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?


How to be a writer

After you write you should feel like a demi-god, or at least like a son-of-an-angel. You should glow, at least from the neck up. Your feet should scuff less on the pavement, because you are hovering (in your flipflops) about one inch off the ground.

After you write you should feel better than the guy who just walked past you, looking for the library restroom. You should feel superior, blessed, wanted, and a part of things. After you write, you should look in the mirror and find that the shorts and t-shirt you threw on hurriedly before you ran out the door, now suddenly appear svelte and polished. You should get a discount when you buy spinach at the farmer’s market. After you write for just one small hour, everything should be good and new. All things should appear more golden or rosy, (depending on your preference). You are godlike, or at least, you should feel so as you write, and especially after writing. It was your conversation with the universe, after all — at least, that’s what they say, and sometimes you say that too.

Only today you wrote about your cat. And you wrote about him the other day too, about that scratch he has on his nose. Just that. You wrote about your cat. And now you are done.


I was going to end there, because originally that’s all I wrote on the subject.  But actually, the truth is (and as a memoirist I’m just sick-silly-serious about telling the truth) the above isn’t true at all. Yesterday I wrote a lovely/weird passage that may eventually wind up in the next book, which I am currently calling “The Project” or on occasion “Tarzan. (I’m not writing Tarzan, but I do enjoy referring to my next project as Tarzan. Try it. It’s fun. The next time you are cleaning the house, say to your friends and relatives, “I’m going to spend the evening working on Tarzan.” See if it doesn’t make the experience a little better.) So it’s not true at all that I wrote about my cat for several days in a row. (Although, apparently, by mentioning my cat, I am now, indeed, writing about my cat.)

But instead of posting a blog regularly, I am apparently writing little drafts of blogs, saving them under the name “draft” and then not posting them. So the above doodle about writing about my cat was actually written several months ago, perhaps in mid-July. I think. I’m not sure. I’m not good at keeping track of time, and it should be Time’s job to keep track of me, that’s what I think. And truthbetold (which I’m into, as I mentioned) instead of writing a blog I’m working on Tarzan (which is to say, the next project).

(And now, if you think you’re confused, you should see my husband).

All this to say, Hello. How are you? I am fine. I am writing. And thanks for visiting this blog. What are you writing? It’s okay if you are writing about your cat. I do too. And one day he did (not too long ago) have a scratch on his nose. Today he weighs 19 pounds which is slightly less than the 20 pounds he weighed half a year ago.  Two weeks ago we went on vacation to Mesa Verde National Park and had a super lovely time—with my husband’s gorgeous daughters. (They live in Colorado.) And now we’re back home, and its September in the woods, which happens to also be gorgeous. Tomorrow I’m speaking to a book group who has journeyed all the way here from Minneapolis for the event.  I get a free dinner out of the deal, and that is nice (no cooking).  And that’s the news for today!

Ice Cream Tale of Fear and Woe

When I’m on vacation I need ice cream. (Actually, I need ice cream even when I’m not on vacation because who am I kidding, I’m twelve years old. I always have a box of fudgicles in our freezer at home, and at one point, collected the popsicle sticks just to see how many I’d get. The result: a lot.) Regardless. A couple of weeks ago we went on vacation to Michigan. By we, I mean my gorgeous and energetic husband. He has awesome blue eyes, but that’s not the reason I love him so. He is also incredibly patient with me. “I need ice cream!” I declared, as we departed the national park where we had been camping the last few days.

“Okay. Let’s get you some ice cream.”

There was a village of sorts just south of the campground that we had driven through each day. “I want to try the place on the other side of the street,” I said, having had a cone from the northbound side the day before. We pulled into a small lot and parked next to two wooden picnic tables in the sun. Above was a sign saying “ice cream, burgers, souvenirs, maps”

We stepped inside to find a small dark souvenir store rather than a cafe.  But in addition to displays of shotglasses, there were a couple of picnic tables in the middle. As we walked towards the back, two people with cones passed us.  Aha! We came to the right place. An older woman came out of the back. “Need a menu?” she asked. “You can sit here,” she gestured at wooden picnic table

“No thanks,” I said. “Just came for ice cream!” Reggae music played loudly over the speakers.

Along the back wall stood a man in a white apron. Behind him was a grill, and in front of him was a counter top for prep work. There was no big glass display case of ice cream, but.three large tubs sat on the counter between us. “You want a burger?” he said, waving hands in plastic gloves. He was in his late 40s or early 50s, short, with intense eyes of the highly caffeinated. He was also older than your usual ice cream scooper-person. He wore a white apron that tied in the back that he had probably been wearing at least since that morning, and perhaps several mornings before. It had the smudges and oily smears in an orangish hue you’d expect from someone working a grill.

“Just ice cream. What flavors do you have today?” I said.

He fluttered his hands from one bucket to the next, “We have chocolate! We have vanilla! And we have a strawberry nut blend!”  He kept fluttering them–

“Oh,” I said, “I thought there was more, that, uh, you were going to mention.”

“Chocolate! Vanilla!  And strawberry nut blend!”

“Okay. Um. I’ll just have a scoop of vanilla. In a cone.”

“You should try the strawberry,” he said, pushing the carton he held in his hands towards me..

It looked almost empty.  Mostly I saw the cardboard bottom. There wasn’t much left, and I wasn’t sure how long it had been sitting on the counter. Shouldn’t the ice cream tubs be kept in the the freezer? “Is it very hard still?” I asked.

“Oh, you’re being difficult,” he replied.

“Okay. Um. I’ll try the strawberry in a cone.”

“Tell you what! I’m going to give you half a scoop of vanilla and then half a scoop of strawberry! You’ll love it!” With a cone in one hand, he scooped and scooped some strawberry on top. Then he pushed it into the cone using his fingers. They were gloved. Still, it wasn’t something I had seen before. But hey, I’d just been camping, my standards were weakened, so I said nothing. He need both hands to reach for the carton further away on the counter, so he set the cone down—it had a flat bottom afterall– on the counter in front of him. When he reached forward he leaned over the half-filled cone and it stuck onto his apron, the strawberry top acting like glue. The cone protruded there out of his belly when he took a step back. He pulled the cone off and scooped up some vanilla which he put on top.

“I don’t want that one now,” I said, “not after it stuck to your apron.”

“Oh,” he said, looking down at it. “Yeah,” he said, and then tossed it into the garbage can, reaching for a new cone.

“Yeah, well, um, why don’t we just skip it,” I said, putting my wallet back in my purse. “You don’t really have my flavor anyway,” I said, backing away. I waved to my husband and we fled. back into the sunshine.

“What just happened?” he asked.

“It stuck! It was sticking to his apron! Where he had grease from the grill!”

“The cone?”

“Yes! And it didn’t even phase him! If you don’t realize you should throw out a cone that’s stuck to your apron, then I don’t want ice cream from you!” I said.

“I can’t blame you,” Tim said, starting the car.

For the next few miles I told many jokes in varying tones of outrage: “We have four flavors. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and apron-flavored!” Then I shuddered. “Apron-flavored!”

“Involuntary shudder!” I added.

We drove off discussing the types of drugs, legal and illegal, that might be available in that part of Michigan.

“It was reggae music. He could have been stoned.”

“Or meth. I’m hoping meth,” Tim said.

We drove a couple of miles and I added, “It’s the first time that I’ve ever had an ice cream person tell me, ‘You’re being difficult.’” Then I laughed. I laughed and laughed.  Also, I continued shuddering.

Moral: beware of apron-flavored ice cream

Accordions and the 4th of July (with birds on the side)

An accordion has a bend in the middle. Okay, a number of bends. So many in fact that the word accordion has become a verb – which is quite an accomplishment, if you ask me, and you haven’t but I’m saying so anyway. “To accordion” means to fold up like an accordion, in pleats. Which is, coincidentally, what has happened to my back.

Well, officially my back is not in pleats, but that is how it feels. I injured it, I suppose you could say. This past Sunday, while we were canoeing the lovely (but don’t tell anyone) Upper Iowa River, we made it a job/task/fun thing to do, to pick up discarded cans along the way. It was the day after the 4th of July, and you know, some people had been celebrating. And a certain percentage of those people celebrating did so in a consume-a-beverage sort of way, and a percentage of those people left their cans behind like so much puffs of firework smoke. So, while we went down the river, husband and I paddled to the shore on occasion to pick up a shiny metal can, or what was left of one, and throw it in the canoe. And then pushing backwards, well, I fell backwards. One time. Which is all it took. I feel completely off my seat to sit on the floor of the canoe behind me, after first impacting the crossbar. Oooph. Actually, I’m pretty sure I said a few words that might better placed in italics, or is it quotation marks? When you don’t have a copyeditor looking over your shoulder, you are left to add emphasis in any way you like. So I will tell you that at this particular moment, when my shoulder blades impacted the metal crosspiece behind me, I added a lot of emphasis.

I couldn’t paddle the canoe the rest of the way, so for an hour and a half I just sort of lazily posed with an oar in one hand while the bald eagles flew overhead and my husband, sitting in the back, paddled us home.

Since that time, my back has improved. For example, I am able to turn over in bed – without emphasis. But I am skipping yoga class tonight, and wasn’t able to run today. (Did you know I am “experimenting” with running? Emphasis intentional. ) It’s been four days, and my upper back is less painful than it was, but I do feel a bit like an accordion. And I own an accordion and sometimes threaten to play one in public so I know what I’m talking about… or pretend to on occasion.

Anyway, here is a picture of our lovely river. I didn’t take this picture because I don’t bring a camera with me on the river for the reason that 1) our canoe leaks and everything in the boat at some point becomes “one” with the water. And 2) I don’t want to get obsessed with trying to take a picture of the bald eagles and herons and would prefer to just enjoy them. (And at this point I will tell you that while I sat bolt upright in the canoe, semi-wincing with pain, we heard the screeches of a juvenile eagle and then saw it with its mom or dad on the edge of the nest as we floated underneath. Breathtaking. I mean, these eagles are really awesome and were such an amazing choice as the official bird of these United States. Happy 4th of July! And Yay, bald eagles. (Not so “yay” to the discarded cans.)

canoeing upper iowa

(not my feet… I stole this pic from the interweb… but this is our river and ain’t she sweet?)

Off, like the insect repellant

We are off on a thrilling camping trip.  Woohoo!  And to make things extra rugged, we are leaving our computers behind.  Oh, no!  Imagine?!  So… just to let you know that I won’t be replying to emails or whatnot (not that I’m very good in the first place, but… ah…. well…)  Enjoy your summery weather!