Tag Archives: memories

What I cast away in 2016

Americans, I think, tend to think about things — everything — in terms of gain. Bigger means better. More is good. The best houses are mansions. Personal income and the stock market should always go up. Value meals are valuable because they offer more calories for the buck. The Grand Canyon is worth seeing because it’s, well, grand.

I look at my accomplishments like this. A job worth doing is even better when I can multi-task. Any day is a better day when I can look back on a long list of things to do that got done. A year is always better when it was full.

But 2016 was not of year of making gains for me, it was a year of losing things. Mostly, I lost clutter, an untidy collection of people, places and things no one wants.

A big thing I lost was a court case. I wrote about this court case last January, when we were in the midst of trial. To summarize a seven-year ordeal as succinctly as I can, I was among four named plaintiffs suing on behalf of 400 fellow employees to recoup our retirement fund. I was hopeful a year ago that we would prevail, but we didn’t. The judge issued his ruling in September and I learned, much to my dismay, that losers have to pay the winners’ court fees. Yeah, first I lost my retirement, then I lost the court case and then I was on the hook to pay literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fees. That would explain why I never blogged about the judgment; I struggled to find a bright spot.

But after much back and forth, we were forgiven the court fees and legally put the whole drama to bed. So even though I lost the case, I gained peace of mind and the gift of putting all the stress and sorrow behind me.

My Beloved and I also observed the end of an era when my stepson (the younger of my two stepchildren) graduated from college and got a job. He’s still our child, but he’s no longer a child. He’s a self-supporting adult. What we lose in terms of a dependent, we gain in the form of a new approach to parenting. Less control, more equality.

I also helped my stepdaughter scrape a barnacle off the hull of her ship. Without getting into the details, I relished in the opportunity to live in the same house with her for a while, a chance I didn’t get when she was a teenager. Living together with anyone breeds familiarity and in this case, affection.

I effectively and definitively kicked my 40s to the curb in 2016. On Dec. 23, I officially became a member of the AARP crowd. Honestly, I hate aging and I’m not thrilled to be 50, but let’s just say, I discovered some elixirs to dull the effects. Thank you, modern pharmaceuticals.

abundance

An image of abundance, captured at an outdoor market in Barcelona, Spain. I didn’t need to buy pounds of dried fruits or nuts to appreciate their beauty.

Other losses in 2016: The Cubs ended a long drought of World Series wins. That was fun. The Dems lost the White House. No matter what you think of the result, a poli-sci major like me found the whole messy process fascinating. I gave up my post-a-day blogging habit, having written something on this blog only 81 times this year, the fewest since 2008 when I posted three times (I’m hoping to turn this bad habit around in 2017).  And I lost 17 glorious June days on a European vacation. In fact, I traveled 161 days in 2016, and the only thing I missed about home was the bills stacking up.

Most significantly and triumphantly, I lost an ugly pantry, some disgusting bathroom flooring and a literal ton of household ephemera. When we decided to list our house on the market (the house itself was the reason for the aforementioned bills), we knew we had to remodel the pantry (did you miss the before-and-after shots? Not to worry — click here) and replace the carpeting in the master bath. Yes, carpeting. Can’t believe I lived with it for nine years. My Beloved and I learned how to tile, and now I can see each individual stray strand of hair I leave behind after a shampoo. After sorting through every last closet and drawer in the house, we shredded 14 boxes of paperwork, filled the trash can innumerable times and dropped off 15 carloads (or at least trunks full) of stuff at Goodwill. I won’t miss a single one of those things, and I’ve learned how to curb my propensity to accumulate.

To fair, not all that I cast away had an upside. I also lost a few treasures.

Like my uncle, who succumbed to a brain tumor in September at age 65. I got one last visit with him in August that feels like a gift.

And my youth, which died quietly of an overdose in April in an elevator in Paisley Park. Of all the shocking celebrity deaths in 2016, Prince’s was personal for anyone who considers Minnesota home.

These sorts of losses serve as reminders that time is short and should be spent carefully, with people and in places we love. So here’s to 2017: May we all spend our time well.

Nothing fishy about this date

If Jesus had been Japanese instead of Jewish, he would have fed the 5,000 with two fish and five maki rolls.

Fish and rice is as simple in one land as fish and bread in another.

Add a little soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger, and you transform simple into divine.

My Beloved and I went out for dinner and a movie tonight, and we enjoyed “Arrival” and sushi. Both were sublime.

“Arrival,” starring Amy Adams, is pure science fiction. With a nonlinear timeline to boot. It’s the kind of movie that makes me wish I could write a screenplay like that. Adams is awesome in it. I’ve loved her since I saw her in “Enchanted,” in which she pulled off a live action Disney princess.

I’ve loved sushi since my first bite of it on a business trip to Tokyo. If I tried sushi before that, I don’t remember it. And I’ve tried to recreate the authentic Japanese experience ever since. Sushi in Chicago can be delicious, but nothing beats fresh raw fish prepared by a proud Japanese master. Illinois is just too far from the ocean.

I remember a lunch break with my Japanese colleagues. They suggested sushi and led me to a tiny little basement sushi bar where the entire menu was in Japanese. Of course it was in Japanese. I was in Japan! I wouldn’t have known what yellowtail was in any language. So they ordered a mixed plate of maki rolls, and I struggled to manipulate my chopsticks. It was with this generous group of people that I learned to mix a little wasabi into the soy sauce first before dipping in my roll. And to eat each piece in one bite. Gulp! I remember avoiding the pieces with the big orange fish eggs — I didn’t like how they popped in my mouth (I now love a sprinkling of tiny roe across a fancy roll).

Later that day, I enjoyed sucking salty edamame from the shell with hot sake over happy hour. A habit had begun.

Today my Beloved and I tried a new sushi joint. Salty edamame. Hot sake. Authentic Japanese sushi chefs well practiced in creating maki rolls to tempt American palates.

Like “Arrival,” it was out of this world.

There’s almost nothing like a Game 7 in the World Series

Oh. My. God.

Not only are the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, but they’re playing Game 7 of the World Series. Just when fans thought all was lost, they won Games 5 and 6 against the Cleveland Indians to force a Game 7.

True baseball fans love Game 7s. If nothing else, they stave off the boredom of winter for a least a few days. Who wants to watch a sweep except the victors? They’re boring for everyone else.

But Game 7 in the World Series? It’s like making love in slow motion. The post-season is weeks of build-up. The first six games of the World Series are filled with moments of drama and intensity. Game 7 is three hours of pure excitement. And that last out? If it goes in your favor, it’s a sense of relief and elation like no other.

And even if you lose Game 7, you know you put up a good fight.

There has only been 36 other Game 7s in World Series history.

The Cubs and Indians have played only one other Game 7, and they both lost. For the Cubs, it was in 1945, the last time they played in the Fall Classic, and they lost 9-3 to the Detroit Tigers. For the Indians, they lost 3-2 to the Marlins in 1997; it was the Indians’ last appearance in the Series, too.

That means one team will not only win the World Series tonight, they will vanquish their Game 7 sorrows.

Of the 37 Game 7s including tonight’s, 18 have occurred in my lifetime. Four of them go down in my memory banks as mind-blowing.

  • 1987: No Twins fan worth her salt would ever forget this one. I was a college student at the time, and there’s no better excuse to skip class than to watch the games at a downtown bar the night before get a little tipsy. It was the first World Series Championship for the Twins when the Twinkies beat the Cardinals 4-2 in Game 7.
  • 1991: Easily one of the best baseball games in history, the Twins beat the Atlanta Braves 1-0 in 10 innings when Jack Morris went the distance. Now, in an era of pitcher specialists — long relievers and middle relievers and closers — Morris’ accomplishment is a feat we probably won’t see again. I was living in Ohio at the time so I enjoyed having the right to gloat among Cincinnati Reds fans.
  • 1997: I watched this game with great interest, but I wasn’t rooting for the Indians then either. I spent the entire series on a road trip using up vacation time before taking a new job, and I watched every game over a plate of nachos in a different bar. It was an awesome way to make vacation last longer. And it was the Marlins first championship, so it was particularly sweet.
  • 2001: I was a fan of the Big Unit (pitcher Randy Johnson) when he played for the Seattle Mariners and manager Lou Pinella so therefore I was a fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks when he was traded there. To watch pitcher Curt Shilling with his bloody heal start his third game of the series and then to watch Johnson, normally a starter, come in as a reliever — wow! The best part was watching Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera melt down. I still hate the New York Yankees. So this game was pure joy.

I’ve got to believe tonight’s game will be similarly memorable. If it’s not already obvious, I’m rooting for the Chicago Cubs because a) I live in Illinois, and b) I’m a Twins fan so rooting for the Chicago White Sox is out of the question; rooting for the Cleveland Indians — who play in the same division as the Twins — is similarly loathsome.

I’m still a little bit afraid of what might happen if the Chicago Cubs win a World Series, which hasn’t happened in 108 years. Seriously, it’s gotta be a sign of the apocolypse. But still … it would be fun if zombies don’t show up.

Go Cubbies!

Farewell to thee, ye house of little interest and yard with big dividends

As one ages, one learns the importance of paying attention to the passage of time. Saluting it. Savoring it. Actually touching the grains of sand as they slip through one’s fingers.

So as we prepare to move out of the house we’ve lived in for nine years, I’m trying to be conscious about the things I’m going to miss around here.

Honestly, I’m a little bit “good riddance” to the whole cardboard box scene. It was fine when we had a teenage boy in the house who required easy access to a decent education system and a basement in which to entertain his giggly friends, but otherwise, our house pretty much lives up to the description you’d find on its insurance application: A single-family structure with very little character built in a nondescript small town with low crime.

But still. It’s our home. It’s the first major purchase my Beloved and I made together (the first decision was his: “I’m moving to Illinois.” And mine: “I’m going with you.” But that barely qualifies as a decision we made together. The home, now that we decided on together). We did our best to make it charming, and I will sorrowfully miss the built-in bookcases and crown moulding my father installed in my office, but in the end, it’s still just a big house in the suburbs.

Interestingly, the things I will miss most around here are outside. In the yard. The yard I spent exceedingly little time in. Yes, that one. But the truth is, I did appreciate it. When I drove into the driveway. And from inside the house through the big windows. The yard has the aesthetics that are missing from the house itself.

The yard is the thing that sold us the house. I loved that the beautifully landscaped front yard had curb appeal. And my Beloved loved that our back yard faced a protected wetland (some people might call it a swamp, but we liked to refer to it as a water feature).

The landscaping in the front includes a number of ornamental grasses. I just love them, they are so lovely. And this time of year, the plumes on top look ethereal. Here’s the vista that greeted me on a recent morning when I ventured out of the house for a run.

grasses

 

The fenced-in back yard which my miniature schnauzer enjoyed patrolling includes two mature trees — a big beautiful oak tree and a stunning hickory tree — both well over 50 feet tall.

That hickory tree is most beautiful in the fall. Two years ago, I took a picture of the tree every day from Sept. 5 through Oct. 17 for an awesome blog post, but a couple of days ago (before the rain), I stood in the back yard and gazed at the tree’s majesty.

hickory-tree

I will also miss the chive plant in our garden, the phoenix-esque rhubarb plant we were thrilled to find rose from the dead and the prodigious mulberry tree growing just outside our back fence (note that all these plants are ones that I neither planted nor was required to tend to — this is how it goes for someone who eschews gardening but appreciates the harvest).

As autumn turns into winter, when all things die, I’m absorbing this last gasp of beauty on the property we call ours. For now.

 

Poignant tangent, pop top … memories with t’s and p’s (but not TP)

[This post was first drafted three years ago. It was never posted because it’s a story that goes mostly nowhere except to veer into the territory of bad wordplay. But today, as I’m sitting in the new summer sun enjoying a cold beverage and admiring my pedicure, I’m again remembering bare feet and pop tops. So here you go. Don’t say you weren’t warned.] 

Before the ‘modern day’ pull tab, there existed…the pop top. Do you remember pop tops?

Way back when, before Coke Zero and New Coke and Coke Classic, you opened cans of soda with pop tops. It was a tongue of aluminum attached to a ring. You’d pull the ring, and the tongue of aluminum would curl off, leaving a hole from which to drink.

Depending on your fastidiousness, you’d tuck the pop top back into the can (risking an ugly swallowing accident), or you’d throw the curled-up pop top on the ground, inviting an open wound on the bottom of a tender foot. This design was finally abandoned because the discarded pop-tops littered streets and beaches all over the world. (For those who eschew litter, the old pop tops were good for making some very funky stuff: hats, dresses, even dog vests.)

Funny what sorts of things evoke memories.

I am watched my 9-year-old nephew wiping off his dirty summertime feet (in a valiant effort to delay a reading assignment). His feet reminded me of a summer day at least 35 years ago.

A neighborhood friend named Ryan was playing in my yard. We were maybe 4 or 5, I’m not sure, but this is one of my earliest childhood memories. I don’t recall what, exactly, we were doing, but we were probably playing tag or something.

Suddenly, he was bleeding. He had stepped on a pop top, and his foot was gushing blood. He was bawling.

My dad, who now seems life size to me, was a big, strong giant back then. He scooped up my friend Ryan and walked with the crying boy in his arms the block back home (uphill).

The memory is a mixture of horror (of the bloody foot) and hero-worship (of my father, who could fix anything).

Without pop tops, I wouldn’t have this memory of tops Pop.

Clematis memories

clamatis wide shot

My Beloved planted this clematis a couple of years ago because it reminded him of his grandfather.

I never met his mother’s father, but he sounds like he filled a room with his personality. Among his talents, apparently, was gardening. Tyler remembers his grandfather’s clematis growing on a trellis in the back yard. Technically, this one is in our side yard, but when it started blooming so beautifully this week, my Beloved relished good memories. I’m sharing so you can appreciate its beauty.

clamatis close up

Quartzsite, a home for hermits and heroes

One person’s armpit is another person’s oasis.

If I were doing public relations for the travel bureau in Quartzsite, Arizona, that’s the tagline I’d be pushing.

Quartzsite, our point of interest this Travel Tuesday on Minnesota Transplant, is about 90 minutes north of Yuma, Arizona, where my Beloved and I wintered for a couple of months earlier this year.

All I knew before visiting there was that Quartzsite was just east of Blythe, California, which was the home to many happy memories growing up.

Not.

My only memory of Blythe was camping there one night in July 1982 when it got down to — down to! — 105 degrees at night. My family of origin was doing a summer vacation loop from Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean and back, and Blythe was a convenient stop on the way from Disneyland to Phoenix. I remember lying on top my sleeping bag in the pop-up camper sweating it out and dreaming of ice cream cones and Icees and swimming in the iceberg-infested North Atlantic.

Native Minnesotans can’t take that kind of heat.

Quartzsite, at the same latitude as Blythe, is known as the RV boondocking capital of the world. Literally thousands of campers descend on the area for the town’s famous gem show and swap meet every January and February (because, believe me, no one is shopping in July and August in Quartzsite for anything but icy beverages).

Not sure what boondocking is? Think squatting in a Wal-Mart parking lot where you can spend the night for free, but you have to bring your own water and TP. That’s Quartzsite. Combine campers too tight to pay for nightly hookups with a traveling flea market and you get a lot of cheap junk. So if you like cheap junk, you’ll be in paradise. Prefer to buy your baubles at retail? Well, you have to appreciate the natural beauty of Quartzsite.

Quartzsite

OK, I don’t mean the cacti. I mean the endless sunshine and wide open spaces. If you want to escape traffic and zoning restrictions and government oversight, Quartzsite is a hermit’s Shangri-la. It kind of reminds me of Mad Max (the one with Mel Gibson), only with a McDonald’s and cheap gas.

Besides the flea markets, the one place you have to visit in Quartzsite is Hi Jolly’s gravesite.

Before you think folks in the desert may have no imagination, you have to hear the story of Hi Jolly.

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, the U.S. military cooked up a plan to use camels for communication and transporting freight in the arid Southwest. A Syrian named Haiji Ali came with the first 33 camels (later, 41 more camels joined the fray). As is typical with us Americans who can’t (or refuse) to get our tongues around foreign names, the soldiers changed Ali’s name to Hi Jolly, and this is how the camel herder came to be universally known.

According to the historical marker posted near his grave, “On the Beale Expedition in 1857 to open a wagon road across Arizona from Fort Defiance to California, the camels under Hi Jolly’s charge proved their worth. Nevertheless, the war department abandoned the experiment and the camels were left on the Arizona desert to shift for themselves.”

Hi Jolly died in 1902 at Quartzsite, and his headstone, if you can call it that — maybe pyramid stones would be more accurate, is a memorable testament to the Syrian immigrant, noting thusly: “Cameldriver ~ Packer ~ Scout ~ Over thirty years a faithful aid to the U.S. Government.”

Hi Jollys burial place

Next Travel Tuesday: Algodones Dunes