One More Time

I have been blogging for five years now.

In September of 2008, when I was a high school senior who fancied myself enough of a writer that I thought I should do it publicly (still not sure if that was a good idea), I started my first blog.  It was drama-laden and iffy at best in the adjectives department and still exists if you really want to go there.  But don’t think I’ll be providing the URL.

Actual picture of high school me in an actual marching band uniform.  I look like such a baby.  I wish I could go back in time and warn myself not to take Intro to Statistics.

Actual picture of high school me in an actual marching band uniform (I’m on the left). I look like such a baby.  So naive about the ways of the world.  I wish I could go back in time and warn myself not to take Intro to Statistics in college.

In September of 2011, I began my second blog upon departing for a semester in Salzburg, Austria.  I only posted about a dozen times on that one, since I was, you know, living my grandest Sound of Music daydreams.

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In December of 2011, back from my travels, I decided that I didn’t want to return to the high school Blogger blog, and anyway, I had a new goal in mind: I was resolved to blog once a day, every day for the entire new year.  Thus Eight Days a Week was born on WordPress.  When that year ended I stuck around for another year, blogging about whatever struck my fancy.

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In September of 2013, I decided to start yet another blog.  My last, I fervently hope.  I have long wanted my blog to be its own website, to have a higher level of creative control, to have a chance to join blogging communities, and to interact with blog readers on a larger scale.  Additionally, while the name suited my original project well, Eight Days a Week no longer describes what I’m trying to do as a blogger and writer.

So, I’ve moved.  One more time.

Don’t think for a moment that this changes much.  Goodness knows I’ll be writing the same goofy sagas and literary rants as always.  Also, as I mentioned before, my posts from Eight Days a Week have transferred over to the new blog, so the gang’s truly all there.

Although it’s not really goodbye, I want to take what feels like a solemn moment to thank all of you for reading, for following, for liking, for commenting.  Thanks for not rolling your eyes when eye rolling was more than justified.  At least, thanks for not rolling your eyes where I could see you.  It has meant a great deal to have the support of fine folks such as yourselves.

I hope that you’ll follow the link below to the new blog**, where an introduction is waiting:

http://www.hollyinspec.com

**Please note that if you’d like to continue to receive my posts in your email, you’ll have to resubscribe at my new blog (link above).  I will no longer be posting on Eight Days a Week.  

English Majors Unite

I finished The White Forest tonight, tried simultaneously to go slowly and savor the words and to speed through to the ending.  And then I sat for a few minutes and missed the concept of English classes.  Of walking daily into an hour and twenty minutes of literary discussion.  I want a professor to deliver some compact lecture on the Victorian obsession with the occult.  I want to “throw some themes on the board,” as we used to say.  There was a love triangle in novel, there was a question of humanness, of otherness.  There was sisterhood and the familiar notion of a terrible, beautiful female goddess. (here we’ll veer into feminist topics, boldly and on purpose)  There was nature, pristine and set in deliberate contrast to industrial London.

I would like to sit in a circle with some bona fide English majors and pare this novel into delicate shreds until we’re all laughing and no longer know when we crossed the wavering line that is over-analyzing.

I suppose what it means to graduate is not that you’ve learned all you’ll need to succeed in the world, but that you’ve learned how to learn on your own.

But honestly, where’s the fun in that?

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The Oak Tree in my Foot

There was an oak tree in my foot.

It happened when I stepped out onto the deck to snatch dry clothes from the rail before the dark and damp set in.

I heard a crunch under my bare foot, but didn’t realize what had happened until the next morning when I saw the small acorn, splintered and crushed, and felt the bruise in my heel.

By then it was too late.

In the night the bits of acorn in my heel had sprouted thin white tendrils.

The tendrils wound through plains of muscle, delicate vein tunnels, nerves lit up like small cities.

The roots stretched toward the extremities of my left foot, only ceasing their growth when they reached the tip of my big toe.

Then the acorn shards in my heel began to thicken.

The next night while I slept, a tree trunk the circumference of a ChapStick tube poked softly through the bandage I had carefully applied.

It grew downward, splayed into parallel arcs.  Leaves fluttered out, already yellow and orange.

The tiny oak grew acorns of its own and dropped them until they littered the foot of my bed like a forest floor.

The oak tree lived an entire lifetime in one night, hurrying so that by the time I endeavored to put my feet on the floor the next morning, it would only be a stump, a splinter in my heel.

Oak trees aren’t unintelligent, you see.

When mom plucked out the splinter, it was only a splinter.

And when I found a tangled clump of bark and crumbling leaves at the foot of my bed, I blamed the dog.

O, What a Luxury

We all know that I have a terrible inferiority complex when it comes to meeting celebrities (even local ones).  “Will they like me?” I think.  “Can I trust myself to say something witty and endearing?” I think, sweating profusely.  “What if I’m not dressed nicely enough to impress them?” I think, from a dead faint on the floor.

It’s silly, and it doesn’t make much sense.  We’re all people, after all.  We’re all plodding through this wonderful, cruel maze that is The Human Condition.  Celebrities just happen to have a marketable talent.  Or are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.  Or are really, really ridiculously good-looking.  Or are hard workers.  Or some combination of all four.

The fact is, I can’t seem to remember any of this wisdom when faced with a real, live celebrity.  And thus I’m always surprised when they turn out to be nice, regular people.  (Of course, some celebrities are as appraising and arrogant as I fear, and those I choose to smirk about later: “It goes to their heads. It always, always goes to their heads. Heh heh heh.  I was right all along.”  But then again, plenty of people who don’t have their own TV shows are appraising and arrogant.)

So when Wednesday night found me sitting in the sixth row at a Garrison Keillor poetry reading, I knew I was in for it.  Here was a man whose voice I had literally been hearing through the radio for my entire life.  My parents own a boat on Lake Superior, and some of my earliest memories are of hurtling through the northern woods on Sunday afternoons, listening to Guy Noir or News From Lake Wobegon and laughing whenever my parents laughed.  Sometimes, uncomfortably full with the Happy Meals we had begged for for miles and miles (and which were somehow disappointing once actually opened and consumed), my sister and I would fall asleep in the backseat of the minivan to the sound of Mr. Keillor’s voice, and wake up at home.

Garrison Keillor is perhaps the most important public figure of all, in the Minnesotan mind.  He brought us–our church basement suppers, our bars and hot dishes, our passive aggression, our experience of being up at the lake or down on the farm or “in town,” our grandparents and parents and cousins–to the world.  And sure, we’re not always so neurotic as A Prairie Home Companion portrays us to be.  Nor always so poignant nor so musical.  But the spirit of the show is right.

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All of the sudden the poetry reading was over.  The wide sheets of paper Mr. Keillor had read from were scattered on the floor.  And Mr. Keillor himself was strolling down the stage steps, down the aisle, and out into the lobby, where, as he said, he would be happy to sign copies of O, What a Luxury and to chat.  Mom and I joined the growing line, squashed in between an older woman who exclaimed that she was “just wild for E.E. Cummings” and a young couple tossing computer jargon–discs and codes and bytes–back and forth like a softball.

Then we were at the front, and I silently handed my book to Mr. Keillor, deciding in a split second that perhaps I should just be quietly friendly and not attempt any conversation.  He looked up, though, and jokingly commented on my mom’s hair, and then turned to me with an “what do you have to say for yourself, young lady?” expression.

So I told him that I’m a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota.

“And what did they do for you there?”

“They gave me an English degree, but I’m still figuring out how to use it.  I’m trying to get a job writing or editing.”

“Are you a good writer and editor?”

“Yes.”  (Then, because that seemed too vain) “I mean, I like to think I am.”

“Send your resume to Prairie Home Companion, then.”

I’m going to end the conversation here, but note that there was some additional stuttering on my part before the exchange was over.  Perhaps also some gushing to my patient mother during the drive home: “I can’t believe Garrison Keillor told me to send in my resume!  I mean, it wasn’t exactly a promise of a job, but still.  I’m going to have to write a cover letter right away.  I think I’ll say something about listening to APHC as a kid, but I don’t want to ramble, you know, so I’ll have to be concise…”  You get the idea.

To conclude this saga, I think there’s a lesson to be learned: if we ever happen to develop a marketable talent; or are in the right place at the right time; or become really, really ridiculously good-looking; or increase our work ethic…in other words, if we become celebrities, let’s remember to be kind to stuttering recent graduates who ask for our autographs.  Because it will mean a lot to them.

On My Own: Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Edition

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In my teens (particularly in high school), I never would have gone to something like this by myself.  I would have wanted to be with my family or with a group of friends.  Not because I feared crowds or for my general safety in public, but rather because I would have wanted to look like I belonged, somehow.  Like I was the kind of successful person who had back up, who had peeps, who had voluntary companions.

In my twenties, I’ve discarded this particular security blanket.  I have studying abroad to thank for that, and a certain icy roommate who seemed to either think that I was a swamp monster or entirely nonexistent.  That sort of treatment, rather than crushing my spirit–cue Oprah monologue–forced me to be independent, self-confident, and to chuckle to myself at the horrendous awkwardness of the situation.

An example of my claimed immense self-growth: a few evenings ago I went to a concert by myself.  I drove to Minneapolis (though I’ve always liked driving); ran up on a curb while attempting to park on a smart, residential street; and walked along Lake Harriet until I reached the band shell where the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians would be performing.

I then stood for an hour and a half at the back of the band shell’s lawn listening and periodically patting the head of my standing neighbor’s small black dog.  I enjoyed the music, and the general splendor of being near a great mass of water and seeing the occasional bright-sailed sailboat race across it.

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

The only discomfort involved in the outing–aside from when I jumped the curb with witnesses–was that when it comes to classical music, I hardly know what I’m hearing.  There a movement has ended, there the sound is building … that’s about the extent of my knowledge.  I greatly admired the young woman near me who had her eyes closed the entire time and was softly swaying her body as if in a great, music-induced trance.  I would have done the same, hoping for epiphany, but bad things tend to happen when I close my eyes.

You can see me in this photo!  It's tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I'm the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair.  It's a little embarrassing that I'm not even watching the concert in this photo.  But hey--maybe I'm petting the dog?

You can see me in this photo! It’s tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I’m the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair. It’s a little embarrassing that I’m not even watching the concert in this photo. But hey–maybe I’m petting the dog? Photo credit: Jennifer Simonson

Truthfully, until I arrived at Lake Harriet, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into.  I knew it was a Minnesota Orchestra concert, and that it was free.  But I didn’t realize that these were the Minnesota Orchestra musicians who have been locked out of the Minnesota Orchestral Association since October 2012, following a labor dispute.

Good for them for continuing to perform, despite the lack of steady salary.  Good for them for refusing to let their orchestra become anything less than the world-class group it’s always been.

After the concert was over, I pushed my way to the front of the band shell where buttons and t-shirts were being sold.  I grinned hugely as I bought my button and pinned it on, so much so that the woman at the table asked if I was a musician myself.  No, ma’am.  It just felt good to support a cause again.  Not good as in, my word, I’m such a Good Samaritan, but good as in, my word, even though I’m by myself, I’m part of this large group of happy people who love music and come to listen to it and buy buttons to support it.  What was left of my trembling high school self shrank three sizes that day.

If you’d like to learn more about the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians, their cause, and their upcoming concerts, here‘s the link to their website. The Star Tribune write-up of the Lake Harriet concert and the current lockout situation can be found here.

Birthday: 23

I awoke on this, my day of birth, to darkness and quiet.  It was five-thirty in the morning, a time I prefer to sleep through unless I’m doing something particularly important such as going to the airport or being born.  I was born twenty-three years ago around five-thirty in the morning.  I was ten days late, which is a little more characteristic.  I suspect that I wished to avoid the great spectacle of emerging into the world for as long as possible, and then perhaps decided all at once to get it over with.  Perhaps it was getting uncomfortable in there.  Perhaps my lower back was twingy even in utero.

It was just too magical that I randomly woke up twenty-three years later so close to the time when I was actually born, so of course I wasn’t going to go back to sleep.  I tugged a blanket off my bed and wrapped it around my shoulders as I staggered to the living room couch.  Ruby was there, dozing on the rug.  She summoned some enthusiasm to greet me, and then settled back down.

The sun began to rise.  A thick orange stripe appeared from behind the tree line, padded above with grey sky and below with grey lake.  The bright globe at the middle of the stripe seemed to burst before my eyes, coloring the leaves of our backyard ash tree.  The stripe lightened to peach and then to pale yellow.  Orange flecks fell onto the lake, tracing a path from my window to the sun.  And then it was over, or at least I stopped watching because Ruby whimpered to be let outside.

Mom and I went to church later in the morning, where we were prevented from leaving our pew at the end of the service by two elderly barricades who had knelt to pray for the next person to die in the parish.  We couldn’t interrupt, so we stood still and considered vaulting over the shorter of the two.

Then came the all-important Vikings football game.  I feel asleep briefly in the second quarter, but was roused at halftime to help Dad remove a dead mouse from its dusty mausoleum in an air duct.  Because sometimes, even when you’d like to prance around in a plastic tiara that reads “it’s my birthday, spoil me,” dirty jobs have to be done.  And decomposing mice have to be discarded.

Dinner and dessert, as per tradition, were at the birthday girl’s request.  I chose ribs (we’re entering those last few precious days of grill-conducive weather, after all) and this cake.  Amy went off to college a few weeks ago, the skunk, so poor Mom and Dad were left to harmonize a happy birthday by themselves.  Luckily, musical expectations are low in my family clan.  I opened presents, the contents of which I will likely detail in Friday Favorites, where I can be openly materialistic.

This year’s birthday was a little different from last year’s.  But as always, I felt the satisfying weight of another year’s worth of lessons and discoveries.  I’ll try to use them wisely.

Little House on the Prairie, Explained

When I was eight, I asked for a Little House on the Prairie book for Christmas.  I already owned one, and thought I’d like the next book in the series.  On Christmas Eve, in the midst of the annual party, I was given a large gift bag filled with the gingham-bordered books.  All nine of them, including the one I already owned.  The party, needless to say, was lost to me after that.  I plucked out Little Town on the Prairie, because the girls looked the prettiest on the cover.  That was important to me then.  I read as adults flitted about with wine in hand and I ignored Amy when she tugged at my arm, begging me to help her chase our particular favorite adult, deemed “Tim the Alien.”

Ironically, I forgot Little Town on the Prairie at my aunt and uncle’s house that night, and didn’t get it back until I had read through the rest of the series.  I started it first and finished it last.

Once I had read the books at least five times each, had sufficiently cracked the spines and dotted the page corners with peanut butter, I began to make up my own versions of the prairie stories.  Specifically, I liked to make them up alone in my room, using my American Girl Dolls as my daughters.  I had the role of omnipresent mother, and would lecture the dolls as I tugged a tiny plastic brush through their hair.  Things like, “I know you don’t like school, but it’s very important that you have an education,” and “Felicity, you look beautiful.  Any boy in town would be lucky to dance with you” were oft-used phrases.  In fact, I don’t believe I ever did anything with the poor dolls but boss and brush.

When I was twelve or so, mom heard about a pioneer school held in a nearby town for a few days in the summer.  The classroom was a circa 1852 schoolhouse.  Pupils were encouraged to dress as early pioneers.  It was a dream.

I don’t remember much about the lessons, nor about the field trips we took to local historic sites, but I do remember the teacher.  She seemed to me very old and wise, and was almost a cartoon in her elderly perfection.  The throat of her dress was clasped with a large brooch, her hair was an airy puff of white, and one day she drew some of us older children to her.  Her “big girls,” she said, deserved a treat.  In her open hand were three small stones.  They were all alike, save for the varying patterns of gold stripes upon the brown fields.  Tiger’s Eyes, she whispered, as if sharing a great secret.  We took our stones solemnly and pocketed them so that the other pupils wouldn’t see and be jealous.  I showed mine to Amy anyway.  Tiger’s Eye, I told her.  Maybe when you’re older you’ll understand, I said.

Later, the big girls sat on the steps together to eat lunch.  We hadn’t spoken to each other yet, but the stones in our pockets had bonded us somehow.  It wouldn’t take much for us to be friends, but it was difficult to begin.  Amy had been picked up by mom for an orthodontist appointment, so I was without my usual freckled buffer.  I had her can of root beer, though, a great treat.  I offered it to one of the girls.  They offered me a cookie in return.  That was all it took.

The other big girls were sisters.  Laurissa, Katherine, and Emily, I think their names were.  The cookie they gave me was good; it was oatmeal chocolate chip.  I politely said so–we were old enough to wade into friendship slowly–and the girls offered to get the recipe from their mother.

Over a decade later, I still have the recipe.  Laurissa copied it out on two neon orange index cards.  The handwriting is painstakingly neat, and the very last step, punctuated with a period, reads: eat.  I made those cookies tonight, wanting the rustic, pioneer-ish task of stirring together butter and sugar, of patting down cupfuls of flour with my fingers.

I haven’t seen those girls since the last day of pioneer school when they trotted off down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.  The American Girl Dolls are packed snuggly in a large box in my closet.  I still peek in now and then to scold Molly for letting her bangs get so tangled.  My Little House books, still the ones from that long-ago Christmas gift–the new color editions are lovely, but I just can’t bring myself to upgrade–have a place of honor on my bookshelf.  I can’t say for sure how many times I’ve read them, but I suspect at least twenty times each.  I still have my Tiger’s Eye.  Its great significance hasn’t yet been  revealed to me, but I don’t worry about that.  Maybe when you’re older you’ll understand, I tell myself.

Ruby

Ruby

is my family’s dog.

She is a long-haired German Shepherd.

My mom and sister brought her home after dad distinctly said: do not bring home a long-haired.

I was a freshman in college at the time, and came home for Spring Break to a new puppy in the kitchen.

We stayed up late deciding on a name.

I came up with Ruby because it’s the name of one of Laura’s grown-up aunts in Little House in the Big Woods. 

I didn’t tell my family about that particular origin.

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Ruby didn’t actually bark until she was three years old.  Before then, she whined.

It was effective enough, I suppose.

Ruby will lick your hand, your face, your toes until they’re dripping with slobber.

If you’re napping on the couch and forget to turn your face toward the shelter of the pillow, she will come upon you as you sleep and swipe her tongue from your forehead to your chin.

If you choose to nap on the couch at our house, do not sleep with your mouth open.

Ruby is the only dog I’ve ever known who snorkels for rocks in the lake.

She will stick her entire face in the water, clamp her jaws around a particularly fine specimen, and tug until with a suction-like sound, she frees it from the sand.

She prefers to make as much noise as she can while she does this, in case you hadn’t already noticed what she was doing.

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Ruby likes to tear up divots of grass and earth in the front yard.

It is not uncommon to spot a clover or two drooping down from her molars.

Ruby wags her tail with delight when I hide behind a door to scare her.

Sometimes she also pees a little from fright.

Hence, we now take our hide and seek outside.

Ruby will not go into the basement.

I once carried all forty pounds of her terrified puppy girth downstairs during a tornado warning, and she hasn’t gone near the stairs since.

If you try to beckon her downstairs, she will pee a little from fright.

And hide under the kitchen table.

Ruby perks her ears during animal programs on TV.

She will catch pieces of popcorn on the fly should you toss some her way.

She has quietly and swiftly dismembered every toy we have given her thus far.

Ruby hasn’t the courage of Lassie, the brute strength of Beethoven, nor the sensitivity of Hachiko.

She doesn’t seem to mind, though, so neither do we.

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Wedding

I have never seen my friend Tim look so happy.  That moment everyone talks about–when the groom first sees the bride start down the aisle–happened just as everyone said it would.  Tim looked as if he were about to cry, explode from happiness, and faint from nervousness all at once.  I almost burst into tears just to see it.  A small edit: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look that happy.

Children, that’s the look your partner should have on your wedding day.

The wedding was in a church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.  I drove from Minneapolis with two friends, and drove from Sauk Centre to Fergus Falls with those same two friends plus Ben.  He still goes to Morris, the lucky dog.  It was a long three and a half hours in the car, punctuated by a visit to Keith’s Kettle for lunch.

Keith’s Kettle is advertised via billboard for about one-hundred miles of highway, and every billboard features a color photograph of Keith himself, smiling and pink-faced.  It has long been a goal of mine to pay a visit to the famed establishment, and now I have.  My chili was actually fairly delicious, if you’re looking for a recommendation.  And we saw Keith himself, greeting diners from the front desk.  He was wearing the exact same polo shirt he wears on the billboards.

When we arrived in Fergus Falls, we piled into the church bathrooms to change.  I called dibs on the shower stall, and was able to shimmy into dress and heels with relative ease.

Then we found the groomsmen, two fellow Morris graduates and former Pine Hall (my freshman dorm) residents, and were brought in to hug the groom before we found our seats.

It was a beautiful, beautiful ceremony, draped with white tulle and navy silk.  I fumbled a little through the rock version of “Amazing Grace” (rather unlike the solemn Catholic version), but that was largely overlooked.  Tears were shed again (in case you’re looking to tally) when the bride and groom distributed roses to their parents and grandparents.

The reception began with an announcement asking guests not to clink glasses in order to get the bride and groom to kiss.  We at table five, self-dubbed the “kids’ table” (made up of a smattering of Tim’s friends from elementary school, high school, and college) hid our disappointment and politely obliged.  A half hour later, the mother of the groom came by our table to say hello and to tell us quietly that if we clinked, she would pretend she didn’t hear.  So we clinked and cheered at the resulting kiss.  An hour later, the bride walked by and told us quietly to clink again.  Not wishing to deny the bride anything on her wedding day, of course we complied.

After cake was eaten and another round of hugs swept the hall, we piled back into the Prius for the ride home.  King was with us now, squished between Ben and I in the dreaded middle backseat.  It was just like freshman year.  We played twenty questions.  King and I sang about the ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall until Evan made us stop.  We talked endlessly about how happy Tim and Morgan had looked.  And how much older they had looked, suddenly.  How impressively distant from the rest of us unmarried, freshly independent, jobless folk.

As we passed illuminated billboard after billboard plastered with Keith’s welcoming grin, I could almost believe that we had been on just another Perkins run in Alexandria, and were now on our way back to campus.

Photo credit: SR Photography

Sidenote: best wedding photograph I’ve ever seen.  Photo credit: SR Photography.

Airheads

I associate indoor swimming pools with candy.  This I can trace back to my years of swimming lessons at the local high school pool.  After lessons, hair in clumps, skin smelling of salty chlorine, we kids would crowd around the small counter in the lobby.  Lining the wall behind the counter were boxes and boxes of candy.

I remember only fruity, sour candy: Push-Pops, War Heads, Ring-pops, Skittles, and best of all, Airheads.  Every flavor of Airhead, foil-wrapped and glorious.  I preferred the white “mystery” flavor.  Both the packaging and the candy itself was milky white, and so there was no way to know which flavor you had gotten until you bit into it.  Strangely, it always tasted the same to me.  Not quite like cherry, blue raspberry, or grape.  The white had its own chalky, delicious taste.

The candy, eaten while our feet were still dripping into footprints on the floor, seemed to make up for the general trauma of the swimming lessons themselves.  The bobs, particularly, made me feel at the end of each lesson as if I had drowned several times within the forty-five minute window.

Have you ever been exposed to bobs?  They seem extraordinarily cruel to me, even now.  We stood in water up to our chests, and at the instructor’s whistle had to bend our knees so that our entire heads submerged, and then pop back up for a quick breath. This was repeated as many times as possible before the instructor blew his whistle again.  The catch was that we weren’t allowed to use our fingers to pinch our noses.  My poor nostrils exposed, I seemed to inhale a gallon with each dunk.

But when I stopped, when I paused and gripped the tiled pool ledge for even the briefest moment, the instructor–a golden high school boy–gave me a look of utmost disappointment until I felt that perhaps he wouldn’t ask my ten-year-old self to the prom after all.  Then he blew the whistle and the other bobbers sputtered and splashed to a halt.  Some more triumphantly than others, we all climbed the ladder to locker room sanctuary and, if our parents were generous with their quarters, Airheads.