Mother’s Day Traffic Spike

My most-read post in the past week has been Quotes from my crazy Great-Grandmother, driven by many searches for “great grandmother quotes,” and “great grandma quotes.”  I imagine the web surfers that stumbled on my small collection of my great grandma’s quotes got something other than what they were really looking for.  Oh well, maybe they got a little laugh.

I am woefully behind in posting here and reading other blogs because I’ve been focusing my energy on finishing a few essays, getting some critiques at http://www.mywriterscircle.com, interviewing for another new job, starting a professional blog, and writing a bunch of business articles for it.  It seems my brain can only handle a couple of kinds of writing at the same time.  I have the rest of this week, and possibly next, to wrap up some of my projects before I dive into my new job as a management consultant.

Yesterday, I began reading Art Objects, a collection of critical essays by Jeannette Winterson about art.  The writing is dense, the kind you need to really focus on, re-reading paragraphs as you go, turning over in your mind the ideas on the pages.  I’ll leave you with this bit from the first essay, also titled Art Objects.

Every day, in countless ways, you and I convince ourselves about ourselves.  True art, when it happens to us, challenges the ‘I’ that we are.  A love-parallel would be just; falling in love challenges the reality to which we lay claim, part of the pleasure of love and part of its terror, is the world turned upside down.  We want and we don’t want, the cutting edge, the upset, the new views.  Mostly we work hard at taming our emotional enviornment just as we work hard at taming our aesthetic environment.  We already have tamed our physical environment.  And are we happy with all this tameness?  Are you?

A care package, of sorts – part two

For part one of this story, go here.

The thing about getting a package from Grandma was that I never had a clue what would turn up inside, but I knew it would be odd – something neither I nor any other person on the planet would buy.  Clothes were never her strong suit, but on the off chance she sent me something I might wear, I could count on a note safety-pinned to the garment if she hadn’t yet washed it.  And not just any note, mind you.  Sometimes she ran the sticky note through her typewriter instead of writing on it by hand.  When I called to  thank her for a crazy T-shirt that hung down below my knees (I think maybe it was meant to be a sleep shirt), that came with no note, she explained on the phone that she’d already washed it, but she assumed I knew that since she didn’t pin a type-written sticky note on the front.

As a small kid, 4 or 5 years old, I went with my mom to bars now and then.  I entertained myself by playing dice with the bartender.  Family legend has it I was pretty good.  A couple of years ago, my grandma sent me an antique dice cup, to commemorate my young passion for playing Liars’ Dice and her passion for antiques.  The hand-made cup is dark brown leather, slightly misshapen, a bit weak at the seam stitched up the side.  The leather, though smooth, is hard as tack, but a simple wavy pattern circles the center of the cup where the maker likely used a sewing machine to punch a bit of decoration into it.  An old yellowed newspaper clipping is curled up inside that tells the story of the demise of the bar from which the cup apparently came.  The clipping was from a 1981 newspaper – one of those ’50 Years Ago Today’ bits.  It reads:

50 YEARS AGO TODAY – FEB. 12, 1931

With the interests of the old people at the Reiss Home for the Aged and the future expansion of St. Nicholas Hospital in mind, Hospital Sisters of St. Francis have acquired the Acker property at the southeast corner of the intersection of N. Tenth Street and Superior Avenue.  The Acker site is 120 feet square. On it is a double two-story building occupied by the Joe Acker saloon and boarding house, and a barn (ausspannung). Part of the main building was formerly occupied by the Bruder Radio Company. … With the purchase of the Acker real estate, the Hospital Sisters now own all the land in the block in which the hospital is located except a small house and lot in the southwest corner.

I like that the paper tossed in just a single German word in that little article.  Weirdly, though, the translation seems to be ‘relaxation.’  It’s unclear whether one would seek relaxation in the boarding house or in the barn.

Check out the dice – I love that they are stamped like playing cards, not the boring old pips I expected to see when I tossed them out of the cup.  There’s no way to know if this cup actually came from the Joe Acker saloon, but Grandma is convinced, and old objects always seem cooler when they come with a story, so I’ll stick with it.

A care package, of sorts – part one

I recently got a package in the mail from my grandmother.  It was actually just an envelope, but it was stuffed with so many things I feel justified in calling it a package.  The contents aren’t what you might expect when you think “care package” and “grandma” in the same sentence, though.  I tore into the envelope as soon as I saw it because there is no mail I like getting better than mail from my grandma.  When I was younger, she sent me things a bit more frequently, but she doesn’t get out as much these days, so there are fewer opportunities for her to find the oddities she used to.

I’ve lived in California since 1995, and even after just a year here, I can say with conviction that I did not feel like a tourist.  For some reason that isn’t totally clear to me, my grandmother began to send me anything that had anything to do with California after I moved here.  I have probably received a dozen cookbooks that had some kind of California theme – the best are those from the 60s and 70s, complete with handwritten notes in the margins from whomever tried to tweak that recipe for Peach Waldorf Salad.

If it said San Francisco, there was no chance she would pass it up.  My grandma is a thrift store shopper.  If there were thrift store shopper jobs, she’d have made a very successful career of it.  Before she retired, she worked in Downtown Sheboygan, within walking distance of three different thrift stores.  She visited each one weekly during her lunch hour – St. Vincent’s on Monday, Goodwill on Tuesday, and so on.  Between the downtown stores and a couple she’d hit on her way home after work, she went to one thrift store a day, every day of every week.  When I was a kid, we occasionally donated clothes to Goodwill.  We soon realized we needed to tell Grandma ahead of time, though, or she would buy back the things we’d just donated and they’d be waiting for us the next time we visited her.

I had a small ceramic planter in the shape of a cable car, a book or two about Alcatraz (in fact, if I remember right, even an Alcatraz cookbook), a set of coasters with pictures of famous San Francisco scenes – Lombard Street, The Painted Ladies, the Golden Gate Bridge.  She sent small wooden cable car Christmas ornaments painted garish shades of red and green, a copy of Tales of the City, and the occasional San Francisco or Yosemite calendar, and a cribbage board with a picture of the Golden Gate.

In the past few years, I’ve also started to receive obituaries – a zillion of them.  The genealogy bug bit me a couple of years ago, and Grandma is the biggest fan of my detective work.  I have traced her ancestors that emigrated from Germany to Wisconsin, and found her 3rd great-grandfather living in an insane asylum in the 1910 census.  She is always eager to hear any random tidbit of news I find, and I just wish I had more time to spend on research now that I know how much she enjoys it.

The latest package, which prompted this post, was all about my genealogy research – well, almost.  First was an article about an upcoming PBS series about genealogy, then came two horrific stories from the local paper about a relative that attacked his wife because she wouldn’t give him cigarettes and the garage door remote control.  As I said, not your typical care package from Grandma, but since I started all the genealogy work – the family dirty laundry is no longer left hidden…  Finally, there were four obituaries, each with a hand-written sticky note attached.

Any key points of interest in the obits are highlighted in yellow to aid me in following who these people might be.  The note attached to one obituary for a woman whose last name I didn’t recognize, read “Louis is brother to Grandma Emma.”  It took me a second to find Louis highlighted in the newspaper clipping and then I recognized his last name as the maiden name of my grandma’s maternal grandmother.  Another obituary was for someone who was related by marriage, and the note read, “Robert – Married to cousin of Grandpa – Jake & Clara daughter.”  Another was for the wife of a cousin to my great-grandmother.  The one I like the best, though, is for a woman whose married name appears heavily in our ancestry.  The note reads “Don’t know if Walter is family.”

Oh, I almost forgot – she also slipped in a recipe for crab-stuffed portobello mushrooms.

Heat Waves

I just spent a few days back home.  I think I’ll always consider Wisconsin home, even though I’ve lived away longer than I ever lived there.  It’s been almost twenty years since I officially left home, almost 17 here in the Bay Area, and although I love the way the Northern California climate spoils me, there’s something reassuring about the cold of a Wisconsin winter.  It reminds me who I am, though my ability to capture what that means is rather like watching my breath freeze and disappear every time I exhale in the frozen air.

As I was leaving California, I couldn’t believe how bad my timing was – we were about to have a heat wave here, and the temperatures were going to be in the 70s, while I boarded a flight to the frozen tundra, bracing myself for the deep cold.  Turns out, though, there was a bit of a heat wave in Wisconsin, too.  It was in the 40s almost the entire time I was there.  The first day, though, the temperature hovered around 20.

While I’ve lived through many days significantly colder than that, 20 degrees is just cold enough to make you stiffen, to feel sharp pinpricks on exposed skin when the wind blows, and to curse the fact that you don’t have gloves or a hat to help fight back the advance of  invisible frozen fingers that grip you and hold you stiff as a board until you find some relief in the heat of a car or a warm living room.  Living through that kind of cold, day in and day out, breeds a sort of toughness, and comes with a warped sense of pride – it has something to do with survival, I think.  Or maybe I only see it that way because of the distance I now have.

I called my dad to wish him a Happy Birthday after I got home today, and I mentioned our Northern California heat wave.  He lives in Northern Illinois, and I wasn’t home long enough to visit him.  He said, “Well, we’re having a heat wave here, too, really.  It’s been in the 40s and we haven’t even had two inches of snow this year.”  “That’s nuts,” I replied.  “Well, it doesn’t hurt my feelings any,” he said, to which I began to laugh.  He joined me, both of us chuckling at the words he had chosen.  “I”m getting too old for snowmobiles, I sure as hell don’t want to shovel it, and I damn well hate to drive in it,” he continued.  “So it can stay this way as far as I’m concerned,” he finished.  And he’s lived in it all of his 59 years.

I often wonder why people stay in the harsher parts of the world when there are places more temperate, where Mother Nature is more accommodating, less of an adversary.  Then I go back to the cold.  I breathe it in deeply, very deliberately feeling the way it freezes the passageways it follows into my lungs, and a sense of familiarity settles in.  It’s that very cold comfort that reminds me of my roots, my family, my heritage, and I realize again that it’s home, and though I wasn’t meant to stay there, not everyone likes to leave home.

Grass Phobia Girl turns 30

December 30 is Grass Phobia Girl’s birthday, and this year, it was her golden birthday – being that she turned 30 on the 30th.  Her younger sister was determined to create a birthday bash that would knock her socks off, and last through the entire New Year’s weekend.  I partook only in the actual birthday part of the festivities, since I am no longer 30, and cannot party for multiple days as easily as I might once have been able to.  Grass Phobia Girl and her friends are known to be some serious lovers of fun, all things inappropriate, excessive celebration, and lots and lots of alcohol.  And cupcakes.  Let me explain.

Invitation, part 1

Bon Voyage Invite, Part 1

Grass Phobia Girl’s sister works in an admirable sector of the non-profit world, focused on bringing educational and job opportunities to those whose tough lives have made it difficult for them to figure out how to accomplish those things after high school – if they made it through high school, to begin with.  On the side, though, she has a cupcake making business, and bakes some killer desserts.  Often, Grass Phobia Girl is roped into helping with the baking, the decorating, and even the delivery and set up of creative cupcake displays.

Little sister recently set up a fake job, which was part of the overall birthday surprise scheme.  It just so happened that she landed a job to make cupcakes for a couple in a nearby town that was heading off for their honeymoon in Paris.  So, the theme of the cupcakes was French – Bon Voyage.  The cakes themselves were dark, baked with Guinness, and the frosting made with Bailey’s Irish Creme.  Fondant decorations included the French flag and little baby croissants.  The party was scheduled for the 30th.  Little did she know, Grass Phobia Girl was decorating cupcakes dedicated to the loss of her youth.

Meanwhile, little sister sent invitations to the rest of us – these brilliant cards and balloon you see here.  We were to send photos of ourselves indicating whether we would attend the party or not, with the use of the balloon as a key prop.  There were some real zingers sent in.

Bon Voyage Invite, Part 2

When we arrived at the party location, it turned out to be a huge empty house on the island of Alameda.  Little sister arranged for food, lots and lots of alcohol, a photographer that took pictures prom-style while attendees adorned themselves in feather boas with elbow length black gloves, and wielded a baguette in ways no baker ever intended.  The empty living room turned into a dance floor, and the kitchen was a help-yourself bar with more jugs of alcohol than I could count, and a fridge full of mixers for the the wimps that couldn’t just suck down the liquor straight.  A couple kegs outside invited a keg-stand competition, which I’ve never actually seen before, but became a willing party to – it was my job to hold up the legs of the person competing with Grass Phobia Girl.  We won.

RSVP by Balloon

Grass Phobia Girl arrived with boyfriend and little sister, to a house full of screaming friends and family who’d already been drinking for an hour or two.  She was truly shocked – friends had flown in from around the country, and she really had bought the whole cupcake catering story.  Little sister and some friends made a movie – a dark and ridiculous film noir style flick, in which the detective goes on a dangerous investigation to try to determine what happened to Grass Phobia Girl’s youth.  The film includes lots of cigarette smoking, lewd references, a car accident, implied affairs, and in the end, a shocking murder.  Little sister is the one doing the murdering – she murders in order to get big sister to stop hanging out with other people and spend more time at home watching TV – their biggest shared passion.

Bon Voyage Balloon

Long Back Guy and his Adjustment to American Life

Long Back Guy is someone that I really enjoy working with.  He is smart, excitable (in a good way that makes me smile), and he happens to be really, really funny.  He is from India, and has been in the US for 6 or 8 years, I think.  When we were out at our holiday lunch last week, he shared the story of his first experiences here.  At the table was Long Back Guy, myself, QA Guy (who probably needs another name, but I haven’t written about him yet, so I haven’t thought of one yet), and CEO.

Long Back Guy was pretty fresh out of college when he got the opportunity to come to the US, and like any smart young man anticipating a complete change in culture, and wanting very much to succeed upon his arrival in the US, he spent the month prior to his arrival “studying Dallas,” the place he was headed to.  He says he studied it and studied it, like he would have studied any subject he was assigned in school.  He spent hours learning about Dallas.  I’m not sure there is that much about Dallas that could occupy me for as many hours as Long Back Guy spent on it, but I have to admit, I don’t like the place.

“When I got off from the plane, I couldn’t understand.  I was so much confused!  It didn’t look like New York,” he said,”and I thought everything in US was like New York with buildings everywhere, miles in all directions!”

“Seems like your study materials were pretty crappy,” QA guy responded as we all laughed.

Long Back Guy continued.  “Dallas is not buildings.  Dallas is very flat, no one walking anywhere, only highways, and I never saw any people at all.”  Long Back Guy’s eyes are big now, and his voice becomes more and more emphatic as  he seems to relive his initial incredulity.

“I stayed in an apartment in downtown and saw no one for the whole weekend I was there.  Maybe a couple people came in or out of the building, but it was like ghost city!”

“Wait,” I said.  “You were only there for a weekend?  I thought you were going to live there.”

“Yes, me too.  But, after all my studies, my company called me and said, now you are going to California.”

I personally am glad they sent him to California, because now I know him, and I have a feeling he’s happier here than he would be in Dallas.

Gratitude

I titled this post Gratitude because I’m truly grateful for having been recognized with some more blogger awards from a fellow writer, Julie Farrar, who writes at Traveling Through.  I’ve been doing this for just over a month, and loving it the whole time, due in large part to the people that I’ve connected with through my writing and theirs.  Julie tagged me with two awards, The Stylish Blogger, and the Versatile Blogger.  Julie’s comments about my writing put a smile on my face, and I’m thankful that she shared them.

“It’s an anonymous blog, with language and stories I envy to no end.”

In keeping with the spirit of the awards, here are seven more random things about me:

1 – Stylish is another term those that know me would never use to describe me (though, again, I appreciate the shout-out from Julie, regardless of the name of the award!).  I am the kind of person that buys 8 of the same shirt in different colors.  6 or 8 short-sleeve T-shirts, 6 or 8 long-sleeve T-shirts, 2 pairs of jeans in slightly different washes.  I can never manage to have more than two pairs of jeans at a time.  I generally wear one pair of shoes until they wear out so badly I really can’t wear them anymore.  As the shoes or jeans approach this point of disrepair, I panic a little at the thought of having to find a new pair.

2 – A few years ago, I found myself at the end of a 9-year relationship, and though I wanted to get out and meet new people, I had pretty much forgotten how.  Actually, I never really knew how.  A great friend told me, though, that all I needed was a haircut and a new pair of shoes.  I had been wearing sort of outdoorsy shoes because I have the flattest feet ever recorded in the history of flat feet, and I need really wide shoes.  I was informed that these shoes would completely impede my ability to get a date, so with the help of another good friend who is fanatical about shoes, I started buying tennis shoes that apparently have some style to them.  A few weeks after I bought my first pair, I was out for drinks with the friend who had coached me into this pair, and a random stranger on the street stopped and said, “Oh my god!  Where did you get those awesome retro shoes?!”  My shoe coach (a.k.a. grass-phobia girl), was prouder than a peacock, and could barely wait until the stranger was out of earshot to proclaim her brilliance.  In the end, my current mate wouldn’t have cared whether I wore the geeky outdoorsy shoes or these new retro-ish sneakers, but the coaching of my friends gave me a new confidence I sorely needed at the time, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

3 – When I was a kid, my favorite food was mashed potatoes.  Luckily, I grew up in the Midwest, where potatoes are part of practically every meal, but I even loved the sticky, gloppy, made-from-dehydrated-flakes-in-the-school-cafeteria mashed potatoes.  The stickier, the better.  I have a vivid memory from 4th grade, going through the lunch line at school.  The woman whose job it was to dish out the mashed potatoes asked me if I wanted butter or gravy on them.  I was paralyzed with trying to decide.  They were both so enticing!  I held up the line forever, deep in thought about which I might like more, and she finally just gave me both so she could get me out of her hair.  Today I still have a horrible time deciding what to eat at restaurants.  I have to imagine – visually picture – myself eating each thing under consideration, and even then I sometimes hold up the ordering for a long time.  Unless I’m at a restaurant that serves tapas or small plates – then I just order a little of everything.

4 – When I was fifteen, I wanted to be a cowboy.  I was already a tomboy, so it wouldn’t have been too great a leap.  My grandfather took me to Wyoming on a hunting trip.  It was my first foray out of corn and dairy country, and the second I saw the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota, I developed my own weird version of the romantic West.  When we got to Wyoming and met the people that lived there, I only got sucked in further.  We first stayed in a seedy motel near the ranch of a couple named Everett and Fredda Lou, around Lusk, Wyoming.  There were few paved roads in their neck of the woods, and they managed over 100,000 acres of cattle ranch.  Later, we stayed at my grandpa’s long-time friend, Melvin’s.  Melvin was a big, stocky guy, with a mustache that trailed down past the corners of his mouth to his chin.  He always wore a light-colored cowboy hat with a dark sweat-stained band just above the brim of the hat.  He taught me how to properly shape a cowboy hat over steaming water so you could take the “new” out of it right away.  It was very important that a cowboy hat be original, yours, and never look new.  He let me ride his ATV, and I couldn’t stop myself from going faster and faster, even as I started to lose control now and then.  Once, a tire jumped out of the rut on a dry dirt rode, changed my course, and I drove straight through a wire fence at high speed.  Probably lucky I didn’t kill myself.  I sometimes wonder whether it was really some primal draw to the rough and tumble area of the West we were in that made me love it so much, or whether I’d have had the same reaction to any place I might have gone outside the Midwest.  Regardless, those are memories I treasure, even if they expose my inner dork.

5 – I moved out at 18, and after two not-so-great roommate experiences, I finally got an apartment with a guy who is still one of my best friends.  We were really broke, though.  We could barely pay our rent, often had to have friends bring us leftover food from the restaurants they worked at, and never had cash to spare to go out and do much of anything.  We did one of three things.  If we could spare a couple dollars, we would sit at IHOP, sometimes for 8 or 10 hours at a time with random friends dropping in and out, drinking that never-ending-cup-of-coffee or bottomless-pot-of-coffee, or whatever it was they called it, and reading Trivial Pursuit cards to entertain each other.  If our cable wasn’t turned off, we watched lots of talk shows – Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer – you know – the classics.  We tried to come up with ideas that might get us on those shows.  When we missed the talk shows themselves, we watched Talk Soup late at night to get the lowdown on what we missed.  Finally, when neither of those were options, and I’d managed to convince my grandparents to let me borrow their car, we’d sit in the parking lot of our apartment building in the car, listening to a very cheesy love songs station on the radio, singing sappy songs, laughing, and lamenting about our poor lives.  I often miss those days.

6 – Before my first car ( a 1980 Mazda 626) ended up in a metal graveyard, which precipitated the borrowing of my grandparents car mentioned above, it had some unusual behavior.  The car either had issues with the electrical wiring, or was possessed by the ghost of a gremlin.  I could turn the car off, take the key out of the ignition, get out, walk ten feet or more away, and then the doors would lock and unlock themselves in a frequent stuttering rhythm.  It was like watching popcorn pop.  My sister’s boyfriend once offered to fix the car for me when something went wrong – a bad starter or cylinoid, or something – I don’t quite remember what.  When he gave it back to me, the car would no longer go in reverse.  My roommate and I often had to sit in our seats with the doors open, each pushing with one leg hanging outside the car to back out of our parking spot.

7 – I think I’ve made clear by now that I am not a girly kind of girl – I grew up complete tomboy-style, loved to knock down boys, am a pretty good shot with a rifle or a shotgun – you get the picture.  That is why I find it particularly odd that the first thing I ever stole as a little kid was candy lipstick.  I don’t think I meant to steal it, but perhaps I’ve fooled myself into thinking that because I just can’t handle the shame of it all (the lipstick part, not the stealing part).  I was five, and when we got home and my mother realized I had the candy lipstick, which she had not paid for, she screamed at me, tossed me back in the car, drove back to the store, and made me go in with my tear-streaked face and my barely audible shy kid voice to apologize and pay for my pinched lipstick.

Now, to pass on the recognition to some fellow bloggers…  Enjoy!

Bottlecaps and Broken Bits – Besides having a great title for his blog, this guy writes some awesome stuff about food, drink, and travel, accompanied by his photography.  He is currently recording his travels in Thailand, a place I have visited twice, and would highly recommend to anyone.

The Wandering Atavist – Check out this blog whenever you need a good laugh.  The Atavist describes himself as a “fish out of water,” and you will likely agree as you read his hilarious posts about trying to be a normal functioning member of society, especially when he’s around anyone of the female persuasion.

Grammar Divas – This blog is great at dispelling grammatical myths and giving practical pointers on writing.  I check it regularly and you should, too.

bassasblog – This is a highly entertaining blog from the perspective of a shepherd dog.  I have to admit I found this blog from someone else’s listing of blogs they love, but since then, I’ve enjoyed every single post, so I’m going to share it again.

Dick Bishop’s Blog – This is a new find for me, but after reading just a few posts, I am enamored with Dick’s writing.  He offers a unique perspective, and posts that have some meat on their bones.  Lots of “tip” stories about blog writing say you shouldn’t write posts that are too long because people will get bored and skip them – I think Dick’s blog proves why you should not censor yourself to any given length, but you should write what you want to write and end it when it ends.