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

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

31 May 2011

Double D Disappointment

When we decided to leave Minneapolis and move to the east coast, I earnestly started looking for things to be excited about. What do they have there that I can't get here? "There" being New Hampshire and "Here" being Minneapolis; which is how I still catch myself referring to them on occasion - even after living here close to a year. I could be standing in my kitchen in New Hampshire and say "We have driver's ed here, where we learn the rules of the road and respect something called "right of way". They must not have driver's ed there." Now flip it - now you know who disrespects my precious right of way.

Scratching my head, putting on my Pollyanna hat, trying to make a happy list of things that will make this move worthwhile (besides money and fame and learning a second language).

And I come up with...........DONUTS! This is the land of Dunkin' Donuts! Ubiquitous purveyors of donuts! Real donuts, not vegan-organic-gluten-free-donuts or gourmet breakfast pastries with complicated fillings and crumbly outsides but real sugar-lard-frosting donuts! I've been on the lookout for a good donut since we lost Mr. Donut back in the 20th century (again, "we" meaning "they" in Minnesota) .

When my friend Martha and I moved to North Carolina for graduate school, we were horrified when we found that there were no cake donuts in the state. I repeat, NO CAKE DONUTS IN THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA. When you ordered a donut, you automatically received a raised, glazed donut. That was a donut. End of story. We would explain about the two different kinds of donuts and they would smile back as if to say "How nice for you. Bye bye now."

When we moved back to Minneapolis, the hunt began for the best cake donut. And while we hunted we settled for the donuts from Lund's or Byerly's, my favorite being the glazed old-fashioned from Lund's. And while we looked and experimented and settled........we found that the donut we were settling for was really good. Like craving it good. And, eventually, the old-fashioned from Lund's became my go-to donut (I'm craving it a little bit right now).

But still I'm enamored of places that devote themselves completely to donuts. The donuts have got to be better, right? A place called Dunkin' Donuts must be so devoted to donuts that they've toiled long and hard perfecting their recipes, right? Why call yourself Dunkin' DONUT if you don't really care how the donut tastes? It would be like Mr. Steak changing it's name Sister Salad.

But..........dashed..........are the hopes..........that are too high.

It turns out that the donuts at Dunkin Donuts are NOT crave-a-licious. They're just convenient.

But I keep thinking they're having an off day. So I'll try one more time. And even though they don't even carry the very basic donut that I want, I still keep trying to order it. Like maybe if I describe it for them one more time, I'll return and they'll say, "You know, we decided to try and make that very basic donut that everyone else has that you described for us.....and here it is!"

Here's a transcript of me beating a dead horse:

ME: Hi, I'd like an old-fashioned donut, please.

DUNKIN' DONUT Girl: You mean a plain donut?

ME: Well, a plain donut with a glaze on it.

DDG: You mean, a raised donut?

ME: No, not a squishy one, a cake donut with a glaze on it.

DDG: Like frosted?

ME: I guess, it's sort of frosted.

DDG: So that's one chocolate frosted donut.

ME: No, not chocolate. Just plain frosting.

DDG: You want a plain donut?

ME: No. I want a plain donut with frosting on it. Not chocolate.

DDG: We only have chocolate frosted.

ME: No you don't. That can't be true.

DDG: Yes, the only frosted donut we have is chocolate frosted.

ME: But you specialize in donuts. How can you have just one kind of frosting?

DDG: I don't know.

ME: Ok. I'll have a chocolate frosted donut, please. (sniff)

I guess I'll try again tomorrow.

24 May 2011

Too Much Nature

It's no secret that I've struggled with the onslaught of nature in my new home. And I LOVE nature. I really do. I'm very nature-y. But it turns out that there can be too much nature.
Here's a good example:

This morning I was eating my grape nuts when I heard a tumbling thud out on my deck. I look out the window to see a cat (I think?) who seems to have landed (from where? I don't think that's a cat) on my deck with a fresh kill in his mouth. It's way too big to be mouse or a chipmunk so I don't even want to imagine what it could be. It's dangling, no- swinging, out of his mouth. The "cat" sees me in the window and looks at me like "F*@k off. This is mine."
This is too much nature.

And it's going to ruin my day because he turned and ran, mystery animal swinging from his mouth, and slid under my deck. Where he remains. Possibly under my feet as I write this. Gnawing and dismembering his prey for me to find later.

It's not that I'm squeamish or fearful of animals. Just this week I chased down a frog in my house and delivered him safely outside. I always go after frogs and toads with enthusiasm - because frogs are cool. But, still, in my head I'm saying "frogs don't bite, frogs don't bite."

It's just that I have my limits. Unidentified animals is one. Animal on animal violence is another. These are things you generally don't see on the sidewalk.

Audible gunfire is another. Not like I prefer the sophisticated silencers of criminals but more like if I can hear you, you're too close. I've written before about gunfire in my backyard - but how about gunfire on the playground? Does that bother you at all?

Because it horrifies me. Pow after pow after pow and everyone just stands there like it's not happening. We are standing on the edge of the playground waiting for our children to emerge from the after school nature program - emerge from the WOODS! Where the guns are! - and it sounds like gang warfare. Would you ignore gang warfare or would you call 911?

Don't worry, people say. It's just hunters. Or it's just the gun club.

I'm still internally panicked. Have you not heard of a "stray bullet?" Bullets don't stop at the fence, you know!

And all the parents just stand there like they don't hear a thing. I look at each person searching for someone, just one person, who is registering alarm. Someone who will grab me by the lapels of my old fashioned suit jacket and scream "What's going ON??!!" And I would scream back, "This is not RIGHT! There should be RULES! Why isn't there a rule against listening to gunfire on the playground???!!!!"

And it really bothers Mike that it bothers me. Really really bothers him. Borderline "getting angry at her" bothers him.
"Do you know how far away that is?" he asks, irritated.

"I don't know. At the neighbor's house?"

So we get in the car and he drives me past the gun club. It's about 3 miles away and across 2 major roads. And I feel better..................because bullets can't cross streets.

No, really, I do feel better because it's much farther away than I thought. But wait, is there a street separating the gun club and the playground? Crap!

And there are still 2 unidentified animals killing each other under my deck.
I think I'll stay inside today.

(Epilogue: Just as I finished this, my furnace turned on with a roar. And I JUMPED and turned to face the...............what? Like there's a lion in my house? I don't know! Maybe! Omigod, I'm going down the rabbit hole. Which will be empty because the rabbit probably got eaten under my deck.)

20 May 2011

You Can't Wear Christmas Trees After Memorial Day

At the beginning of 2011, I wrote about how people in New Hampshire live free or die at Christmas Time. How they would rather DIE than PAY for PUBLIC services to pick up their Christmas trees on trash day. Because that surely means you are not free. To be truly free, you have to put your used up tree back on the roof of your car and drive it around in search of a proper place to pitch it. Read about it here.

Well.......this week, the week of May 20th, I swear to you, we passed a car with a dry, brittle, rust-colored, practically disintegrating Christmas tree tied to its roof. Now that's freedom!!

It was super un-Christmasy. It was the un-epitome of Currier and Ives; it would have made Norman Rockwell cry. And I pictured them inside the car singing dirges.

I think to myself, was the tree in their house like that? All crispy and brown? With ornaments on it? And then I picture the dad dressing up like "Mother" and stabbing ladies in the shower.

Let freedom ring.

17 May 2011

The Photo Acclimation Project.........Salt Marsh Grass

Real estate listings in this area often boast about a property's "beautiful salt marsh views!" When I first arrived, I didn't see how this was a plus. It was like saying "you can't see the beach from here!" Who wants to look at a salt marsh? With its scrubby grasses? It looked to me like a New England version of tumbleweeds.

But then October came. And the salt marsh grasses surprised me by turning brilliant shades of orange and crimson.........turning the scrub into something worthy of a landscape painting.

Now I see salt marsh grass as the artist's ultimate tool, adding color and texture to the coastal glassiness. It frames almost every picture I take.

*A note for overachievers: It's actually called "salt marsh hay" and it is one of the reasons that colonists landed on this spot when they arrived from England in 1623. Salt marsh hay was used as feed for animals and for making fluffy, stuffed beds.

13 May 2011

The Dickwad Sperm Donor

I don't, in fact, apply for a job at Subway because I vowed long ago that I would never work in food service. It was freshman year, my first day on campus, and I held the envelope in my hand that would reveal my work study assignment. I pulled the card out of the envelope, closed my eyes and whispered "please please please be something cool." Like all-campus dj or something. But no. Instead it says..........CAFETERIA. Nooooooooooo! So I walked my big hair straight to the work study office and told them that that was impossible. Because, um, I had like lots of food, um, like "allergies" and being around all that leftover food on cafeteria trays would totally make me barf. And my hair won't fit in a hairnet.

So they assign me to vacuum the library at 5:00 in the morning. That's awesome! I love libraries! But that didn't last long because a) it was at 5:00. In the morning. Morning being the thing that comes way too soon after beer thirty. And b) libraries are dark and scary at 5:00 in the morning. Especially if you are the only person in the library. And you're vacuuming - so you can't hear when a serial killer is approaching you from behind (I turned the vacuum off a lot to look behind me). There was one room that never got vacuumed because it had a scary mural of an angel looking right at me. RIGHT AT ME! I swear she followed me with her eyes. So I would bend down and pick up the big pieces of lint at the entrance to the scary angel room and then run away with my vacuum cleaner.

But I digress. I am not going to work in food service. And I would prefer a position that didn't require me to wear a certain kind of hat. And, I know it sounds crazy, but maybe something in my field would be more appropriate. Early childhood, family services, literacy, parent education, blah, blah, blah. So I find a social services agency looking for facilitators for their parenting discussion groups. Piece of cake - when can you start, the coordinator asks. But I'm feeling hesitant - work is so, you know, work-y. I'm acting like the boyfriend who won't commit. What if they want me to show up consistently and be on time? I really like being the captain of the ship; what if there's another captain who wants to tell me what to do? Plus, I really don't know much about this organization - so I wisely agree to visit one of the groups to observe their discussion and see if it's a "good fit."

And here's what I found out: this was not a support group. It was a pissing contest. I arrived with my helping hat on but really what I needed was an umbrella and a wet nap.

We sit in a circle and begin the discussion with contestant #1. She says she has a 2 year old. Then she adds, "I have a 4 year old and a 6 year old but I don't see them two." She says it like she's challenging us. She narrows her eyes and purses her lips - there may have been a little neck wagging. I hold back because it's not my group. I'm just here to observe and it's someone else's job to glean meaning from her words and offer support. I wait and wait and wait for someone to say "That must be hard for you." Or "Do you want to tell us about that?" Or "Well, I hope this group will be helpful for you." But no one says anything, and she says nothing more, so the facilitator moves on to the next person.

Who takes the bait.

"Well, we're doing great. Except for my stepkid's sperm donor." Which he says with a thick New England accent so it sounds like "sperm donah." Picture Donnie Wahlberg with an ax to grind. Like post-NKOTB after all the money is gone.

"Yeah, my wife goes to drop off my stepkid at the sperm donah's house and they get into this big texting fight about where to do the handoff because he doesn't want her coming to his house. Says he's not there. But she goes anyway and the dickwad is standing in the fuckin' driveway. And the dickwad's girlfriend sees my wife and grabs her by the hair. She pulls so hahd that my wife falls down the stay-ahs. Then the dickwad's girlfriend has the gonads to file assault chahges against my wife. Fuckin' scumbag."

(by the way, the question was "what is your name and how many children do you have?")

The next woman shared the story of their last Christmas. How they grabbed their children and stormed out of grandma's house because grandma #1 and grandma #2 hate each other and couldn't keep it civil for just one day. Not even for Jesus. The children cried in the backseat because Christmas was cancelled and the screaming grandmas were scary. They got Chinese takeout on the way home. So next year they've decided that grandmas are banned from Christmas. And they're getting Chinese.

The next woman riffs on the theme. "Oh yeah, well I'm skipping Christmas this ye-ah because my mothuh refuses to move he-yah and it's just not the same so why bothuh?"

"What about your kids?" I ask, now flagrantly stepping on the facilitator's toes. The woman shrugs. She wants her mommy. Still don't know her name or how many children she has. The children who get a half-assed Christmas.

And these stories don't bond them together at all. Because nobody wants to lose the pissing contest - so no one is actually listening; instead they're scrolling through all of their pathetic stories, deciding which one will put them on the top of the heap. It's not a support group - it's a lack-of-support group. It's a gradually-getting-less-and-less-support group.

I feel like Bob Newhart, the mild mannered psychologist in a room full of people who all have a crazy character to play - like the little bald guy with the funny voice and the sexpot and the one who doesn't talk - as if their next paycheck depends on being crazier then the person next to them. And the whole time, Bob has to sit there and act like they're not crazy at all.

I'm simply not used to this style of communication. This is not how we do parenting groups in Minnesota, land of 10,000 parenting groups. In Minnesota, we take turns being the crazy one - and then we all offer that day's crazy person a helping hand or some comforting words. In Minnesota, if someone asks how you are, you say "Oh pretty good. How 'bout you?" Even if your house just burned down. If it was really bad you might say "Oh pretty good, I guess." So do I really tell the coordinator that I can't help her out because of the cultural communication gap? How can I explain that these people don't want what I have to offer?

I fear she won't know what I'm talking about and I don't want to have to explain the difference between midwestern communication and east coast communication; it's more than I'm willing to invest at 8pm when I haven't eaten dinner yet and all there is on the way home is a Taco Bell. So I just tell her that I might be better utilized elsewhere.

And then I drive home thinking that being in charge of long-sleeved t-shirts might be ok for a little while longer.

And I'm also happy to have some new vocabulary to use at home; as in "will you go ask your dickwad sperm donor where he put the wii remote?"

10 May 2011

The SAHM / WAHM Conundrum

Liam wants me to get a job at Subway. The first time he saw the help wanted sign in the window it was like he had stumbled upon the key to the universe. Like "That's IT!" He had suggested some pizza places, too, but in the end he would rather see me in a yellow visor behind a snot shield than in a red visor delivering pizzas.

He brought this up on his own..........and from where, I have no idea. The first time it came up, I said "But I already have a job."

"No you don't," he said, with his mouth full of a five dollar footlong.

"Yes, I do - I have lots of jobs actually. I work for my own company and I'm getting our house fixed up and I make all the plans for our family and I take care of you."

"No, I mean a real job."

"What's a real job?"

"One where you get money."

Hence, the pressure to apply at Subway. This is the conundrum of the part-time-work-at-home situation that seems so great because it allows you to be there for your family the instant they breathe air anywhere near you. You can quickly sweep your work in the closet so that it's invisible to your children and they can bask in the misconception that you've been sitting there all day. Just waiting for them to breathe air anywhere near you.

"What do you think I do all day?" I ask him.

"Check email and talk on the phone," he says.

Which is kind of true. But to him that looks like nothing. It's just screen time like tv or video games or facebook or yahtzee on your iphone. Now making a sandwich, that's something. That's accomplishing something. And then you get money. The bottom line is that he wants to see me accomplish something concrete - something more concrete than creating a happy home and a moderately healthy future citizen. Because, as far as he's concerned, he can do that all by himself.

In preparation for our big move last summer, I put everything that I did outside the home to bed. I tied up loose ends and made my business a model of long-distance efficiency so that all I had to do was push buttons to get the job done in Minneapolis. I hid it so well that it's virtually invisible. And I cut ties with everything that was not my house, my child and my tiny, well-hidden business. I wanted the slate to be clean in New Hampshire so that I would be free to get us settled in and acclimated. But Liam is obviously noticing that something is missing from the equation. And he thinks Subway might be the answer.

When Mike left for work recently, in a big hurry for some super big important meeting where people exchange ideas and discuss world markets, and he said to me "What are you going to do today?" And I slunk down in a chair and I said "Liam needs long-sleeved t-shirts."

"What," he said, "What's wrong?"

"I don't want to be in charge of long-sleeved t-shirts."

(sigh) "But someone has to get the long-sleeved t-shirts. People need long-sleeved t-shirts. Why can't that be important?"

"I know, it's just that it would be nice if I had something a little more fulfilling to work on today than long-sleeved t-shirts."

The isolation of this place plays a role in the long-sleeved t-shirt dilemma, too; you need to have an opportunity each day to leave your house and be a part of the world. Especially if you want to wear any sort of "clothes." Sitting in my house every day, far from the street, removed or inaccessible to my neighbors, I have no motivation to wear anything but saggy workout wear. Or jammies. Christ, I could wear my underwear and no one would know. But running out for long-sleeved t-shirts doesn't really rally the troops, if you know what I mean. Like maybe if I put on a scarf my jammies will look like clothes and then I can just come home and take off the scarf and be back in my jammies. Voila. Ready to rock.

I'm usually the one zipping around here and there, dropping in to check something out or say hi to someone, picking up something on the way home, stopping in for an iced chai latte with soy before bus time. You know, things you'd get dressed for. But I've now learned that you can't "zip around" when you don't live in the city. Did you know that? Things are spread out across miles and miles. And with gas prices hovering near $4.00 a gallon, "zipping around" in this kind of area is not in my budget. I also have tremendous gas-hog-guilt and feel that it's just wrong to drive and drive and drive simply because I want a donut and I want it now. I'm a lover not a fighter - and I will not be a party to our troubles in the middle east simply because I want a donut. Plus, how much does a donut contribute to my sense of accomplishment, anyway? Is it worth getting dressed for a donut?

I read an article recently about the book "Authentic Happiness" by Martin Seligman in which he argues that individuals need 5 core components to achieve life satisfaction: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, a larger sense of purpose, and accomplishment. Hmmmm. Liam may be onto something.

And now that we are approaching a year in New Hampshire and our house is taking shape and we are as settled as we ever can be in a foreign land, it might be time to change focus - and point myself in the direction of some of these missing pillars. A direction that is just for me. Maybe towards Subway.

Thanks for looking out for me, Liam.

(tune in next time to see if Subway grants me an interview)

06 May 2011

Things That May Be Interesting Only to Me......but I'm telling you anyway.

It's Friday and it's 70 degrees and the sun is shining on the ocean in a way that makes me want to cue up a genius playlist and kick it Denise Austin style on the shorepath. I might even bend my arms at the elbow and swing them really hard to increase my heart rate. Here's the playlist my iPhone played for me on this gorgeous day:

1. Take It Off..........Ke$ha (my dirty little secret)
2. Boogie Wonderland..........Earth, Wind and Fire
3. Don't Leave Me This Way..........Thelma Houston
4. Red Light..........Linda Clifford
5. Love Is In Control..........Donna Summer
6. Whirly Girl..........Oxo
7. Weekend in New England..........Barry Manilow (how did that get in there?)
8. Good Times..........Chic
9. Rock the Boat..........Hues Corporation
10. Church of the Poison Mind..........Culture Club
11. Nights On Broadway..........Bee Gees
12. Evacuate the Dance Floor..........Cascada (best known for its appearance on that KidzBop commercial that plays nonstop on Nickelodeon)

I recently read an article about Britney Spears in which the author listed all the female artists who were stepping in to take her place. There's Rihanna with her saucy attitude and her Caribbean influenced dance music, there's Katy Perry with her Betty Grable pin-up persona and then there's Ke$ha, "who looks like she might be sticky if you touched her."

I heard someone whistle at me today during my walk. It was a real construction-worker-style woot-woo. He did it a few times in a row and I thought "maybe these yoga pants don't look so bad?" I tried to play it real cool like this happens all the time; but still my eyes were furiously scanning the area for my admirer.
And then I realized it was a bird.

Coincidentally, I had a dream last night that Gwyneth Paltrow was wearing mom jeans and she had a huge ass.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

03 May 2011

How Did This Person Change the World (in his blue suede shoes)?

In January, I took my first plunge into the icy waters of "questioning school curriculum" by raising the issue of Martin Luther King Day - and the absence of any actual mention of Martin Luther King previous to the day off of school that is granted to us so that we may honor him.

Liam woke up on his day off of school and I said, "Happy Martin Luther King Day!"

(blank stare)

"Don't you know what day it is?" I asked.

"It's Monday."

"Do you know why you have the day off?"


"No one at school told you why you have the day off?"


"Do you know who Martin Luther King is?" I asked.


Confused, I dug up some brown markered color sheets from his time in the Minneapolis school system. "Remember this guy?"

"Oh yeah!"

"Didn't you talk about him this week?"


Stunned. And pissed.

Part of the reason I was unsettled is because I was still stinging from the archaic all-school assembly they had for Veteran's Day - after which I knowingly asked "Liam, what is a veteran?" And he answered "I don't know. They didn't tell us."

So when MLK Day passed without nary an announcement over the PA system or a dramatic reading by a pimply 8th grader or even a freakin' color sheet covered in brown marker, I thought I might make a polite inquiry.

Mrs. Teacher was on it. She's young and aware and knew this could look bad to people from the outside. She ever so delicately assured me that she had every intention of introducing Martin Luther King in their upcoming biography unit. And Rosa Parks (that's a twofer! and kids love buses). The biography unit culminates in a "Wax Museum" in which the children dress up as their chosen hero and answer questions from the "museum patrons" (me and 20 other parents trying so hard not to laugh - WITH them, not AT them). There was no guarantee that anyone would actually choose Martin Luther King as their chosen hero but she assured me he would be mentioned.

So after being introduced to a myriad of characters who changed our world - black, white, men, women, white, men, white, men (oh stop it, kristin! quit being so judgey!) - Liam chose to study (drum roll, please).............

Elvis Presley.

And I'm going with it because this is his project and his choice is pretty indicative of his interests right now. But we have to craft an answer to the first required question: "How did this person change the world?"

Did he cure disease? No. Did he fight for the rights of the underdog? No. Did he invent a machine that changed how society operates? No. Did he sing a song called "Hound Dog?" YES! So Liam wants to go with "He invented rock and roll." Which would be great! If it were true. But images of Chuck Berry and Little Richard and hundreds of unknown African-American musicians nag at my conscience - so, no, we can't say that.

How about "He brought the music of black people to a wider audience?"

Which Mike hears as "a whiter audience." Which, actually, turns out to be true. Here's the not-so-uplifting version of history that did not go into the 2nd grade report:

White people wouldn't listen to music by black people. In fact, many kids were actually punished if they were caught listening to music by black people. But music producers knew that kids would love it and, more importantly, BUY it if they could just find a white guy to sing it. And when a country singer named Elvis Presley came to Sun Records to make a pretty song for his mother, they found their man. He was unmistakably white but he could shake, rattle and roll like a house afire. And, voila, rock and roll was born. Or maybe I should say born again. Now that's a bedtime story.

But 2nd grade history has its own special spin; perspective is everything, isn't it? So we do the best we can to be honest without going over their heads. And most of the time, they hear what they want to hear anyway, am I right? Here are some 2nd grade nuggets I learned from the heroes I met at the Wax Museum:

1. Christopher Columbus discovered the West Indies.......which is another name for America.

2. Columbus' trip from Spain, to the West Indies, and back took 3 or 4 days.

3. Princess Diana was killed when she was kissed by the paparazzi.

4. And, for my very biased favorite, please see the last item on the timeline below.

Elvis died of junk food. Let that be a lesson to you all; junk food kills! If someone tries to give you a Hoho, do like Nancy Reagan and JUST SAY NO!

Tiny Elvis answers questions with Pocahontas and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Elvis is now bored and wants to leave the building.