Tag Archives: News

Throwback Thursday: An ode to the roof

Regular subscribers have noticed, I imagine, that Minnesota Wonderer hasn’t been posting very often. Hey, it’s busy around Wonderer’s house. But it’s probably busy around your house, too, so we can do without all the excuses.

As I peruse my Facebook Newsfeed every morning (everybody’s got time for that), it’s replete with “memories on this day” that remind me, among other things, of all the blog posts I logged over the years. It occurred to me that I have hundreds of entries in the back list that I could resurrect in a Throwback Thursday sort of way. Sometimes those old posts pop up, and even I’m surprised by my depth of thought.

So, with 1,982 entries from which to choose (this post makes 1,983—you betcha we’ll be celebrating 2,000 in a big way!), I’m going to share some oldies by goodies in this space on Thursdays.

Today, as the sun finally shines in Houston after days of drenching rain, I’m offering this ode to a roof, first published June 25, 2015. Because it beats living without one over one’s head.

The sky’s the limit if you have a roof over your head

Of all life’s blessings, the roof over my head is one for which I rarely give thanks.

Roofs, after all, are so commonplace they are to be expected. And they’re dull. Very dull. Usually gray or brown, maybe black. Made with shingles — the ultimately hum-drum material, or maybe cedar or tile. Installed by competent, height-defying, tight-lipped pros who appear like flies and disappear a week later, leaving a few stray nails in the yard.

But mundane or no, without a roof, every day is a bad-hair day. Or a bad day in general.

I woke at 3 a.m. last night, thankful, so thankful for the roof over my head.

It was pouring down rain. Literally pouring, like God had a bucket he couldn’t wait to empty. Lightning. Thunder. A storm for the ages. But unlike many nighttime storms observed from the comfort of the bed in my sturdy house, this storm came to the campground where I slept in a sturdy, yes, but relatively insubstantial camper.

One never goes camping but it rains. Or at least that’s how it is with me. Most camping rainstorms are day-long drizzly affairs that make everything damp and never stop until everything is packed up and you’re headed home.

This storm, however, was more hard-nosed, like a pissed off cop with a gun at a pool party (kidding! all right, already! I know all cops are not angry and overbearing! It’s a joke!).

In any case, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill storm. And we were camping next to a river.

My Beloved’s cell phone awakened us before the drenching rain did. It warned of flash flooding.

All I could think about was a flash flood filling the valley, and us, bobbing down the river in the camper until we were splintered against a bridge pier (thank you, Voice of Doom, but our flash flooding came in the form of big mud puddles, not a jökulhlaup).

That’s when the roof started leaking. Drip, drip, drip. A persistent sort of leak. Drip, drip, drip. Reconnaissance revealed the drops were coming from a light fixture (uh-oh). Drip, drip, drip.

Sounds restful, huh?

But actually, I said a little prayer of thanks for the roof.

Because 30 yards away, a family went to bed last night.

In a tent.

I didn’t care how fiberglassy our roof was. It wasn’t canvas!

* * *

The Percussionist's WifeBefore Minnesota Wonderer was Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant for that matter), she was The Percussionist’s Wife. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal is free this week and tomorrow’s the last day to snag a copy. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling”; a friend downloaded it this week and read it one day! So “it reads like a thriller!” isn’t an exaggeration. See for yourself. If you like Minnesota Wonderer, this is her origin story. Download it here for free until midnight tomorrow.

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A before-and-after moment at 4:15 a.m.

I’ve been reminded recently how life changes in a moment. One minute, life is one way. The next, it’s turned upside down.

We had such a moment at 4:15 this morning. This moment didn’t change my life so much as it changed someone else’s but it’s illustrative of my point.

We’re camping this week in my cousin-in-law’s yard. It’s idyllic. Nice level lot, protected from the wind, a well-manicured yard. The cousin-in-law offered to let me use her brand new washer and dryer and her husband shared the fresh produce from his garden–ah, the comforts of home one misses when one is living in an RV.

idyllic corn

The idyllic scene that greets me when I emerge from my camper in the mornings.

The cousin-in-law’s yard out is in the middle of a corn field. The front yard is a stretch of county road between Hither and Yon, but the other three sides are bordered by seven feet of corn. I swear, it grew a foot this week. The corn even muffles all sound except the birds and the bees. Literally, the chirping of the birds and the chittering of insects is the only thing you hear out here, punctuated occasionally by the engine noise of a car speeding by.

This story is about that placid corn and speeding cars.

At 4:15 a.m., my Beloved awakens me with an urgent question, “What was that?!”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I murmured.

He jumps out of bed, throwing on his clothes. I’m becoming more alert now.

“Honey, you’re dreaming,” I said. “You’re putting your underwear on backwards.”

“No, I heard a car go into the ditch,” he says. “I heard the tires squeal and a crash.”

“I left the flashlight where it belongs,” I said, rolling over.

I wasn’t interested in investigating a dream.

But a car did indeed go into the ditch and crash.

My Beloved called 911, and within minutes, 10 emergency vehicles were on the scene.

license plate

The “scene” was only 50 feet from my cousin-in-law’s house, between two light poles. Mr. E754145 left the pavement, entered the corn field and was launched airborne. This is where he went in, losing his license plate.

corn inside

And this is where he landed, roughly 30 feet further on.

crash scene

The bare patches in the foreground indicate where the car went off the road; the string of corn stalks trailing from the field to the road show where the car was towed out of the field.

I think Mr. E754145 is alive to tell the story. My Beloved heard him try the ignition as he was calling 911, so he was at least conscious after crash landing. He didn’t hit a pole. The corn softened his landing. But in any case, his car was intact and operational and so was he at 4:14 a.m. At 4:16, he had to be stretchered away, and the car was towed.

Before and after.

Life can change in a minute.

Where the women are strong and the living is easy (and never the twain shall meet)

Land of 10,000 lakes.

State of only two seasons: Winter and road construction.

Where all the children are above average.

Minnesota is home to a few hyperbolic descriptions, and most recently WalletHub named it the country’s least stressed state, making it most relaxed, I suppose.

Who is WalletHub to make such declarations? WalletHub monitors credit scores, and its analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 33 key indicators of stress ranging from average hours worked per week to personal bankruptcy rate to share of adults getting adequate sleep.

And Minnesota ranked as No. 51 on the most stressed list.

Are Minnesotans the least stressed people I’ve met in my travels around the country?

I don’t know. If giving a friendly wave or acknowledging the presence of a sojourner with a nod as one’s paths cross is manifestation of lack of stress, then yes, Minnesotans have the corner on a relaxed demeanor. (Frequently outside of Minnesota, I will acknowledge someone with a “good morning” or a “hello”—a fellow jogger going the opposite direction, a guy walking his dog, a woman washing her hands at a neighboring sink in the restroom—and it’s as if I’ve surprised them by having a voice. Or a smile. Some residents of the coasts go out of their way to avoid making eye contact.)

The Minnesota compulsion to greet strangers, some would attribute to the phenomenon of Minnesota Nice. Perhaps. I have heard residents of the state—both natives and short-termers—describe Minnesota Nice as passive-aggressive. I’m skeptical. Minnesota Nice may be passive—”After you.” “No, after you.” “No, please be my guest, go ahead,” ad infinitum—but it’s not veiled aggression. So maybe it is the result of being trusting and assuming the best and getting a good night’s sleep.

One of the factors in WalletHub’s stress index is health and safety related stress factors. Apparently, Minnesotans have among the highest number of psychologists per capita and get the most hours of sleep a night. I come from a family with a long history of cherishing naps and believing nothing good happens after midnight. And that’s to say nothing of the 16 hours of darkness in the long, long winter months. What else you gonna do but sleep? Well, there is something else, I suppose, which might contribute to one of the lowest divorce rates in the country (another stress indicator).

Minnesota also ranks No. 50 in money-related stress factors (only Wyoming is lower), certainly due in  part to the frugal nature of born-and-bred natives. Author Garrison Keillor slyly notes this in his book Lake Wobegon Days: “So the Council changed [the town’s name] one more time, from Lake Wobegone to Lake Wobegon. Businessmen didn’t order new stationery right away, however, not even those who favored the change, but used all their New Albion stock until it ran out.”

In any case, I can take some of my good habits like eating right and maintaining a good credit score with me wherever I choose to settle someday, and the index may offer some insight on where not to settle (let’s just say Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky aren’t exactly calm and soothing places to reside).

If Minnesota is true to form, it’s not taking pride in its least-stressed status.

“Seldom has a town made such a sacrifice in remaining unrecognized so long,” he said, though other speakers were quick to assure him that it had been no sacrifice, really, but a true pleasure.

~ Garrison Keillor in Lake Wobegon Days

Trashy, novel beach

Before we get totally freaked out by climate change and the United States bowing out of the Paris Agreement, let the glass beach near Fort Bragg remind us of unexpected consequences and Mother Nature’s novel solutions to humankind’s poor treatment.

Surely, some unexpected consequences of man intervention’s in nature are negative, I’m not arguing that, but this one is a positive.

Fort Bragg, Calif., sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and for decades up until 1967, the city’s trash–everything from cars to batteries to bottles, cans and appliances–was unceremoniously dumped over the cliffs into the ocean. This was common practice in many seaside cities for centuries.

Over the next several decades, the biodegradables, well, degraded, and the metal and other items were eventually removed and sold as scrap or used in art. Mother Nature’s pounding waves broke down the glass and pottery and tumbled those pieces into the small, smooth, colored pieces–a rainbow of sea glass.

glass beach far

The beach looks like most other beaches from far away. A beautiful and wild place with waves crashing unendingly on the shore.

glass beach closeup

But close up, the sand is glass–glass smooth enough to walk upon.

If you find the beach interesting, you must check out the International Sea Glass Museum on the south edge of Fort Bragg.

Interviewer turns interviewee

It’s funny when the world turns the tables on you.

For years, I asked the questions. I was a newspaper reporter for a small daily in Ohio, and I spent hours on the phone, in meetings and talking to people, and then I spent hours more turning the raw material into readable newspaper stories.

Final ecover rgb compressedEarlier this week, a reporter asked me questions. She was writing about my latest book, Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of “Like” in 1982.

It’s a story that’s been three and half decades in the making and took, oh, about five years to coalesce into something comprehensible, but you’ll love it if you’re a teenage girl or was one once. Do you remember your first French kiss? Did it change you? This book explores that moment for me.

Ooh, sounds interesting, right? Here’s the book blurb:

In a world before social networks made it a routine act performed with a click, “like” is a state of mystery and meaning among teenagers navigating the halls of Wadena Senior High School. Fifteen-year-old Monica is sure she would be happy if only she had boyfriend, but first she endures a litany of boys who think flirting is accomplished with insults and other shenanigans. After her first kiss, performed on a dare and described in the pages of Dear Diary as “the pits! Gross! Dirty!,” Monica learns the truth about French kissing from a charming outsider. Navigating relationships and learning the meaning of like—or love—is far trickier.

Set in a “hick town” on the windswept plains of Minnesota where a teenager’s social calendar is marked by basketball games, cafeteria dances and playing Pac-Man at the bowling alley arcade, Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of “Like” in 1982 examines the fateful year Monica devotes to reeling in a keeper of a boyfriend like so much walleye. With self-deprecating humor, authenticity and awkward details captured on the pages of the diaries Monica faithfully kept at the time, it’s a story that reminds us what it feels like to be a teenager again, grappling with timeless questions of desire, loyalty and remaining true to oneself.

This book is for every teenager trying to navigate the maze of finding true love, or at least true “like,” and for every woman who grew up in the ’80s who might have forgotten all she learned during those seemingly simpler times.

You’ll feel like you’re sneaking a peek at my diaries (no guilt!). Like my first memoir, subtitled with “sex, crime and betrayal,” there’s little about kissing, a little about a petty crime and a little bit of double-dealing, too.

Set in Wadena, Minnesota, as it is, the local paper took an interest. Reporter Meagan Pitellko chatted with me earlier this week, and the today made the front page of the Wadena Pioneer Journal today. Click here to have a peek. I was impressed that she turned what I thought was small-talk about the weather into the lead of the story.

This was the kind of table-turning I could appreciate.

* * *

Interested in reading Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat? The paperback is $11.95 and available here.

The Kindle edition is $3.95. If you’re a member of KindleUnlimited or Amazon Prime, it’s FREE! Click here.

The Day After

Like a visitor on an alien planet, I observed Chicagoland residents with keen interest today.

Who are these “Cubs fans”? What is the meaning of this white flag with a blue W? What does it mean, to reverse a curse?

The Chicago Cubs, of course, won the World Series last in a wild Game 7 that went 10 innings and included a rain delay. It was awesome! (I told you it would be.) I was awake at 11:45 when the last out was secured.

I thought I was weird. I’m a Twins fan, after all. And a woman. And who watches baseball nowadays with its relative lack of violence and obscure concepts like double switches and designated hitters?

But as I sat around a table this morning with eight other middle-aged women and a (lucky) man at a cafe known for its brunches, I asked who else stayed up till midnight last night. Every hand went up. Every. Single. One. And then we all toasted the Cubs with glasses of champagne. No kidding. It wasn’t sparkling apple juice, some pretender stuff. One of those middle-aged women brought a bottle of real champagne to our meeting. Because the Cubs winning a baseball game — The Baseball Game — was That Important. That noteworthy.

On the way there, a car ahead of me on the interstate had a license plate that read “CUBEES.” The plate hung on the bumper of a sporty model that probably isn’t normally driven this time of year. But it was driven today.

I stopped at a superstore on the way. Every other person there, bright and early, was wearing Cubbies blue T-shirt. Or sweatshirt. Or a Cubs hat.

In the afternoon, on my way home, I stopped for coffee with a friend who lives a normal, quiet suburban life. Playing on the TV in the restaurant? A recording of last night’s game. The friend? She (yes, SHE) stayed up until 3 a.m. after the game, standing in line and buying World Series merchandise at Dick’s.

What I thought would happen didn’t. There were no riots. No cars overturned and burned. No crazies causing headline-making mayhem. I didn’t even hear anyone trash-talking the poor, poor unfortunate Indians. No zombies. Instead, there was cheering and champagne. There were fireworks, yes (I heard them at midnight, even in my little suburban village, far from Wrigleyville). And there were tears. Oh, the dewy eyes of dreams come true.

What I didn’t expect was the disbelieving gratitude of baseball fans who had never seen their team become champions and who finally let go of the superstitions they held close to ward off disappointment. They finally witnessed the team win it all. For themselves, of course. But also for generations of others who weren’t so lucky.

The day wasn’t filled with belligerence or arrogance or vitriol. It was filled with joy. Pure, blissful joy.

And it was a delight to behold.

Weighty matters

Oh, my gawd, I saw the most compelling news story on the Today show this morning while I was running on the treadmill (thank gawd I was multi-tasking).

Today national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen revealed that fast food served at major chains like McDonald’s and Subway doesn’t actually look as good as the commercials portray (Fast-food face-offs: Does it look as good in real life as on TV?).

Can you believe that?

No, not that Americans are getting short shrift on their fast food orders. That Jeff Rossen hasn’t ever heard of food styling. Or photography filters.

Is it false advertising that you can’t actually see the ground beef patties in your Big Mac (like on TV)? Or is it false advertising that Rossen passes himself off as an “investigative correspondent”? He spent an afternoon and $20 to develop this 5-minute piece of this enlightening video.

Ugh.

This is what’s wrong with television journalism, I thought as I covered the treadmill miles. So I changed the channel, only to find Good Morning America tackling the troubling trend of skateboarders taking to freeways for their hijinks, complete with the hashtag #FreewayChallenge. This was accompanied by repeating loops of the daredevils falling in the street. I felt like I was watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. So if we have Jackass-inspired video and a hashtag, then it’s news?

No, this is the definition of the word irritainment, which I learned earlier this week from a “news” story in the Star Tribune. Irritainment is defined as “entertainment that is irritating but also so enticing that you can’t stop watching.”

So I quit watching. I turned off the TV news and hit the weights.