Tag Archives: Writing

A drop in the bucket: Top 10 posts at Minnesota Transplant

a drop in the bucket

This post marks the 1,999th time I’ve posted a story, a rant, a review, a picture or an inspirational quote here on Minnesota Transplant, a drop in the bucket if I may. That’s 10+ years of writing about what’s on my native Minnesota mind.

I posted nearly daily back in 2009-2012, which isn’t all that hard when you have something to say. As my post frequency dropped, so did the hits on my blog, but in total, Minnesota Transplant has had 151,604 views. A lot of them have been views by my mother and other people who are related to me, but since I’m writing a “day in the life” blog designed first and foremost to keep my mother who lives two states away apprised about what’s going on in my life and on my mind, I’m OK with that.

I wrote only four posts here on Minnesota Transplant last year, which is not that astonishing if you know I posted 341 times over at Church Sweet Home, the blog I created about renovating a 126-year-old Methodist church into our home.

If you’re a blogger working on a resolution to blog daily or at least blog more, these may be impressive numbers. I’m pretty proud of it, even though I know I hit it out of the park only about once a week. I think writers improve by writing, so there’s going to be a lot of trash created along the way.

As I reflect on a decade of blogging, here’s a look at my most popular posts by year.

In 2009, the first full year I blogged, I came up with something to say 301 times. The most popular piece was “A virus hangover,” in which I described how I felt after a computer virus took down my computer:

My computer has been scanned, anti-virused, malware-deleted, C cleaned, defragged, hard-disk fixed, In Box repaired and I don’t know what else. … Now, it seems everything is clean, empty, cleared and solid, i.e., working properly. But I’m still a little unsteady on my feet. What program, which file, what website, which download infected me? What should I have avoided, but didn’t? I’m pale and paranoid, looking at my computer screen like a deer in headlights.

In 2010, a bit of cultural consciousness drew hundreds of readers to “In a land where the river runs free, in a land to a shining sea … and you and me are free to … wear polyester.” Maybe because Target was using it in its advertising, searches for the 1972 album “Free To Be You and Me” brought people to my memories of a fourth-grade lyceum program:

I was instantly transported to spring 1977. I was in fourth grade, wearing a pink polyester high-necked dress that my mother had shortened after I was appointed to wear the floor-length version while lighting candles at my uncle and aunt’s wedding. The pink material was broken up by white puffy blossoms. Cut just above the knee, that dress perfectly showed off my white knee-highs with the pink and pastel blue elastic tops.

In 2011 and 2012, it was the now-defunct WordPress blog promotion device Freshly Pressed which propelled a couple of entries to the top of the reading order. “Quiet time on the running trail” was tops in 2011:

Unless you’re Cruella DeVille, telling people you’ve hired and mentored that their contributions are no longer necessary to the company’s continued success is difficult. Unable to sleep, I got up at 5 a.m. and just ran. It helped me cope with the pit in my stomach.

And “My life … in all its banality” was tops in 2012 and perhaps my most commented upon of all time. It included a snippet from one of my junior high diaries, which led to a commenter remarking on its humor, to which I replied, “My diaries are alternately embarrassing and interesting. Usually funny when they’re embarrassing.”

In 2013, 2014 and 2016, posts I wrote related to Creative Memories, where I worked for a decade, achieved tops in readership. “I read the news today, oh boy” (2013) was simply an original editorial cartoon. “The best job I’ve ever had” (2014) described why I once loved working for the company that had gone bankrupt: “Though it was more of a mess than a messiah at the end, the company was great once. It did great things. Things you don’t normally associate with corporations nowadays. Memories were saved. Friends were made. People had meaningful work and meaningful pay. I am a better person because I worked for Creative Memories during that magical time.” And “The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” (2016) was about a court trial in which I was among four named plaintiffs who sued over the employee stock ownership plan: “There was blood (imagine the paper cuts inherent so many paper exhibits!), sweat and, yes, tears. Attorneys objected, condescended and sputtered. Indeed, American’s judicial system is adversarial, and I have a new appreciation for the system.” (Spoiler alert: we lost).

It was a review of Costco’s Non-slip Hangers that got the most views in 2015. I don’t think anyone cared all that much about the hangers, but they loved the before-and-after photos of my office. (People just LOVE before-and-after photos).

 

Before                                                 After

In 2017, I announced the creation of the blog about our church renovation, and that got the most interest. “A new project. And as far as projects go this one is a doozy” was mostly a tease but it worked to get readers over at Church Sweet Home:

“You’re wondering about the back story here. You’re trying to figure out how (and why) we decided to buy a church. Maybe you’re worried I’m about the pass a collection plate.”

And last year, when I posted only four times, the most popular post of the year was an obituary about the passing of my miniature schnauzer (“Bearded lady breathes her last”), which still gets me choked up:

“She packed a lot of spunk into her 8 pounds, and even as recently as last summer, strangers who saw us as we walked a neighborhood would ask me if she was a puppy.”

Oddly, the most popular post ever here on Minnesota Transplant is a book review of In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by George Simon Jr. Apparently, my post “To disarm a covertly aggressive manipulator, begin by reading this book” struck a chord with people who are have to deal with psychos in their lives. Just in case you’re interested, here’s how Simon differentiates passive-aggression from covert-aggression:

Passive-aggression is, as the term implies, aggressing through passivity. Examples of passive-aggression are playing the game of emotional “get-back” with someone by resisting cooperation with them, giving them the “silent treatment,” pouting or whining, not so accidentally “forgetting” something they want you to do because you’re angry and didn’t really feel like obliging them, etc. In contrast, covert aggression is very active, albeit veiled, aggression. When someone is being covertly aggressive, they’re using calculating, underhanded means to get what they want or manipulate the response of others while keeping their aggressive intentions under cover.

My Top 10 + 1 is a pretty good indicator of the stuff you might find here at Minnesota Transplant. Like the Farmers’ Almanac, this blog contains “bits of logic, formulas for good cookery, weather prognostications, humor, poetry and odds and ends designed for your enjoyment and edification.”

Here’s to another year of interesting ephemera. Thanks for reading.

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.