Napatree

In my mind I am often on Napatree. You're welcome to come along.

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March 31, 2014

On this end-of-March morning people are running. Young people, old people, people tethered to dogs, parents pushing stroller-bound babies into their future. And each runner passing in front of my vision seems as individual as a snowflake or a fingerprint.  Runners leaning too far forward or lifting their knees too high or pumping their arms strangely or listing to one side or the other. Runners who run wobbly or wear odd clothing, like aqua knee socks, or who move so smoothly and with such grace you know they are barely breathless when they stop.

Once I drove a child to his swimming lesson. He was maybe eight or nine. I dropped him off at the high school pool which was a mile or so away and watched him enter the building. I drove back home. It seemed only moments later, though, when this child walked into the kitchen. "The swimming lesson was canceled," he told me. When I asked, incredulously, how he got home he answered, with a look of pride, "I ran."

We run to catch-up, catch buses and escape danger. We run from life. And sometimes our running is strong and easy like the running of the child who, it turned out, was born to run. At this moment runners keep moving down street and sidewalk outside my window.

Today, so many have heard and heeded the message they were waiting all winter to hear. "Run."  

10:24 am cdt | link 

30 March, 2014

Sometimes you remember weird facts. Tidbits of no importance that stick in your memory the way a burr attaches to your shoelace.  A few years ago at a garden party in a neighbor¹s yard I was introduced to a man who was said to have the world¹s largest collection of viola jokes. Just writing this strange and remembered fact makes me smile. This man, as I recall, was connected to the music department of a local university.

My friend Sally played the viola in high school. She played well and was first chair in the  school orchestra. Sally owned a bit of a rebel side and for me it fit with her playing the viola. I don¹t know very much about the viola at all except that its strings are CGDA, unlike the violin whose strings are GDAE, and viola music is scored on the alto clef. The C string is also larger, like the viola itself, requiring more skill on the part of the player. The viola traditionally has been a second class citizen in the orchestra, and it was once said that violin players who couldn¹t cut it became viola players.

Here are a couple of viola jokes benign enough for me to share:

- Why don¹t violists play Hide and Seek? Because no one will look for them.

- What do a viola and a lawsuit have in common? Everyone is happy when the case is closed.

Ah, but viola players may have the last laugh. A 1719 Stradivarius viola is soon going up for auction at Sotheby¹s. The price, a tidy 45 million!  

8:51 am cdt | link 

March 29, 2014

If there is a mountain on the landscape, we climb it. Or carve into it. Or tunnel through it. We climb mountains because they are there and because we can. Mountains represent obstacles. Conquering them represents achievement. It is our way.

Two small pieces of mountain information have slipped, unbidden, into my consciousness recently as ordinary facts. Facts that tell us about us. Mt. Rushmore is the first. In the 1920’s Danish sculptor Gutzon Borglum decided what South Dakota needed was a giant sculpture, carved into a mountain, of national leaders Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and  Roosevelt. Today, with 450,000 tons of stone blasted away and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent during an economic depression, we have huge stone heads of four men who represent, according to Mt. Rushmore publicity, "the foundation, expansion, preservation and unification of our country." To environmentalists, the mountain sculpture represents an assault on nature. To Native people, a travesty.

On the other side of the world we climb Mt. Everest because it calls to us. It calls to so many of us in fact that its summit, on a given day, can be too crowded to hold all the climbers who have reached the top. In hopes of cleaning up the mountain litter, over 50 tons of trash, Nepal is now requiring each climber return from their trek hauling out 18 lbs. of garbage.

We climb mountains and ford streams because that is what we do. And sometimes, like today, we even stop to think about it.


9:07 am cdt | link 

March 28, 2014

My grandparents had interesting things: lampshades with butterflies sandwiched between two sheets of celluloid, both a wood stove and a gas stove, a room off the diningroom used just for sewing, a balcony off their bedroom, a hollyhock garden and a framed poem, hanging in a hall, whose first lines were these. "Let me live in a house by the side of the road/Where the race of men go by."

It is close to forty degrees. The sidewalks are free of ice and I am watching, from my desk in front of a window, the race of men going by. At this very moment a man without a hat walks along in a way I would describe as sauntering. His jacket is unzipped and he has both hands in the pockets. Earlier an older man, bearded and wearing glasses, crossed my vision. He walked with a pronounced limp. At the same time but across the street, an older couple walked their two golden labs. They made the dogs sit before they crossed the intersection. As I write I watch two women walking east who are deep in conversation. They lean slightly into each other as they walk and talk giving me a sense of their friendship.

As a child I memorized that framed poem hanging in my grandparent's hall. It is an old fashioned poem, a grandparent-type poem. It has remained in my memory and seems appropriate today.

"Let me live in a house by the side of the road/Where the race of men go by./The men who are good and the men who are bad,/ As good and as bad as I. /I would not sit in the scorner's seat/Nor hurl the cynic¹s ban./ Let me live in a house by the side of the road/And be a friend to man." 

8:19 am cdt | link 

March 27, 2014

My desk looks out on a small, fenced-in garden frequented, at times inhabited, by rabbits. The windows in front of my desk go almost to the floor giving me a terrific vantage for rabbit watching. I am a gardener, a lover of plants and flowers, a grower of plants and flowers. I also love watching rabbits. But gardens and rabbits, as everyone knows, are not an ideal match.

Only when I started observing rabbits with a careful eye did I fully appreciate Durer¹s etching of a hare. The perfection, the stillness, the silent energy the artist was able to transfer to paper. A couple of years ago there was a rabbit nest in the lily-turf surrounding the garden armillary. I knew about it but avoided working and weeding in that area. One day I watched one of the babies hop out of the garden and cross lawn, boulevard, busy street. Too small, the tiny rabbit was unable to hop up the curb on the other side. The only option was to cross the street, pick up the baby and return it to the nest.

With snow still covering much of the landscape I am more aware of rabbit tracks than actual rabbits. I know though, they are waiting in the wings.   

8:56 am cdt | link 

March 26,2014

Dribble, shoot, score. March Madness. A little history.

Twenty years ago Connecticut Public Television made the decision to televise the University of Connecticut women¹s basketball games. A gamble on the part of the television station. To the station¹s astonishment, the state got hooked on the games and the team. The UCONN women were among the first good women¹s teams in the country. The Connecticut press was supportive. Very supportive. The girl¹s names became familiar to Connecticut residents and tickets for games, especially at tournament time, became impossible to obtain. Enthusiasm for women¹s basketball was rampant. It was the beginning of an era for women¹s basketball on both the amateur and professional level.

Though coach Geno Auriemma is still at the helm, UCONN is out of the final sixteen this year. Dynasties rise and fall. Women¹s basketball talent is no longer exclusive to UCONN, nor the University of Tennessee, it is found everywhere throughout the country. (This year I was cheering for Purdue, already ousted by Oklahoma State.)

There are, in my mind, still obstacles. I would like to see more women coaching on the college level. I would like to see more women supporting women who pursue sports. I would also like to see equal press time for women¹s and men¹s sports. Women deserve half of the NCAA March Madness media court coverage. They, too, can dribble, shoot, score.

 

9:37 am cdt | link 

March 25, 2014

We're having asparagus for dinner. Although it is snowing, it is, officially, spring. And spring means asparagus. The tag on the asparagus I purchased reads Grateful Harvest Organics, and although I can't be sure of this, was probably grown in California where it is being harvested now. It will be a while before we are able to harvest the asparagus here.

Asparagus is said to be among the world's healthiest foods filled, as it is, with diffeerent vitamins. it is also rich in iron. It is a monoecious plant which means it is male or female. The male plants are the more vigorous because they don't use up energy in producing seeds. Asparagus spears are harvested when they are 6 to 8 inches long

I don't eat asparagus because it is healthy, I eat it because it tastes good. When the landscape is still white and the temperature below freezing, it tastes earthy and warm and Easter-like. It tastes like spring.

10:30 am cdt | link 

March 24, 2014

Last night at dinner a friend mentioned that she had recently been with people she did not know well, maybe they were even strangers to her, and one of them said something foolish. The comment was said in jest but maybe not totally. A ring of sincerity can often be hidden in a jest, Anyway, she found it offensive and was annoyed. She felt compelled to speak out.

Recently I saw the documentary on PBS called "Half the Sky – Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women World Wide." I might not seek out this film; I, like most everyone, do not want to dwell on problems, like gender-based violence, maternal mortality, education for girls and forced prostitution, that take place in third world countries. But after watching for only a few moments I was caught up. Caught up and reminded we are a fragile species and that many, so many, cultures are rooted in inhuman and unjust behaviors towards girls and women. But I was also caught up in the strength of women, women who had suffered horrendous abuse in early childhood, to change their circumstances. And the incredible love, caring and support these women and girls exhibited towards others who had suffered similarly. I was also caught up in the courage of a male NY Times journalist who was, and is, compelled to speak out and tell their, our, story. A story that must keep being told until it has a different ending.

6:41 am cdt | link 

March 23, 2014

A half-page advertisement in the Star Tribune caught my attention. It was a photograph of adults, dressed in costumes representing a pirate, a vampire, a knight, Red Riding Hood, Raggedy Ann and Andy and others storied characters, standing in front of a serious looking building which might represent a school or library. They are joined in the photo by drawn-in characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Babar, Curious George and Eloise. The large words at the side of the photo, words that caught my eye, read 'Book People Unite.'

There are so many reasons why some kids take to reading and others don’t. Why some enjoy reading while others would rather do something else. The same holds true for adults. The television, for many of us, is easier and less time consuming than a trip to the library or bookstore. Years of teaching kids, tutoring kids, encouraging kids to read have taught me, through experience, a couple of things. Reading should begin early. Infants, even the tiniest ones, benefit by being read to. And among kids differences will always exist. A mother I know, a reader herself, supported her first son by reading to him as a baby, supplying him with books, introducing him to the library at an early age. He took to reading like a duck to water. She did the same thing for his younger brother. He too quickly learned to read. But one day the younger son said this to her. “I can read baseball stories or I can play baseball. I’d rather play baseball."

Reading is to be encouraged. It is fundamental to success in school. It is fundamental for baseball players, too.

9:17 am cdt | link 

March 22, 2014

The rain garden is filled with snow. I just went outside to check it out. Patches of earth, though, are now visible under the shrubs and the chokecherry that borders the garden. In the center of the garden dried stalks of last year’s vegetation can be seen above the snow. Of the many gardens I have planted, maintained and harvested, this particular rain garden is among my favorites.

Water run-off sites in housing and commercial developments have been around forever. They go back in history, but rain gardens like the one in my yard are relatively new. These gardens, that utilize the rain run-off from the roof on a private home, started becoming popular in Maryland about 1990. The concept quickly caught on for several reasons. Rain gardens keep roof water out of sewers and out of basements. Once established they are easy to care for. When planted with native plants they attract butterflies and other beneficial insects. Robins love them. They are natural and beautiful; they irrigate the landscape around them.

Standing water in a rain garden is not a worry. After a very heavy storm it may take an hour or so for all the water to soak in. There is never enough water to attract fish, ducks or little kids. And forget most people’s biggest fear. Rain gardens do not harbor mosquitoes.

9:08 am cdt | link 

March 21, 2014

This is it. I’m going out in the garden. Even though snow is piled knee-high in places, it is time. I know I’m going to have to dig down a bit but near the house, and under a south facing fence, I am certain I will find exposed places. I need, on this sunny mid-March day when snow covers rooftops and ice glazes the sidewalks, the hopefulness of green. I am compelled to go looking.

I found this. The earth is still frozen solid. Using a stick I poked the soil and it did not respond. On my hands and knees I peeled back what last fall leaves I could pry up and searched. I knew I would not find tulips or daffodils but I was hoping maybe crocus. Possibly I was off as to where the crocus patch might be, the snow distorting my memory, but nothing. Nada. Where I was certain the coral bells were planted I saw leaves, on those sturdy perennial plants, that I knew would soon come alive. Same was true for a bed of yarrow. And the pachysandra, planted along a brick walk, was also alive. But here and there because my weeding is never what it should be, I found Creeping Charlie bright and green and sparkling with crystals of ice. Springtime new and lively. A pesky weed but my favorite color. I needed to see it.

5:50 am cdt | link 

March 20, 2014

Crossword puzzles call out to me. I find them impossible to resist. My love for puzzles began when I was a kid and it has continued. Most of the time I read the paper first, the hard news, but after reading about Russian troubles, a missing plane and tragic local fires, I savor the dessert of The New York Times and Star Tribune puzzles.

I know that I am not alone in my love of crosswords. Others share my addiction. The first puzzle, dreamed up by a man named Arthur Wynne, ran in New York World. The year was 1913. The documentary "Wordplay," which came out in 2006, is about crosswords, the people that do them, and Will Shortz, the undisputed king of puzzles. I liked this film so much I wanted to see it twice.

My liking to do the puzzles does not mean I am a crossword whiz. The Saturday New York Times is a struggle. A real struggle. And I often work out a section and need to come back. Or leave it unfinished. My friend, who commutes into NYC on Metro-North, told me this story. A man on my friend’s morning commute regularly does The New York Times puzzle, in ink, on his ride into the city. My friend can see him from where he sits. My friend was amazed. It takes this puzzle solver only minutes to complete each morning’s puzzle, a puzzle which gets harder as the week goes on. Even on Fridays this guy whips through. One day, after the puzzle solver got off the train, my friend picked up the paper left on the man’s seat. Some of the puzzle was correctly filled in but where it wasn’t, "x’s" filled what would have been empty blanks. I am happy to say I’ve not yet reached this point of puzzle desperation.

6:04 am cdt | link 

March 19, 2014

There are only a handful of people waiting in the reception area of the Center for Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. Across from me a young man, his injured foot in a boot, has his hooded sweatshirt pulled down over his face and appears to be sleeping. The man sitting to my left wears a three-piece suit and a sling on his right arm. His laptop rests next to his feet. Two young women take turns pushing a small boy around the room in a wagon with pedals. The boy, who is strapped in, pushes the pedals with pleasure. It is impossible to witness this delighted child, and the two young women who lovingly encourage him, and not have a feeling like hope.

To my right a handsome woman, sans cast or cane, has fabric spread across her lap and a needle in her hand. I have never seen this person before but I am compelled to speak to her because she is embroidering. Embroidering, she tells me, a dishtowel. Who embroiders anymore and who embroiders dish towels? The lady-like art of our grandmothers and mothers. But the embroiderer proudly shows me her work which is a contemporary design containing frogs. I admire it with sincerity. We talk for a moment about computerized sewing machines and their capacity to embroider. I agree with her that it is more fun, and relaxing, to embroider using needle, floss and hoop.

6:55 am cdt | link 

March 18, 2014

I know a woman who makes incredible handbags. Her purses are works of art. Though I enjoy and appreciate beautiful and beautifully made handbags, I tend to fall back on a minimal purse or a carry-everything tote. Once I heard that the Queen of England, a woman who is rarely seen without a purse, keeps only tissues and crosswords in her purse.

The Queen, according to a recent book about her, does carry tissues and crossword puzzles in her purse. She also carries a compact and lipstick, mints, a fountain pen, her glasses, lucky charms from her grand kids and, most interestingly, a suction hook which she attaches under the table, enabling her to keep her purse off of the floor while she eats. On Sundays she carries money for the collection plate. A cell phone can also be found in the 85-year-old monarch’s purse.

But unlike the rest of the purse carrying world, Queen Elizabeth uses her purse to communicate. According to insiders, when she places her purse on the table this means dinner will be ending in five minutes. When she holds her bag to one side, at a reception, it is a signal to her lady-in-waiting that she should join the conversation so the Queen can gracefully move on. When she places her purse on the floor at a banquet, it means she is bored and wants to escape. Who knew the power of a purse?

5:55 am cdt | link 

March 17, 2014

My college roommate was Finnish. And beautiful. She had been a Minnesota beauty queen after high school; because of this she taught me to walk gracefully, apply lipstick with a brush and wave from an open convertible. Important information, I felt, to learn my freshman year in college. Visiting her family home one weekend, I was also introduced to a genuine Finnish sauna. An interesting experience. She did not, to my recollection, ever mention a St. Urho.

St. Urho, I recently learned on NPR, is a Finnish saint who drove grasshoppers, threatening a grape harvest, out of Finland. He did this, supposedly, by yelling at them. The holiday is celebrated in Finland, Minnesota, and a statue of the saint has been erected in Menahga, Minnesota. The commemoration is celebrated the day before St. Patrick’s Day and the official holiday colors are green and purple. Hmmm.

St. Urho, I also learned, is a bit of a stretch. Grasshoppers and grape harvests maybe are too. And a rumor circulates that possibly the Minnesota Finns wanted to get a leg up on the Irish for imbibing green beer. It really doesn’t matter. The important thing in this world, according to Flaubert, is to keep one’s soul aloft. Happy St. Urho’s Day, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

5:35 am cdt | link 

March 16, 2014

The French word nee, which translates to "born as," is a regular to crossword puzzles. It’s the two vowels that do it. Nee, often used in society accountings, is used to indicate the maiden name of a woman. It is the Old French past participle of naistre which comes from the Latin word nasci, meaning arise or "be born." I can account for my interest in the word nee because of my love of crosswords and my recent weeks with Pacome. And a piece in this week’s "The New Yorker."

The piece, entitled "Long Short Shot," is about the writer Lydia Davis. A writer who is described in these words by Michael Silverblatt: “ At the sentence level and the word level she is the best there is.” Lydia Davis writes pithy short stories. Stories that contain only a few sentences. It was reading about this writer that got me thinking about the word nee.

Between a woman’s name and the word nee there is always a story. Found in family records dating back to the mid-1800’s was a woman who was born with the same name I had taken when I was married. She was born in South Dakota, where descendants of her family still live, but she died, childless, with a different name, a married name, in Washington DC. No one in the family knows the history of this long-ago relative. Knowing only the nee, I imagine for her an interesting story.

8:26 pm cdt | link 

March 15, 2014

Last Sunday morning we sprung forward an hour causing many on strict time schedules to lose an hour of sleep. Or be late for church or brunch or feel strangely cheated, like I did. In spite of snow piled everywhere and temperatures in the teens, birds and squirrels are doing the courtship thing. It is the light, not the temperature, turning them on.

It was Ben Franklin, visiting Paris in 1784, who had the idea of saving light and in doing so, saving on the cost of candles. Over the years, others proposed similar ideas. During World War I, Germany adopted Daylight Savings Time to save fuel for the war effort. Other countries followed suit. Controversy existed over DST, particularly among farmers, but in 1966 the United States made DST into a uniform act. Too late, for my Aunt and Uncle’s wedding.

Family lore recounts at the time, before 1966, when my Aunt and Uncle were married adjacent states did not necessarily switch to DST at the same time. Because my Uncle and his family did not live in the state where the wedding was being held, a state which had already moved forward,many friends traveling to the already-in-place DST wedding location, were confused or late for the ceremony.

It’s been a week since we’ve sprung forward. Most of us have caught up on our sleep.

8:09 am cdt | link 

March 14, 2014

Yesterday my friend, who grew up in Northfield and graduated from Carleton College, showed me a pair of jeans that had belonged to her father. Farmer jeans. Pants that had been worn by a man who worked.

I can’t remember if she’d said she had come upon the denim work pants recently or if she had known about them for some time. It doesn’t matter. The jeans were remarkable. Remarkable because they had been carefully cared for by her mother. Care that included patches meticulously sewn on with a foot-powered, treadle sewing machine. Mending work that necessitated ripping the leg seams apart, to get them on the machine, and later re-sewing them together. In some cases patches were sewn on top of patches. And though not all the patches were denim from old jeans - one of the patches could have been a pocket - all the fabric used for the patching was blue.

Clothes can tell small but important stories. These old jeans were clean, beautifully mended and in use long after someone else might have thrown them away. The mender of the jeans took pride in her work. The wearer of the jeans took pride in his work, too. There were no patches on the seat of the jeans.

6:34 am cdt | link 

March 13, 2014

Just checked on the lisianthus seeds. Nothing yet. This year I am trying to grow the spectacular flowers from seeds knowing, though, I will be buying seedlings, too.

Lisianthus seeds are unbelievably small. So small they are coated with a whitish covering supposedly making them easier to plant. Only somewhat easier to plant because they clung together with static electricity making me, the seed sower, frustrated. Perusing the Web after I had struggled to get seeds in the soil, I found that a lisianthus grower recommends wetting the end of a small screw driver, attaching a single seed, then sticking the end of the screw driver in the potting cell. My planting efforts were not that careful.

I remember exactly where I saw lisianthus flowers for the first time. It was in a Co-op Market in Chicago’s Hyde Park. It was love at first sight; I have grown them, from purchased seedlings, ever since. Lisianthus come in both single and double blooms. In the wild, which are rural areas in the South, they are bluish purple but cultivated they also come in lavenders, pinks, whites. They are sometimes mistaken for a rose variety and make spectacular cut flowers.

I will continue to check on the seeds in the south window. I have my fingers crossed.

7:02 am cdt | link 

March 12, 2014

In charge of the large display case at the elementary school, I decided to do something different. Instead of displaying the usual collections of things, I covered the glass with black paper and cut a few small openings at different child-height levels. Behind them I placed unusual objects, one to an opening, I knew the kids would look at and enjoy. My inspiration, Tiffany’s windows.

Recently I watched the new science program, “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” The material the show presents is overwhelming even with simplified explanations and animated graphics. It is difficult, for me impossible, to get one’s head around the magnitude of space. Galaxies, black holes, stars, suns, moons. The words billions and billions I can imagine only as numbers. Small pictures, like the openings in the school display case, enable us to focus and takes things in with ease.

Science and technology bring us more information and more communication. We find ourselves in larger and larger pictures. Some impossible to grapple with. The oceans, the lake up North and the streams in our neighborhood we can, however, picture with clarity. It is the picture we are living in.

6:59 am cdt | link 

March 11, 2014

My mother didn’t knit, neither did my grandmother. Growing up, knitting didn’t interest me. The only person I can remember knitting in my childhood was a woman on our block who knit colorful, ethnic looking mittens my mother, who had an artist’s eye, purchased as gifts. I learned to knit in college, a section mate taught me. My first project was a sweater for my boyfriend. Green. Garter stitch. The finished product…waaay big.

I knit my way through college: in classes, in the smoker, in my room at night. After graduation I just kept on knitting. Sometimes simple things, sometimes involved patterns that challenged, frustrated, made me rue I hadn’t gone to MIT. I knit through bad times and good. Through meetings. As a matter of fact, I just laid down my needles. Green metal number ones, 13 3/4” inches long. My yarn, blue wool.

I have taught school kids to knit, lots of them. Kids who come from not so good situations, kids who are having trouble sorting themselves out. Knitting is salubrious, knitting is good. Though it can’t provide all of life’s answers, it can, I know for sure, come up with one or two.  

5:43 am cdt | link 

March 10, 2014

March is the time to take care of apple trees. Now, when the trees are dormant, they should be carefully pruned. But the snow is too high to even contemplate tracking through the field to get to our small orchard of sixteen apple trees. Winter forces us to wait.

My knowledge of apple trees is slim. I am always learning. I know it as probably the Romans who introduced apples to Europe and that when the French and English colonized North America, they brought apple seeds with them. I know that there are dozens of apple varieties, and new ones are constantly being developed. The favorite Honey Crisp apple is a University of Minnesota developed variety.

I know you must grow two different varieties to insure pollination, and that the Red Delicious apple was once the universal favorite for cooking and eating. Its popularity, though, has been surpassed by the Fuji and Gala varieties. I know that apples can be stored over the winter, but they are tastiest when eaten fresh. Even though it is best to eat locally and when produce is in season, I am thinking that an apple would taste very good right now.

 

5:47 am cdt | link 

March 9, 2014

Snow covers everything, high piles of it still at the street corners, but today things are different. The sun is more intense, the temperature warmer and there are puddles. And Scarlet, whose genes tell her to herd, wants only to run. Cardinals frequent the feeder, as they have all winter, but today their colors are brighter and they seem almost sociable with the juncos and chickadees. We are, every living thing inhabiting this frigid place, feeling and remembering spring.

In spring we enjoy being around new life. Babies, puppies, kittens, little beings. New little beings. I am no exception. We are programmed this way. It is how it works. So the You Tube video someone recently broadcast has spread a smile across my face.

The video is of a woman surrounded by her quadruplet babies who I would estimate to be about five months old. The infants, all dressed in navy blue onesies, are toothless. And grinning. Love shines out of the mother’s eyes as she manages to cradle the four, and off camera you can hear the father make sounds that push the infants into uncontrollable laughter. New laughter. Contagious laughter. Laughter that sounds like spring.

7:49 am cdt | link 

March 8, 2014

Today is International Women’s Day; I was just sent a reminder of this fact via email. International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over one hundred years in countries around the globe. Originally it was called International Working Women’s Day.

We are aware of discrimination against women but don’t think much about it until we are reminded of women in Iran who want to drive, women in Afghanistan who want to go to school. Women’s history is the story of being second class citizens. Young women today take for granted they can play any sport they wish, pursue any career. These choices were not always the case.

Years ago, in my graduate school classics class, a fellow student raised her hand and asked the professor why there were no women mentioned on the reading syllabus he had just passed out. He answered her that there were no women writing at that time. She answered him, “Find some.” With that she, and a handful of women students, got up and walked out of the class. At the next class a new syllabus was passed out that included women writers.

This is a day for remembering and honoring women with strong voices. Women who are still asking questions and making their voices heard.

7:32 am cst | link 

March 7, 2014

Sometimes someone gives you something, a little gift, and it is just right and you are surprised it is just right because it doesn’t seem like it would be. And yet it is. It is perfect.

A friend gave me a hand-painted plate, I don’t know where she got it. She didn’t purchase the plate for its painted design, a crudely rendered coffee pot, she purchased it for Flaubert’s words hand-painted around the edge. “The principal thing in this world is to keep one’s soul aloft." The plate hangs on my kitchen wall, a morning reminder from the French writer Flaubert, author of Madam Bovary. Flaubert, I have read, was a careful writer, critical of his own work. A writer his contemporaries referred to as a person in search of le mot juste - the right word.

The plate with the coffee pot has a home in my kitchen because it is a gift from a friend. And it is painted with the right words.

5:48 am cst | link 

March 6, 2014

The other night I saw the documentary called “Girls in the Band,” at the Weitz Center for Creativity.

There are things we have forgotten, things we never knew and things we deemed not important enough to care about. Not long ago, not long ago at all, it was taken for granted that women could not play a musical instrument as well a man. They were not strong enough, talented enough. It was unthinkable they would prefer to play a trombone or a jazz piano when they could play a violin or the flute. But jazz piano and a trombone were the instruments they preferred to play so they played them. In spite of being left out of groups, humiliated, paid unequally, paid poorly or not paid at all.

“The Girls in the Band” is eye opening. We have forgotten, or never knew, the struggles these women, of all races, faced when playing their preferred musical instruments. Thanks to their persistence, and a few men along the way who were not threatened by their talent, today Molly and Emma, Katlyn and Jenna can play the tenor sax or the trumpet or the string bass. And they can play them well. I have my eye on the drums.

5:47 am cst | link 

March 5, 2014

A few years ago we moved to Northfield, from Connecticut, in mid-December. Parked on Division Street, having just driven into town, I looked up at the bank clock and noted it was 35 degrees. I remember this with such clarity because I had just seen a couple of boys, college kids, wearing shorts. Even though the ground was free of snow, I couldn’t equate shorts with 35 degree weather. At that same time I watched a person riding a bike, stop, get off their bike, lean it against a lamp post and go into the bank. The bike rider did not bother to lock their bike or secure it in any way.

This morning the temperature has climbed above zero for the first morning in weeks. The sky is overcast and snow is piled up at every corner making turning into traffic difficult. At the high school bus stop the kids stand like high school kids stand at a bus stop: without moving, silently, apart from one another, burdened with backpacks and musical instruments. This morning, though, everything is different. Not one of the girls is wearing a hat.

6:09 am cst | link 

March 4, 2014

Okay, for me, the Oscars are about the clothes. Particularly the gowns, the often strange and overwrought specially designed dresses worn by attractive women we feel we almost know. I read, somewhere, this year’s Oscar fashion described as 'vanilla.' Not controversial, not terribly exciting except for the pale blue Prada dress worn by Lupita Nyong’o. I’m not savvy enough about fashion trends to make definitive statements, but we all know what we like. And I did like her dress.

I find most strapless dresses unbecoming and hard to pull off though many brides, particularly, feel a strapless dress is the ideal one for their wedding day. The tomato red strapless gown worn by Jennifer Lawrence on Sunday night did work, I think, because of her slender build and countenance.

So the Oscars become a once-a-year event providing a moment to dream and criticize and envy, and for a fleeting moment, to think about something besides down coats and layers of sweaters. With below zero temperatures and a landscape of snow, dreaming is in order.

 

5:43 am cst | link 

March 3, 2014

The visitor to the classroom told the third graders these things about the Alaskan Iditarad which had its ceremonial start March 1st.

He told them that the dog sled race goes from Anchorage to Nome and covers almost 1,000 miles. He told the class that the dogs wear booties on their feet, and that the mushers carry hundreds more on their sleds; the booties must be changed often. He said the dogs eat salmon and moose, and that the mushers have pretty much the same diet as the dogs. He told them a dog sled will typically be pulled by twelve dogs. He said snow conditions dictate how the sled runners are waxed. He said the long dog sled trek had its beginnings in 1923 when it was necessary to transport diphtheria serum to Nome. He told the class that female dogs are usually the lead dogs because they are easier to train and follow directions better than male dogs.

Then he did this. He divided the class into a boy's group and a girl's group and gave each group a ski to wax. He gave them no directions on how they should do it and this is what happened. The girl's group put the ski on the floor, turned it over and took turns applying the wax. They were able to wax and polish the entire length of the ski. The boy's group, though, had a power struggle over who would be waxing what area of the ski. They did not, like the girls, put the ski on the floor but instead kept it upright. Upright and over their heads, the entire ski in the boy's group did not get waxed and polished.

6:04 am cst | link 

March 2, 2014

This unremitting winter of endless snow and cold, and the icy road conditions that it has produced, has taken the ultimate toll. The lives of three Carleton College students.

No one in this small town, no parent, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt or uncle, no teacher or college professor, can learn of this tragedy without being touched by feelings of sorrow. These young men were someone’s cousins, boyfriends, students, nephews, brothers. They were some someone’s children. They were our children.

We are human beings connected to other human beings. We share their joys and today their grief. We wish the two students injured in the fatal accident a return to health.

7:07 am cst | link 

March 1, 2014

February, never my favorite month, is over. The second month of the year is behind us, but February was not always the second month of the year; it used to be the last. Februum is the Latin word for purification, and purification was practiced, I’m unsure how, before the start of the new year which once began with the month of March. How February came to have fewer days than the other months I think is unclear but a little story goes that Julius Caesar, the month of July is named after him, did not like the fact that July was short of days so he ‘stole’ some days from February.

The window garden of crocuses, hyacinths, tulips and daffodils is past. The birds and squirrels, so many of them, have found the out-of-the-way feeder and dine there daily. Pacome is returning to his home outside of Paris and I will truly miss him. The world outside the window is still bitterly cold, thick and white. March is coming in like a lion. Hopefully this means we have lamb weather in our future.

7:34 am cst | link 


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