Monthly Archives: October 2006


Have you ever been so distracted by your thoughts you just function automatically? You know, you arrive at work only to realize you don’t remember much of the 30-minute commute? Or you get out of the shower and can’t remember whether you used conditioner?

Well, it happened to me yesterday in the grocery store. I’d just had a long lunch with a brave, strong, funny woman who I’d been wanting to meet and was thinking about that. I was also thinking about the next twist in my plot and that maybe I’d figured out how to handle it better. And about the three new paperbacks I just put in the cart and wondering when I was going to find time to read them. And about the book I need to read before that online class starts on Wednesday. And making a mental note — yeah, like that works — to call a roofer on Monday. And then I remembered I’m having out-of-town company week after next. And. . . well, I was distracted.

This is usually not a problem in the grocery store. I don’t know why I even bother to make a list, because I could dig one out of the bottom of my purse from three months ago and it would be pretty much identical to one from a year ago. Unless I’m making something special, like fudge or lasagna, and even then it will just say “fudge stuff” or “lasagna ingr.” because I know what goes into each and that’s all the reminder I need.

The problem is that my relatively new routine of cooking for one now that both kids are off at college hasn’t become ingrained habit when it comes to grocery shopping. I still have to remind myself not to buy Pringles, for instance, because I don’t eat them.

So I got to the checkout and was a bit startled by the total. I wondered whether the person behind me had slipped a whole tenderloin across into my stuff, except when I looked no one was there. I became increasingly concerned as I loaded all those bags into the car. And somewhat alarmed by how many trips it took to lug them all in to the house.

I had intended to get some cans of cat food and a few of those little white boxes I’ve recently discovered. You know, the ones that contain a plastic dish of low-fat, low-calorie, no-cholesterol, high-fiber, nutritionally balanced food you shove in the microwave for four minutes and it doesn’t taste half-bad if you don’t think about it or look at it too closely and no one is going to complain about it and it sure makes life easier after a long day at work and why the hell hadn’t I tried this sooner? Those. Just what had I bought, anyway?

Well, short answer, enough food to last a good long while. Unless the kids come home again soon, then it might last two days. Real food. Food I’m going to have to do something with other than shove it in the microwave. Sigh. At least I won’t have to shop again for a while.

Except I realized this morning — I forgot to buy Halloween candy.

Maybe I can turn off all the lights and pretend I’m not home Tuesday night? All that door-answering is really going to cut into my reading time. And if I’m writing, chances are good I won’t even hear the doorbell.

No, I’m going to have to go to the store again. Anyone have any tips on how to focus?


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Who’s Been Sleeping in My Beds?

Well, it all started innocently enough. Usually it’s just the cat sharing space with me these days. And even then only when she’s cold and sleeps on my feet until I wake up, notice I can’t move and convince her to go stalk something in the darkness. The dog has been spending a lot of time lately with His Favorite Person, who lives in another city.

But then my kids decided they would indeed be coming home during their four-day fall breaks from college — on different, consecutive weekends. Who was in charge of planning that? So they called their father and begged him to bring the dog home for a visit at mom’s house.

Which is fine. Really. Except I’d kind of gotten used to NOT being awakened before dawn every morning by 85 pounds of energetic black lab jumping up on the bed and slurping my face as a signal he’s ready to go outside.

So last Saturday and Sunday morning were loud and interesting. You know, it’s probably not a great idea to start the day swearing like that, but the good thing about dogs and cats is they don’t repeat what you say and embarrass you in front of the neighbors.

Monday morning, my son was snug as a bug in his own bed. It had been a while, and I appreciated how nice it was to have him home for a couple days. Except that Monday morning usually requires the playing of really loud music as a motivator to get me up and out the door to work on time. Not this week.

Tuesday morning brought the realization that the population in my house had grown significantly overnight. The guest bed and both couches in the bonus room were occupied by large male life forms. This was not really a surprise. House rules: You drink beer and shoot pool till 3:00 AM at my house, you’d damn well better plan to spend the night — or you will be attempting to explain yourself next time I see you.

By Wednesday morning the boys were gone and my daughter was in place, home for one night because she had a doctor appointment that morning and it couldn’t be rescheduled. She was back on campus by noon, attending the last day of class before her break started.

Thursday morning and I was alone again with the four-legged creatures. But I checked all the beds, just in case. I’ve discovered that running around half-naked in the morning is not a good idea, even if you’re really, really sure and could have sworn no one was there . . .

Then Friday morning there were four girls camped out in various locations. Yes, they had planned to sleep over at someone else’s house after attending the fair, but things change. Usually not at 11:30 on a Thursday night, but it can happen. Sure, no problem.

By Saturday morning, I was so confused and sleep-deprived I got up early, did a head count — just one female child, far as I could tell — and started getting ready for work. I do not have to go to work on Saturday. Sigh.

Sunday morning? Who knows? I’m ready for anything.

So that’s who’s been sleeping in my beds. And on my couches. And in my sleeping bags. You wouldn’t think a middle-aged, divorced mother of two college-aged kids would spend much time wondering who is sleeping in her beds, would you? Shows how much you know.

Don’t even get me started about who’s been eating my porridge.


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Movin’ On — to the State Fair!

The State Fair is in town this week and I am not going to go. Not only that, I am going to enjoy not going.

When I was little, mom and dad would take all three of my sisters and me to the Minnesota State Fair. Going to the fair meant riding the Tilt-A-Whirl and Ferris wheel and making spin art pictures that you’d take home and have no idea what to do with until 20 years later when mom tried to send them home with you and you told her to just throw them away already.

It also meant walking through the animal barns and pretending you were unaffected by the smell. Yes, I can tell the difference, by smell alone, between a cow barn and a chicken coop. My people are farm people, and to farm people the purpose of a fair is to show off farm things: the best animals, the latest machinery, the wonderful hand-made quilts and, of course, the canned and baked goods.

And it also meant that, at some point, you ended up with a caramel apple. Why? I have no idea. I don’t like them. Yet every time, I ended up holding this top-heavy thing on a stick, no idea how to bite into it without getting sticky goo all over my face, teeth sliding off the skin of the apple. You might as well try to bite into the side of a city bus — you wouldn’t make a dent in that either and yet you’d end up with nasty stuff all over your face. Of course no one ever got arrested for trying to eat a caramel apple.

And the goo spreads. To those strands of hair blowing about, sticking to the slick brown mass. Hands reaching up, brushing away, becoming hopelessly mired in sweet stickiness. Your sister bumping into you, accidentally of course, getting some of it on your arm. Multiply this by four small children and the potential for disaster in the car on the way home is almost unimaginable. What the hell were my parents thinking?

Someday I’ll have to ask my mom about it.

Trips to the fair with my own children were somewhat different. The first time we went I asked: Should we go see the animals first or go on a few rides? My husband and two kids paused in their mad dash to the midway, staring at me with horror and disbelief: Why would we go look at the animals? Since no good reason came immediately to mind, we didn’t. What a bad mother. If my children are ever plopped down, blindfolded, in the midst of a farm building and required to identify which animals inhabit said building– well, it won’t be pretty.

Then there was the year my son, too cool for the family thing, convinced us he and his buddies were old enough to go on their own. I think they were fifteen. We dropped them off, said a prayer they wouldn’t try to bite a city bus, and picked them up again after the fireworks display. When you consider the possibilities, one lost cell phone seemed a minor consequence.

A couple years later, my daughter tried the same tactic. Why do kids always remember how old their older sibling was when they got to do something? I’m sorry, but it’s different for girls. It’s not fair (no pun intended), but that’s the way it is. And somehow, I ended up being the one to go with them.

Five girls and me. At the fair. We met up with two other girls whose parents were all too willing to let me look after them, as well. One of these girls was so petite she didn’t even reach my shoulder and her mother confided to me: You really need to keep a close eye on her, she tends to wander.


So. Seven girls and me. At the fair. Stumbling over thick electrical cables, dodging around the oblivious folks who will walk straight into you if you don’t move, juggling five jackets and three purses — all of which I had tried to insist they leave in the car — two drinks, one slice of pizza and a half-eaten cone of cotton candy. Ok, so the cotton candy didn’t last more than three minutes before it hit the trash. I have a low tolerance for sticky fair food. The girls had the time of their lives, screaming their way through one brain-mashing ride after another — while I was ready to scream just standing there. Counting heads and holding stuff.

On the way home they all thanked me and said it was the best fair ever. I think the next year we decided they were old enough to go on their own.

So that’s why I’m going to really enjoy not going to the State Fair this week.

But you know, I heard they buried all the cables on the midway this year. Of course, if I went I could walk through the animal barns. And look at the quilts. And eat some sweet corn on the cob. And stand there, unburdened, under the clear night sky and watch the fireworks.

Anyone want to go with me? The forecast says sunny and cool. Perfect weather for the fair.

C’mon, let’s go. But leave the damn jacket in the car.


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Silence is . . .

I have been thinking lately about silence. It occurs to me there are as many different varieties of silence as there are causes. According to one reference, by definition silence is “the absence or lack of noise” or “a refusal, failure or inability to speak” or “an absence of notice or acknowledgement of something.” But silence is not an absence of communication, nor is it void of meaning.

I have known many different kinds of silence.

There is the comfortable silence between old friends, the embrace of easy camaraderie and echoes of remembered conversations folding around like a warm cloak.

There is the eerie silence after a hurricane when the wild creatures that fled to safety have yet to return home.

There is the tense angry silence of misunderstanding between lovers, hurt feelings and injured pride, a long night spent hugging the side of the bed.

There is the silence of a disapproving parent, weighted with generations of disappointed expectations, more effective than any scolding.

There is the silence of a sleeping child, interrupted by quiet murmurs and soft breathing, a mere pause in activity, a source of wonder.

There is the silence of grounded air traffic, of tear-drenched memorial services and the stoic throat-choked endurance of public grief.

There is the awe-inspired silence as the last note of brilliantly played music resonates through a crowd of people collectively holding their breath in that syncopated moment just before the applause.

There is the silence of inattention, of distracted absorption in other things that often leads to startled realization and rushed apologies for the lack.

There is the silence just before dawn on a winter morning, before the plows and the sleds, when the first heavy snow has fallen during the night, muffling the world in a thick blanket of white.

There is the awkward silence of newly met strangers, not knowing what to say or how to say it, broken by self-conscious laughter or inane remarks.

There is the taut silence in the night that speaks of danger, when even the crickets are still, sensing the unseen threat.

So many kinds of silence, saying so many different things.

And then there is the silence of an overture rebuffed, a message not deemed worthy of a reply, the kind of silence that wields a weight capable of crushing the spirit and destroying the soul. A dismissive silence for which there is no defense and no remedy.

It hurts.

But what hurts more is the slow realization, too late, that you earned it.

And there, echoing with self-condemnation and contrition . . .

. . . is silence.


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It Was a Tough Week

The summer I was 12, my parents had a swimming pool installed in the back yard — the kind with a blue vinyl liner over several hard-packed inches of sand. There are many, many stories I could tell about that pool, but today I’m remembering my dad cleaning it. He was a teacher and had summers off, so he’d clean the pool every morning and then go golfing.

He’d skim the top first with the long-handled aluminum skimmer pole, then hook up the brush attachment and hose contraption and vacuum the pool. Very slowly, so as not to stir up the stuff on the bottom. Up and down the sides, back and forth across the bottom. Slowly. Seemed like it took forever. I guess he had a routine because you could look out the porch window, note where he was standing, and know exactly how much longer it would take. When he finished vacuuming, he’d skim the top again.

When he was done and it was once again a pristine expanse of shimmering blue water sparkling in the sunlight, you felt like you had to just stand there and appreciate it for a minute. You almost hated to be the first one to jump in and mess it up. Almost.

Today I’m feeling a bit like that pool of glittering vacant water. The events of the week have vacuumed all the interesting stuff right out of me. I’m empty.

There are no acorns or twigs or ponytail holders on the bottom. No leaves or dead bugs or forgotten toys floating on the top. No squirmy salamanders trying to climb the slippery sides or dead moles swirling in the skimmer bucket.

All the good stuff is gone, vacuumed up and skimmed away, leaving me with no interesting thoughts or emotions. Nothing to say.

Pretty soon someone will come along, jump in with a big splash and stir things up again. But for now, the water is still and empty.



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