Tag Archives: Writing

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

A story about dinner

In anticipation of giving away the chest freezer in our garage when we blow this popsicle stand, my Beloved and I have been eating our way through months of Costco deals, food finds, meal ingredients my stepdaughter purchased but decided not to eat and various leftovers.

Well, we can’t just throw it out. That goes against my constitution, which is one founded by a girl who grew up in the ’70s when a bag of Doritos cost 25 cents and people were starving in Africa.

(I know. They’re still starving in Africa.)

In any case, freezer diving makes for some interesting meals. Last week, I found a zippered bag of smoked pork tenderloins. Not one pork loin. Not two. Three smoked pork tenderloins.

One was shredded and dressed with a leftover half bottle of barbecue sauce in the fridge to become delicious pulled pork sandwiches.

The second pork tenderloin became a pot of posole, which used up a huge can of hominy and another huge can of green chili peppers we picked up in New Mexico (we visited New Mexico in April).

And just when I couldn’t bear to eat another bite of pork, I whipped up a batch of creamy chicken enchiladas. Made with two-week-old corn tortillas. And pork instead of chicken.

The creative cooking continued today when I found a ring bologna in the bottom of the freezer.

Let’s be clear. I don’t buy ring bologna.

I might buy turkey kielbasa. Maybe polish sausage. But never anything called bologna. Bologna is for politicos. Not for eating.

In any case, my Beloved — who loves almost any form of sausage as much as he loves me — must have found this ring bologna in some butcher shop on one of our travels.

(Label indicates its of Wisconsin origin. Of course.)

Fortunately, Google provided a recipe for Ring Bologna with Sauerkraut. And I had a can of sauerkraut. As well as celery seeds and caraway seeds — we hit the “use it up” lottery!

For a side dish, I had a craving for spaezle but no interest in making it from scratch (“press dough through a large-holed colander”? are you kidding me?). But look! I had a have a half a bag of cavatelli in the pantry. What’s cavatelli, you ask? Right! Only I would have a half a bag of it in my pantry sitting next to the red quinoa and the Italian pearled farro. Cavatelli are small pasta shells that look like miniature hot dog buns (Wikipedia is awesome, don’t you think?). And, the first recipe I found after typing “buttery cavatelli recipe” into Google included asparagus. Yes! I’ve had 15 spears of asparagus sitting in a water-filled cup in the back of my fridge for at least three weeks. Time to use it up!

I would have taken a picture of my plate if I had thought of it. Because I have no shame and I don’t mind filling other people’s Newsfeeds with pictures of my dinner. Honestly, what’s the alternative? Inflammatory posts about the political candidate you can’t stand? My dinner looks pretty good compared to that. To be fair, I saw a lot of Halloween costumes in today’s Newsfeed. But you get my point: It could be worse than my dinner. In any case, I didn’t take a picture of it because at dinnertime I hadn’t even given Thought One to a blog post. So you’ll just have to imagine it.

But now, as the Chicago Cubs warm up their November baseball bats, I’m writing a blog post because it’s November 1, and I’m trying to turnover a new leaf in a month known for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

It ain’t a novel.

But it’s something.

 

Paging Walter Mitty

This is what a writer thinks about while she’s washing clothes:

The neatly coiffed woman who gets her kicks by hanging out in the laundromat looking for people she can teach to fold their fitted sheets.

She thinks of metaphors for aptly describing characters in stories she’s writing only in her reverie.

2015 blogging by the numbers

I just got my annual report from WordPress.com and the verdict’s in: Readership is down.

Of course, it hasn’t helped that I haven’t posted since early November. I’ve got a great excuse, which I can’t get into now, but seriously, what I’ve been doing since early November is worthy of a book, never mind a blog.

In any case, Minnesota Transplant had 12,059 clicks in 2015, down from 15,495 in 2014. It’s a trend. The high point for me in blog readership was 2012 (26,720 views). The truth is, I write for me (and Mom, let’s be honest), not so much for greater blogging public. Having a blog forces me to think about my life in a different way and Write. It. Down. Which is great practice for someone who thinks herself a writer.

Here’s an excerpt from the annual report:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

The busiest day of the year was June 20th with 122 views. The most popular post that day was Hung up on hangers.

Really? Those before-and-after photos are golden.

Where did readers come from? That’s 87 countries in all! Most visitors came from The United States. Canada & United Kingdom were not far behind.

Whatever the numbers say, I say “Thank you.” Thank you for reading. Thank you for being interested. Thank you for hanging in there through the dry times. And here’s to a rich, thought-provoking 2016!

Stories of place

Many of the stories we tell are stories about places. Sure, they’re stories about courage or sorrow or fun or work, but those circumstances usually occur in a distinctive place and well-told stories illuminate those places.

I’ve read a number of fascinating books this year that use place as main characters, and today I’m sharing a little bit of my own attempt of telling a story about a place.

Example No. 1 comes from a historical story about constructing a train to Key West, Florida:

“It’s an osprey’s-eye view here at Mile Marker 84, out over the patchwork-colored seas. Splashes of cobalt, turquoise, amber, beige, and gray alternate, then fall away to deeper blue and steel, and off toward a pale horizon where sky and water meet at a juncture that’s almost seamless on the brightest days. The variations of color have to do with the time of day, the cloud configuration, the nature of the sand or grass on the sea bottom, and the shifting depths of the water itself surrounding the Keys, which can range from a few inches to a few feet, and then plunge several fathoms and back again in an eye-blink.”

~ Les Standiford in Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean

Example No. 2 comes from a memoir set (mostly) in Kansas. The author’s descriptions of the state disabused me of my assumptions that Kansas was flat and boring (an opinion I have of North Dakota, mostly because I spent so much of my childhood viewing the landscape from the back seat of the car my parents drove from our house in Minnesota to my grandfather’s house in western North Dakota):

“Halfway between Denver and the Kansas border, I could still see the snow cap of Pike’s Peak hovering ghostlike in my side mirror. Otherwise, nothing but smooth grasslands defined the circular horizon. The land lifted and fell gently, meandering along dry streambeds. Two pearlescent cloud wings stretched toward us from our destination, where morning rimmed the earth in turquoise.”

~Julene Bair in The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

Example No. 3 comes from the memoir I’m currently reading (and very sad to see coming to an end). Apparently, everyone in the world but me has read this one (seeing as it was in Oprah’s book club and made into a movie with Reese Witherspoon before I got to it). Better late than never, I love the author’s descriptions of her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail:

“Somber and elated, I walked in the cool air, the sun glimmering through the trees, bright against the snow, even though I had my sunglasses on. As omnipresent as the snow was, I also sensed its waning, melting imperceptibly by the minute all around me. It seemed as alive in its dying as a hive of bees was in its life. Sometimes I passed places where I heard a gurgling, as if a stream ran beneath the snow, impossible to see. Other times it fell in great wet heaps from the branches of trees.”

~ Cheryl Strayed in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Example No. 4: I attempted to use place as a character in my own memoir:

“While tulips bloom and snow is rare in other places in March, it’s just another month of winter in central Minnesota. Even for Minnesota, March 2002 was unseasonably cold and snowy. More than 3 inches of snow fell the weekend before Steve’s trial, muffling everything outside the house. … The landscape was dirty white as Steve and I drove in relative silence down Highway 10 to the well-appointed courthouse in Elk River.”

~ Monica Lee in The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal

So with those magnificent works (or at least the first three) as my inspiration, I’ve been turning over in my mind how to describe my hometown in north Central Minnesota in a compelling way. Here’s a start:

Wadena was a farm town that grew up at the intersection of Highways 10 and 71, roads which barely supported two lanes of traffic let alone four. It was, quite literally, set in the neck of the woods, straddling Minnesota’s three ecoregions: a tallgrass prairie to the west and south bordered a forest of pine trees to the north mingling with a forest of deciduous trees to the southeast.

Like the ecology of the town itself, the back yard of the house in the heart of Wadena where I grew up had three distinctive features: a box elder tree, a pine tree and a sprawling garden planted with neat rows of lettuce, carrots, peas and potatoes. The trees became hubs for kid activity. The knobby box elder tree was designed for climbing, and the children who lived in the house before us constructed a bench of sorts in the fork of the tree. Eventually, the bench became a tree house, an obvious shack in the naked winter but a cozy hideaway tucked among the leaves in the green summer. For me, the towering pine tree was an irritant, its boughs intruding on the sidewalk between the house and the detached garage, but for my little brother, the sandy soil shaded by pine boughs was Nirvana. He spent entire summers excavating, building and rerouting Tonka Truck roadways beneath that tree.

What a difference a “tac” makes!

Sometimes it’s the copy editor who saves your bacon. Sometimes it’s your beta readers.

Sometimes it’s your mother.

My mother is reading the draft of my latest work in progress, a beauty and fitness book which, of course, you’ll hear more about as it becomes more real (note to Barb: You could be a beta reader, too, if you’d ever return my call). Right now, it’s 34,000 words and a bunch of random photos from a photo shoot this past fall, but it’s jelling quite nicely (that’s jelling not gelling, you sharp-eyed readers).

I used the following line when discussing eyeglass frames:

If you’re going to be bespeckled, be bespeckled in style.

How clever of me, I thought as I typed that line. Why refer to glasses when I could discuss spectacles?

Wait a minute. “Bespeckled” means “to mark or cover with a large number of small spots or patches of color.”

It does not mean eyeglasses.

Mom, thank goodness, caught that SNAFU.

The line now reads:

If you’re going to be bespectacled, be bespectacled in style.

My Top 5 best books I read in 2014

It’s the time of year to assess one’s accomplishments and progress in the past 12 months, and today I’m sorry to admit I’ve read only 21 books in 2014.

I’m a writer after all, and good writers read. My goal was to read 57 books so I didn’t achieve even half my aspiration. I know this thanks to the Goodreads Reading Challenge which tracks my reading achievements meticulously. I also know I have 138 books marked “to read,” which symbolizes nearly seven years of reading at the rate I’m going.

So I need to step it up in 2015.

While I set some new goals, I’m sharing my favorite books from the past year so if you’re interested in adding to your already long reading list, here are some good ones.

I’m giving Honorable Mentions to two fiction books and one memoir:

“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn lives up to the hype. Reading the book is an experience. I saw the movie, too, and I have to appreciate Ben Affleck’s portrayal of a thoroughly unlikable guy, but the book is even better. Read with popcorn if necessary.

“The Middle Place” by Kelly Corrigan was the second-best memoir I read this year. Corrigan writes about cancer with humor, and I loved her nonlinear storytelling.

I chose only one fiction book and one memoir as my Best In Show reads this year, so “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt has to settle for an Honorable Mention, but I love this book so much I’m still carrying it around (and I mean that literally). The writing is descriptive in fresh ways, and the story is so satisfying. The only thing wrong with this book is the length, and that’s only a problem if you’re trying to read 57 books in a year. I still savored every word.

My Best In Show award for fiction goes to a fine book recommended by many friends who got to it sooner than I did: “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver has been around a while, but it’s still a marvelous read that raises real and important questions about the world while telling a compelling story. I’m reminded to read more Barbara Kingsolver.

Interestingly, like “The Poisonwood Bible” is set in the Congo, my Best In Show memoir is also set in an exotic locale: “A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story” tells the story of Afghanistan’s recent history while telling the personal story of memorist Qais Akbar Omar. I met him when he spoke at this year’s Association of Personal Historians annual conference, and the only thing better than his book is hearing him share his humor and earnestness in person.

In my review of “A Fort of Nine Towers” from my blog on memoirs and writing, I called it “a piece of literature, an enlightening historical and cultural document and a beautifully told story.” Even two months after finishing it, I remember how I wept when I closed the last page, so sorry the story had ended but relieved knowing Qais Akbar Omar was still living and creating more if his story. That’s a sign of a great memoir and book.

Have you read something amazing in 2014? I’m making my list for 2015, and I’d love to hear recommendations. Here’s to more good reads in the coming year.