Thursday, December 31, 2009

Retrospective 2009

In contrast to the preceding four years, 2009 was perfectly ordinary, undramatic and almost sleepy in its tenor. It was a good year...

January: On Chinese New Year (January 26), Josh and I made it legal at the Ramsey County courthouse. It was a Monday, bitter cold, and Charlie had some nasty stomach bug, and it was one of the happiest days of my life.
February: A squirrel broke into our front porch through the broken storm door and insinuated himself into the bag of bird seed. He stayed until spring.
March: Ellis turned six. Alaska grandparents stayed for a month. My 1993 Honda Civic was stolen from in front of our house.
April: I moved to a part-time schedule at work and got two extra days a week at home with Charlie. With the help of a conscientiously maintained budget, we managed to stay in the black and even purchase "the Ax Van," the sweetest ride for a family of five there ever was.
May: We got the garden planted. We enjoyed our first crop of rhubarb and resisted harvesting the asparagus to give the plants one more year to take hold.
June: Charlie turned one. Nate turned fifteen.
July: We foraged for wild black raspberries all over the Twin Cities. I found I couldn't stop planting this year, so I added perennials in the front yard and planted late crops in the vegetable bed. We traveled to Chicago to say goodbye to my brother-in-law's mom who died early in the month.
August: Note for next year - plant more tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes straight from the vine, larger ones sliced and salted or made into salsa were like directly ingesting summer to store up sunlight for the coming winter. It was never too hot so we got outside as much as we could.
September: Alaska grandparents stayed for two months. We snuck in a quick trip to Lake Superior's north shore.
October: I turned thirty-six. Work got crazy for Josh and me at the same time. It snowed and then it got warm again.
November: Josh turned forty-four. He and I started working out regularly and found that we yelled at the children less.
December: We got lost in a wave of holiday-induced nostalgia. It snowed a lot. Josh and I were so grateful for each other and for the life we have together with the kids.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Tis a good snow...

This is the kind of snow that makes me love Minnesota. Big, fluffy and wet with mild temperatures to go with it. It's the kind that makes me smile even knowing that I will be up in the morning digging out the cars to move for the snow plows. Even knowing that this much snow means that my six-year-old may be stuck in Wisconsin with his dad and grandparents instead of back here on Christmas morning and I'm not really sure what's "Plan B." This is the best of winter - inconvenient and beautiful. You could spend a bunch of time thinking about the former, but if give yourself fully over to the latter, it seems like yet another one of those strange miraculous things. Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas Eve.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Quiet House

St. Paul schools are in session through the end of today, Josh is at work and Charlie is at daycare. It's a Tuesday morning and I'm in my house alone. Outside there's a fresh dusting of snow and the sky is a soft, sleepy gray. I've filled the bird feeder and retreated to a quiet house to listen to the laundry turn over and over in the dryer and the sound of my own breath. I have never appreciated silence as much as I do right now.

There is a part of me that is seldom nurtured these days. The times when I am alone are brief - in the car during my commute, working out at the Y or running errands without kids in tow. At each of these times, I still encounter other people, so the solitude is not really complete. The times when I am alone in my own house with the whole world shut out border on never. So I'm using some vacation days to give my inner hermit her due - the part of me that yearns for a house in the woods with a narrow bed, a woodburning stove, some good books, and days and days in between instances of human contact. I want to hear my quiet mind, I want to hear my inner voice, I want to hear nothing.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Cookies

Ellis woke up with an ear infection on Saturday. I had something funky going on with my sinuses. This was the day that we had planned to make Christmas cookies. We did, but the vision I had in my head about how it would go wasn't quite what happened. The holidays have been like that for me since I was a kid. Expectation and excitement that turns into disappointment and stress. I can say that by this point in my spirtual development, I am at least aware of this pattern in me and can turn it around when I see it happening.
The vision for Christmas Cookie Day 2009 was one of the kind loving mother providing her kids with a holiday experience that would be etched in their memories as an example of the Norman Rockwell-like existence they grew up in. We would make perfect beautiful cookies and laugh and talk together. Instead, I was Cranky Mom with heaping helping of Control Freak Mom. As is often the case, the strength of my vision was directly proportional with my inability to play well with others. I caught on to what I was doing, but it was certainly difficult to come out of the spiral of negativity. On the up side, Ellis said that it was fun anyway, even though I was sharp with him about dumping out a big pile of sprinkles, and everyone enjoyed eating the cookies (or as Charlie calls them, "cahcos").

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Monday, December 14, 2009


Everything about this holiday season is evoking my grandmother, and I'm pleased that it's causing my fondest memories of her to surface and fill me with a strong sense of gratitude for how she influenced me. It's the truth about family that they are your best friends and your worst enemies, and as much as I can conjure up horrible memories of things she said to me that were unkind, I am also able to hear the voice of love and to admire her strongest qualities. She was an artist (though an unrecognized one) and she knew how to make things beautiful. The dreams I have at Christmastime are dreams she planted in me. It seems that every year as soon as the calendar turns to December, I begin craving the foods that she made. I remember those long dark nights with her cooking in the kitchen feeding me treats from the planned feast, and when I got older, a little peppermint schnapps. Every year, it was a smorgasbord - a tradition adopted from her husband's culture - a feast of great variety, eaten and imbibed on a beautifully planned out table. And then there was the generosity. December was a month full of presents, starting with opening one on the day we put up the tree. She couldn't wait to give and to see the excitement on our faces, and I think of her when I can't resist buying one more gift for my dear ones. I will forever think of Christmas as a time for new makeup and perfume and beautiful clothes (as well as art supplies, stuffed animals, and the inevitable post-Christmas trip to buy books to read on the break from school).

I am grateful for being raised by her, although I don't readily admit it. She was my window into a generation that had many foibles, but was indeed a more glamorous and genteel than my own. Because of her, I understand lost social mores and references from popular culture that precede the onset of television. When I take Ellis to a play, I think of how she first introduced me to movie musicals. When I watch the PBS News Hour, I remember the constant consciousness of politics. Even if eventually I didn't agree with her particular politics, she gave me the tools to be an educated citizen. When I buy clothes or cook a meal or decorate my house, I think of her. Even though I did so many things that were decidedly "unladylike" in her mind, she taught me that being a woman could be an incredibly powerful thing and that things that are considered feminine are the heart and soul of our everyday lives.

So in homage to her, I share with you Mary Lundgren's Christmas Smorgasbord (what I remember. Note to my sister: please add to this):
Swedish meatballs
Homemade baked beans
Shrimp cocktail
Pickled Herring
An array of cheeses and crackers (including Boondoost - an excellent Swedish cheese)
Vegetable tray
Egg Nog

And let's not forget...special for Christmas breakfast:
French toast with a mixture of cherry pie filling mixed with maple syrup poured over it and topped with sour cream.

Thank you, Gram, for my sense of luxury!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Heading towards the solstice...

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Box of Memories

Today I received a package in the mail from my sister. It was a box full of Christmas tree ornaments that my grandmother used to decorate her trees when I was a little girl. Oh wow! And even though I can only hang my ornaments in the top two-thirds of my tree this year because of grabby little toddler hands, I immediately put on some of my favorites:

I vaguely remember my sister and me joking about the floating disembodied Santa head. Its fluffy beard is awesome!

This little blue guy was my absolute favorite when I was little. It took my breath away when I saw it in the box.

I find that nostalgia is one of my favorite Christmas emotions.
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter Green

It's a long way to planting season on this side of the winter solstice, but there are a few things that keep the green alive during the long cold season. I found this great evergreen swag at Mother Earth Gardens in Minneapolis to use as a holiday door decoration. It's locally made and fully compostable, so it will have continued life in my garden next year.

Indoor bulb forcing is another one of my winter favorites. The amaryllis (center) is such a decadent rich red flower that reminds me of crimson lips on a starlet or valentine hearts. I also love the strong fragrance of paperwhite narcissus (left & right) that makes the house smell great while they are blooming. Add to that, cool glass containers and earthy stones or sand used for planting, and you add a great tranquil design element to your house. That little bit of peace is added motivation to keep the dining room table clear of all our family junk.
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Friday, December 4, 2009

Burger Meister

The Menu...

The Waiter...

The Chef...

Josh and Ellis concocted the idea of turning our house into the finest burger restaurant in St. Paul. If you come to Burger Meister, best to order the "Create Your Own Burger" - a steal at only 50 cents. It'll save you money when you pay for your $17 drink. The service is excellent and the chef is charmingly surly.
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Thursday, November 26, 2009


It was uneventful and ordinary and I am so grateful for these three (and for the Papa of the house in the background on his way out of the kitchen).
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gratitude (late autumn)

The mornings have frost now making leaves look like sugarplums in the thin late autumn sunlight. I walk out my front door to see this with my babbling toddler or effusive grade schooler. Whether waiting for the school bus or driving to work, I feel grateful at the start of each day that I get to live with these people in this place. I have moved on from my original crankiness about the waning light and the death of the garden. Taking these quiet moments, I am able to anticipate the coming winter wondering what it will be like this year, as winters are different like snowflakes. Right now, I hold late autumn and its unique beauty in my hand and know that satisfaction with what you have is a transferable skill in any season.
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Theology with a Six-year-old

Despite the fact that I have a graduate degree in the subject, we don't talk about religion much with the kids or try to structure their beliefs in any formal way. For this reason I'm always curious about what they think about the subject when it comes up. This week, I had a great car conversation with Ellis that started out about allergies and ended up as a theological inquiry:

Ellis: "If you didn't have an immune system, you wouldn't have allergies."
Me: "Yes, but if you didn't have an immune system..."
Ellis: "You would die. And when you are dead you don't have an immune system."
Me: "That's true. When you die eventually you don't have anything left."
Ellis: "Yeah, the only thing left when you die is your spirit."
Me: "What happens to your spirit?"
Ellis: "It walks around. Like ghosts."
Me: "Do spirits walk around on earth or do they go someplace else?"
Ellis: "On earth."
Me: "Wow, how does everyone fit?"
Ellis: "Ghosts don't take up as much space. They can go through each other."
Me: "Do you think that ghosts are with God?"
Ellis: "Yeah, because all ghosts can see other things that are like ghosts."
Me: "Oh, so God is a ghost? Do you believe in God?"
Ellis: "Yeah, God controls the weather. He makes sure it changes all the time so that we don't get bored with the weather always being the same."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Favorite Fall Clothes

This is otherwise known as the post that alienates my friend Adam because it has more feminine energy than he can handle right now. C'est moi! I have some stuff in my wardrobe that I'm really loving right now and wanted to share...

Pointy toe flats with stripey socks. I had a pair just like the blue ones when I was in seventh grade so when I saw these at Target I couldn't help myself. You don't have to ask why I bought the pink flowery ones, too. Even an elderly woman at the polls when I went to vote on Tuesday said, "I love your shoes!" The two pairs cost me $40 together. The stripey socks were half off at J. Crew. They have the best knee socks in the world. I wear them with skinny leg jeans - a look I feel ambiguous about. I vacillate between feeling hip and feeling that I look like my mom circa 1987. I also wear them to work with wide-leg trousers.

Three quarter bell sleeved jackets. I found the yellow Laura Ashley plush one at Goodwill for $8. The tweed is a J. Crew that I got at a consignment shop for $34. The original prices was $168. I know this because it still had the tags on. Fun jackets over thin cotton/silk t-shirt sweaters from the Gap and a pair of trousers is my current work uniform.

Hunter Wellies. I've had these wellies forever and mostly worn them during trips to Alaska. They are getting a lot more play this fall, especially out in the yard or walking by the river. They actually make fleece liners for Hunter wellies now, so with a pair of those, I can wear these in snow season, too.

Weekend Uniform. The red vest by Lands End is the most-worn item of the cold season. It's perfect outside on a not-so-cold day, and worn inside it keeps the heating bills lower. I call the grey sweater my "depressive sweater." All it needs is a Kleenex tucked in the sleeve. I perk it up with a jaunty scarf on those days when I've mustered enough energy to leave the house (ha ha).
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Things I'm Loving Right Now

  1. Doing math homework with Ellis - telling time, counting money, addition and subtraction facts that we make into a game by timing it.
  2. Charlie's ways - hearing him say "Hi, Mama," doing high fives, how he grabs his sock doll Nik (made with love by Mama) and his blankie and lies down on the floor when he's tired.
  3. Working out at the YMCA. My father-in-law gave us the gift of a family membership. This is almost completely wiping out the blues that come from the shortened days and a stressful work schedule.
  4. Watching the Vikings play (and mostly win) every week with Josh. Keeping running commentary and giving each other "High Favres" when good things happen.
  5. Slowly making progress on house projects that have been on the waiting list for a long time. Looking forward to this month's bathroom remodel (so long nasty floor!)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Late Crop

My workout this morning left me with lots of extra energy so I raked some leaves and dug up the last of the root crops. It's a lovely cool crisp sunny day after several days of rain. As worried as I was that we were skipping fall entirely this year and going straight to winter, it seems that there's enough of that peak autumn experience to go around.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Letting it Go

For the first time in four years, Ellis is with his dad instead of me on Halloween. Charlie whose words include "Hi," "ear" and sometimes "puppet" when he's playing with Ellis's finger puppet and he repeats the word after me, doesn't know that Saturday is Halloween. What this means for me is no trick-or-treating, no costume purchasing, and no candy in the house to counteract my workouts. I am taking a year off. I think if I never got a chance to do these things with the kids, I would be sad, but one of my main mom policies is that if the kid says he wants to do something we try our best to do it, but if no one says a word about it or I'm not on duty when it happens, I take the opportunity to let it go. It's this letting go that makes it possible for me to feel that the fun stuff is actually fun.

All this makes me think about holidays. Starting now and into the dead of winter it will be one thing after another. I'm sure that the idea behind having holidays when the days were growing short and cold was meant to be a way to take the edge off the bleakness. Unfortunately, the chance to celebrate and take a break is often replaced by expending energy and cash in large amounts at the exact wrong time of the year. About five years ago, I made it a policy not to travel to see relatives during the holidays and not to buy presents for anyone who was not my child. In the void grew a series of traditions for my own little family that really amount to enjoying time off at the darkest lowest energy point of the year. Furthermore, what I find is that because I don't feel like I have to do anything, my feelings of love and generosity are actually able to surface and we have had some of the most fun Halloweens, Thanksgivings and Christmases that I have ever had (although the bar was pretty low on that one as most of my childhood memories of these days are not so fond).

So here's to the beginning of the season of slacking and snoozing and eating and loving and numerous other non-goal-oriented, non-perfection-driven things.

Friday, October 23, 2009


It's early in the morning the day before my birthday. It doesn't look like the sun will come out today, but we're all up and writing. Ellis is busy writing me a birthday poem entitled "Fly All You Want." Poetry writing is his new thing. I remember writing my first poems in first grade like him. One even won a contest. Charlie at sixteen months will take any writing implement available to him. He's sitting at the table scribbling on a piece of paper. So far he has no desire to speak any actual English words and may just go straight to writing. I didn't want to be outdone by my progeny so I thought a post was in order. I'm realizing that I'm a little behind in posts as the end of the year approaches. As a person who doesn't make birthday wishes as much as set birthday goals (control freak much?), I'm making a commitment to match or surpass my 53 posts for the year that I had in 2008. In order to do it, I may have to change my usual style of not putting something down until it's exactly right. I need to be more like Ellis who bravely guesses at spelling or Charlie who just loves the act of putting pencil to paper.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sneaking in a few more moments at the beach...

Sometimes you get cut a break. Sometimes the kicker on the other team misses the kick in the last seconds of the game so that your team wins. Sometimes it snows on Monday and is sixty degrees the following Sunday. I don't want to ask too many questions. I know enough to take advantage a gift when it's given.
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I hesitated as to whether to call this post "Snowtober" because, yes, it snowed here this week and there's possibly more coming tonight. Look! Here's the proof:

This is where living in the moment gets a little tricky. When the moment smacks you upside the head and completely changes direction in a matter of days. When I woke up to snow Monday morning, I realized that I had no snow brush or scraper for the van since we bought it in April and the old brush was in my stolen Honda Civic. I also could only find one glove for myself and no hat that fit Charlie. Surprise! Summer's over, and by the way, there's no fall this year. Good god, mother nature, at least have the decency to wait until the leaves are off the trees!

What is the same as usual is the deep sluggishness I feel this time of year when the amount of daylight rapidly decreases. Without a few sunny golden red and orange autumn afternoons to help me store up the last bits of energy this year, I'm feeling like I'm moving in molasses. I want to spend my days inside eating, drinking wine, sleeping, watching movies, reading books, and generally not moving very much until the northern hemisphere is in a better position to see the sun. I wonder why life doesn't just shut down this time of year. Instead it tends to be a time of greater obligation. Help! I'm stuck in slooooowwww moooooootion while the world keeps moving at its usual pace.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harvest Feast

I love cooking for people, but tonight, I was able to take that joy to a whole other level. Tonight's meal was cooked mostly with ingredients that we grew this season in our own backyard. I love cooking that starts with going into the yard and digging up what's growing there. The salad was one hundred percent from the garden: late crop lettuce, carrots, and cucumbers, as well as the last fruits from the tomato plants that have been prolific this season. The main dish was a vegetable risotto with turnips, butternut squash, acorn squash, carrots and sage grown here at home. The weather turned hard this week into fall closing the door on summer, but this meal (topped off with mint and bee balm tea to accompany dessert) reminded me how generous the land was to us this summer thanks to compost from the Minnesota Zoo, diligent watering during a drought (though not so diligent weeding) and an adventurous spirit for planting late into the season. So long, summer 2009. Thank you for your deliciousness!
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kitchi Gammi

We missed last year's pilgrimage because Charlie was too small, but I wasn't going to let another season go by without a trip to the big lake. For a while there it seemed like it was going to be an unpleasant day of children with bad attitudes. Those people who thought the DVD player in the van would be a great help to parents didn't think about how it can instantly become a source of contention and a vehicle for the worst selfishness to come out. Lunch also was just short of disaster with the kids. We pushed our picky eaters with the New Scenic Cafe (local, organic, wonderfully grown up). A verdict of "NO PIE" came down, but was rescinded because we just didn't have the heart not to stop at Betty's.
Now, I have had many inauspicious trips to Lake Superior. In fact, here's the top five list (in reverse order of horribleness):
1. Morning sickness setting in at the beginning of a long-anticipated vacation.
2. Angry, twelve-year-old Nate walking off in the middle of Duluth.
3. Losing my glasses at Park Point during a work trip after having too much to drink and having to get a trial pair of contacts in order to drive home.
4. Hydroplaning on I-35 by Hinckley and spinning across the median into the opposite side of the highway, while miraculously not dying or even severely hurting my car.
5. Being on vacation with my first husband and his parents and realizing that our marriage was over and I was in love with someone else.
You would think that after all that, I would avoid that place. I can't. I love that wild, beautiful, dangerous lake so much and will always be drawn to it. Luckily, today was not an inauspicious trip. Despite all the crankiness that just confirmed my opinion that too many material comforts bring out the worst in people, especially children, once we hit the beach, everything changed. The boys, big and little, were drawn to the same things that I am - those beautiful stones, lapping waves, twisted wood washed ashore, tankers and sailboats. They frolicked and climbed, not as rivals, but as brothers enchanted by the power of the inland sea. As I watched them, I was grateful that I could give them something so wild and free (something that would surely have been forbidden from my childhood) and that they could enjoy it without even thinking about it. Conflict returned on the drive back when we were once again in the thrall of movies and music choices, but now I know that they have not yet lost the capacity to live in the real world - both terrible and wonderful.
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