John Muir says:

“Come to the woods…  img_0014…for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.”

John Muir (1838 – 1914), Atlantic Monthly, January 1869

(Actually, it’s not so deep green these days, but still, I have spent a lot of time the past two weeks wandering around them, trying very hard to kill off the deep green–but before you condemn me you should know that I am limiting my killing to the deep green of the garlic mustard which  somehow hangs on when all the other woodland plants have faded away for a winter slumber…. la.  And so I went a’spraying, and a’wandering, and bless you, woods, for the privilege.)

(Can you spot the antlers on the buck in this picture below?)


Happy Halloween, says the creature

Deep in the woods we don’t really get trick-or-treaters.  If one actually came to our door I admit that I would be terrified.  We are so far off the main roads that UPS doesn’t even come here.  The US Post Office makes us pick up packages in town, leaving a note in our box that reads like a permission slip from school:  “Had the flu.  .5mile to front door.” The Fedex guy will come, but he will also deliver a dramatic litany of complaints and astonishment as he hands me the box, about how he wasn’t sure he would make it up the driveway… some oak branches almost creamed the roof of the truck.

Last night for Halloween, instead of trick-or-treaters, we got a bat.  It was just before midnight.  We were in bed.  And I heard it flying  around above our heads.  (When you live in the woods you get to know that sound.)

“There’s a bat,” said to my husband, shaking him awake.  “I vote we stay in bed.”

“I vote we let the cat get it,” he replied, and then turned over.

And so we fell asleep to the sound of two animals wrestling somewhere in the house.  One animal being our 20-pound cat (who has had all his shots): Ferdinand Magellan. The other being one astonished bat.

The wrestling ceased at one point, and 1am I tip-toed down the stairs with a booklight in hand, looking for the cat and to see if I could find out who won the fight. I didn’t want to turn on a big light, in case the bat was still inside the house and would be tempted to fly around my head (which has happened.)  No bat. I saw Magellan crouching in the basement, looking a bit guilty, but the bat was no where to be seen.  As long as it was quiet… oh, well.  I went back to sleep figuring we may never know what happened, that is often the way with bats.

This morning I opened the glass door of the shower and then invented a quick song about scary things.  Ooooeeeoooeeehh!  (Something like that.  It was heartfelt, if not totally melodic.)

There on the smooth white floor of the shower was the bat, now dead.  Or so it seemed, and I admit that I quickly pulled the door closed and phoned my husband in town rather than looking closer to see if the thing had life.  (I have looked at it since then, and no, doesn’t seem very alive.)

Here it is.  Boo!  Very scary!  Happy Halloween!

bat in the bathIMG_0010 - Copy.jpg

(Seems ironic that an animal that lives almost solely in the dark should have its life end with its face pressed firmly into the whitest-white surface.

Is porcelain some kind of “bat hell”? )


New job title: Sports writer (?)

The nice folks at the Los Angeles Review of Books asked me if I could write a little essay about mini golf.  “I can give you twelve,” I said, because I was feeling glib, and also, feeling the effects of a particularly mysterious beverage at the rooftop party in downtown Los Angeles that evening in April.

In any case, it was fun to write about Tom Thumb again.  You can read it here!

Rules of the Mini Game

And I apologize for not blogging during this month, but it’s been strangely busy for a summer month. When we looked at the calendar we realized that there have been only 15 days in the whole month of June when we have been home and not having house-guests.  I mean, it’s been great fun (super fun to have Tim’s daughters here!).  But blogging just, you know, doesn’t compete with sitting outside with loved ones on a warm summer evening, laughing at stories we tell each other, and eating some lovely berry dessert…. 🙂

I also taught a weekend class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival on “Creativity: The Magic and Mystery of it All.”  It was really fun!  And I hope it inspired the students, because to be honest, it inspired me.  I’ve been writing better and more easily since I taught the class.  Huzzah, as they say.





Big Day, Nordic-wise

No, Norway did not win the Eurovision Song Contest this week, and yet we celebrate.  In this town where I live, we celebrate Syttende Mai  (after first learning how to pronounce it.)  Syttende Mai is kind of like the 4th of July of Norway, or so we tell each other, because honestly we don’t really know anything more.  But it’s very happy, and the kids get out of school (presumably) because the highlight of the day is the Children’s Parade at 1pm.  And then you can watch the Nordic Dancers perform. They do traditional Norwegian dances while dressed in traditional costume, you know, waltzes, polkas, stuff like that.  There are two groups, probably 50 kids in each, (one of 10th graders, and one of 6th graders).

They audition a new group every five years, exactly. When I was a kid I desperately wanted to be in the Nordic Dancers, but missed out.  They were only taking kids born in the grade behind me.

Consider this:  I live in a town where both girls and boys are so eager to dance in costume in the street that they have to limit who is even allowed to audition. ! And it’s been going on that way since the mid-1960s.  To audition the child has to be in the exact grade of school for that year’s audition — usually when they are in 3rd grade, I believe.  Then they commit to doing it for the next umpteen years, until they are booted out, tearful and holding hands, when they graduate at age 18.

In this town, it is very competitive to get into the Nordic Dancers. The kids in it get the chance to go to Norway to perform, but that doesn’t really explain all of it.  They dance!  In wool costumes!  When it’s 90 degrees in the summertime!  Last year one friend of mine told me she had overheard other parents actually planning the birth of their next child so that he/she would be born in a year when they would be assembling the next group of Nordic Dancers.  This town is like that.  (Did I mention that last year everyone in town danced the World’s Largest Schottische  on main street, including Tim and me?  With 1880 people?  Doing one dance together to the music of a live folk band, and it broke the Guiness World Book of Records (who may not have even known what the schottische even was?)  And that the average age of the people dancing was about 18 years old, because in this town, the teenagers love, love, love to schottische?

So, Happy Sittende Mai.  We don’t have green beer like St. Pattrick’s Day or margaritas  like Cinco de Mayo.  Um, so, all you really get to do is probably dance a bit of a schottische or waltz on your back deck while you are grilling your hamburgers… which is what we’ll probably be doing.

(Actually, I love the schottische.)

A little nervous on Caucus Night

It’s the day of the Iowa caucuses and I can’t read the news. Why? All the news headlines are about Iowa. Reading the news is less a diversion and like looking in the mirror. I know! I know! I clicked on the BBC website in order to get my morning news, and the headline: The World is Watching Iowa. I am watching Iowa too, and right now it looks a bit foggy and there is some water dripping off the roof. Also, I see a squirrel.

We will go tonight, of course, after wrangling my mother-in-law and her wheelchair into the car (she broke her ankle last week), and we will drive to our caucus site. This year, have to go to the Ridgeway Community Center. For some reason they have grouped a handful of rural townships into one location, and ours happens to be twenty miles away.  It will take us a half hour to get there, and the fog has just rolled in. (Can you imagine, voter, wherever you are, driving a half an hour in order to simply VOTE?)  We need to eat our dinner early. Leave here about 5:45 pm.  I won’t be going to my usual yoga class—it’s been cancelled tonight for the caucus.

Yes, a caucus is a weird thing.

I’ll never forget my first caucus after I had moved back to Iowa after living for 15 years in California.  As I walked into the high school cafeteria, a volunteer pointed out my options. “The Kucinich group is up here. Hilary supporters are that group on the left.  Barack Obama back there on the right. … “   Hilary had been the front runner, but the tables designated for the Obama voters had a lot more people, in fact were already full. The Hilary tables had empty seats, Tupperware containers of sandwiches, and some of our fellow citizens calling out to us over the commotion, “Come caucus for Hillary! We have sandwiches!”

We laughed and they laughed. It was kind of a party. I think all we got at Obama’s table were store-bought chocolate chip cookies, and of course, the nomination. Caucusing, at times, looks more like a church potluck than you might realize.

However, this year I am more nervous than previous times.  I think it’s because of Donald Trump.  He is  in the lead for the Republicans.  And the funny thing about our caucus location is that there is only one room in the community center.  “Are we sharing a room with the Republicans?  How can that work?”  We are wondering.  We are asking each other.  Does the room have a divider?  Is there going to be whooping and shouting and weirdness–because that is what Trump seems to be encouraging, you know, teenage-boy behavior?

last week I saw my last candidate:  Hilary Clinton.   She seemed to be off her game at first. She kept talking through moments in her speech where she could have gotten applause. Was she tired? Didn’t she know to pause and get audience feedback? Why was she just plowing into policy? Was she tired? (If so, I couldn’t say that I blamed her!) So, the next time a moment came when she should have paused in case people would clap in support, I started to clap. I just did it on my own from where I watched in the balcony.  Once I started, everyone in the room joined in. So I ended up adding about a half dozen applause breaks. I did! It was a small room, you see, filled with many older (and respectful) people. And afterwards when she was thanking the audience, she looked up in my direction. Was that a thank you? I’ll never know.  But if you’ve ever spent a lot of time at a microphone–and as a former comedian I have to say that I’ve logged a lot of mike time– it’s one of the things you do. The same way a former restaurant waiter leaves good tips in a restaurant–if there is someone on stage who needs a boost from the audience, well, you give them the boost. (And you know what, she’s kind of an amazing person.)

So tonight we will caucus–which is a great privilege.  And it’s been awesome to see the candidates in person.  I saw all three, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’ Malley, and Hilary Clinton.  And I can honestly say that any of them would make a terrific president.  I would be extremely happy with any of them.  Honestly.  (Martin O’Malley going to kill in the next election cycle.  Just watch.)

I am looking forward for it to be over, actually.  Sometime this evening we will be done.  And then we can drive home, marveling at whatever we’ve observed of the Republicans.  My husband will watch the returns on the tv, and hopefully the snowstorm won’t arrive until it’s “supposed to” at 3am.

And who am I caucusing for?  Well, it was revealed in this photo in the New York Times last week.  That’s Tim and me (with my mouth wide open) just above the candidate’s head:


Sunday afternoon is for doing (caucus) homework

We are off to see Bernie.  (Kinda like being on a first-name basis with these candidates.)  He’s speaking at the gymnasium at Luther College here, about 5 miles away.  The doors open at 11:30am so, of course, my husband wants to get there at 11:25am.  (He’s a go-getter, as those of you who know him will attest).

A test?  A test?  There will be no test!   But we go to caucus one week from tomorrow, so it’s cram time here in Iowa.

Tuesday, Hilary Clinton is giving a talk at the Hotel Winneshiek, which is where Tim and I had date night this past Friday.  It’s also where Barack Obama stayed overnight when he came to give a talk in town a couple of years ago.  So, we’ll go to that too.

Being an Iowan is awesome.  It’s like being a student again, but being one of the “popular” students.  We got full-colored fold-out brochures pretty much every day this past week from both the Hilary and Bernie campaigns.  Amazing to see how much money the candidates invest in each vote from an Iowan who is on the roster as “likely to caucus.”  The pollsters have phoned us to verify this.

You know, I never went to prom, but it kind feels like suddenly I’m one of the popular kids, and everyone is courting me.  And you know, it feels marvelous.

Gotta run!!


Getting our Caucus On

This is Iowa, and it’s less than 3 weeks before the Iowa Caucuses, so the conversations these days are all about politics. Our phones ring at least once a day from the pollsters. They say, “So glad you picked up! Thank you so much for taking the time!” (Last night while I was drafting this blog, the pollsters called to ask for Tim.  The day before, they called for me:  pollsters always ask for you by name, which is weird, I admit.)

In town, people ask each other, “Who are you caucusing for?” A lot of people say “Bernie Sanders,” which is what the polls are saying too, that he’s pulling ahead of Hillary.

Every Friday we have date night, and last Friday, for a change, we went to see Ted Cruz at the Teluwat restaurant in Cresco.  I don’t plan to vote for the guy, in fact, I think Cruz might be a little wacko.  But they make a fabulous blackened salmon with rice and veggies at Teluwut.  And after so many years in public speaking, I really like seeing what people sound like in person.  We arrived twenty minutes before showtime and to our surprise, the restaurant was packed.  Standing room only.  No tables.  But just as we were about to give up, a high-top table opened us.  Fabulous, we said, getting menus.  The New York Time’s reporter who was hovering nearby said, “Did you even know this was going on tonight?  Or did you come for the food?”

“Both,” we said smiling. This is dinner theatre for us, baby.

We watched through the window as the giant tour buses arrived.  Several other people around our table came up and asked us the same question:  if we had any idea that Ted Cruz was coming.  How do they know we aren’t Republicans?   (I was wearing patent leather boots and black leggings, you know, because it was date-night, even if it was just Cresco, Iowa.  Was that it?)

The Democrats aren’t traveling around quite as much as the Republicans, at least not to our neck of the woods.  But a couple of months ago we saw Martin O’ Malley when he visited town.  A standing room only crowd filled the coffee house, and he stood on a bench at a booth.  He had lots of energy, and rather sensible answers to questions, and generally charmed the heck out of us; then he ended with a song on guitar. “He was better than I had expected,” my husband and I agreed. We thought, yes, I’d vote for him. But maybe not until next election. “He needs some more seasoning,” we decided.

Hillary gave a talk at the local college back in November, but I didn’t hear about the event it until  10 minutes before it was about to start–certainly not enough time to drive to town and stand in line for the expected security.

Bobby Jindal came and gave a talk at the Pizza Ranch, some months ago. I wanted to go, but Tim warned me that my picture might show up in the local paper, because “There might only be five or six people there.” And he turned out to be right.  The next day’s paper had three pics on the front page from the Jindal event, and in the pics were the same four people, wearing their red t-shirts, talking with the politician.

Tuesday of this week, it was just announced that Marco Rubio added a stop in town this coming Monday.  I had to hit “refresh” on the RSVP button just to confirm what’s seems impossible: his talk is taking place at 7am. (I don’t do anything at 7am, let alone dress up as a Republican to attend an event.)

It’s a big deal to be an Iowan these days. We take our vote very seriously. People attend these events. They want to see their candidates up close. Martin O’Malley admitted as much at the coffee house. “I know you like to see us, the candidates, one, two, or even three times. I had a woman in Fairfield, Iowa, tell me she had seen me twice already. So I asked her, ‘How am I doing?’ She said, ‘Oh, you’re getting better.’” Then Martin O’Malley laughed.

But let me tell you the main difference between a normal primary and the Iowa caucus:  we talk about it.  “Who are you caucusing for?” the pollsters ask us, and we also ask each other. This is what we do during caucus season.  At the supermarket we ask each other who we are voting for.  At the New Year’s Eve Party we attended, we asked each other there too.  And this is not a normal thing.  When an election is done by secret ballot you wouldn’t think of asking people ahead of time, “So, who you voting for?” It would be considered so very rude.  But a caucus is different.  It’s a public event.  A caucus is a 3-hour meeting held at a school cafeteria or library. When you show up, the first thing you do is choose which group of people you’re going to sit with, to indicate, rather publicly, who you are voting for.  And so in the weeks ahead, there is no point in being secret.  This is how we do it in Iowa.  We talk.  We are deciding together.

Ted Cruz did okay at the restaurant that night.  He wasn’t as creepy or as scary as I had thought.  He did talk for an hour and seemed more energetic that I would expect, but mostly, he was rather un-astonishing.  He looked like an ordinary guy in a striped shirt who happened to yell out,  “Defund Planned Parenthood!” to thunderous applause.  I admit I was much more taken by the brief conversations we had with the New York Times photographer and reporter.  The photographer was taking a picture of his beer sitting our our table, so I asked him who he was.  They were traveling through Iowa, six towns a day, for several days in a row, and it was 3 degrees outside. “You’re following Ted Cruz through Iowa?  I’m sorry,” I said to Eric, the photographer. “Actually, he’s a friendly guy.” “Well, that’s nice,” I said, genuinely happy for the journalists.  Back when I lived in Los Angeles I had lots of friends who were professional journalists and photographers.  I would have enjoyed to talk with them more.  “We read the New York Times every day!” I said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.  I didn’t get to confess I felt more in common with them than with the folks  swooning over the politician.  “We can’t get the Times on paper of course; it’s digital, but that’s better than nothing.” He just smiled awkwardly, which made me feel like just another starstruck Iowan.  Then Cruz entered the fray and the photographer put a lens on his camera.  “We’ll watch your beer for you,” we said.  “Thanks!” Eric replied.

On the way home I said to Tim, “Next time we go to an event like this, I’m not wearing these glasses of mine, these horn-rims?  Especially not with red lipstick. I think that’s why they knew we weren’t for Ted Cruz.  My glasses.”

“That’s possible,” he said, driving.

“Next time I’m going to dress like a Republican.”

“And what would look like?”

“I’ll wear that hooded sweatshirt I have, the one from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.”

“Do you think Republicans go to a lot of national parks?”

“I don’t know. But there were a lot of people wearing sweatshirts there tonight.  I have one.  I could wear that.”

(Below is a crowd picture from the event that “our” photographer took while we watched his beer. We were on the far left, but (thankfully) cropped  past the blonde woman in the back.)  (Eric never came back for his beer.)




Coming up: June appears on your television set

Yes, I’ll be on tv! And you can see it…. but only if you live in Wisconsin. Or near Wisconsin, or if somehow you know how to hack into the Wisconsin Channel. They have a series called “University Place,” and I’ll be appearing on Thursday, 11/17 at 4:19 p.m.  It’s my :45 min talk on “The History of Miniature Golf” which I gave at the Wisconsin Historical Museum back in June 2015.  I am wearing a vintage-style dress that I sewed myself and which I will probably regret wearing once I see the orange bows on television.

(Ye gods, isn’t there some area of the brain that is supposed to regulate these things, like sense of balance, like “don’t say stupid things in public,” and “best not to wear orange bows on your dress if you’re appearing on television”?)

But actually, it was awesome fabric which I purchased online from Mood Fabrics, and they aren’t paying me to tell you that, just as I’m not getting paid to tell you the History of Miniature Golf on your tv, but the folks at the museum were all nice about it when they asked, because, you know, they are Wisconsin people, and “nice” tends to come in the water, and they did pay me a bit to give the talk and gave me a nice night in a nice hotel which wIMG_0012 - Copy as… you know… nice…

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The museum set up a miniature golf hazard during my talk! And of course, it involved putting between Green Bay Packers and jumping the goal to land in a cheese hat. Of course.

Send “Dear Abby” to North Korea

I was reading “Dear Abby” this morning, and by admitting that I am telling you in part that I am turning into my mother. She reads “Dear Abby.” Always has. And I can’t even tell you how it is I got started reading it daily, but it might have something to do with the fact that I read it in the morning when I really should be doing something else, but am desperately searching for things on the computer to look at so that I can delay doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing. I think that’s why the internet was invented anyway, as a beautiful and colorful time-waster, or so it appears on an average Thursday morning.

And “Dear Abby” is entertaining, I suppose, although I can’t even explain why that is. Today there were people asking for advice on rather… uh… benign questions. “I have had the same hairdresser for the last fifteen years. Should I tell her that it bothers me when she takes phone calls while she cuts my hair?” “Should I ask my wife a question about her personal life?”

The answer is of course: Duh. Or, as I would put it, “What’s wrong with you? Of course you can say that! Speak up!” But this is why I am not an advice columnist because you have to be nice to people, rather than blurt out the obvious, which is something I tend to do.

Which has me thinking… if you read “Dear Abby” you’d get a much different impression of Americans than you might otherwise, if instead you read the news, or perhaps angry people’s comments on the news, which in some circles substitutes for news.

If you want to know how much the U.S. is not a nation of fierce warriors, just look at the advice column. Today it features someone who needs a nudge to tell their hairdresser not to take phone calls during the haircut. It seems to me that if you need encouragement to tell your hairdresser not to take phone calls, then 1) your life is pretty darn sweet, because that is a helluva non-problem, that’s what I say, and 2) what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just say what you believe?

People are less assertive than they should be. They should consider teaching assertiveness in school, but then schoolteachers would have to deal with a classroom of assertive kids (and they already have their hands full). Perhaps assertiveness should be taught in after-school classes. You know, instead of how to kick the soccer ball, you learn how to say, “I can’t take it when you make me shop for Christmas sweaters.”

I think people around the world think of Americans as a nation of bullies, and if you listen to any randomly chosen politician, you’d have good reason. But the rest of us are standing at the glass case of an ice cream store finding it difficult to select a flavor, and it’s so difficult, that we ask for a sample first, and the ice cream scooper-people are so accustomed to this that they have purchased a bucket of special little spoon-thingies solely for the purpose of giving you a taste sample—there is an industry that manufactures little spoon-things just for this purpose. Apparently Americans find it nearly impossible to select a flavor of something that’s going to be delicious either way.

(When I’ve purchased ice cream in Europe I don’t recall being offered a “taste first.”)

But back to the North Koreans. Apparently their dear leader has been telling them that the U.S. is at war with them. I read in Wired magazine that there are some westerners who risk their lives to smuggle in memory sticks to North Korea containing American television shows, with the idea that American Housewives (or whatever it’s called) will change people’s attitudes about life in the U.S., will let them know that we are not angry people, but instead, perhaps self-indulgent people who are worry about things like about diets and nail polish. (Actually, I’ve never watched the show so I have no idea what the people talk about.)

But I have a better idea. If you want to let people know how non-aggressive we really are, that we are not warriors, but instead kind of a race of passive and doughy people, send them columns of “Dear Abby.” Send them footage from an ice cream parlor where people are wringing their hands between “Zanzibar chocolate” and “cappuccino with chips.” (Okay, that was me.)

Writing Quote o’ the Week

“I write because I think the experience of being a conscious human in the world is absolutely unbelievably remarkable, and that the way to draw attention to that – for me — is by looking at human beings lovingly, and being aware of language, which is the great communal art form, and you know, basically that’s it.  It is a psalm.”

~ Marilynne Robinson

From an interview broadcast live, Nov 3, 2008, on “Live From Prairie Lights,” that you can stream here, and why not?