earlier this week, I sucked up the remnant warmth of Summer, as Fall starts to turn rainy and colder. I went for a longish run on the Korkki Ski Trails, reveling in the ankle-deep leaves that made for a surprisingly-loud run. Quite simply, I was in heaven, from the smells of pine needles to my views of the beaver dam. In the last few years, a good trail run has been enough to sustain me through days of no sleep, personality conflicts, and general world weirdness. Me lurrrrve me trail runs.

But I fear, to look at me from the outside, that might not have been apparent the other day. If I had been followed by a "Trail Cam," the footage, when reviewed later over a Summit Bitter Ale, would have revealed a shrieking and hopping runner, someone who seemed distressed more than blissed out. No, it had nothing to do with shrew corpses, faithful readers. Rather, at one point, as I concentrated on the exposed tree roots and the upcoming whopper of a hill, I felt a raking across the back of my leg. And it hurt.

Oh, lawsy, a badger had just clawed the back of my calf, leaving deep, bloody cuts that would later scar up impressively. And badgers must have really dirty claws, right? Which meant that I was probably infected with badger.coli and would eventually need a kidney transplant.

Of all this, I was certain.

But after I gave my best eeeeek and then turned to spy the wiley beast, I discovered only a downed tree branch, which I had stepped on, causing it to rear up and scrape my leg.

At this point, the Trail Cam should have faded to black, but if it had continued, it would have seen me, mere minutes later, gasping and clutching my chest as I narrowly missed bisecting a garter snake on the path (I had to take a quick moment to assure myself that there are no asps in Northern Minnesota, so my fate and Cleopatra's would not be parallel) with my shoe.

Thereafter, Trail Cam kept filming, only to see me inhaling rapidly and sucking desperately for unencumbered air as I fought off an enormous gnat/mosquito/dragonfly thingy that decided to offer itself up as a sacrifice to my mouth. I had to stop in the middle of my "patoohies" and actually scrape it off of my tongue--and this was a three-finger jobbie, the thing was so huge.

At this juncture, the Trail Cam holder would be thinking to himself, "Man, do I have a lot of fine footage to edit together and send in to 'America's Funniest Home Videos'!"Other observers might be thinking, "Why, again, is trail running 'fun'?"

All I know is that it's worth it. If a badger had attacked my leg, that would be the cocktail party story to end all cocktail party stories, and if I had bisected that garter snake, I could have informed my snake-fearing mother that there was one less slitherdude on the planet to scare her, along with having good reason to finally clean my crudified running shoes. And as for the bug, well, heck, I was really, really hungry right then, almost getting bonky, so his protein offering helped me get back to the car. Or would have, if I'd swallowed it.

More philosophically, though, I have to say that yesterday's trail run restored me as all such runs do: they afford me at least one hour every day when my feet are literally in touch with dirt (the Earth, if you will), and in an age where most people go through their days perching their soles solely upon human-made surfaces, touching dirt is a gift. It's a daily sustenance, to have my feet not on linoleum or carpet or wood or asphalt for at least that hour. I get back to something more raw and less processed--I mean, really, everything our feet touch in a day is representative of someone else's intentions, right? Someone else proclaimed, "This dirt should be covered over for this reason, in this way!"

I like my feet touching something more fundamental, at least for a brief time each day. I can see how doing that affects my mental state and puts a big case of the happies on me. Then I look at our neighbor, a dour, angry woman whose marriage is strained and who lives either at work or in the mall, and I see her carefully making her way from her concrete driveway, up the paved sidewalk, into her plush carpeting, her pumps actively avoiding the grass on her lawn, and I realize: there's a reason she's like she is. She oughtta get dirty.

Attack if you will, badgers of the world. I'm there for you.

Trail Cam: out.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I'm not really "political," in the traditional sense of that term; in fact, I can just hear your cries of outrage if you knew how old I was before I voted for the first time. And to tell you the truth, I'm not sure if or when I'll vote again (I have a little side-rant here about how I'd vote if I actually could be voting FOR someone and not just against the possibility of someone else). On some level, I'm not always convinced of the "my one vote can make a difference" attitude that runs through our republic.

Despite that, I can never swear completely that I'm not political--I mean, anyone with a voice or an opinion or a thought in his/her head has to be political in some way. If you hold a value, that's politics, right? My love of running trails links me to politics, as I will support any idea that protects greenspaces. My interest in my children's health leads me to value organic foods over processed foods. I don't ever want either of my kids to go off to war. That's politics, folks.

So, despite my skepticism about the political establishment, I have to say that I am, today, all about the protest song. When music and politics meet up, I can actually get stirred. And that's exactly what's happening today, as I sit in my windowless office (a student came in today and said, "Wow, I like the tapestry on your wall. It's almost like you have something to look at. Hey, maybe you could hang a plasma tv on that wall and then just broadcast images of the out of doors, like birds flying by"), I am enjoying the efforts of another student, one from last year (sidenote: see how much you crazy students affect me?). She has been working her way through college and life by working as a, exotic dancer. Over the course of several semesters, this student moved me through her writings; thus, when she cut a Pink CD for me and dropped it off, I was so grateful for a further glimpse into her thinking.

That leads me to today, when I'm cranking Pink's "Dear Mr. President" here in my windowless box. Not only does she have pipes, she has something to say. And the point here isn't that we agree with Pink's politics but more that we appreciate that a popular voice is using her influence to send out a message of protest. You-Tube offers up a video of her singing this goose-bumpy song. Check it out:

Pink, you please me wildly at this moment.