......finding a new home for lutefisk lovers.

(ok we don't love it. or even like it. but we're supposed to.)

30 December 2010

The Post Christmas Analysis

I know Christmas is over. But I have a new post-Christmas ritual I'd like to share. Before the new year begins, take some time to scratch some notes about this holiday season. How did it go? What worked? What didn't? What caused you stress? What was your favorite part? Could you have done anything differently to bring more joy, get the dinner to the table more efficiently, avoid the mall, etc. Take a good hard look at these things and think about which ones ADD to your holiday. Which ones are a burden?

More often than not, we allow Christmas to happen to us. It is, as they say, the tail wagging the dog. We get thrashed around by the shoulds, the ought to's, the have to's, the people-pleasing, the demands, the rituals - some meaningful but most not, the events - some worthwhile but most not, and a calendar that shrinks by the day. In your perfect world, what would your holiday really look like?

I found my notes from last year and learned: Mike's back went out when he got home from his sales meeting. This year he got sick. Next year, I will put an as-yet-unnamed malady on the calendar; I will ask Mike to complete his tasks in November. I also learned that my favorite event of last season was the simplest: A Christmas Story at the Riverview Theater followed by pizza with friends. I need very little else. Everything else - the Holidazzle Parade, Macy's 8th floor display, a picture with Santa, the Nutcracker, etc., etc., etc., - are much more fun when you don't do them every single year. If Liam goes to the Holidazzle parade 3 times in his entire childhood, he will still remember it fondly as a holiday tradition.

I thought back on the things that made me feel overtired and overheated and hurried. About 99% of those things were mall-related.

I admitted in writing that church is a pain in the ass. There......I said it. I don't like church on Christmas. It just gets in the way......of Christmas. And I bet Jesus would agree with me.

I also admitted that I love Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You. Mock me, I don't care. I love that song. Admitting it to yourself is the first step. The next step is downloading it.

If you want your holiday to be meaningful, it has to be mindful. Taking some notes right now will bring your most hectic holiday into sharp relief........so you can leave it behind.

And next year you'll enjoy more snowy walks, more independent shops with free gift wrapping, more pizza with friends.

And more Mariah Carey.

21 December 2010

Hindsight is 20/20

Today Mike and I identified the moment that Liam decided he did not like the beach.
It was the moment this photo was taken.

In August, I posted about his resistance (Please Don't Yank My Chain Like This). About our surprise and confusion when the boy who loved the beach suddenly refuses to go.........

Today Mike is home on vacation (yay!) and we took a walk to the beach to watch the surfers. The ocean in winter is full of swollen, frothy waves that smack against the rocks for our entertainment. After each hit, I wait for the spray to shoot into the sky like fireworks (the beach in winter........I had no idea that it could heal my wounds year round).

Before heading back home, I point to an area just north of the fish shack and suggest that we check out the view from the sea wall. And Mike says, "That's where we pulled over to take a picture the day we drove Liam by the house for the first time."

And that's when it hit me: that's where his disdain for the beach originated. Right here by this fish shack just 30 minutes after we had arrived in the state of New Hampshire.

Just minutes before this photo was taken, we had driven him by our new house; showing him the place that we would call home in a just a few weeks' time. I have a picture of him looking out the car window, seeing his new house for the very first time........it doesn't contain the anticipation or the excitement or the amazement that I expected. Instead, the picture is heavy with rumination.

It was the instant he fully realized we weren't going home.

Then we drove from our new house to the beach to show him how close we were to the ocean. It's a 3 minute drive! We can come here every day! Can you believe this? We pulled over and hopped out of the car to take this photo, capturing our first visit to the ocean that was now in our neighborhood. And instead of celebrating with us, he sulked......barely looking up at the camera. In that span of 7 minutes, he was grappling with the full realization of his loss - and the stupid, clueless parents who were making him celebrate at such a time. What choice did he have but to hate the thing we were shoving in his face? We basically handed him a new behavior issue on a silver platter.

Until that day, Liam loved the beach. Now he cries and says please don't make me go.

But we do make him go. And though he complains and begs to leave, he hesitates so he can collect just one more shell. Or one more rock. Until his pockets are bulging and soggy with sea water. And when he can't carry any more, he fills our pockets. Then turns to us with his arms full of the beach and says "Can we go now? I don't like the beach."

16 December 2010

Chronology of a Christmas Meltdown

1. The Holiday Season Begins.............and it goes smoothly. Living in a new area, we have no family, no social group, and we're not involved in anything. Which sounds really sad but actually no family no friends no activities equals nothing on our calendar. And it's lovely. Our calendars, just like our houses, can get cluttered. So our new system is like an elimination diet; remove everything and eat grass. Then one by one, introduce one carefully chosen event at a time and assess for any negative reactions.

2. Sales Meeting Week.........Mike is gone for a week and it is not so bad. Because of the half-parenting and because I wrestled Mike into a planning meeting before he left in which we sketched out a budget and a gift list. He leaves and I start the legwork.

3. Mike Gets Home.........and leaves again. Wait......where are you going? I thought we could do x, y and z together. Or maybe YOU could do x, y and z. But he's going to Baltimore for a meeting. Then he comes home from Baltimore sick.

4. Sick Day Coincides with Post Office Day.........the day we had planned to have all of our gifts wrapped, packaged and sent to Minnesota and beyond. And Mike is watching TV on the sick couch. Not only are the gifts not wrapped or packaged, there are several gift ideas that failed. So before the trip to the post office, I have to run out and pick up a few more items. But I forget that the geography of this place prevents me from "running out" for things. Don't you "run out" to Target? I always say I'm going to run out to Target - and two hours later I'm coming home with milk. But, nonetheless, I have to "run out" for a couple gifts before my post office run. And I'm searching (unsuccessfully) for a go-to store like Patina and every store is 10 miles away. And the next store is 10 miles from that one. So my "running out" for a few things turns into an all day cross-country roadtrip. I'm starting to hate my car. Quickly quickly get your things so you can get to the post office so you can get home for bus time and cookie baking. Because.......

5. Post Office Day Also Coincides with Cookie Day........Two days prior, a note came home in the backpack asking parents to bake an ASSORTMENT of HOMEMADE cookies to be distributed to the teachers and staff as a Christmas gift. The cookies are due tomorrow. Such a lovely idea.....if I had known about it 3 weeks ago. And it specifically says "homemade" so I can't "run out" to the store and get some Mint Milanos to wrap up with pretty cellophane. I'm generally hostile about forced baking; I mock people who get stressed out because they haven't finished their baking. Now I'm one of them. But they can forget about an ASSORTMENT.

6. Post Office Day is Only 1/3 Successful..........the west coast gifts get purchased, wrapped and shipped. But I come up short when I make the bold move to drive by Best Buy with my middle finger up. I just cannot go in that store again. So I keep driving. Even though it means the rest of the packages will not get shipped today. While I drive, I brainstorm ways to pass off store-bought cookies as homemade.

7. Racing Home For Bus Time.........because we are required to meet our children at the bus. If you are not there at bus time, Frank the Bus Driver takes your kid back to school and you get in big trouble. I keep reminding myself that if I get pulled over for speeding, I will FOR SURE not get there for bus time.

8. 3:15 Bus Time......I make it. The bus arrives and Frank holds his hands up in dismay; he says Liam didn't get on the bus. I repeat: Liam is NOT on the bus. We check under the seats to see if he's playing a funny trick. He missed the bus last week but I got a phone call from the office one minute after dismissal time telling me of his whereabouts. It's now 35 minutes after dismissal time. I call the school secretary........is he there? Did he miss the bus again and you just forgot to call me? But it's clear he's not sitting patiently in the office waiting for a ride. She puts me on hold so she can search the school. When I'm on hold, it occurs to me to panic - especially when Mike gets off his sick couch and stands 12 inches in front of me, staring at me like Mel Gibson in "Ransom" - making the hold time seem like that period of time that the police refer to as "crucial."

92 hours later, the secretary gets back on the phone and says "He's at Weird Science."

Weird Science........the after school program he goes to every Wednesday. EVERY Wednesday.

8. I go upstairs and have a meltdown.

EPILOGUE: The next day, I "run out" to the store and get a 2 liter of Pepsi and a bag of Cheeseburger Doritos and watch movies on the couch.

10 December 2010

Merry Sales Meeting!

Every year during the first full week of December, Mike prepares for the holiday ritual of his semi-annual sales meeting; gathering together with all the shoe salespeople of the world to celebrate sales. Sales of all kinds. This holiday tradition takes him to all sorts of places far away from home starting early on Sunday morning until late Friday night. A full week away from home to celebrate sales. At the height of the hectic Christmas season.

(rant about poor timing and the burden left to the Christmas elves at home DELETED. He's well aware and, yes, he feels badly.)

This is not new for me; I am a well-seasoned single parent. In fact, my single parenthood was the primary motivation for this move. Because that was NOT what I had signed up for (she said over and over and over again). It's not what anyone should sign up for unless you really get off on being a martyr. Which I don't.........I could never qualify for martyrdom because that would involve keeping my mouth shut. I was a demanding, resentful, unforgiving wife - and rightly so. I deserved every outburst and every Janet Jackson-themed barrage of "what have you done for me lately?" Because we are not meant to do this by ourselves.

But NOW, post-move, after several months of no single-parenting, the biggest inconvenience during Mike's Holiday Absence is wondering if we should go ahead and watch the Grinch or wait and watch it with Daddy.

Big sigh of relief.

But the notion of Daddy being gone a full week is unfathomable to most people (again, rightly so). And the news is usually met with some form of "Omigod, how do you do it?"

And I usually answer "Not very well" (remember the demanding, resentful wife wagging her finger Janet Jackson-style?). But what I really mean is..........I cut corners. All small corners, and certainly unnecessary corners and, yes, even some big, important corners. You know all those things you're supposed to do as a good parent? I don't do those. I'm more like "Maybe you could get your own breakfast in the morning. The sugared cereal is on the counter and there might be milk." And that doesn't bother me. Because, really, who ever died because they didn't have milk in the house? Self-preservation is the name of the game. Anything that makes more work for me is bad for Liam.........in the form of a parent who resembles a snapping turtle. Or maybe a wolverine.

I actually have a system for dealing with the wolverine. I figure I just need to own it as my own condition (it's all about "I" statements) and I need to give him fair warning. As in (very calmly) "Liam, I need to warn you that I'm starting to lose my mind. And if you fall off that chair one more time, I don't think I can take it. And I'm going to start yelling and throwing dish towels. Do you understand?" (falls off chair) "THAT'S IT! I'VE LOST MY MIND! NOW I'M YELLING! DINNER IS OVER! GET OUT! GET OUT! I'M DONE PARENTING NOW!"

We've already discussed my half-assed domestic skills and that goes triple when Mike is gone. The LAST thing I need when Mike is gone is a clean house. Or clean underwear. I'm a very resourceful person and I'll just figure that one out without having to add to my burden. What I need is more down time not less. And if I play my cards right, I can go the whole week without loading or unloading the dishwasher. It helps if you go out for lunch every day. And I don't ever "make" a real dinner; it's leftovers, breakfast, lunch or Subway (I actually get a boost from Subway because it's a TREAT! No whining! No protesting! Just "I love you Mom!" So that goes right back into my personal energy reserve! Everyone wins!).

But then there are days when the inner parenting critic pays a visit. And I think I've taken the half-parenting thing too far. When I haven't seen Liam for 2 hours (oh how lovely! wait....that's sad) because he's upstairs watching TV completely unsupervised. And if I check on him, the serenity will be shattered because I'll have to say this show is inappropriate and promotes sassy mouth (whine cry negotiate beg). Then I start counting how many baths he had (zero) and how many vegetables he's eaten (zero) and how much exercise he's gotten (does recess count?) and I start the reflective shame spiral. It gets easier and easier to think of all the ways you're failing your child - they just pop into your brain like prairie dogs. The inner parenting critic only shows where you fail. It never shows you a list of all the amazing things you do. It only exists in that failed moment saying "Yeah, this is bad. Do you want to hear a list of "shoulds" to help you see all the ways you're f*cking up?"

Until I take control and say "HEY! You are conveniently forgetting yesterday when we read both The Song of Hiawatha and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere! Two epic poems in one day! That's heavy stuff for a 2nd grader so I get extra credit for that! And I think an hour of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow cancels out an hour of iCarly, don't you? And what about tonight? How many parents do you know who discuss the various movements of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite with their 8 year old boys? And find youtube clips of the Russian Dance, the Arabian dance and the Chinese Dance to help illustrate the point? I can even spell Tchaikovsky! And AND did you forget that I read Twas the Night Before Christmas to his class this morning? Or how I coached him through the news that Grandma's cat had died? How come you don't write that stuff down in your little book?"


I thought so. Write it in your book, friends. Because, apparently, it's possible to be both lame AND amazing. Lame and amazing can co-exist and produce a top-notch human being.

Just try not to be lame all the time. You shouldn't try to be amazing all the time either. If you're amazing all the time, I don't want to hear it. Because you're either bat shit crazy or..........bat shit crazy.

03 December 2010

Size Matters

Mike measures his success by the size of his Christmas tree.

In the early years of our marriage we had small salaries and small apartments and he always lobbied for not getting a tree. And I was like "What's WRONG with you? You don't NOT get a tree." Our first year, we didn't have any ornaments so we nestled our Christmas cards in its Charlie Brown branches. It was so pathetic. And what I didn't know then was that the tiny trees shamed him. That squat, misshapen tree with no ornaments was a direct threat to his masculinity and his ability to provide for his woman (who was, at the time, making $30 more per paycheck).

Then one year, he didn't balk and sigh at the prospect of getting a tree (this was promotion #1). But, unfortunately, I had to prolong the shame. We picked out a perfectly normal sized tree, not a Charlie Brown tree. Two very nice gentleman loaded it into a cart and hauled it to the cashier stand. Then it was maneuvered into the Christmas tree wrapping machine where it was twisted and spiraled until it was wrapped in a tight mess of twine. I took out my check book and asked "How much?"

Hearing the answer, I put my checkbook back in my purse, narrowed my eyes at them and said "PUT IT BACK." Don't offend me with your un-Christmasy prices. And we went home with another Charlie Brown tree.

But with each promotion, the balking and the sighing decreased and the enthusiasm peeked through a little bit more. Until one year he declared "That one's not big enough!" and kept stomping his Sorels down the row of trees. It took me by surprise, this sudden "I actually do care about the Christmas tree" bravado. And I mustered a confused "Oh....ok....." and simply followed until he found a tree that imbued him with a commensurate amount of virility. I wasn't going to rock this new boat lest it sail away into the sunset.

Fast forward to the present..........to the most important promotion yet . A promotion that involved moving our family cross country to what is essentially a new planet in hopes that it will somehow be worth it in the end. We arrive at the Christmas tree farm in Vermont and Mike asks the owner where the 9 foot trees are.

The owner is a Brian Doyle Murray look-alike from the movie Vacation ("that includes wildlife fun") and he smirks a little bit as if to say "Calm down, Sparky." He questions him: "How tall are your ceilings?" And Mike says "9 feet."

I exchange a look with Brian Doyle Murray so he knows that I am the sane one.

"Well, now don't forget you have the Christmas tree stand which adds several inches. And you need room for the star." He's done this before; talking sense into overexcited city-dwellers who can't do math.

Mike dismisses him handily and starts clomping away toward the the tallest trees, sending a clear message that he needs no help finding the trees for successful people. Liam and I clamber helplessly behind him. I've decided I'm not going to fight him on this. I will refrain from being the voice of reason. I've already won the short-hair vs. long-hair battle; as long as I get a short-hair balsam or frasier, and not a fat tree with long needles, I'm pretty happy. Plus, I kind of want to see how this turns out.

He chooses a tall tree. I ask if he wants to measure it to make sure it fits - but he ignores me. I'm looking at that tree and thinking someone is delusional. But I keep my mouth shut. It's all you, dude.

We arrive home 3 hours later and haul the tree into the garage where Mike, wisely but tardily, directs Liam to get a tape measure. Perhaps 3 hours and 189 miles ago would have been a better time to measure, I think to myself.

He measures the ceiling: 94 inches.
He measures the tree: 117 inches.

We need to lop off almost 2 feet just to get it into the house. And that's not making allowances for the stand and the star. I'm working really hard to suppress a smile but I'm still not saying anything. In a very Clark Griswold fashion he mumbles "Oops. Well.....that's ok. I have to trim it up a little anyway."

A little? He is clearly not doing the math on purpose.
He really NEEDS this tree to be nine feet tall. If it's a lesser tree than last year this move could all be in vain.

I watch where he places the saw on the trunk........and give him a gentle reminder. "Don't forget about the tree stand."

"That's only an inch."

"And the star. Don't forget about the star."

"That's only a few inches."

"It's more like 12 inches." My rational side is fighting its way out.

"Don't worry about it! I'll figure it out!" he says, frustrated.

Really, the only way I can see this working is if he cuts the tree off in the middle so the tree ends in a plateau rather a point. Maybe we could put our presents on top of the tree instead of under it. But he trims it, puts it in the stand, and we carry it inside. Never have we had a tree so big that it required two people to carry it.

Mike sets the stand on the ground and we slowly raise it, raise it, raise it.........until it stops......... at a 60 degree angle to the ground.

Still keeping my mouth shut.

"Ok," he says, "let's get it back outside. Can you lower it back down? (pause) Kristin......let go. Let it down. (pause) What are you doing?"

I wave my hands at him jazz-hands style to show him that I've already let go. In other words, I'm not holding the tree up. In more other words, the tree is STUCK at a 60 degree angle in our family room, wedged between the floor and the ceiling; the pointy tree top gouged into our crisp, white ceiling.

I see his proverbial balloon slowly deflating......like he's starting to see the light just a little bit. And I see him cringe at the sight of an imperfection in our freshly painted family room. He carefully dislodges the tree and we carry it back outside.

He starts trimming again but I can see it's still not adequate. Why is he fighting this so hard?

"Don't forget the star."

"Kristin, I'll take care of it!"

But he's clearly not. Watching him continually prune more and more off that tree is like watching him prune his very manhood. So I try not to be the snarky wife. But I'm curious to see what happens when he "takes care of " the star.

This time the tree fits without destroying anything. The top of the tree reaching toward the ceiling with just a fraction of an inch to spare. I hand him the star. The 12 inch star. And he takes it confidently like "watch me, woman."

And he gets in there and starts wrestling branches until the star sits cradled not so much on top of the tree but more in FRONT of the top of the tree.

And it looks just fine.

I laugh.......happy that he was able to pull this off with his manhood mostly in tact. Because if there was ever a year that he needed a visual reminder of his success, it would be at this very moment.......far flung as we are from the people and places we normally hold dear at Christmas time. All in the name of his career.

He's keenly aware of the price Liam and I have paid for this move. And he really needs his career to pay off for us.

And by the looks of this tree, I think we're going to be just fine.

27 November 2010

What was that???!!!!

I'm sitting at my kitchen table............and I just heard gunshots! I swear to god! Two of them! Pow! (pause) Pow! Like that! Are there deer hunters in my back yard? Can I not leave my own house? What is the protocol???!!!

If I were in my house in Minneapolis, I would lock the doors and call 911. But I'm guessing this is not the same thing. But just because they're AIMING at animals does not mean that humans can't get shot! It's not like they use special animal bullets or something (do they?).

Last year at Thanksgiving, I went for a walk in the woods on my in-laws property in central Minnesota........when I heard gunshots. Oh sh*t! I freeze and look around me - and see a man sitting in a tree looking right at me. And I don't have my glasses on but I swear it looks like he's aiming a gun in my direction. We're both still as statues. I look down to see what I'm wearing. All deer colors! I'm dressed like a deer. I wave to him in a very human-like fashion but he doesn't wave back. I'm afraid to move too much lest he think I'm a frightened deer trying to escape. That's when they shoot, right? But I can't shout because all the hunters will be mad at me for scaring the deer away.

WAIT! What am I thinking? I don't want to ruin his day so I'm going to let him shoot me?

So I start politely shouting - "Hellooooo.......I'm a girl, not a deer!" And when I feel that I've sufficiently made my presence known, I start moving toward the house. Rapidly and nervously but trying ever so hard not to move like a deer. Which turns into something like a penguin running.......all stiff-legged with my arms at my sides.

When I get safely to the house, I feel like crying and raging all at the same time (which is not unusual for me - but still). I can't go for a freakin' walk on private property? Because I might get SHOT?! But no one else seems as riled up as I am.........my husband in particular. Because it's deer hunting season. Like that's an adequate excuse for unintentionally shooting someone. Like if I HAD gotten shot, they'd all stand around at my funeral, holding their cups of punch, saying "Well, it WAS deer hunting season......"

(by the way, for those of you who don't know, I would like to have "Bust a Move" played at the conclusion of my funeral. My friend Martha has promised me she'll stand up in her pew and dance. Takin' it to the fellowship hall! Yeah!).

And now, sitting at my kitchen table, wondering if it's safe to go in my own backyard, I'm greeted with the same complacency. Mike is nonplussed about the gunshots and wondering why I'm so defiant. Can this really be normal?

I felt so much safer when I could just lock my doors, call 911 and know that someone would say "That's a big deal!" and start kicking some ass.

22 November 2010

The Art of the Home

Today, I hung the first piece of art in our newly painted house…………...and suddenly the house is ours.

I chose something new, something native, something dramatic to reignite the spark this house has needed for so long; you can’t give nothing to a house and then expect that she’ll give you something in return. This piece gives her an identity.

The image above is a self portrait by local photographer Alexandra de Steiguer as she stands on the Isles of Shoals.

The Isles of Shoals are a group of small islands and tidal ledges situated 10 miles off the coast of Rye, New Hampshire.

One of the islands is known as the site of Blackbeard's honeymoon and then for the notorious 1873 murders of two young women. The latter is recalled in the 1997 novel, The Weight of Water, by Anita Shreve (and in the film of the same name),

This past winter marked photographer Alexandra de Steiguer’s thirteenth winter on the Isles of Shoals as the desolate rock’s sole off-season caretaker. From November to April the nine islands that create the “Isles of Shoals” are completely empty save for de Steiguer and the occasional, sometimes unexpected, guest.

My house is now grounded by a piece of art; something that lifts her identity out of the gutter and aligns her with the atmospheric coast of New Hampshire. This ain't no 1980's tract home anymore.

Here's a peek at some of the artist's other work:

19 November 2010

A Day in the North End

Liam and I are at our best on vacation. He's happy, excited and cooperative. Our recent cross-country roadtrip notwithstanding since he was all too aware that we were peeling him from his very existence. Replace "happy, excited and cooperative" with "whiny, contrary and stubborn" and you have our 2010 vacation in a nutshell. But, in general, both of us crave a change of scenery............Liam has always been energized by the new and different. As a baby, he would fuss incessantly until I walked him, face out, from room to room so he could seek out new material. "Playing" with him was a losing battle unless we went to someone else's house ("don't insult me with that teething ring! You showed that to me yesterday!").

On this vacation day, the two of us take the train to Boston. Taking the train into the city gives me a shot in the arm. It feels so urban, so communal........there's no public transportation in the woods. We see all kinds of people, of all colors, speaking all kinds of languages, young and old, well-dressed and sloppy, disabled and sprinting, happy, sad, angry, drunk, and happy......and more happy.

I give Liam some change to put in a homeless man's cup and it makes his day.........Liam's, not the homeless man's. Although, the man was lovingly grateful.

On the train, we look out the window and listen to our iPods and finally make our way to the Cafe Car for a snack. Liam is insistent that he make the choices and buy the items all by himself. I try to come in and look at the menu but he shoos me out. "Go sit down! Go sit DOWN!" he says. I think it's adorable how he's experimenting with independence until he returns with two shiny red cans of Coke. He shrugs and says "It's all they had."

Note to self: Loosen up on the Coke thing. If you want Liam to want something with all his might and lie, cheat and steal to get it........simply forbid it. *And we'll talk later about what a hypocrite I am.

Liam's time away from the city has been brief but impactful. He's wary in the train station. Holds my hand firmly (which was babyish the day before) and keeps admonishing me for opening my purse. He stays by my side the entire day - no breakaways where I scream and grab him by the hood. And he's nervous about missing the train home even suggesting we return to the train station early so we have plenty of time. Is this growing maturity or an emerging anxiety? Either way, it's nice. It's like the kind of parenting you see in TV commercials (but not the ones for cleaning products).

We make our way to Boston's North End and just become a part of the neighborhood for a few hours. We wander the streets, listening to people scream in Italian (they really do that!), stopping along the way when we see something interesting (or yummy.)

Speaking of yummy, we stop in Lulu's Bakeshop (to load up on Coke bottle gummies - it's the Coke thing again) and we make an exciting discovery..........are you aware that Cadbury makes a candy bar called a "Curly Wurly" which is a braid of caramel covered in milk chocolate? The "stretchiest, bendiest" candy bar in the world?! Does this sound familiar?! It's a MARATHON bar, people!!!!! If you're not jumping up and down right now, you were probably born in the 80's (the Marathon bar was discontinued in 1981 despite robust sales at my local Snyder's Drug store). We buy one for Mike. Who jumps up and down when he opens it and sees the chocolate covered braid.

Although the North End is nothing like the ghetto, I sing Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto" all day. Like even the ghetto is a refreshing change when you live in the woods.

Here's a peek at our day:

We do research to find real Neapolitan pizza like our beloved Punch Pizza in Minneapolis. We find it at Antico Forno - Liam gives it a 5. The sauce is juicy but the cheese is a little Shakey's-ish. I still choke down an entire pizza by myself.

We find pocket playgrounds all over the neighborhood - dropped in between buildings like they exist in secret. We stop to play hopscotch and learn about graffiti.

Liam wants to know the origins of gelato and how it's made and why they don't call it soft serve. But the gelato-counter-girl doesn't know. Welcome to my world, gelato-counter-girl.

We visit the Old North Church of "One if by land, two if by sea" fame. Liam prefers the gift shop and begs for a giant pencil. Haven't we all begged for a giant pencil? And, just so you know, Paul Revere's statue horse is anatomically correct. Why I was compelled to check, I have no idea.

We tour Paul Revere's house in about 62 seconds flat. Which is fine with me. Did you know that he had 16 children? Keep it in your pants, dude.

16 November 2010

Everything is Wicked Awesome!

This is one of the paint stores on my circuit. It's wicked awesome! Actually, it's exactly like all the other paint stores but it has a wicked awesomer name.

13 November 2010

Reap What You Sow

There are some things you hear about a place and you hope they're true. You create an image in your mind and you hope it's not just something created for TV. But sometimes, we wander off the tourist path and stumble upon the less-charming reality. Driving in Ireland, Mike and I turned off the scenic route to increase our speed and I was like "This isn't Ireland.......it's Fridley." Everyplace has its strip malls and gas stations and apartment buildings, doesn't it?

But I'm happy to say that the picture above actually exists in my little New England town. A lovely little haven of color and goodness on a winding country road that I pass on my way home from virtually everywhere. Under the big umbrella each day were baskets of of plump red tomatoes, fat round squash and mason jars full of fresh cut flowers for $5.00. When we first arrived this summer, I was dying to buy flowers. How could you not buy flowers from someone who so clearly understands how flowers should be enjoyed? Cut fresh from a neighbor's garden and tightly packed into the simplest of jars to create a riot of color. But every time I drove by, the umbrella stand was unmanned. So initially, I take joy just from the sight of it.

But eventually, I pull over thinking I might have to ring the doorbell or something. And bless her trusting heart, I don't need to ring the doorbell because the farmer has a bucket full of money on the table. It's labeled "Honor System." And I pause to bask in the self-esteem boost I've just received; this farmer knows I'll do the right thing. And I pause again to appreciate how this person must believe that people are generally good by nature.

I put my five bucks in the bucket and choose my oh so charming jar of fresh flowers. Just then, the farmer appears from the backyard and, get this, she wants to make sure I don't overpay! She isn't pleased with the condition of the flowers that day so she knocks a dollar off the price. She peels the lid off the bucket and digs my money out of the collection and hands it back to me.

I was on my way to my car with my flowers.
Perfectly happy to pay full price.
But she stopped me.

So I ask her about her "Honor System" bucket. Does it work? Does she ever get cheated? And she answers proudly - not once has she been jilted. She's gotten a couple of notes that say "Don't have money today. Will pay tomorrow." And the next day, her bucket is always overpaid.......sometimes accompanied by more notes. Notes of gratitude or notes that include recipes for the previous night's dish.........a dish made with her produce.

It's the perfect example of reaping what you sow.

The umbrella stand recently closed for the season. The same way the Dairy Queen closes every year and shows us that warm days are behind us and it's time to get serious. But the umbrella stand gives me a toe hold; something to keep me from sliding backward into the occasional pity party. If I can make it through a winter here, I can look forward to a riot of color come springtime - just by dropping my five bucks into the "Honor System" bucket.

10 November 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name.......is just not the same.

I remember the name of every paint color I lovingly chose for 4041. Violet Vespers, Twilight Chimes, Willow Creek, Sweatshirt Gray, Golden Cricket, Sweet Pear, Rain Forest, Sand, Woodlawn and Mango Tango Beans. I chose Mango Tango Beans just so I would have more opportunities to say Mango Tango Beans.

I am done pretending that I don't choose paint colors based on their names.

Here's my routine: I stand in front of the wall of paint chips and let my eye wander. When it lands on a contender, I pull it out and read the name. If it's something intriguing - something that evokes a feeling, something that enhances my vision for the room..........something like Baby Chick or Winter Lake or Coastal Fog - then I hold on to it. If the name calls nothing to mind or worse, has an unpalatable connotation - like Ozark Shadows (too hillbilly) or Princess Ivory (too Disney) or Night Train (too derelict) or Angel's Wings (too evangelical) or Buckland Blue (who's that? it doesn't even mean anything) - then I put it back and keep looking.

When my painter arrives to discuss colors, I have a stack of paint chips and a folder full of pages torn from magazines. We volley names back and forth in our conversation like scientists spouting mathematical equations. She shows me a sample of a colors she thinks may work - painted on a paint stick. And I hesitate because I need to ask what it's called. How can I judge the color if I don't know what it's called? I fear the professional painter (and rational human being) might think me a kook if I say, "I don't know. What's it called?"

So I'm silent.....incapable of mustering an opinion. I try to sneak a peek at the can out of the corner of my eye. But it's not labeled. BLAST! I crack and let the words slip - "hmm......what's the name of it?" She nonchalantly says she doesn't know. So I can't add it to the list of contenders. It has no identity, no personality, no vibe. So the color is dropped.

She suggests another color called Litchfield which I immediately reject because I'm going for a relaxed coastal feel......and Litchfield is a small farming community in central Minnesota that sits in close proximity to the world's largest ball of twine. It just wouldn't work. It doesn't hit me until later that she never actually showed me the color before I rejected it. Momentary embarrassment.

For the main living areas of the house, we create a list of finalists. They are Sea Pearl, Shoreline and Pale Oak. We paint boards and move them all around the house at different times of day, in different light, for days and days. I keep asking Mike "Which one do you like now? How about now?" And he keeps insisting that they're all the same color. So I take full responsibility for choosing the color that will surround us each and every day for as long as we live in this house. It gets narrowed down to Sea Pearl and Pale Oak. And it's close. Very, very close. But, in the end, I choose:


Of course I did! Like you didn't know that! Because, as nice as it was, Pale Oak just doesn't mean anything to me! How can oak even BE pale, anyway? It just doesn't make sense.

So now you're wondering what Sea Pearl is, right? Those of you who have been inside 4041 know that I have no tolerance for boring colors. A room should make a statement - I'm spicy! I'm bohemian! I'm sophisticated and worldly! Walls that go unnoticed are a miserable failure. A waste of paint. But, like I said in last week's post, the final decision rests with the house. And here is what she chose:

Introducing........ Sea Pearl

I can hear you all gasping....."Kristin is using WHITE?????!!!! I don't even KNOW her anymore!" But this house could never pull off Golden Cricket with any sort of authenticity. This house is like your sophisticated aunt, maybe she's an art dealer, who continues to wear tailored Chanel well into her golden years. And she always has a fabulous handbag. 4041 was more of a spirited young woman coming of age during prohibition. She's a good girl but she pushes the boundaries. Maybe a suffragette. Destined to be a flapper.

But don't let the white fool you; it wasn't chosen to blend into the background. It was chosen to illuminate and pop like Coco Chanel's designer sunglasses.

That should get the "Sadness" outta here.

04 November 2010

Personality in a Can

When we first moved into this house, we knew that painting would be imminent. And necessary. Very, very necessary. The color blanketing the first floor is a light rust that we have named "Sadness." The upstairs color is called "Flesh." The trim is a cloying reproduction of a colonial blue that was chosen to compliment the twee wallpaper. Remember the wallpaper? The wallpaper that burns holes in your retinas if you look directly at it? Here's a picture in case you forgot:

Our plan was to paint a little at a time so we could ration our money in a reasonable fashion. I love how HGTV says that paint is the cheapest way to remodel your house; but that's only if you don't use a primer, you only do one coat, you don't paint the trim..........and you do the actual painting yourself. Which we haven't done since The Dining Room Debacle at 4041.......when the edge work along the ceiling (which was not square) wavered ever so slightly. It couldn't be seen by the naked eye but it bothered Mike enough to call in a professional for a whole new paint treatment. Lesson learned: it's very difficult for perfectionists to be frugal.

But "Sadness" and "Flesh" were starting to affect our moods. And I'm pretty sure they were making the house smell like actual sadness and flesh. Like scratch and sniff paint. I'd rather have the house smell like pot than sadness and flesh. (*for more information about our attempts to rid our house of sadness while filling it with the smell of mary jane, please read last month's post called "The Smudge Stick.")

So we scrap the "little by little" plan and commit to dousing the house all at once. Like a flea bomb. We call painters and get a bid. Mike looks at the bid.........looks up at "Sadness"..........looks down at the bid..........looks up at "Sadness".........and says "Let's do it!!! What can we sell?"

And now the fun begins. It's not like I haven't been thinking about this since the day the previous owners accepted our offer. In Minnesota, long before we moved, I'd say "Mike, what do you think about using a blue in the downstairs bathroom?" And he'd be like "What downstairs bathroom?"

Poor Mike is tired of talking about paint colors. It means nothing to him and I sound obsessed.

"Did you get a chance to look at that "Robin's Nest?" Do you like it more or less than "Bird's Nest?" What do you mean there's no difference? There is too a difference."

I browse paint stores daily, standing in front of the wall of paint chips, waiting for something to catch my eye and change my life. Pulling out one at a time, holding it up to the light, holding it down to the light, holding it next to a similar color, putting it in my bag. I have a circuit of stores I visit so they don't know I do this every day - so it doesn't look like I have a problem. But I can stop any time I want. I just don't want to.

When the accumulated mass of paint chips falls out of my bag, I feel the shame of a secret hoarder. So I start sorting and classifying them into separate ziploc bags when I get home. Then I distribute them around the house........to give the illusion of less. Mask the depth of my preoccupation. I can hear the conversation with my PA (Painter's Anonymous) support group : Did you visit a paint store today? (yes.) Did you visit a paint store yesterday? (yes.) Do you have paint chips hidden in your house? (yes.) Do you have paint chips in your bag right now? (yes! but I don't even like these! I've hardly looked at them!)

But, through the madness, a clear ending is in sight. I always feel that the proper color is ultimately chosen by the house, not the inhabitants. Just like with children, I provide a limited range of choices (ok, not limited at all) and the house's preference will eventually emerge. If it doesn't, then you're choices aren't good and you have to start over. I'm sure this house didn't choose "Sadness" and "Flesh;" and over time, it buckled under the strain of this persona. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Someone needs to set this house free.

02 November 2010

Vampire Weekend

It never occurred to me that Halloween culture varies by region until I found myself awkwardly dressing Liam in his costume on October 30th. That's right - October 30th. NOT Halloween. Apparently, our elected town fat cats dictate not only the day for trick-or-treating (any day as long as it's not Halloween. Seriously.......this is what I'm told) but also the time for trick-or-treating (4-7pm). Live free or die my ass.

The day takes me by surprise and I don't feel the proper amount of spooky anticipation.......because it's rushed. Something akin to that dream we all have where we're late for the final exam in a class we've never attended. Then I look at my watch and realize I've made no trick-or-treating plans........how is it done here? Do all the neighborhood kids go together or does each family go independently? Should I call and do some arranging? But wait - I'm the new girl. Shouldn't they call me? But maybe they're not calling because this is not traditionally a group activity........so there's my answer. Or maybe they're not calling because there's some secret trick-or-treating place like the mall or the fire station and everyone assumes we know about it but we don't and we'll be walking the neighborhood all alone. Or maybe they're not calling because they don't care for us. Oops - went too far.

Suffice it to say, it worked out well enough. Liam got a bag half full of candy including one full-size box of Milk Duds (super score!) and he traipsed up and down the street with some of the neighbor kids.......until he got bored and asked to go home. As in, "No Mom, we can skip these houses and go straight home (yes, I'm aware that I'm passing up opportunities for more candy)."
I can understand getting tired. I can even understand getting bored. But I don't understand turning down candy that you could easily get just by knocking on a door that's on your way home.
My theory for this strange behavior: IT'S NOT HALLOWEEN! There's a distinct lack of vibe in the air. BECAUSE IT'S NOT HALLOWEEN!

The next day - the real Halloween - was awkward. What do we do now? Do we pretend it's not Halloween? Is it just done? We put our thinking caps on.

We'd heard about a Halloween parade in Portsmouth (so apparently not everyone is so laissez faire about Halloween). Could this be the answer to our Halloween conundrum?

The answer is.......... YES!

This was not your average family-friendly Halloween parade with parents pulling train engineer preschoolers in Thomas the Tank Engine wagons. This was a march for every theater geek, starving artist and social outcast who feels invisible to the masses. This was an explosion of creativity. A rally cry for self-expression. A riot of belly dancers, zombies and drag queens topped off with a rag tag street performance of Thriller. It was a Pac Man chasing a little blue ghost down the parade route. It was Cheech & Chong with a joint the size of a broom handle. It was a suburban dad carrying a doll in a baby bjorn (a brightly lit cigarette hanging out of baby's mouth).
On our way back to our car, we walked under a shower of candy raining down on our heads. We looked up to find 3 little girls hanging over their balcony gleefully throwing handfuls of candy onto the street below. They had as much fun showering us as we did scrounging on the ground and filling our pockets with chocolate. They giggled and tittered and pranced like manic apparitions in the sky.

Now that's Halloween. It was the most fun I've had in a long time.

And so, for us, Halloween was not just saved but raised from the dead.
And I can't wait for next year.

31 October 2010

(I took this photo on the sly - from my slow moving car. The elaborate Halloween display guarding the gates is wildly lit at night.......with orange bulbs and red glowing eyeballs. It belongs to a neighbor of mine who is a celebrity of sorts; perhaps a writer. One who might be responsible for several off the charts bestsellers with titles that sound something like "The BaVinci Mode." Does anyone know the appropriate etiquette regarding trick-or-treating at homes with security gates?)

27 October 2010

The "40 Before 40 List:" Salem, Massachusetts at Halloween

Many years ago, on the cusp of our 30th birthdays, my posse and I put our heads together and created a list; a list that would shape our attitude toward our next decade. It was called "The 40 Before 40 List" and contained 40 items for each of us to experience/accomplish/enjoy before our 40th birthdays. Examples include 1) run a marathon 2) get published 3) stop wearing nursing bras 4) get arrested (that was me. People like me only get arrested when they are standing up for something they believe in...........or if they're having a really good time. It seemed like a good thing to include).

Another one of my list items was 33) visit Salem, Massachusetts during Halloween. And now that I'm a New Englander, I can visit Salem easily in a DAYTRIP (hooray for the daytrip!). My friend Colleen, a member of my posse, came along as my co-pilot. Which turned out to be quite necessary even though we used a GPS device. Or maybe BECAUSE we used a GPS device. That's a post for another day: "GPS: Friend or Enemy?"

We arrived in Salem on a cold, windy day in October (spooky!). The town welcomed us with an imposing witch statue perched over the main thoroughfare surrounded by a gaggle of tourists, cameras pointed upward trying to capture the spookiest shot. So we fight for a parking spot and scramble over to the witch statue so we, too, can get our witch photo. I read the plaque at the foot of the witch and........wait a minute! This isn't even a witch! And I'll bet you dollars to donuts that none of these people snapping photos has any idea! Doesn't anybody read anymore? It's actually a statue of just a plain guy who was active in the founding of the town. He signed off "on the building contract for enlarging the meeting house in Town square for the First Church in Salem........He was active in the affairs of the town throughout his life."

Seriously? Then why the pointy hat? And the billowy cloak? And that thing that looks like a broom handle? Is this a game of trick-the-tourist?

But I take a picture anyway (cause it's witchy!) and then we proceed to the Salem Witch Trial Museum. Which is, incidentally, one of the "1000 Great Places to See in the State of Massachusetts!" And I want to say, you know that Massachusetts is a really small state, right? Not a normal-sized state like an Ohio or an Arizona or maybe a Dakota or something? So I want to know what they count as a "great place to see" because I don't think you could fit 1000 anything in a state this size unless it's like 1000 blades of grass.

This is a New England phenomenon, the ranking and the "best"-ing; there are so many places that have a sign saying "Best (something) in all of (someplace really small)!" If you have the best lobster roll in all of New Hampshire, you're really selling yourself pretty short because I can drive up and down the New Hampshire coastline 4 times in an hour. The whole state is like the size of Hennepin County. It's the equivalent of saying "Best Tomato Soup on all of France Avenue!" The pool just isn't that big. It's all the more funny when you come from Minnesota, where we get hives when we call attention to ourselves. If you won "The Best Place to Eat, Drink, Dance, and Breathe in all of the Solar System," you could never bring yourself to put up a sign. But if they made you, it would say "Yah, on a good day we do pretty good for ourselves."

So Colleen and I buy our tickets to one of the "1000 great places to see in a very small state." We've heard a rumor that you can get in for free if one of your ancestors was tried and hanged as a witch. What a nice perk! But I have no early American roots and, sadly, all of Colleen's early American ancestors died of natural causes. Rats!!

The museum consists of a spooky audiovisual presentation using cutting-edge technology in still-life dioramas and wax mannequins. It's like visiting Disneyland's Hall of Presidents in 1971.......on a day when the animatronics are broken. That being said, a wax dummy with a noose around his neck is still pretty scary. Especially when you add creepy lighting and a booming Vincent Price voice over. So when I see small children in the room, I'm thinking about the nightmares they'll have later that night. Maybe featuring the wax mannequin in diorama #4 who was crushed between two boards piled high with rocks until his lungs collapsed and blood spurted out the broken seams of his body. I think that's scary. Especially if you're 4. If a child is young enough to ask his mommy for a pacifier during the presentation, he might be too young for images of men being crushed to death. No passies at the witch museum.

The next part of the museum is a guided tour through some more dioramas (a sale at the diorama store?) that explain the history of witches in America. Our guide is like a bored Sunday school teacher who's just phoning it in. Her demeanor is magnified even more by the presence of a big fake spider sitting on top of her grandma hair. She tells the class of high school students in our group that some people are actually interested in this information so she hopes they'll be respectful of them by being quiet. And maybe they'll learn something. (the high school kids look at each other like "what did we do?").

But I do learn something. I learn that tragedies like the Salem Witch Trials need 3 things to occur: a fear, a trigger, and a scapegoat. She uses the witch trials to explain the growing prejudice surrounding the Muslim population: Americans are taught to fear terrorism, the 9/11 attacks occur, now we use the entire Muslim population as our scapegoat. I see her vaguely roll her eyes like "Stupid Americans. If only you were as schooled in hysteria as I am."

I also learn that the cast of Bewitched visited the town in 1970..........and they're still talking about it. There were no fewer than 3 books on the visit of Samantha and Darren (which Darren, I wonder?) and Tabitha and Endorra. I don't think Mr. Tate could make it; he had a meeting with a really important client back at the office. And Mrs. Cravitz wasn't invited. One of the books included 3D glasses! And there's a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery (aka Samantha Stephens) right in the middle of town. This must the "real" witch statue. And I can mock all I want, but the truth is that Colleen and I endangered ourselves and others - circling the block, breaking traffic laws, doing chinese firedrill-like maneuvers - just trying to get close enough to get a good photo of the Bewitched statue. So the joke's on me.

I like Salem at Halloween. I don't need to go to the broken animatronics museum again but it certainly piqued my interest in both the hysteria and history of witches and their rituals (I like to call them "witchuals").

As for the "40 Before 40 List," Martha and Colleen have both run marathons, Annie has recently landed an agent for her novel (and she's no longer wearing nursing bras), and I can now check the box marked "Visit Salem, Massachusetts during Halloween."

But I'm still waiting to get arrested.

24 October 2010


A move always involves a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles. For me, it's not a great concern; I'm happy to ride it out with my Minnesota license until it expires. Why waste good plastic? I'm cheap, lazy and I like the picture on my Minnesota license.....and that is a gift you don't throw away. Plus, it's motivation to drive carefully. Although, after moving to Chicago, I got out of several tickets by flashing my old license and cooing "I just moved here and we don't have traffic like this where I come from. I was told that slowing down for a yellow light could get me rear-ended so I should floor it until I see solid red."

I used a North Carolina driver's license in 3 different states until it finally got taken away in Wisconsin. And that represents a savings of several hours, perhaps days, of waiting in line at the DMV. But Mike is a rule follower and he's sweating like a fugitive right now......so callously driving in New Hampshire without identification that accurately portrays his residential status. He's a ticking time bomb. So I agree to take the day off with him and drive to the inconveniently located DMV and make it legal.

The DMV ladies greet us loudly when we cross the threshold and quickly ask if they can help us. We're startled.........as you are when you pick up an empty milk carton that you thought was full. We approach them with our files of gathered materials and they gently, kindly - with one hand on the panic button - explain to us that we don't have all the necessary material and that registering our cars and registering to vote takes place at the town clerk's office..........from whence we came..........15 miles behind us.

Mike was in charge of this task and has put on the illusion of "preparing" for it for quite some time. But it appears that the extent of his "preparation" was finding the address of the DMV. But I don't needle. He's beating himself up internally so I let it go.

We get back in the car, drive 15 miles to his office to get our passports, drive home to get an accepted form of proof of residency and then drive to the town clerk's office to register our cars and register to vote. The town clerk fills out form after form after form thinking that Mike's middle name (Nelson) and my last name (Nilsen) are the same name and one of us is spelling it wrong. Like maybe Mike took my last name as his middle name in a show of neo-feminism that just doesn't exist in our house. Although he tries, he really tries, but he's just not that evolved. So she spells each name the same on all the forms and then prints them out on a dot matrix printer from 1988..........and when I get my forms back I say "Excuse me, you spelled my name wrong. It's N-I-L-S-E-N." And then, unbeknownst to us, she goes and changes the spelling on BOTH sets of forms and reprints them all on the dot matrix printer from 1988. Then Mike gets his forms and says "Sorry, but it looks like you misspelled my name. It's N-E-L-S-O-N." And she goes back and changes all the forms again. And if we had been paying attention and not checking our facebook pages during each others' forms-roundup, we probably could have stopped the shenanigans before the ink ran out on the dot matrix. Poor Pat. Or Sheila. Or something like that. But we eventually do wake up and explain that these are actually two different names. And she can't believe it, what are the chances of sharing such a similar name????

Pretty good, actually. "We're from Minnesota," we say in unison. But she doesn't get it. But we leave the town clerk's office on good terms with Pat. Or Sheila. Or....I don't know, I can't remember. But she was a good sport.

Then on to the DMV again where we're greeted heartily again as we cross the threshold (but this time we're prepared). I fill out my form but I leave "haircolor" blank. Seriously, I have no idea what my real haircolor is. I know what it is TODAY but that has nothing to do with what it will be next month or next year. I'm honest with DMV girl. I say "I left this blank because, honestly, it changes all the time. It's generally in the blonde to brown range but sometimes it's both depending on what song is playing in the salon. And sometimes it's red. And recently I had a blue streak. "

She says, "Why don't you choose the one that makes you feel the best?" Which is really sweet for a DMV worker. Then she adds, "Today you look blonde." And before you can hear the "d" in blonde, I've filled in "blonde" so I can cling to my youth for another five years.

When it's time for the eye test, I struggle to make out the letters (numbers?) on line 5. There are twice as many characters as other lines and they seem to be overlapping each other. I stammer and pause and correct myself several times. DMV girl is concerned. I wait to see what she'll do. I try again. She asks for input from other DMV workers. After several failed attempts and a weighty silence in the room, I say "Fine, I'll put my glasses on." Collective sighs of relief and nervous laughter from all 3 DMV workers. DMV girl dryly says "Yeah, you need to wear those." I thought my eyes were getting better. I swear.

Finally, she makes us hand over our Minnesota licenses. Which is sad. Mostly because, like I said, mine has a really good picture on it. And because it was taken on my 40th birthday. And because it means we're not visiting this place anymore.