Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Note To Those Who Stop In

I am not trying to blow up my own blog or anything, but for those of you who blog here, there or anywhere, do you ever get the feeling some bloggers “like” your posts  just to get your attention and lure you to their site? And then their site is nothing more than the reproduction of other people’s posts? Or  images from other sites? I don’t want to be overly harsh, here. I mean, some of these images are clever and funny and I am glad I saw them, but they weren’t original to the person who posted them, and it was hard to figure out where they originated…which I am sure was a total accident. One time? (At band camp? sorry–I just heard that in my head.) I posted on my blog and within ten literal seconds of uploading my post I got a “like” from another blogger? It was a longish post, one that would be hard to even read in under a minute, let alone ten seconds. It was pretty good though, don’t get me wrong. Totally “like”able. Just maybe not that fast?

When I first started blogging, oh so many months ago, I was just a teensy bit raging against the void. I was having some trouble with pitching a manuscript to agents and publishers, and struggling with my voice and how tiny it sounds in the vacuum outside my head. I found friendship here and built some confidence. I stepped wrong a time or two, and owned it. The world didn’t shatter. I discovered others struggling with some of the same and some different issues and I found myself caring about them and what they have to say. In this time I have also been slammed with spam, and culled through tag-trawling in a most cynical way. I have built a following of real people, spambots and the hapless google searchers seeking information on the musical group “Walk Off The Earth” (yes, I totally love you kids and you can sleep on my couches if you come through town–you kids in the band, not the searchers, sorry,) and the ones who want to know what’s the latest on KARE 11 news anchor Rena Sarigianopoulos (I know, she’s awesome, I love her too, but I have nothing further on her since the Home & Garden Show.)  So speaking in terms of gross vs. net, I have increased my gross following. Do I have more net readers? If I do, what does that, exactly, signify?

Some of us write for attention. Okay, all of us here write for attention. If we weren’t, we’d be writing in a journal and it would never occur to us to “put it all out there” where anyone can see. Some of us write for the possibility of being discovered, hoping someone will find us on our counter stool at the soda fountain and say, “Hey, kid, I like your style! Why don’t you audition for a role with us? We’ll make you a big star!” It could happen. I would be swimming in my lottery millions, statistically speaking, before it does, but it has happened. Some of us simply write trying to make that ephemeral connection, thought to thought. The connection where something we think, then write, hits another’s neurons like the 4 ball into the side pocket, when just a second before the 4 ball was perfectly stationery there on the green felt. This next statement is important. We. Never. Touch. Each. Other. Not physically. Google it. It has to do with electrons and electromagnetic fields and the kind of stuff that simultaneously attracts and repels (like my brain and physics,) but we never never physically touch anything or anyone. But an idea can be transmitted from one brain to another and a connection made in that transmission. And that…that is what brings me back time and again to the words and the page and the endless frustration and joy that is writing.

So to all you real people out there, the ones who are here on purpose and the ones that just want to know if Leah McLean from KSTP 5 is pregnant (yes, she is, send her a note with your best wishes) and even the ones who are hoping I will click on your link to see  your plagiarized images or your digital cookie death traps, I want to say thank you. Thank you for checking in. Thank you for letting me know you are there. I hope you find what you are looking for, or at least something worthwhile. I hope you find a connection in this world and that it warms your soul, as you have mine. Thank you.

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Speaking of Poe,

Okay, we weren’t speaking of Poe, but after my last post and my rather self-conscious reference to “the feather light caress of mortality’s scythe,” I have been thinking about him. Like a lot of people, I hit a patch in my tween and teen years when I read a lot of Edgar Allen Poe and other authors who made the macabre an art form. I would probably have been at least a little bit goth, had there been such a thing in those days. I have never fully emerged from that patch; part of me loves the dark side, though I’d rather read it than watch it and prefer suspense to blood and gore. (Side Note: my friend Darlington tells me that in his culture–Rwanda, but in other areas in Africa as well–people love Hollywood movies but cannot comprehend our love of the horror genre. I suspect that if we faced real possibilities of genocide, murderous insurgency, and death by famine and epidemic we would enjoy horror flicks less also.)

So in reflecting how Grandma Marian’s death affected me, I was struck by how my response to death has changed as I’ve aged. Experiencing the loss of my own grandparents as a child, death seemed harsh but unimaginably distant. When one of my schoolmates died of a hidden heart defect we all grieved, but it still seemed the greatest of improbabilities, a one-in-a-million long shot, a lightning strike. Later, I lost a friend to breast cancer and then more and more people, not that much older than me, seemed to be coming out of the woodwork with life-threatening diagnoses and fatal tragedies. I lost my father to a car accident, one friend to an aneurysm and another to a drunk driver, my best friend’s mom and my husband’s mom died of cancer, and my sister and my mom both got cancer. My sister and mother survived, but death, always a possibility on an intellectual level, was becoming undeniable even to my gut. When my husband’s grandmother died, even though she’d lived an abundant life into her nineties, death felt a whisker’s breadth closer. I heard the swoosh of a blade through the air and felt the barest touch of metal to my skin. The scythe, I thought at the time. Now I realize that Poe had it right; it is a pendulum, and it is nearing. My husband’s grandfather confided to him before he passed on some years ago, that he was ready to die. He’d had a good life, he said, and all his friends were already gone. With this most recent funeral, it struck home that perhaps every loss as you age cuts deeper.

Some cope with this reality by chasing sex, things, or inebriation; or by creating a legacy through child-bearing, corporate empire-building, or writing a book. Then there is God. Some would charge that religious faith is just the covers a child hides under, hoping they will shield him from the horrors in the dark. I believe it is more than that. My faith, imperfect as it is, doesn’t protect me from death or loss, or even worry and fear. It does shore me up when I start to crumple, and it does help me reach out past my own self interest in a loving way to others, especially those others I find hard to love. It gives me an assurance of a bigger plan that I don’t need to understand to play a part in. And all it asks is that I keep trying, even as that figurative pendulum swings ever closer. I can do that. Maybe I can build a legacy of sort, as well.

The life of Edgar Allen Poe had its share of horror, but his legacy of literature has excited the imagination for nearly two centuries. The movie The Raven, starring John Cusack (one of my favorite actors,) is released Friday (April 27th) and I am looking forward to it. Poe, played by Cusack, teams up with a detective to catch a serial killer, who stages his kills based upon Poe’s stories. I don’t expect the same level of entertainment from the movie that I derived from Poe’s stories and poems, but I hope it is well done. That is the least we can ask from a film that dares to invoke a master of the macabre.

What movies and books give you shivers and thrills? A few of my top listed books: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and It by Stephen King. Movies: “What Lies Beneath” and “Coraline.”

San Fran, Finally.

When you tell people you are going to San Francisco for the first time, whether they have been there themselves or not,  they give you a wistful look. “Oh! You are going to have such a good time!” they say. A northern Great Plains girl, my associations with San Francisco were the 70’s TV shows “The Streets of San Francisco” and “McMillan and Wife.” Also Rice-a-Roni. Of course the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars. I imagined Fisherman’s Wharf to be a place where boats pulled up with their fresh catch and sold it to wandering passersby who had flowers and baguettes (or more probably, sourdough loaves) tucked into their market bags. As a person well into my adult years, I am savvy enough to know how naive my childhood impressions were. Also, since childhood, other cultural impressions of the area have surfaced, such as the gay rights movement and the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

My first impression of the San Francisco area was the thrill of driving the winding hilly roads around Muir woods, and the disappointment of not stopping there because the parking lots overflowed to roadside parking that extended a mile beyond the entrance. My husband navigated and I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to our hotel, Marriott on Fisherman’s Wharf, along which route I discovered that San Franciscans communicate by car horn. I don’t think any honks were directed at us, but from watching other drivers I could see that hesitation or confusion is not well tolerated there. Learn fast, or get out of the way. Cyclists, who aren’t well tolerated in other areas I have driven (ahem, looking at you–rural outskirts of exurban Minneapolis/St. Paul)  have apparently earned the right to cohabit the streets there, but then, if you are fit enough to climb the hills of the city and experienced enough to descend them without killing someone, you have been there awhile. We were happy to pull into valet parking. Almost immediately we headed toward Fisherman’s Wharf, two blocks away, to see what was up. The noise and the crowds were building around us as we approached the waterfront, when Mr. W’s cell  phone rang. It was his uncle, calling to tell him his (maternal) Grandma Marian had died unexpectedly, and asking him to pass the news onto his brother and father. This was a seismic shift; foundations were rocked. Physical fatigue and emotional aftershocks colored the rest of our stay. One second before we had merely been tourists, now we were Outsiders, viewing the colorful city through the bittersweet  lens of fond remembrances dislocated 1400 miles, and a feather light caress of mortality’s scythe.

The rest of this post could be quite maudlin if I dragged a lot of words into it and I hate that, so here is my San Francisco in a nutshell:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf: amazing people watching, and what a spectrum of race, culture, age and style choice. Could have sat and watched all day, but I needed a warmer sweater. Restaurants, bars and shops? Meh.
  • Ghiradelli Square: empty when we were there. Looked nice, but we aren’t big shoppers. We can get most of the same stuff back home without worrying about the packing. An okay place to look around while we waited for the cable cars to get back online.
  • Cable cars: remarkably unreliable. There were two breakdowns on different turnarounds the day we rode. The grips running the brakes vary a lot in comportment. Our first driver I wanted to invite out to dinner, and the second one I wanted to curse out to his face. I was a little emotional, I think.
  • Spicy Shrimp and some Hot & Sour soup at City Chopsticks  helped restore me a little. We just got off the cable car randomly.
  • When we looked lost, strangers stopped to ask us if they could help us. One friendly soul was definitely of French origin. We met Brits everywhere.
  • Union Square: more shopping, bigger crowds.
  • Restaurants: we practically burned out our smartphones checking restaurants out on yelp! and TripAdvisor. I was going to ask my facebook folks for a recommendation but it wouldn’t load. In the end we ate some pretty good food, nothing spectacular, but the biggest hit was honestly the cheap coffee and rolls at Coffee Adventure near our hotel. The mocha I got the first day was not quite hot enough, but the raspberry or almond croissants were enormous and we both ate for less than one meal just about anywhere else.
  • Before heading to the airport on Tuesday we stopped at Golden Gate Park, and enjoyed the simple but stunning Japanese Tea Garden before the crowds hit. The quiet and the beauty was exactly what we needed at that point. We also visited the De Young Fine Arts Museum and loved the observation tower that overlooks the city. At the entrance, a young woman walked up to me and handed me an extra ticket her group had for the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit. I had seen the CBS Sunday Morning piece on the exhibit and was excited to go. Mr. Wordtabulous was excited that I had only one ticket so he could get some alone time and not have to see all the fashion. I tell you, ANYONE would be amazed by that exhibit, and 98% would love it. There was not as much explicitness as I expected based on the warnings. I may have to buy a book on the exhibit, because there was that much awesome in it. Go, I urge you, if it comes to a city near you. Beauty, message, craft, humor, darkness and light…truly art.

So it took a day or two, but in the end I too loved San Francisco, just not for the reasons I thought I would, and with a special poignancy from the sadness we carried with us.

Clicking the Reset Button

Whoo.  The worst thing about vacations is that inevitable moment when you face the mess that you left, or that accumulated while you were gone and have to ask yourself, “Was it worth it?” Yes, I am sure, on an intellectual level, that it was, but my gut cringes at the laundry that still remains, the tasks left undone, the feeling that there is a ticking time bomb buried in here somewhere and the craven hope that I will be quite close when it goes off. So at least I get out of doing the laundry. This is all small stuff. Bigger stuff is here too, like the death of a loved one. Mr. Wordtabulous’ grandmother died while we were on vacation and her funeral was Monday. I was so focused on celebrating her long and fruitful life that my tears in the parking lot at work caught me by surprise the next day. Grief puts everyday concerns (like stupid, user-antagonistic software and self-image issues) into perspective, but also taxes the system overall. Everything this week has seemed a little sadder and somewhat more pointless. I am okay with wading around in the shallows while the blues work themselves out, but when I start to get into deep water and the waves are lapping up around my face I look for help. I find this video by OK Go helpful. It has a message I like, but mostly it just makes me laugh. So I thought I’d share it with you, because maybe you could use a laugh too.

Don’t be put off by the marching band, go ahead and play it. I’ll wait.

See what I mean? OK Go first came to my attention years ago with their Here It Goes Again treadmill video, and I also like their White Knuckles. Last Leaf is amazing, but if you are feeling blue, then for heaven’s sake don’t watch it last or you will be so melancholy you will want to go nap under a blanket for a week.

Music is amazing for building or altering mood. I can be struggling along and then I hear that one tune that resets everything, like a carpenter’s chalk line, pulled taut, then snapping back. (The internet has failed me; I was looking for an image to illustrate this. Either it is an incredibly difficult shot to capture or no one has realized how apt the snapping chalk line is as a metaphor. Just another thing to let go of.)

So, what songs reset your day?

Days of Wine and…Well, Mostly Wine

So as previously mentioned, Mr. Wordtabulous and I finally managed our long-delayed 20th anniversary getaway: five days in California wine country and San Francisco. I wanted to be really pumped about the trip, but as we approached departure, I went into a death spiral of tasks: at the new job, at the freelance job and at home, so that I didn’t even start packing until 8:30 the night before. For me, packing is like a mouth-watering appetizer. As I select each piece and outfit, I imagine ahead of time what I might be doing when I wear it. Will I be holding a wineglass, mouth pursed, a thoughtful expression on my face? or will I be perusing items in a cute shop? or perhaps driving down a winding, sun-dappled road in a convertible, laughter on my lips and my long lustrous hair blowing back…wait a minute, that’s not me. I do get carried away.

The  next morning we dragged the boys out of bed for good-bye hugs (grandpa was on his way for a little grandson time) and took off for the airport where I asked myself, “Why did I not assume the airport would be full of OTHER people departing on Spring Break trips?” MSP is a big airport and it was packed. We saw a lot of people dressed for the beach, a young woman searching frantically for her preschool aged daughter, and a flock of pacemaker people getting herded to the death chamber specially engineered security area. The usual, just on a massive scale.

I got the dreaded middle seat on the flight out, between Mr. W on the window side and some fatherly looking man on the aisle.  This man woke long enough to order a bloody mary mix from the beverage service which he set on his tray table. Then he went back to sleep, periodically heaving his body up into the tray and knocking the drink about. I watched in fear and fascination for most of the three and a half hour flight, wondering if I was going to end up with the beverage in my lap or handbag, but was too wimpy to do anything about it. I hate flying. I don’t fear it, and I rarely get sick from it anymore, but the personal space invasion and the NOISE, help me Lord, the NOISE–between the ventilation system, the engines, and the crazy loud announcement bell followed by the muted, unintelligible announcements, I became quite crazed. Bloody Mary man didn’t spill a drop, but by the time we landed at San Francisco, I (figuratively) was baring all claws and teeth.

I wrote an earlier post about how GPS navigation saved my marriage on last year’s trip with the family to San Diego, because a) I don’t do well reading maps in a moving car and b) Mr. W. becomes quite tense when faced with uncertainty while behind the wheel.  This trip I had the Nav all set up on my phone before the key was in the ignition. Ten minutes later, I was trying to explain to a skeptical Mr. W. how the blue “you’re doing it right” line jumped from the route we were dutifully following to another, nearly parallel route, which exit we had missed. JUMPED. First the blue line was on one road–the one we were on, then the whole thing blinked and suddenly our blue arrowhead was alone and the blue line was over there somewhere and Nav, the electronic minx, was rerouting. By the third time this happened, I was frantically trying to zoom in and keep ahead of our progress and Mr. W. was not amused. Digitally zooming and scanning ahead while watching road signs is worse in terms of motion sickness than reading maps and by the time we were out of the city, on the way to parts north, nobody in the car was super happy. Or remotely happy. Or even 100% physically there; I had the sense that I’d left a portion of my brain and some nerve endings on the plane. Why didn’t I drive and let him navigate, you ask? Excellent question, smarty-pants; perhaps you should come with us next time we travel and helpfully suggest that BEFORE we get into the car. What? No thank you? I thought not. Mr. W bought me a conciliatory cheeseburger and some crackers and we continued in a better frame of mind and body.

The weather was cool, damp and gray. Rows of black, gnarly grapevine trunks looked devoid of life, almost oppressive, like coils of barbed wire across the hillsides. But there was plenty of plant life in full vitality and the variety in California always tickles me. Also, the fact that people were selling boxes of ginormous strawberries along the roadside seemed promising. Our first post-cheeseburger stop was at the Benziger winery. It is huge, and looked beautifully laid out, but we decided not to tour the grounds after seeing a tractor towing a people-wagon half full of cold looking families across the  parking lot. The tasting room and gift shop were elegant, with polished wood and a quieter ambiance. We opted for the more expensive tasting, featuring some of Benziger’s nicer (biodynamic) wines, including the 2007 Tribute. The first wine we tasted was a Cabernet Sauvignion. As I lifted the glass to my lips Kat, our hostess, said, “You are going to taste jalapenos and peppers,” and sure enough, that was exactly what it tasted like. I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion, or the actual flavor, but it was the weirdest tasting wine I have ever had. It wasn’t unpleasant; we bought a bottle. We narrowed the reds down to a few and bought some of those as well, but I can’t tell you what we got or what it tasted like (see my earlier post: Wine Newb.) We spit and dumped our glasses but I still had just a bit of a buzz rolling as we left.

I strapped on my Relief Band for the winding, hilly road to Calistoga, where we did a little window shopping (adirondack chairs made out of oaken barrel staves!) in town before heading to our B&B.  We found the Chateau de Vie just north of Calistoga, with grapevines crowding right up to the porch of our carriage house and to the edge of the small gravel parking area. The main house, a grey stucco three-story, was classic chateau on the outside,

but California modern and masculinely stylish inside. Our host Phillip, (who owns and runs the place with his partner, Peter) met us and offered us wine and water in the comfortable sitting room that shared the main floor with the dining room and kitchen. A spacious patio off the back led to a hot tub and pool but the temps made the fire inside the carriage house more inviting. He pointed out the small gray buds on their vines which promised leaves and fruit would be appearing in a week or two.

Phillip had set us up with 8:00 reservations at Brannon’s Grill in town, but since it was only about 5:00 he offered us a fruit and cheese tray including his homemade sun-dried tomato tapenade that he brought out to our carriage house room. It was paradise. We could have called it a day right there…but we had reservations and wanted to make the most of our vacation, so we carried on. The bar and dining area was nice, wood paneling all around and jazz playing in the background. The service was prompt and considerate. I had braised rabbit ragu over fresh pappardelle pasta, and my husband had the Dover sole with green beans and mashed potatoes. The manager brought us complimentary glasses of Prosecco, and, I think because we were referred by CdV, our waitress brought us a complimentary apple crostata, which I have previously raved about and misspelled. We felt loved.

A chorus of frogs serenaded us off and on that evening but otherwise the night was quiet, and we woke, refreshed, to a drenching downpour outside. Not a problem. We didn’t have any plans except for some casual shopping  and visits to wineries which wouldn’t open until later anyway. We spent the morning in bed savoring fresh roasted coffee brought to our door and watching Kitchen Crashers on the big flat screen tv, while pools of rainwater gathered in canals at the vine’s feet. Peter brought our breakfast: scrambled eggs with tarragon, sauteed Chanterelle mushrooms, grilled bread, berry cornbread muffins and fresh fruit. Also orange juice and glasses of chardonnay. According to Peter, the early area winegrowers had a tradition of meeting weekly for scrambled eggs and chardonnay and I am totally on board with that. At that point I was glad I only packed stretchy jeans.

There was shopping and more wine tasting that day. We stopped at Regusci but there was a really large group (or two) of squealing young women there, so we headed down to Goose Cross Creek. We took a drive up a road Peter recommended for a great view of the valley. A mist occluded the view and wind tossed the trees up on the hilltop, but it was secluded and quiet.  Not hungry at all, we nevertheless stopped for had the best french dip sandwiches we ever had at the Rutherford Grill (in Rutherford.) The place was packed at 2:00 p.m. and we snagged seats at the bar where I enjoyed a beer for a change. We stopped at Caymus, where vintner Chuck Wagner served us himself (although we didn’t figure that out until later,) and then drove into St. Helena for some shopping. I don’t have much to report on shopping–I’d rather shop flea markets and thrift stores than boutiques, but I had a great time looking around. By the time we were done, things were shutting down and Mr. W. and I were aching for some downtime. Which we got, with another fruit and cheese tray. The gravitational pull of the king-sized bed was irresistible so we spent the evening in, watching Moneyball and The Help (CdV also has a nice selection of DVDs.)

Sunday morning dawned sunny and clear (note the view from the bed,) and another amazing breakfast awaited us.It was time to pack and take more pictures, to chat with our hosts and promise to send all our friends. (Go!) Then it was off to San Francisco, with one last winery stop at Bennett Lane where a nice man with a bit of a Jersey accent waited on us. Friends, on the third wine I asked, “Is this a cabernet?” because I thought I was tasting merlot, and it turned out that it was a blend including 22% merlot, so maybe I have learned something. After we left, about five miles down the road Mr. W. realized that the man, who had seemed familiar to him, was his cousin’s wife’s sister’s husband, whom he had met at a family reunion in that area two years ago. True story. Sometimes I think we live in a novel because the character list is so small. The rest of the vacation in San Francisco I will save for the next post, except to say that I was driving at this point, Bryan was navigating and the second we entered the outskirts of Oakland, the smartphone Navigation’s blue line jumped and we were on the wrong road. Vindi-freakin’-cation! Sweet.