Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reflections on repose

I've worked hard to make a home that not only makes me feel safe and at peace, but that (I hope) provides the same to my roommates (T, Oskar, and Orson).

We spend a lot of time together on the dilapidated couch snuggling beneath soft warm quilts; watching TV, reading, and writing. Orson likes to watch cat videos with T, either on T's phone or a laptop. Oskar likes to knead his nails into my skin as I brush the snarls out of his long fur. It works for everyone. Our home life is relatively calm and easy.

We also spend a lot of time in our (newly painted) periwinkle bedroom with its butter ceiling and collection of ceramic cats lining the dresser. Sleeping is my favorite. While a lot of successful people I admire claim to sleep a maximum of five hours each night (Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart, etc.) I am an eight to nine hours a night gal. I love the bliss of clean sheets and the hum of a fan. I love the intimacy of T and the boys sleeping next to me, their breathing and purrs lull me regardless of how little space Oskar leaves for me on my pillow, regardless of how hard Orson tries to push me out of bed with his sturdy legs. We slumber together and dream our dreams, and there is such peace.

Lately I've been enduring a lot of nightmares. I'm told this is pretty common right now, a brain's response to the horror of current events. Last night's dozing included visions of neglected and abused animals, a serial killer and rapist, a house fire, and a crooked cop. All in one dream! In the end I managed to catch a ride on a rhinoceros that happened to be hanging out in my backyard and we trampled the bad guys, rescued the pets, and put out the fire. If only it was that easy in waking life to put the nefarious out of commission.

Waking from a nightmare is always weird. There is the panic and adrenaline that remains from the dream and a muddled sense of "Huh?" Sometimes the bad guys lurk in the shadows, like smelly leftovers. I reach for a furry cat,  for T, and for the peace that we build together. Then, back to sleep, hoping for a better dream the next time I find one.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Embrace your inner Joan Wilder

This day in history marks the anniversary of "Romancing the Stone," released to theaters on March 30, 1984. Do yourself a favor and watch (or rewatch) this 80's classic. It is filled with ridiculous humor, fluffy romance, a woman who discovers her strength, a cat named Romeo, and hope. And we can all use a little hope these days.

Our protagonist, successful romance novelist Joan Wilder (played by the amazing, beautiful, exuberant Kathleen Turner) narrates the movie's opening scene, reading out loud as she types the final sentences of her latest book. Her voice becomes emotional as the scene crests, with Joan describing the heroine of her book neatly escaping rape and certain death, killing the bad guy, and riding off into the sunset with her man.

Joan taps "The End," sighs, lets out a sob, and dabs at her tears with her sleeves and the waistband of her shirt; overwhelmed at the power of her own words, and moved by the feelings of a job well done. Joan searches her apartment for tissue, toilet paper, paper towels - anything - to wipe away her tears and blow her nose, only to find dozens of Post-Its reminding her to buy tissue, toilet paper, and paper towels.

Joan provides a celebratory meal for Romeo on a fancy dish, finds just the right tiny bottle of airplane booze from a selection of hundreds, and settles in front of a roaring fire; content and satisfied. Then the real adventure begins, but I'll let you watch the movie yourself to learn those details.

I never fully appreciated the Joan Wilder moment until I experienced it myself. I worked for a year on my first book (well, first to be published, anyway) and a day before deadline I was able to effectively close the completed pages for the first time. (I wasn't on a manual typewriter, I didn't type "The End," but you get the point. It was more of a virtual page close.)

As I hit the save button on my laptop I was overcome with emotions: joy, relief, fear, awe, etc. and I burst into tears. My tissue box was empty and the cats rubbed up against me with confusion. I took a cue from Joan Wilder. Everyone got treats, although I had no tiny airplane bottles to celebrate with. Instead, I made an aquavit cocktail featured in my book. Not bad, but I wanted the tiny bottle.

Fast forward a few weeks and I was on a plane from Chicago headed home after a quick stint with Nordic Ware demonstrating their products at an enormous kitchenwares trade show. The flight attendants made their way to my seat, offering guests the obligatory "Coffee, tea, or...?" I reached for my credit card and smiled; finally a chance for my complete Joan Wilder moment (minus the cats)! "Gin and tonic, please."

The flight attendant waved away my card and placed TWO tiny bottles of Bombay on the tray before me. Maybe that's how Joan assembled her collection, procuring multiple bottles from kindly flight attendants. I opened one and will keep the other for another celebration that's time and reason I've yet to determine.

Embrace your inner Joan Wilder. Celebrate those moments as they happen, and then celebrate them some more. We are surrounded by circumstances that remind me of an abusive boyfriend. Politics, current events, cruelty, dead-end jobs, and a general angst breed fear and depression. We are collectively grasping for counsel and hope. Hope is everywhere, but we have to keep our eyes open long enough to acknowledge it. It comes from the completion of a job well done, and the love of a cat, and even in the generosity of strangers and a tiny bottle of airplane booze.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sacrifice, nostalgia, and a return to normalcy

We are sixteen days into Lent. Almost half-way through it! I'm using these forty days as a way to kick-start weight loss after four solid months of recipes testing (bread! pastry! sugar! cookies! more bread!). After decades of dabbling in diets and reaching for a healthy lifestyle, I know that the only way I can lose a few pounds is by eschewing the stuff I love most: bread, sugar, and simple carbs in general.

Living in this chaotic unpredictable world, the things I've been craving most (since the election and oh god, the inauguration) are these flavors I obsess over, so this particular round of dieting is more painful than it has been in the past. I am grateful that our local Starbuck's is open in the early mornings again, after weeks without them. I'll take a return to normalcy anywhere I can get it.

I've also been feeling rather nostalgic. If you are of a certain age and raised in Minnesota, especially the Twin Cities, you have a history with the department store known as Dayton's. For 100 years Dayton's reigned supreme, a beacon of good taste and amazing customer service. While the store changed hands (and names) a few times since 2001, those of us who grew up with it still refer to the stores that once were as Dayton's. The flagship store was in Minneapolis, and this month the building was sold and we said goodbye to what it represented for all these decades.

The Minnesota goodbye is a well known phenomenon. We start to leave a party about an hour before we actually go, standing at the door chatting, hugging, discussing the weather. Our collective Minnesota goodbye to Dayton's took sixteen years.

A friend of mine recently completed her novel "The Daytonians". Catherine Dehdashti generously allowed me to read her draft before it was sent to the publisher, and it was perfect timing. The plot is plump with characters who revolve around the Minneapolis Dayton's, and it reads like a love letter to our community, and to Minnesota values: friends, family, education, history, relevance, the weather, civil rights, important traditions that unite us, and popovers. (Look for "The Daytonians" in stores and online soon!)

The comfort of the familiar is exactly what I need, what we all need.

And at night I dream of pizzas, pastries, warm crusty bread dribbling with melty butter... a better world for us all.

Friday, March 3, 2017

In like a lion

It's been a heckuva year. Did I mention that already? Well, it bears repeating. And March? Heckuva month, and it's only the Third.

My Swedish-American Jul project is now with the editor and as I wait patiently to begin edits on this side of the book, I realize this little blog is far more neglected than she deserves.

I vow not to be so absent from now on. While I think of topics to thrill my two readers with, here is a small glance into the past few months....

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Potato chips and roe

My favorite snack is the marriage of perfection. The snap and salt of a crisped potato meets creamy sweet sour cream (or creme fraiche) and the salty pop of inexpensive roe. OK, more of a threesome than a coupling, but such a happy merger. Add a snip of dill and chives, and live happily ever after.

I ate a half dozen of these little guys for dinner last night, and I regret nothing. That's how good relationships are.

Happy Valetine's Day!

Potato Chips and Roe
Makes about 15 - 20 bites

1 Yukon gold potato, peeled and sliced thin with a mandoline (or a bag of kettle-cooked potato chips)
Non-stick cooking spray
5 tablespoons sour cream or creme fraiche
1/4 cup Tobiko (flying fish roe)
Fresh dill and chives

Lightly coat the potato slices with cooking spray and lay them in single layers on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 375-degrees until they begin to brown on the edges, about 10 minutes. Flip and continue baking until crisped through, about 5 additional minutes. If some of the chips brown before others, remove them from the oven. Place cooked chips on a paper towel and salt.

Set cooled chips on serving platter. Dot each with a teaspoon of sour cream and a little less than a teaspoon of the roe. Garnish with herbs. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Reaching for the familiar

  Image: Carrying mannequin legs dressed in jeans

You can see a lot during a drive along Lake Street in Minneapolis, especially after dark. It is comforting that some things don't change, regardless of how crazy the world gets.

Every morning the alarm wakes us up to the news. I shake off confused dreams to face a new barrage of "this cannot possibly be happening." Then I gently remind myself that peace begins at home and from within, and repeat my new mantra, "There is comfort and strength in the familiar."

Every breath, every bite, every kiss, every touch: I relish these things.These intimate and simple acts sustain us.

When I need to smile, I'll drive along Lake Street and wave at the man carrying mannequins in from the cold.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

You're gonna make it after all

Television shaped my generation. It certainly shaped the person I wanted to be when I grew up. When other kids were asked what they wanted to be, they usually answered "nurse," or "doctor," or "teacher." Those goals were tangible, attainable. I always danced to the beat of a unique drummer, and when I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up my answers waffled between a cowgirl, a nun, and a newsperson at the imaginary Minneapolis newsroom WJM-TV.

All those Saturday nights plunked in front of the Mary Tyler Moore show demonstrated to me that women belonged in the world outside of cleaning houses and raising children (not that there's anything wrong with that). It never occurred to me that women were doomed to spend our lives in the secretarial pool. It never occurred to me that we didn't own a legitimate place at the boardroom table. Why? Because of Mary. I didn't see work roles defined by sex. That's why I didn't want to be Mary when I grew up. I wanted to be Lou Grant.

Actually making my way in the world wasn't as easy as Mary made it look. It has been a long road. Sometimes it takes more than spunk and determination. A good dose of luck helps us stay afloat during lean times. I wonder if the whole idea of success is about as abstract as becoming a rancher-nun-news producer. Do we ever feel that we've attained success, or is the goal of life to keep reaching? I'm probably never going to carry any of those titles I gravitated toward when I was a kid, but I am determined to keep reaching for the characteristics that attracted me to those positions in the first place: adventure, helping people, telling stories.

So many women my age looked to Mary as a role model. She was the link between stay-at-home moms and women running for president. I keep an image of her tam-tossing statue pinned to my cubicle wall as a reminder of what it is I am supposed to become when I, eventually, grow up.

A few years ago while I was in grad school, I felt like I was finally on a path toward cowgirl-nun-newsperson. I was on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, sitting at the base of the MTM statue, filled with hope. I looked down at my boots, my tights, my coat and realized I was dressed exactly like Mary (minus the tam). As hokey as it was, I remember singing to myself the words from that famous song, "You're gonna make it after all."

Thanks, Mary.