Category Archives: Working Girl

Horses and Hallucination

This really happened. And the part where the hallucination hit me, I remember like it happened five minutes ago.

I was a farm kid of a sort, and those of you who have been reading here awhile may remember some of my fond and less than fond memories of those days (the rest of you can catch up here.) My dad was a veterinarian and we always had a lot of animals around: dogs and cats, the occasional steer, pigs of course (previous post,) lambs, a burro and some peacocks  come to mind. But among our not-for-profit animals, the horses were the stars. I loved our horses. The numbers varied, I remember we had up to five at one time, but Sandpiper and Friday were constants.

A Buckskin, like Sandpiper

An Appaloosa, like Friday

They were a comforting presence as they grazed or dozed in the pasture. There were rare sudden moments when one would jerk his head and kick up his heels and they’d all go stampeding around as if they’d whiffed a pack of wolves approaching, and other times when one or more rolled on the ground, hooves waving joyfully in the air. Fifteen seconds later, playtime would be over and they’d return to trimming the grass to its roots. I loved to talk to them and stroke their silky necks and the bristly hair sprouting from their velvet muzzles. A calm, inquisitive horse, or a horse who knows you well will commune with you if you put your head near theirs. If your faces are close enough, the horse will gently exhale through its nose. The horse is talking to you,greeting you, saying this is who I am in their foreign language. It is polite to return the breath. The exchange is not wet or messy. I would rank it among the most calming yet stimulating experiences I have had in life. A moment of zen. That being said, one time Sandpiper turned his head when I was riding him and blew his cavernous nose on my favorite purple sneaker. I admire horses, but I don’t hold with over-romanticizing them.

Also, I didn’t love riding the horses. My older and younger sisters were both better and more avid riders than I, in fact my older sister won prizes for barrel racing in rodeos. As far as I was concerned, the risks of uncontrollable sprints back to the stable and infrequent falls were a little much for me, unless there really was nothing else to do or I had a horse crazy friend over. But we all took turns caring for them. We filled their trough with water, sometimes flooding a big patch of the back pasture in our forgetfulness. We moved them from the back pasture to the front pasture and back again as needed. The horses were savvy enough to know that if they played hard to get, ignoring us and munching grass instead of coming to the gate, that we would put some delicious grain into a pail to sweeten the deal. They’d get their treat, and we would snap a lead onto Friday’s halter. Our small herd proceeded quietly, hooves crunching into gravel, one small human escorting two or more great beasts.  My father fenced the pastures with electrical wire. As far as I know, the horses rarely made any move to escape the enclosures, but the shock of touching the wire kept them from leaning against the fence, which would easily have knocked it down. The electrical charge, which we all felt multiple times either through mistake or dare, felt like the sharp smack of a stick, followed by a fading, numbing tingle. It was aversive enough to make kids and horses wary, but not enough to harm. The front pasture was enclosed with a single electrified wire about four feet off the ground. The back pasture was encircled with five strands of wire, the middle one electrified.

On one particular gray and rainy day in my early teens, it was my turn to move the horses from the back to the front pasture. The rain had stopped, but a heavy wetness lingered in the air and dripped from the eaves of the sheds and barn. The horses saw the pail in my hand and moseyed up to meet me. The gate, made of several solid iron rods each less than an inch thick, hung heavily on its hinges. The latch was simply a chain welded to the gate which we threaded through a loop screwed into the wooden fence post and then slipped into a notch on the gate. To get the chain out of the notch, we had to lift up on the gate to get some slack, which I did that day. The horses waited patiently as I set the pail of grain aside, away from the puddle of water in which I stood. I reached between the horizontal bars and grabbed the second bar down, leaning in a bit to lift…and gently, unwittingly, brushed my forehead against the electric wire. I don’t know if it was the puddle around my feet, or if it was that the fence was starting to short out making the exact amount of electric current a little unpredictable, but I do know that for a few seconds the world as I commonly perceived it disappeared and I could see nothing but one singular image: an x-ray of my skull, ghostly white on a field of black. I knew it was my own skull because I could see my braces glowing in sharp contrast on my teeth. Then the image vanished, depositing me back in the world and I realized I could TASTE my braces, which were unusually warm and metallic in my mouth. I was still standing, still holding the gate, but no longer in contact with the wire. I let the gate rest back on its chain and hinges and walked away, leaving the pail and two puzzled horses behind.

I don’t remember ever walking away from a chore without permission any other time, but the horses were fine where they were, and having just had a mind blowing and potentially dangerous experience, I felt justified. Perception and the human mind has fascinated me ever since, and this may be why I ended up majoring in Psychology. So I thank the horses and the electric current for giving me something to think about, and God for letting me survive the day so I could do so. And I thank you for reading.

Hallucination or horse stories, anyone?

Working Girl: Bright Lights, Big City

Starting on Tuesday last week I began the new job, still aching from moving uncounted bins to the dumpster and a vanload of heavy cartons of potentially useful but ultimately elusive stuff from the previous job to the new office in downtown Minneapolis. I don’t know how many times this week I have said, “Where in the world is…?” or how many circles I have walked checking those cartons looking for a device, a file, a cable or a tape dispenser. After four days of trying to get one computer talk to another, or talk to one of two printers for more than thirty minutes, my hottest fantasy was a day without someone saying, “Why isn’t this working?” Everything I accomplished unraveled by the following day. Oh, I got a picture hung, I was instrumental in getting two light bulbs changed, and my boss’ office no longer looked like a storage room by the end of the week. But there was still the electronic communications issue which slowed everything down, and while I love a creative challenge,  this is not my area of expertise. Following a *headdesk* moment  I groaned, “It would sure be nice if we had an IT person,” and Patrick, the new guy, laughed and said, “We do; it’s you.”

It all moved at a frenetic pace: everyone working their own variety of magic with a lot of keystrokes, edits, meetings, searches, and phone calls. Finally on Friday, at four p.m., when a lot of people in the city might expect to be heading home or going out, we gathered for a meeting about some time sheet and invoicing software, which thankfully evolved into a conversation about the strangest jobs we’d worked (you know I said the rat lab, right?) our favorite movies, dream vacation destinations and the kinds of topics that turn colleagues into friends. The white wine my boss brought to celebrate the end of week one smoothed the day’s jagged edges and even though I came away with more to-do items on my list, I was happier than I’d been going in.

As I finally left for the day, clouds cast the sky in indigo and the streets were quieter than I’d seen them all week. The cars that had packed the parking ramp when I’d entered that morning had dwindled to a scattered few. I had to exit via the open top level, where I was greeted with a view into Target Field, where the Twins were playing beneath lights as bright as the sun. The Target dog, sketched enormously in red and white neon, grinned from the wall of the Target Center, and the looming buildings either glowed in light or glowered in shadow. It was beautiful. I wanted so badly to take a picture, but there was an issue with having to climb on things to get a good angle and on the top of a seven-story building, that just wasn’t something I wanted to do.

I wish I could tell you that the IT issues have now been worked out. They have been worked, strenuously, but they remain in ever new configurations. I HAVE been able to make a few creative contributions and been assigned some writing which is awesome. I have figured out the bus schedule…mostly. I love my walks between the bus stop and work, and to get lunches or supplies. It isn’t perfect. There are random gusts of what smells like raw sewage here and there. There are blocks that feel marginally less safe than others, but I am figuring this out quickly. The commute isn’t stressful, but it does make my day long. The thing is, I like it here. I am glad I have been given this opportunity.

So this is here and now. Thank you for visiting, for your patience in waiting while I pulled myself together to share this, and for your indulgence as I rattle on.

You’re Going To Make It After All

I have been MIA for awhile. Recently all my blogging has been blocked by some big news on which I was sworn to secrecy. Do you remember back in February when I took a big leap and got a small job with McFarland Cahill Communications in a field I knew nothing about: PR, particularly media relations? I got to run the Kitchen Stage at the Minneapolis Home & Garden show where I met many local celebrities and chefs. I got to send pitches to Ellen DeGeneres, Playboy, Oprah and the Today Show by express mail, often at full speed at the very last minute. I helped create press kits designed to entice media outlets to take an interest in our clients. I visited our metro television stations and newspaper and magazine headquarters. I got to go to events like concerts and parties where I mingled with (or stood near) colorful and interesting people. This job was 90% magic (I also took out garbage, helped with invoicing, picked up groceries and supplies and did quite a bit of filing.) My employers welcomed me with warmth, humor and some borderline painful growth stretching opportunities. During my time there I have been surrounded by educated women with a lot of knowledge that has nothing to do with anything I know, and it has been bewildering and exhilarating.

A a short while ago my bosses called me in and told me that McFarland and Cahill were going their separate ways. They wanted me to start gathering the information we needed to work toward that end: inventory, lease agreements, subscriptions, etc. Until they had their own ducks in a row, the news had to be a secret, even from the other staff. Which sucked. Because misery loves company and I was ALONE, both figuratively and literally, as some or all of the others were out of the office on vacation or working offsite at that time. I was stunned, because I had counted on staying and growing so much more. When I took the job, I had thought it would be something to get me out of the house, brush a few cobwebs off my brain and maybe give me some writing opportunities and ideas, but I got so much more. I was deeply bummed that not only was it ending, it was ending so soon. With everyone out of the office and me doing paperwork and listing assets, I felt morose, like I was preparing grandma’s estate for the sale.

Cahill took a position as Executive Director for Smile Network International, an organization we had represented in the past and a cause for which she is truly passionate. McFarland prepared to move her PR skills into Minneapolis with McFarland Communications, continuing with several of her existing clients and some new ones. Eventually the rest of the staff were let in on the news, and they began making their plans. Amazing opportunities arose for them because they all have great experience and skills, while I, petty child, moved into the WTH stage of grieving. I was jealous that they were all moving on so quickly and I was moving…where? I couldn’t get excited about looking  more traditional admin experience. Recently, McFarland and I had a conversation. She said she likes my energy and skills, and despite my lack of industry-specific knowledge wanted to continue to work with me, if I was willing to take on the task of helping get their systems in order and dealing with a really fluid job description working for unknown numbers of hours at least part of the time in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. Oh…boy. This was a stretch for both my skills and my tolerance for city travel at a time when I was still a little emotionally saggy from the break-up, but if there is one thing I have learned watching these people, it is that you have to be nimble and leap for opportunity when it presents itself.  I can be nimble. I can leap.

So, for the month of August, I will be archiving and packing and cancelling and throwing out, bringing to close a short but remarkable chapter. Then in September I will turn the page and begin making the 30 mile commute into Minneapolis, which I have been assured I will grow to hate. I am not thinking about that right now, however. When I was in my high school and college years, I always imagined I would end up working in the city, but until now I have never taken a job closer than a second-ring suburb. There is energy there, and untasted flavors that will help me mature as a person and a writer. My anticipation of this new experience downtown is successfully elbowing back any apprehensions. If Mary Richards can do it, so can I.

Three Random Things

My work adventure this past week became a family affair. Our newest client had a big event which will occur in Brooklyn, NY on Tuesday and they needed 850 drawstring backpacks to be stuffed with a summer skills workbook, ruler and pencil. These backpacks had to be counted and sorted by grade level (as the workbooks varied,) and there were two sets of thirty backpacks that needed slightly different contents. Nearly everything needed to assemble the backpacks arrived on Friday. I did the setting up and called in my teenage boys to do most of the stuffing, which took them four and a half hours (with my support.) Then, because we finished too late to ship that night, they and Mr. Wortabulous took an hour of their Saturday morning to help me get nineteen boxes to the post office. Seventeen of those boxes weighed between 50-55 pounds each. The other two were a little lighter. We express shipped them all to arrive in Brooklyn on Monday. This impresses me so much. 900 pounds of stuff leaves a Minnesota post office on noon on Saturday and arrives intact at a Brooklyn school on Monday. Hopefully. Really, really hoping. Trying to let go.

Friday’s staging for the Great Backpack Stuff-a-palooza.

In honor of Father’s Day I would like to thank Mr. Wordtabulous for being a great dad and husband. He discovered a small rabbit lurking in our strawberry bed today and called out our older son (who loves animals devotedly and had told us he had seen a bunny in the yard earlier; since he rarely speaks in sentences, at least to us, this was notable.) Older son came out and the two of them captured the rabbit. Before the little fuzzball managed to scramble away, there was a bit of bonding going on in the garden.

 

 

 

 

Finally, I was in the car listening to Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday when I heard that Ray Bradbury died. I read my favorite of his, Something Wicked This Way Comes, for the third time recently so in honor of the man I read my friend Kelly’s fave, The Illustrated Man. In the introduction, Bradbury writes: What I am trying to say is that the creative process is much like the old-fashioned way of taking photos with a huge camera and you horsing around under a black  cloth seeking pictures in the dark. The subjects might not have stood still. There might have been too much light. Or not enough. One can only fumble, but fumble quickly, hoping for a developed snap…My tunes and numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or 3:00 a.m. So as not to be dead. Here’s to you Ray Bradbury, and your legacy which will endure.

Working Girl: The Wisest Teachers I Ever Worked With

The job I held the longest in college was working for a company that  taught living and employment skills to developmentally disabled adults. I worked overnight and weekend shifts in the supervised living apartments for fifteen months. Clients who lived there were termed “high functioning”: people who had the potential of someday living independently. I believe there were seven two-bedroom apartments in addition to the office and a laundry room. It was a great job, involving a lot of hours, not bad pay, and very interesting clients and staff to work with. I was toying with a major in Psychology at the time, and this seemed a decent way to get some firsthand knowledge of the interesting and sometimes tragic things that can cause problems in the human brain, and how those problems manifest.

One of my first duties on a weekend shift was to take some clients to the grocery store with another staff person. My task was to help them make sure they got everything on their list, and that they paid for it as budgeted. Some clients had written lists, others had pictures. The other staff person took three people, and I took three and since it was pretty tightly organized, it went smoothly. We got the looks, though. In the aisles, as shoppers were picking out their Dinty Moore stew and their macaroni and cheese, they watched us doing the same thing, a college girl and three middle-aged people with obvious disabilities, moving as a closely knit unit through the store. A woman in her forties stopped me and said, “I just think it is wonderful what you are doing; I know I couldn’t do it.”  “Uh, thanks,” I stammered. What I was doing wasn’t that difficult, actually, although three grocery lists were a little more than I was used to managing, but I understood what she was saying. And it bothered me. I felt she was making a bigger deal of it than it was, to justify why she preferred not to deal with people who are different. We were just folks getting groceries, for Pete’s sake. We weren’t leaking contagion, or howling epithets at passersby, we were just checking to see if our cash on hand would allow us to spring for a can of spaghetti WITH meatballs. And feeling pretty pleased with ourselves at the checkout, when all the purchases were successfully paid for with the money in the envelopes, and all the prized food was ready to go back to the apartment. Mission accomplished.

But back at the ranch, as I was fond of saying, my inexperience created a difficulty. Karen (not her real name, no real names here today) a woman with Down’s Syndrome and on a diet to avoid additional weight gain, had unpacked her food and put away her pudding cups in the cupboard. My understanding was that she had to keep her pudding cups in the office, because of her tendency toward pudding frenzy (a phenomena I am personally familiar with.) My insistence on taking the pudding with me to the office had her in furious tears, and I felt awful. They were hers, she insisted, and she could TOO keep them! But rules are rules and I was the authority and she sorrowfully watched me confiscate the beloved snack. I felt like a monster, but wanted to help her keep to her program. When I got the office, Bill, the program manager, informed me that Karen had just moved to a new level of her program and COULD have the pudding cups in her kitchen as a reward for keeping her weight down and showing self-discipline. A fact that she was well aware of. “Oh, good Lord, I have to go apologize,” I said, turning around immediately. The joy in Karen’s eyes when I handed her the pudding with a sincere apology had a lot less to do with the fact she’d gotten her food back than it did with the relief we both felt that I was no longer a jack-booted thug, but a friendly helper and all was right with the world! We celebrated our reconciliation with a good laugh. “You’re all right!” Karen exclaimed happily, telling her roommate Sheryl, who had cerebral palsy, “I like her!” Karen pretty much liked everybody, but I have rarely felt so happy to get a thumbs up. Sheryl laughed with us, just glowing with happiness that everyone was getting along, her wiry arms clapping her hands together with difficulty, forcing each word through uncooperatively locked muscles in her throat and jaw.

The night shift was full of silence. The hours were something like 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and in that time the lone staffperson was expected to stay awake, do some quiet cleaning, medication counting and set-up, and regular rounds to make sure all was well. Some of our residents had seizure disorders of one kind or another, and one in particular, Mark, had to be monitored. Mark was a strapping man, who had a relatively minor cognitive delay and some speech difficulty. He had a job, and didn’t really have any need for programs to help him learn independent living skills. He would probably have had an apartment  and a car, or better yet, a motorcycle, which he would have loved, except for a catastrophic case of epilepsy. When he was having a a grand mal seizure, which he did at least once a week, his whole body went rigid and spasmed as if he was being electrocuted. As a witness, I felt helpless, and as the person seizing, Mark felt even worse. After an episode he almost always glared at anyone standing by and staggered off to the bathroom in humiliation, having to change his clothes after losing control of his bladder and nearly everything else. He hated the seizures. Every night, after he fell asleep, when we checked in on him on rounds, we had to move the radio he listened to away from the side of his bed, so he wouldn’t land on it if he fell out of bed. One night I happened to hear him thumping against the wall in seizure mode, and ran into his room to watch in horror as his body, stiff as a board, heaved up onto his right side and he tipped over, off the twin bed, landing flat on his face on the floor, catching his broad shoulder on the radio, which I had left two inches too close. The next day an angry purple bruise in the shape of a right angle commemorated the incident. He held no hard feelings, he said, but as always, he didn’t want to talk about it.

Mark’s roommate for part of the time I worked there was Philip. Philip had lived a long, relatively normal life, but was succumbing to a form of dementia that was eroding his ability to reliably take care of himself. He was a small, sweet man, fond of talking to himself as though he were making commentary to a beloved, quiet spouse always nearby. He referred to a lot of things as she: “Yep, she’s a nice day out there,” or “Yep, she’s a red car, there on the road.” One Saturday I was in their apartment, performing a routine annual maintenance task: pulling the electric range out from the wall and cleaning behind it. In order to do this, I had to remove the drawer underneath the oven, lie on the kitchen floor in the narrow galley kitchen, and unplug the appliance so it could be moved. Philip was in the living room while I worked. I grasped the thick plug and tried to pull it from the outlet, but it was really tight and only pulled out a hair, so I wiggled as close as I could and tried to get a better grip. As I pulled, my finger slipped and touched the prong. 220 volts of electricity coursed through my body, and I don’t remember a thing about it. When I came to, the oven plug was lying on the floor next to the outlet. I was still on the kitchen floor, but my back was now pressed against the refrigerator across the galley from where I had been. I could hear Philip in the next room saying, “Yep, she’s a yellin’ in there,” so I guess I must have given out a squawk of some kind. I slowly got to my feet and staggered off to the office, exhausted and headachey, but glad I didn’t have to change my pants. I decided to leave the rest of the oven work for the next shift.

Sarah had a particularly sad situation. She had lived a fully independent life, until she had accidentally fallen asleep in a running car, or at least that was the official story. Carbon monoxide poisoning had destroyed her short term memory. She read books, and did crossword puzzles and was very productive at the Work Skills Center, where she and other clients worked simple jobs under supervision and earned small paychecks. Sarah couldn’t remember what day it was, or if she had gone to the park that day or had dinner yet. It made her nervous. She kept a calendar and checked off daily events so she could keep track of her life, but it wasn’t enough. “Well, isn’t that a stupid thing!” she said often, perhaps fifteen-twenty times a day, either with a look of amused “Am I right?” in regards to the hat and mittens that turned up in the office where she left them instead of in her closet where she expected; or in anxiety because feeling lost all the time was getting her down, and there was no soup in the cupboard and soup was what was on her menu, and it was ALL stupid, the menu, the missing soup, and the uncertainty of whether the soup was missing because perhaps she ate it an hour before and forgot to check it off; or in full-on tears, defeated yet again by the checkbook register she was re-learning to use. Every day she practiced the same steps, trying to do the task without relying on written instructions. If she could, it meant the repetition was helping her shift the skill into her long-term memory. Some days it seemed that the only thing she remembered about the task was the incessant frustration. She remembered some things about her previous life, I was told, but she never talked about it. She smiled often and kept going, but I thought her life must be a form of hell.

We kept track of the clients’ money, medications, and progress towards their goals. We took them shopping and on recreational outings to the movies, or the pool. They checked in with us in the office if they wanted to go for a walk, or visit a friend in one of the other facilities in town, or most exciting, go out with a friend or family member who came to spend some time with them. We tried to keep them safe. One Sunday afternoon a couple of the women came into the office with a young man. “This is my friend, Joe,” one of the women told me, smiling. “He came to visit. We are going to get ice cream, okay?” This was unusual. Most visits, which were sadly rare, were set in advance. “How do you know each other?” I asked. “He is from my home town,” she answered. “Sorry, I didn’t know I needed to call ahead,” the guy said. The other woman with them over-enthusiastically affirmed they were old friends, but I couldn’t tell if her dramatic assurances were anything more than her usual over-the-top exuberance.  I couldn’t tell if the twist in my gut was a red flag or just nervousness from an unexpected change to the schedule. The young man was a little skeezy, but no worse than some of my own friends. It seemed cruel to deny the outing just because it wasn’t pre-arranged. I let her go. Of course, the guy turned out to be a perv she had met just that day and he had sex with her. She came home with ice cream and the intrigue of having gone on a “date;” she had been exploited, but was otherwise relatively unharmed. I was sick with regret. I got very, very drunk with the result that I do not drink whiskey to this day. The perv was prosecuted and I testified at the grand jury trial. I missed a hiking trip on Spring Break my junior year because the full jury trial was scheduled for then, but at the last minute the perv plead guilty and I didn’t have to testify after all.

That was a tough one. I still have a hard time letting go of the guilt, and it colored the rest of my experience there. I was also worn down to the bone from staying up all throughout the overnight shifts and attending classes during the day, and trying to get my studying done and sleep in between. There were some great memories though, like the Thanksgiving I spent with the residents who didn’t have anywhere to go, where we cooked the whole feast and I actually remembered how my mom made turkey gravy and it turned out. Everyone was so happy about it. Everyone there was usually pretty happy, and it changed the way I saw life. You could argue that they were happy because they didn’t have the capacity to grasp everything wrong with their life and their world. I had a psychology professor who once compared mentally handicapped people to animals. I confronted him after class and burst into tears (because confrontation rattles me,) to both our embarrassment. I’d argue that most of us lack the sense to let go of the BS that makes life so grim, so that we can embrace the minor wins in life that make it rewarding beyond all measure. Soup in the cupboard? Amazing! A friendly word from someone? A miracle! The utter BS that trips us up? It happens; move on, pal and open up for that next amazing, miraculous moment. Anybody can see that this is a good approach, but it takes a person with a special kind of wisdom to live it.

Related Post: Working Girl: The Summer of No Sleep

Related Post: Working Girl: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Home & Garden Show Wrap Up

Okay, all you fabulous Minneapolis Home & Garden Show fans (and especially you wordtabulous followers, God love you all!) we have photos and most of the recipes up.

For photos, check the McFarland Cahill Communications facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/McFarland-Cahill-Communications. I took some of the photos, but obviously not the ones I am IN, and there are a couple of those, which is very exciting.

For recipes, check the Minnepolis Home and Garden Show website: http://www.homeandgardenshow.com/MHGS/AtTheShow/96.aspx which will take you to the celebrity guests page. Scroll down to get to the Kitchen Stage celebrities. As of the time of this post, the Roasted Corn and Orzo salad presented by Belinda and Bobby is not on their website and I am so sorry for that. I would be sorrier if this website wasn’t getting so many hits from people searching Google desperately for the recipe. Big numbers on Wortabulous! Thank you salad-loving, google-searching KARE 11 fans! I am sure they will have that recipe up shortly. There are a few other recipes missing, but most of them are there and are FANTASTIC.

The Show was a lot of fun, and I can’t tell you how great it was sharing the experience with you. The clean up is done, the thank-you notes are in the mail, the notes are getting archived for next year and this is a wrap. Thanks for visiting, and be sure to check back. My life isn’t all celebrities and fancy food, but new adventures await, and I would love to have you along!

Home & Garden Show: The Longest Day

The fourth day of the Home & Garden Show dawned with appalling promptness. I’d woken twice in the night thinking of things done and not done, that maybe caused problems for others or potentially myself. I was sure I’d left four packages of frozen strawberries out by accident, so I stopped at the store yet again to replace them on my way to the Show. After five miles, I realized with horror that I’d forgotten to buy a cup of coffee. The Dunn Bros. in the convention center is, I believe, as far from the Kitchen Stage as it is possible to get, and there is never time. I sucked it up.

Our first guest on the stage was Chef Todd. He arrived early with a group of at least six assistants and Miss Chiquita, who wore a blue dress with ruffly skirt and a fruit basket hat. She was the spitting image of the banana icon. I gave the friendly chef a quick kitchen orientation, offered whatever help he needed and got out of the way. Not all the assistants had immediate jobs to do, so one offered to get coffee for us. I raised my hand, not believing my luck. With too many bodies onstage, I set about prepping the ingredients for the next few demos, and figure out the brand new Kitchen Aid food processor loaned to us by Macy’s that I had just washed. It was super fancy.Chef Todd happened to come offstage as I was puzzling over how to lock the bowl on the base and the lid on the bowl. He offered to look at it and had it together in seconds. Unfortunately, when his demo started, everything was ready but the microphone, so Chef Todd muscled it through without electronic assistance for about twenty stress-filled minutes until Aaron arrived and set everything right. Chef Todd made a seared pork shoulder on greens that was delicious. I had to return backstage, so I missed whatever he made that involved a thick chocolate sauce and bananas, but the remnants looked decadent.

Before Chef Todd was done, Pat Evans from KARE 11 arrived and was as nice as can be. We chatted a bit until it was time for me to rush as many of the dirty pans through the sudsy water as possible and shunt the rest offstage until the next cleaning opportunity. Diana Pierce arrived to join Pat for their demonstration of Baked Brie with Apricot Jam and Almonds, and Hummus (two different food demos, they were not served together.) The audience was delighted, as they usually are with our local TV celebrities and I got my few minutes onstage, helping locate extraneous items and releasing the lid on the food processor, which closed really tightly.

Chef Joan Ida returned for the next demo with a new assistant, representing the restaurant Scusi this time. I was sent away for a break at this time, with Bruce and Dan taking over for the next three presentations: Joan, Marjorie Johnson (author of Blue Ribbon Baking) and Todd Walker, with Chef Jordan. I got to wander the show with Mr. Wordtabulous for a few hours. I could barely stand to be away, although the gardens and the Idea House were beautiful and there was a dizzying array of things being promoted, demonstrated and sold all around. When my feet started to ache, we made our way back to the stage, where Marjorie Johnson was presenting her Ginger Snap cookies. Marjorie is famous for her baking, but beloved for her personality. At ninety years old and no taller than five feet, she entertains her audience with a running commentary as she dazzles in her red skirt suit and shiny red pumps. Maggie said she had trouble keeping up with Marjorie as they were having a look around the show prior to her appearance.

Todd Walker, with Fox 9 news, claimed he wasn’t a cook but did some humorous color commentary and assisted Chef Jordan Hamilton from Heidi’s. Chef Hamilton demonstrated a homemade Bison Jerky and made Kale & Adzuki beans and Toasted Millet Cakes. I missed the samples because by then, I was getting reoriented backstage. The thing about being four days into the event was that my memory was getting blurry and I was finding myself searching every cupboard for the item I needed and constantly having to refer to my notes to remember who was on next. It is kind of like my computer running on a full hard drive. I needed to defrag, but there was no opportunity.

Chef Todd was back up for round two and I did have a little time to consolidate and organize, and while he was on I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Sarah Master from the restaurant Porter & Frye at Hotel Ivy. She was a little apprehensive about her first time doing a Kitchen Stage demo and seemed to appreciate my offer to mike up and assist her. Once we got Chef Todd’s stage cleared, (he took a moment to admire Sarah’s cowhide kitchen clogs) we and one other person from the restaurant (possibly the restaurant manager? I didn’t get her details) presented her Fried Oysters with oven roasted Asparagus, Hollandaise and Prosciutto. Sarah got her friend busy whisking the egg yolks over a steaming pot of clarified butter while she demonstrated how to shuck an oyster, and the finer points of breading an oyster (shake off excess flour so it doesn’t get gummy, add a dusting of corn meal before frying, preferably in an electric fryer.) When her friend’s arm grew numb, I took over. As Sarah pointed out, restaurant cooking isn’t for wimps. Our samples with oysters were snapped up and then we served asparagus with sauce and prosciutto until that was gone. I asked Sarah to tell us about her non-cooking activities, and she told us that she plays goalie for a Turkish women’s hockey team, travelling globally for six weeks a year. Stunning.

The Porter & Frye hour was followed by Eileen McHale, who has partnered with Dole to demonstrate her Yonanas machine, which processes frozen fruit and other ingredients to a soft-serve consistency, making a sweet delicious and healthy treat. So healthy, it was recommended last year as one of Dr. Oz’s top gifts. The audience was voracious, and even though Eileen had six machines going, one after the other to produce different varieties of desserts, I could barely get the samples out fast enough. Happily, Eileen had a group of friends helping so clean up went fast, and we were ready in no time for the next presentation.

Stephanie March from Mpls St.Paul Magazine arrived first, and soon Stephanie Hansen from my Talk 107 appeared. I was delighted to be able to find just about everything they needed, except we found that all our large bowls were being used to store food for Sunday in the refrigerator. (Note to self: next year use large ziploc bags for storage! Save room, and keep bowls available!) I enjoyed their presentation of Gnocchi with Arugula Pesto and Chicken (am I the only one who didn’t know Gnocchi were made with potatoes?) These women are so smart and confident and had the kind of camaraderie onstage that was more about long friendship than show biz. They offered lots of insights into their philosophy of eating, cooking and feeding kids, as well as the recipe that was a fantastically rustic comfort food.

Next, Eileen from Dole reprised her Yonanas performance and, possibly because I knew it was the last demo of the day, or possibly because my feet were enraged that they had been stood upon all day long, I really started to drag. After several rounds through the audience with trays, I grabbed the next trays of samples, turned and looked at the audience and said, “I have one tray of Peanut Butter Cup, and one tray of Tiramisu (non-alcoholic.) Is there any way I could persuade you folks to come up here for a sample?” “Well, there’s an idea!” Eileen encouraged us, and I will give the audience credit, the walk up to the stage didn’t discourage them in the slightest. They loved the samples and most of them seemed surprised to hear that the Yonanas machine was only $49.99, and available at Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond, and disappointed to hear that it wasn’t for sale at the show. So I think Eileen will do pretty well.

The last two demonstrations of the day were cancelled, to the disappointment of the audience, and final clean up took awhile, but felt pretty good because I did it in my sock feet. It had been a twelve and a half hour day, but I didn’t rush because I had been told that two of my colleagues were taking over the Stage Sunday, and I was getting the day off. It was a bittersweet moment. I had told quite a few people, including all of you, that I’d be there all week and I am such a child that I hate missing anything, but I was also so pooped I was afraid I might doze off at a stoplight on the way home. The idea of fully relaxing was delightful, while the thought of relinquishing my responsibility troubled me. That is always a good sign that for me, it is time to let go. I left the Kitchen Stage in the good hands of Maggie and Amanda, and departed with thrilling memories and the hope that maybe next year, with my list of “Things We Have Learned” I might get another chance to do it again. Recipes and pictures will be online soon, and I will be providing links. Thanks for reading!

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