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The Shoehog’s Fluevblog

When I was in my early twenties, I lived in a cabin outside of Boulder, Colorado, with some friends. One of my roommates loved animals and was the owner of a wolf — technically 15/16 wolf — and a ferret. Also noteworthy was the personality of the animal owner, a woman who was eternally willing to run Lady Macbeth’s lines in the shadowed corners of her poorly lit personal drama. That was a memorable stage of my life.

It was also when I decided to learn to bake bread. There I was, at 8000 feet of elevation, trying to befriend yeast. A few inedible, brick-hard loaves resulted from hours of labor, and I allowed that I was not cut out to be a bread baker.

Other people had figured it out. It was not that the task was impossible. It was just that I needed someone’s example and expertise if I ever hoped to pull anything out of the oven besides a steel-toed boot covered with a dusting of flour.

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Earlier in life, in my tween or early teen years, our church arranged to have a bus transport people interested in cross-country skiing to some trails an hour distant. United by love for Jesus, respect for the liturgy, a sense of Christian community, and a belief that strapping sticks to the feet qualified as a good time, a busload of parishioners made the trip.

My sister and I were on the bus that day, hoping to learn about this thing called skiing. When the bus arrived at the trailhead, the outdoor enthusiasts hopped off, clipped into their equipment, and skied towards the tree line. My sister and I, having never experienced cross-country skis before, were left gaping at their retreating forms, leaning wobbily on our poles, with no idea what to do or how to move our bodies. For 20 minutes, we attempted to slide, glide, hoist, propel, and grapple our way up the small berm at the edge of the parking lot so that we could get to the system of trails.

Eventually, young, frustrated, and having learned an important lesson about being part of a Christian community, we gave up. It took us 10 minutes to figure out how to remove the skis from our feet, but once we did, we skulked back to the bus and sat there, moping, for the rest of the afternoon until everyone returned — glowing and exhilarated from their time under God’s Big Sky.

With the assistance and direction of someone who understood cross-country skiing, that afternoon would have played out very differently for us — which, in turn, could have changed a lot of significant things for me, a big girl who didn’t think sports were for her.

****

When I was 24, I was driving the 10 hours from Billings, Montana, to Moscow, Idaho — something people in the West call “a quick jaunt” — when, just as I was cresting Lookout Pass, a red light came to life on my dashboard. A red light on the dashboard has the ability to change the rhythm of my heartbeat. It can make me whisper, my voice both a challenge and a comfort, “Hey, Car, don’t you understand that you are supposed to give and give and give and never ask anything in return?”

By myself, with little money, needing to be in Moscow the next morning for the start of assistantship training for graduate school, I felt panicky. It was 4 PM on a Sunday. In addition to the red light on the dashboard, which I would blithely ignore as long as possible, I also was noticing a lessening of power in the engine. I would push on the gas, and it wouldn’t respond with oomph. That, I could not ignore.

If ever there was a moment for me to turn down “Steady On” by Shawn Colvin and replace her dulcet tones with a string of forcefully gnashed expletives, this was it.

Mentally gaming out the options, I decided to pull off at the next exit and see if any service stations happened to be open. I pulled into the first gas station I spotted; inside was the poster version of an Idaho woman who worked behind a gas station counter, from her appliquéd sweatshirt to the crispness of her bangs. Quickly, I filled her in on my situation.

“Oh, honey,” she commiserated, “this is a fine kettle of fish. Everything’s closed around here on Sundays, so you might need to grab a motel for the night and see if you can’t get it fixed tomorrow.”

No tears actually hit my cheeks. However, my woebegone puppy dog eyes penetrated the teddy bear appliqué, and her heart was moved. “Garsh, let me just see if we can’t do something for you,” she said, looking over her shoulder towards a back room. Surprising me, she called out “Jango! Come out here and see if you can help this woman. She’s in a pinch.”

Emerging from the back room was a 110-pound man, at least 4 pounds of which was facial hair. His entire vibe communicated: I ate the mushrooms at a Creedence Clearwater Revival concert. This was definitely someone who had set a burning cigarette or two onto the edge of the open hood of a car while he fiddled around with the engine. This was definitely someone for whom a red light on the dashboard was whoa, dude, nothing to get riled about.

After the sweatshirt woman explained my circumstances to Jango, he said he’d be happy to take a look and see if there was anything he could do to restore some pep to my Honda. Popping the hood, lighting a cigarette, setting it on the edge of the car, he dove in.

A few minutes later, he stood in front of me, dragging deeply on his Marlboro. “Your alternator’s gone out. Once that light came on your dashboard, your battery stopped charging, so in not too long, your car won’t drive anymore at all until the alternator is running again.”

I stood silently, my mouth moving like a beta fish nibbling crumbs from the surface of the aquarium water.

Continuing, Jango offered, “I could probably jerry-rig something for you today that might get you over to Moscow, but you’ll want to get a real fix as soon as possible.”

Then he dove back under the hood, cigarette dangling from two fingers this time, an empty Mountain Dew can serving as ashtray. While he tinkered with the engine, appliqué lady and I chatted — our talk ranging from car repairs to gas station customers to the concept of graduate school — and in no time at all, Jango popped up, stretched his back, and jumped into the driver’s seat. Turning the key, he started the car; leaving it idling, he looked under the hood and then at me. “We’ll just let this run for a bit,” he said, “and get your battery charged up. It’ll keep charging as you’re driving, too. But definitely, once you’re settled in Moscow, you need to take this into a real garage. See, the thing I did to your car? It’s not something that any licensed place could ever do. It’s just a temporary patch that I fashioned out of supplies at hand.”

What was Jango’s fix? He had taken the tab from the top of the Mountain Dew can and attached it to the alternator by way of grease magic and a sprinkling of dandruff, thus creating some sort of essential connection that was beyond my Jane Austen-reading ken. Suddenly, Mr. Darcy didn’t seem like such a hero after all — because hell if that cravat-wearing fop had it in him to cement the doohickey onto the whatserfuzzit and make a thing go.

As I drove away from the gas station, I considered Jango’s skill versus my ineptitude. Before I would be able to do any sort of car repair, much less an ad hoc one I jimmied on the spot, I would need years of training, classes, and shots of Everclear. For me to ever learn what he knew, I would require extended guidance.

****

At this point, if your eyes are rolling around in your head, your palms are itching to slap me, and you’re barking at your screen, “Jocelyn, I thought this was a post about shoes,” then good.

Here’s the thing: this is a story about shoe shopping, but it is a story about so much more. That’s why I had to relate those other vignettes first; that’s why you had to submit to an extended preamble.

Sure, I recently gamboled through a supremely wonderful afternoon of shopping at a store where the shoes are whimsical, funky, exquisitely made, and expensive. I recently pirouetted through a couple hours of giddy joy in a Fluevog storefront, hours during which my stomach jumped with excitement, and my hands petted all the leather in a fifteen-foot radius.

Fluevog blurb

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During those shopping hours, there was a much bigger story at play — the next installment in a lifetime of comprehending how much I don’t know and how much I would like to know — of understanding that I can either sulk on the bus nibbling on a loaf of Wonder Bread, or I can tune into the aspirational examples that surround me and try to figure some things out.

As I tried on a pair after pair of delicious shoes in the Fluevog store, I wasn’t mastering yeast, and I wasn’t learning how to ski, and I wasn’t tinkering with an alternator.

Rather, as the recipient of thoughtful gifts, I was absorbing the nuances of generosity.

I was in that store because I have a best friend, a confederate since age 18, who, knowing I had both a surgery and a birthday coming up, did some considering. She thought about who I am, what makes me happy, what she had seen me squeal about, and how she might apply her observations to gently play a role in bringing me joy.

I was in that store because I have a husband, my boon companion for 17 years, who, to celebrate my birthday, did some considering. He thought about what spills out of my closet, what makes me dance for no reason, what gets me talking so that I have to wipe spittle off my lips when I’m done, and how he might apply his observations to gently play a role in bringing me joy.

Without those examples of thoughtful gift giving, I would never have been in that store having the time of my life. I would never have stood surrounded by chic displays of shoes, feeling understood and embraced and loved. Without those examples, I would never have learned an essential lesson of gifting: a good present is not simply about getting something for someone (“It was on sale!” “I hope she’ll like it!” “I didn’t need it anymore!” “Who doesn’t need curtains?” “It’s a noble cause!” “Well, I know he likes games, so…”).

Nope. An excellent gift is an affirmation, a connection, a heart-moving message that assures, “I see you.”

Currently, I am okay as a gift giver, but I’m not great. I have a lot of room to improve, to learn how to think through who the recipient really is, to challenge myself to explore what would bring someone else pleasure and not just what would “do the job.”

For sure, as I tried on multiple pairs, I was straight up loving the shoes. However, underneath all the lacing and prancing and admiring, I was storing away a memory: this is what it feels like to be given the perfect gift.

For me, the perfect gift was tactile, active, and spread out over stages. I had to get in there, try some things on, weigh some choices.

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For me, the perfect gift required mulling and culling and ahhhing.

Eventually, I narrowed it down to three pairs.

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At that point, I needed an assist. My friend Kirsten had driven me to the store, served as photographer, and been my metaphorical hand holder as we spun around in circles, giggling and getting dizzy.

She was sitting on the floor, grinning at me, wholly enjoying the afternoon. Torn, I said to her, “I think the two-tone ones with the steampunk heel feel like ‘me,’ and I did send you a picture of them during the faculty meeting yesterday when I was bored. So they feel right. But I really love the aqua ones and the paisley ones with the cool ‘hoof’ heel.”

Kirsten wisely pointed out that I wear a lot of black and grey, so the paisley shoes would work into that nicely.

“Okay, then,” I told her, “it’s either the two-tone ones or the paisley ones…”

Her face breaking in half with a smile, Kirsten said, “Oh, no, pal. You’re getting them both.”

I stared at her, silently, my mouth moving like a beta fish nibbling crumbs from the surface of the aquarium water.

“Yea, you’re getting two pairs. I’m buying you a pair, too. Consider it a down payment on editing Virginia’s next translated novel,” she joked.

As is my way, I burst into tears.

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This day, which had already been the perfect gift from two people who consistently demonstrate how to live generously, had just become bigger. The lesson I was learning widened. In her willingness to run with a moment, make dreams possible, and turn great into glorious, Kirsten was teaching me, too.

In a state of shock, vaguely in need of a nap or a shot of Everclear, I headed to the counter to check out. I handed over my gift certificates. Kirsten handed over her credit card.

When we walked out of the store, my heart was full of joy.

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No doubt, the shoes had me over the moon.

But more than the shoes. It was the people. The gifts that they are in my life. The example they set for me.

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At the end of it all, what I really hope is this:

if I am fortunate enough to keep learning lessons for decades to come, maybe one day I’ll bake some bread or fix an alternator wearing these:

Fluevog

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Lots of Landmines; No Metal Detector: Part the Last

A few years ago, I tuned in to a documentary about life in the Alaskan bush, where there are no roads, no stores, no schools. In particular, I was impressed with a 16-year-old girl who lived in the bush with her parents; in one memorable scene, she loaded up her sled, hitched up her dogs, and waved goodbye to Mom and Dad as she pulled away from their log home, off to check her trapping lines. She’d be back in three weeks, give or take.

The purity and freedom enjoyed by that family no doubt had their costs, but in the moment of watching that girl, I could only marvel, “Wow. Really?”

Then there was the time, probably eight years ago, at a toddler playgroup in a local community center, when I witnessed a fabulous single mother urging her ten-year-old son to help out a woman who’d come in, availed herself of the “free” shelf of donated household items, and scored a mattress; watching the woman try to wrestle the mattress out the door, the single mother advised her semi-disinclined son that he should help the woman carry it out and heave it onto her car “because it’s the right thing to do, Tyler.” Impressed, I tucked that phrase away for future use (ruefully musing that its future use entailed renaming my toddler daughter “Tyler”).

These are the scenarios that informed my parenting ideals: 1) Teens covet fur; 2) Mattresses can be gotten for free.

Oh, all right. The parenting lessons I took from these scenarios were more along the lines of “be brave enough to let children head towards Capricious World and trust that they won’t fall through the ice” and “children should learn that the best motivation is intrinsic.”

While I still give these ideals total props (as the kids used to say in 2002)–and I’m all about shoving my wee ‘uns out the front door and locking it in the interest of advancing Ideal #1–I have to say Ideal #2 is harder, especially because the culture around us is designed to reward kids extrinsically for every minor achievement (kids who make it through a teeth cleaning at the dentist without pitching a wobbly are given a bag of gifties on the way out; my daughter’s class collected money for the Red Cross in Haiti and, in acknowledgment of their efforts, were then thrown a pizza and rootbeer float party). I don’t excuse myself from this flawed system, mind you. In fact, I fit quite organically into a deeply-flawed culture, what with being that way myself. I use toys and food as payment for good behavior; in fact, within the last year, I’ve stood next to Paco and offered him a quarter to try just one bite of a food not on his Approved List of Vittles. It went really well.

He tried the stir fry, spit it out, announced “I hate it,” and took the quarter up to his money jar.

The idea of paying kids to do what they should is pretty pervasive, in fact. The other week, report cards came out.

Report card day was when I first started on this series of four posts about how letting kids rub shoulders with that wench, World, causes an erosion of ideals (which, for the purposes of retaining any self respect, I’m calling “compromise”).

Here’s how report card day played out:

Having just finished leading a 4th grade book club session, I ran down the hall and picked up Paco from his classroom. As he and I then loitered outside the 4th grade classroom, waiting for Girl to be released, I chatted with another mother, whose 4th grade son was yanking on her arm, pestering her about what exactly on his report card could be called an “A.” Yes, the kids are given letter grades, so it shouldn’t be hard to discern (although if he couldn’t recognize an “A” when he saw it, odds are there wouldn’t be any on his report); however, only core subjects are given letter grades. All other subjects, such as music and physical education (etc.) are given marks like “at grade level,” “above grade level,” “satisfactory,” “needs improvement.” This last grouping of marks was the ground upon which 4th grade Arm Yanker Boy was launching his attack. He negotiated, “At grade level means it’s an ‘A’ because it means I’m just where I should be.” Countering, his mom maintained, “No, an ‘A’ would be more like above grade level.” Tightening down the manipulation, Arm Yanker tried, “But at grade level starts with an ‘A,’ so it would count as an ‘A.’” Sighing exasperatedly, his mom said, “Just wait until tonight, and you and your dad can figure it out.” Then she turned to me and explained, “His dad told him he could have $10 for each ‘A’ he earns.”

The Jocelyn response at this juncture was “BWAAHH??” Calling upon my poker face, I simply replied, “Well, I always got a buck per ‘A’ when I was growing up, so I suppose with changes in the value of the dollar…”

Unrelenting, Arm Yanker kept hammering away at his mother, asking, cajoling, repackaging, until I thought, “Okay, Girl, come on out of your classroom. Mommy isn’t allowed to twist the earlobes of young boys, so she needs to go now.”

Moments later, Girl came out, grabbed her belongings from her locker, and walked out to the parking lot with us, excitedly reporting that she’d just been given her report card and couldn’t wait to open it in the car. When she did, the news was good: straight A’s in all academic subjects, with the small oh-shucks of a B+ in art (as she explained, “That makes sense; I’m not very good at drawing”). Rightly, she was glowing with self pride.

A few hours later, she and I went over to a neighbor’s house to drop something off.

As we stood there, chatting, the subject of report cards came up, for their household that evening was being plagued by—get this—a 4th grade boy (theirs) who was yammering, hammering, negotiating, cajoling, and marketing his report card, trying to sell it as a document containing straight A’s.

…because his dad had offered him $100 for getting straight A’s, rationalizing, “Well, that’s what my dad gave me when I was growing up, if I got straight A’s.” And, as Cajoling Boy kept telling his beleaguered mother while dad was off at work, “I really want that $100!”

The rub was that his report card featured letters that come a little later in the alphabet than A. Apparently, his mom was supposed to help will them into A’s before Dad got home. Mostly, Mom was willing herself towards a cocktail before Dad got home.

Standing in their foyer, witnessing the grades drama, our daughter, she of straight A’s (beceptin’ Art), looked bemused. Nonplussed. A little taken aback.

A few minutes later, as we walked home, she announced that she couldn’t imagine getting $100 for good grades, wondering, with a delightful lack of imagination, “What would I do with $100?” Simultaneously, she marveled that there are kids who get handed $100 by their parents.

Friends, this was my moment to affirm her thinking. I trotted out a long-shelved phrase and, in agreeing with her that getting good grades** is its own reward, I told her kids should try hard in school because “it’s the right thing to do.”

Lest you think that moment of moral superiority lasted or that I’m going to give you an inspirational tale of How to Raise Children—

remember, I’m a bit of a contradictory piece of work.

Thus, a moment after counseling my daughter that her best effort was inherently its own reward, I also mentioned, “You know, when I was growing up, I got a dollar for every ‘A’.”

Extending that idea—because some part of me felt the impulse to give my daughter something for pleasing her teacher (you can shake hands with My Crazy right about now; be sure to hit the hand sanitizer afterwards, though)—I told Girl, “If we gave you the same, about a dollar per ‘A,’ that would be roughly the cost of a new book, and I will never object to buying you a book, so if you’d feel left out not getting something for your good results, I’ll buy you a book.”

Her response indicated that her A’s may have been, in fact, aptly rewarded:

“Or shoes?” she asked.

Unfortunately for the moral of this tale, which has suddenly hit the skids, I’m all about irrational thinking, saying one thing and then doing another, subsequently making my husband splutter (“I never got anything for good grades because I didn’t need to get anything for good grades“)–oh, and I’m also all about capitalizing on the commonalities that will link my girl and me in the next few years, understanding that she is a year and a half away from middle school, Age of Appearances, and therefore I can make the case that laying a good foundation of shoes is, on some level, setting her up for middle school success, and—oh, yes, this too!–understanding that I’m thirty years away from middle school and still not over the power of shoes to make any bad situation feel just one grunt better, I said, “Yea, shoes would work for me.”

Hence, it would seem that trying to do well isn’t its own reward in our household, but, rather, trying to do well is best acknowledged by a new pair of fluffy Ugg-type slippers (which is what 4th grade girls at her school are wearing with their jeans).

The truth is that there are about ten more paragraphs to the shoe segment of this story, and if I wrote them out, you’d see me striking a deal with Girl that I will give her $6 towards a pair of the special slippers, but she has to pay the rest…and that she can’t tell her brother, as he is the original negotiator/cajoler for external rewards, but he doesn’t get letter grades yet in 1st grade, and so she just has to tell him she’s buying the slippers for herself…and then she doesn’t keep her mouth shut…and then Paco comes to me and asks what he gets for being above grade level on his report card…and then I tell Girl she’s not getting any money from me now because she blabbed…and then she cries and apologizes…and then two days pass…and then I recant and tell her I’ll pitch in some money after all…and so we go to about ten stores and finally find a pair on clearance for $9…which causes me to think the Girl can just cover such a cheap cost all on her own…and so, as of this writing, she has her slippers and paid for them herself, and since she’s so over the moon about them, it hasn’t occurred to her to say, “Hey, Mom, were you going to pay me back $6 for the slippers, since I got six ‘A’s?”

All of this causes me to note that Sir Walter Scott actually had no idea of how knotted “a tangled web” could get, and he really should just come to my house around report card time if he ever decides, from the grave, to revise “Marmion.”

Ultimately, I admit that I, the parent who started out with ideals, was the Agent of Tangling in this situation. Mostly, though, I’m impressed that we made it through report card week without me presenting my parental talk entitled “And Whenever You Feel Bad in Life, There Is No Solace Like Eating Ice Cream Straight Out of the Carton.”

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**As someone who is in the business of awarding grades, I’m well aware of how inaccurate a reflection of skill and ability a letter can be. That, combined with the pressures public schools feel due to No Child Left Behind and other systems of accountability (my sense is that teachers give the lowest possible grade in the fall and give the highest possible grade in the spring, to illustrate improvement), pretty much makes me roll my eyes at grades. Grades are like Paris Hilton: all for show, with not much wrapped up inside.

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Duluth, Minnesota, Versus Manhattan, The Island

Groom and I have been feeling lately that we have too much time and money and not nearly enough stress. It’s all “wake up late, stare at the lake, water the seedlings, play some Doodle Dice, go for a trail run, grill a pork roast, read in Jeffrey Toobin’s THE NINE about the appalling politicization of the Supreme Court, sit on the curb and chat with the neighbors, and hunker down to await the next hawk migration.” Frankly, with the low blood pressure that accompanies such an easy pace, we fear we may live to 95.

And if we’re alive at 95, there’s a very strong chance that the next Bush generation will have had time to ascend to power. Clearly, we’d go to any lengths to avoid witnessing the reign of facism carried out by “Governor Jenna of Ohio.” Indeed, rather than face this prospect, it might be time to undertake some lifespan-shortening.

So we’re thinking of moving to Manhattan. There, we could feel the pain of wallet-strapping restaurants, chest-clutching rents, X-ray-thin socialites, and gasps of toxic air–tradeoffs that could kill us younger but still leave behind grinning corpses.

Because His Groomishness and I like to make well-informed decisions, I’ve been compiling a list of comparisons between Duluth and Manhattan. When the list has reached its final, exhaustive stage, I fully plan to let it slide off the kitchen table and fall behind the radiator, where it will live for three months until the next sweeping up. After the compilation is completed and lost, I’ll head outside to lay on a blanket and play Skip-Bo under the apple tree.

1. Hell, the first big difference would be the quality of footwear. In Manhattan, we’d be under constant pressure to have well-shod hooves, no matter the cost or teetering involved. On the other hand, the only pressure in Duluth is to wear water-ready shoes that proudly proclaim, “We ain’t afeard of the uglies.”

2. Transportation in Manhattan is all yellow, dirty, and jammed. In Duluth, we’re more about not slamming into the forest beasts while mentally figuring out which color of wax to apply to our cross-country skis once we get to the trailhead.

3. New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is an old richie fogart who serves as trustee at the Museum of Modern Art, while Duluth’s mayor, Don Ness, is an avid skateboarder who recently learned to finger paint.

4. In Manhattan, $325,000 will get you a solid chunk of urban grit, while the same, in Duluth, will net a house that serves as a realistic backdrop for games of “I’m Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mistress, and he does so like it when I sport my feather boa atop a saucy smile.”

5. Schools are competitive in Manhattan. If your kid is lucky enough to score an education, it will be spotted with French lessons and staid craft projects like this:

In Duluth, however, we get real with the craft projects. Our preschooler classes work cooperatively and messily to create near-life-sized dinosaurs which are subsequently, upon completion, raffled off and sent home with the “lucky” kid whose name is drawn from a basket woven out of our region’s ubiquitous icicles.

Guess what? In our case, the slip of paper with the words Niblet Paco Dinko fairly leapt out of that icicle basket during the drawing, and before we could shout, “Holy Monty Hall, we didn’t actually want you to reach in that basket and pull out our kid’s name because, fer Christ, even in our relatively-spacious Duluth home, where the pajeebus are we going to put a huge dinosaur?” the thing was loaded into the back of a pick-up truck and driven to our address, where the aforementioned Paco Dinko of Niblet Fame stood jumping and clapping on the front sidewalk as the thing was unloaded, hardly able to believe, at age five, that this life he was living was really so very magical and wondrous.

In true “we don’t squawk here in the Midwest but just remain stoic in the face of whatever comes, again and again and again, whether it’s the latest Bush generation to seize power or an unexpected preschooler project come home to roost,” the Groom and I looked at each other, shrugged, and squeezed the carnivore onto the front porch next to the scooters and trikes.

Try toting this thing home on the Subway, Manhattanites!


Her name is Lily Sparkly Sparkly, and if you err and mistakenly call her Lily Sparkle Sparkle, you will be soundly reproved by an indignant five-year-old who hugs the old paper mache gel quite protectively as he scolds you.

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Clearly, then, all the list-making and pro-ing and con-ing was for naught. We’d never manage to fit Lily onto an airplane seat, even in First Class, to make the flight to Manhattan.

Plus, she has a rather sordid history with Michael Bloomburg; should she turn up in his city and sell her tales of pomegranite martinis and ripped camisoles to the tabloids, he’d have to resign.

And damn it if the young Barbara Bush wasn’t overheard last week in the Oval Office, yawling, “Daaaady, I shore would like me a mayorship in some big city somewheres, you know, where I could live in a mansion and shop at Barney’s and gather ’round me a circle of Wall Street beaux. Any ideas, Daaaaaaady?”

To avoid that troubling possibility, we’ve decided to stay put in Duluth, where we’ll continue to wear our ugly Keen shoes; teach our mayor to use scissors; knock about our cheap and crowded house; dodge moose on the roadways–and keep a muzzle on the sparkly dinosaur.

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Good Vibrations

As a teacher of writing, I caution my students against using cliches in their writing. Cliches are hackneyed and trite and require no thought on the part of the writer. For example, I point out to my young charges, the phrases it was raining cats and dogs and I was up at the crack of dawn are empty and hollow–they are dead to me. Please, I beseech my tuition-paying pupils, don’t use the phrase sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll in your essay entitled “The Meaning of College Life.” If you must use a cute little phrase, try reworking the cliche a bit, to freshen it up; give me, at the very least, free love, Yellow Submarines, and Janis Joplin. Go for some gusto, O College Writers of the World!

In the face of my exhortations, they yawn a lot, send a few text messages, and then start zipping and unzipping their backpacks loudly.

Clearly, the cliche battle is mine alone to wage, and, therefore, I do my best to uphold my No Cliches, Especially on Sundays, policy. So I trot through life, whistling to myself: to convey a sentiment with precision in writing, the last thing a writer should use is a worn-out, overused cliche.

But you know what? Right now I need one. Because? The weather this week, here in Minnesota? There’s only one way to tell you: it’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.

It’s so humid, friends, that our toilet is literally wrapped in a bath towel right now; it’s sweating so much condensation that the bathroom floor was becoming slick with toilet sweat puddles. So we wrapped it.

It’s so humid that, during yoga class the other day, I was dripping with sweat to the point that, when I lowered myself from a Downward Dog into a Child’s Pose, my dripping legs failed to actually stop when they made contact with the mat, and I slid right through, off the mat, thereby losing my, um, connection with the center of the earth and, er, all my chakras went out of alignment. And I said a bad word, too.

It’s so humid that, I kid you not, I washed my hair before bed the other night, and 18 hours later it was still wet. YES, I’ve heard of the modern invention called hair dryer, but the idea of willfully and purposefully applying heat–even a dry heat–to any part of this body when temperatures are almost 90 degrees is anathema. Thus, my follicles remain moist. (How’s that for a pick-up line?)

Suffice it to say, this week is not breezing by for me. In fact, my naturally-buoyant spirits have felt oppressed, suppressed, by the thick air and the ongoing sensation that I’m breathing through a wet washcloth. Even staying up until 2 a.m. each night, reading the new Harry Potter, hasn’t gotten my mojo rising (but nice job, Ms. Rowling! I can’t believe you killed off the entire cast of characters on the last page like that!!).

So what, gentle readers, can do the trick for me during this challenging week?

Fortunately, I can answer that question thanks to Jazz , who tagged me some time ago with just the meme I need: to list five things that raise my vibrations. Thinking of these things has provided exactly the counterpoint that my soggy spirit needs:


1. The nightly date with my beau. Quite unconsciously, we fell, a few years ago, into the pattern of tucking in kidlets, having a drink, and plugging the DVD of our tv-show-of-the-moment into the player, which we watch, rapt, while we eat a delicious dinner (tonight: cold sesame noodles with chicken and sugar snap peas). While our days consist of the chaos that can accompany parenting young children, my groom and I have a protected hour or two each night, a time of focus and shared experience, that keeps us, if not on the same page, at least on the same episode. Result? The the love remains in its groove.

2. Speaking of food, there is one meal in particular that is guaranteed to turn my frown, how you say, upside down: a fried egg sandwich. The sheer simple elegance of this dish gives me a big ole case of The Happies. There is butter, egg, toasted bread; toss on some salt and pepper, and I suddenly feel nestled to the bosom of a loving world. Yes, steak rocks. Sure, chocolate saves. But the fried egg sandwich is my ultimate comfort food.
3. My Teva flip-flops. Last weekend, I attended a farewell party for a good friend. While I was grateful for the chance to pay tribute to how much I like this guy, I was put off by the invitation, which asked guests to bring an appetizer (no problem) and their own drinks (what the hell? This is something I’ve experienced several times now in Minnesota, and it just peeves me. I mean, are you hosting the party or not? If you are, howzabout you put out some food and, if you can’t do that, at least provide some drinks? If you don’t want to do that, howzabout you go to a movie that afternoon instead of pretending at some kind of faux hospitality? I was glad, however, that guests weren’t also asked in the invite to come over the day before the party and clean the host’s house. Hmmmmm. As it turns out, I am digressing. None of this has anything to do with my flip-flops, really. Gotcha!). Okay, so at this party, we were asked to leave our shoes by the door, so as to not track Nature into the house. Then we were lead out the back door of the house to a patio. After standing, barefoot, on that patio for a couple hours, it was pure, rabid bliss to get home and slip my aching dogs into my soft, accommodating, saucy little Teva flip-flops. Even if the blood of small hamsters is the highly-guarded secret of Teva’s manufacturing design, I don’t care. These things are that good. Power to the bloodsuckers!
4. My afternoon coffee. Before the age of 35, I had only ever had one cup of coffee in my life (at Mardi Gras in 1991, when I hadn’t slept for some days). But when I hit 35, Groom took a job as a barrista, and I learned the beauties of showing up at opportune times to kipe his free “shift drink,” so long as it was sweet and frothy and basically a dessert in a cup. All of this occurred when I’d just had Kid #2, so once again coffee was used to get me over the hump of not having slept for some days…or some months. Now, even when relatively well rested, I rely upon my 3 p.m. mocha or latte to get me through the mid-afternoon dozies. I also am very good at making the case that a mocha is nothing–nothing!–without a little biscotti sidecar.

5. Exercise. It’s the best of all addictions, this need to raise my heart rate every day. And, like coffee, my devotion to exercise only started in my 30’s. And, like coffee, exercise has been essential to making me a better parent. When I go for an hour run every day, I actually think, reflect, and plan. If I didn’t run, we’d never have a shopping list or take a trip or enroll the kids in camp. I needs me thinkin’ time, and I love seeing the world by foot, up close and smelly. And on those days when I hit the gym instead of the trails, I love reading my celebrity gossip while ticking the minutes by on the treadmill. And at the end of my exercise, I’m all sweaty, which is…
…em…just what humidity does to me, too. So now I’m back where I started. I was feeling better there for my first four vibration raisers, but now I’m just back to sweaty. Dag. What to do?

The good news is that that blogging, as well, inflates my spiritual balloons. And right now, today, my ballooons are blowing in the breeze for my fellow blogger, Diesel, who, as you read, is hosting a little party over at his crib. His Media Office has sent out this press release:

Diesel, the twisted genius behind the humor blog MattressPolice.com, has announced the publication date for his first book! Antisocial Commentary: From the Secret Files of the Mattress Police, is a hilarious excursion through the mind of Diesel. From topics as varied as James Blunt and the Incredible Hulk to global politics and perpetual motion machines, Antisocial Commentary is a tour de force of satire, sarcasm, and just plain silliness. Savor such essays as “The Force is Middling in this One,” which answers the question “What happens to someone in the Star Wars universe who isn’t quite Jedi material?” and “Harry Potter and the Inevitable Slide into Satanism,” which explores the nefarious connection between the works of J.K. Rowling and the minions of the Devil.

Diesel’s book will be published on August 15, but for a limited time we fellow bloggers can pre-order a signed copy at a discounted price, so if you’re a fan of Diesel’s and have ten bucks burning a hole in your birkin, head on over to MattressPolice.com and give him a big ole virtual (and financial) hug. The book is guaranteed to raise your vibrations.

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