Sunday, December 30, 2007

I Made Minnesota My Home

While I was up north, a local station was running a feature called "The MN 150." Basically, a list of 150 people/places/things from Minnesota that elicit native pride. So after all the time I had to myself on the flight back to Memphis, what with The Admiral and Miss M in first class and Mr. Baby and I jammed into coach with the entire Christian Brothers University basketball team, I'm expanding my original list. These are personal and don't reflect all the great things about my home state, just the things that make me love/proud of/happy to be from Minnesota.
1 About-to-snow smell
2 Accents intensified by miles from Minneapolis
3 Adults wearing knit hats
4 The Andrews Sisters
5 Augsburg Press
6 Aveda
7 Bagel shops aplenty
8 The Basilica of St. Mary
9 Being no more than ten minutes from a large body of water at all times
10 Bemidji
11 Best Buy
12 Betty Crocker
13 Birch trees covered with snow
14 Bob Dylan
15 The Bookcase
16 The Boundary Waters
17 Briana Scurry
18 Broom ball taught in p.e.
19 Byerly's
20 Cabins up north
21 Canterbury Downs
22 Caribou Coffee
23 Carleton College
24 Charles Schulz
25 " Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis"
26 The Coen Brothers
27 Count Chocula
28 Creepy Talking Paul Bunyan statues
29 Dairy Queen
30 Dayton's
31 Dudley Riggs' Brave New Workshop
32 Duluth
33 Eddington's wild rice soup with warm breadsticks
34 Elaborate Park & Ride stations
35 Every small town having its own festival
36 F. Scott Fitzgerald
37 Fine Line
38 First Ave/7th St. Entry
39 The Fitzgerald Theater
40 " Franken '08" bumper stickers
41 " Funkytown"
42 Gale Mansion
43 Garrison Keillor
44 The Gay 90s
45 Gov. Jesse Ventura
46 Grand Ole Creamery
47 Grumpy Old Men
48 Gustavus Adolphus College
49 The Guthrie Theater
50 Hamm's
51 Harmon Killebrew
52 Hating the good people of Iowa for no good reason
53 Hating the nefarious people of Wisconsin for innumerable reasons
54 Holidazzle
55 Hotdish
56 Interstate 35W
57 The Iron Range
58 Jane Russell
59 Jerry Juhl
60 Jessica Lange
61 Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
62 Joan Kroc
63 Judy Garland
64 Kenwood
65 Kid Jonny Lang and The Big Bang (technically a Dakotan but they don't have cities so he got famous in MN)
66 Lagoon Theater
67 Lake Calhoun
68 Lake Minnetonka (and its purifying waters)
69 Lake smell
70 Land O' Lakes
71 Laura Ingalls Wilder
72 Lefse
73 Liberals
74 Loon calls
75 The Mall of America
76 Mankato
77 Mary Tyler Moore
78 The Mayo Clinic
79 Mickey's Diner
80 Minnehaha Falls
81 Minnesota Orchestra and its rich history of having the silliest named conductors in classical music
82 Minnesota State Fair 1: fresh french fries, fried cheese curds and chocolate malts
83 Minnesota State Fair 2: Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter sculptures
84 Minnesota State Fair 3: biggest pig in the state and the world's smallest horse
85 The Minnesota Twins
86 Morris Day and The Time
87 Mr. Wizard
88 Mystery Science Theater 3000
89 Nearly European levels of social services
90 NFL fight song featuring actual Norwegian
91 No sales tax on clothing
92 Noerenberg Gardens
93 Northern lights
94 Ojibwe
95 Ole and Lena jokes
96 Olivia
97 The Ordway Theater
98 Outdoor ice rinks
99 Paisley Park
100 Paul Wellstone
101 Pee-wee league hockey
102 People who jog in the snow
103 The Pillsbury Doughboy
104 Pinky Nelson
105 Pontoon boats
106 Prairie Home Companion
107 QVC
108 Red Balloon Bookshop
109 Red Wing pottery
110 The Replacements
111 Richard Dean Anderson
112 Rollerblades
113 Schwan's
114 The Science Museum of Minnesota
115 Scotch tape
116 Sears, Roebuck & Co.
117 Seven Corners
118 Shinders
119 Sinclair Lewis
120 Skyways
121 Snowplows
122 " Song of Hiawatha"
123 Spam
124 Spoon Bridge and Cherry
125 Spritz cookies
126 St. Olaf College
127 The St. Paul Saints
128 St. Paul's Winter Carnival
129 The State Capitol building
130 The State Theater
131 Steve Zahn
132 Stillwater
133 Summit Avenue
134 Sven Sundgaard
135 Target
136 Terry Gilliam
137 use of the word uff-da
138 The University of Minnesota
139 Uptown
140 Valleyfair
141 Wabasha Caves
142 The Walker Art Center
143 Walter Mondale
144 Way more than 10,000 lakes but we rounded down
145 Wayzata
146 Will Steger
147 Women's high school hockey
148 Wood fires
149 Wooden docks
150 You know who

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Through The Years We All Will Be Together

The holidays are about tradition, but no one ever really knows when a tradtion is starting or when one will have to end.

For almost as long as we've lived in Minnesota, my parents have hosted Christmas for both sides of our family. This has meant an average of twenty or more guests piling into the ancestral estate each year, from grandparents to baby cousins once removed. But this year, due to an unfortunate combination of weather, illness and loss, it was a relatively quiet Christmas. With Uncle Pete and Aunt Greg snowed out, Pottymouth Grandma with Grandpa Ace in the hospital, and the Mater Familia and Todd celebrating with unlimited platters of divinity in Valhalla, we were down to just two of my dad's brothers and their families. Two aunts, two uncles, two cousins and a spouse. That's it. It was practically like being by ourselves.

Traditionally, our extended family has poured into the house around noon, swooping past a gullet-gorging buffet to gather in the living room, where we would then offer gifts to Gramma B and open those she'd given to us. It was an almost painful exercise, due to Gramma's fondness for craft fairs and garage sales, but as we got older we learned to appreciate the humor and misguided affection in receiving a beadazzled sweatshirt or an almost-complete set of coasters.

Traditionally, our busy Christmas days have wound down into mellow Christmas evenings, with the elders parked around the kitchen table and the older cousins taking advantage of the fully stocked bar/gameroom that my parents felt driven to create five years after I graduated high school. But this year, no amount of foosball smack talking could cover up Todd's absence, and watching my dad and cousin stomp our husbands in pool didn't bring my sister and me the satisfaction it should have.

I don't know who suggested it, but somehow, all of us but an ailing Cha Cha found our way out into the steady snowfall and into the front yard of our more topographically blessed neighbor. We dragged sleds and pre-schoolers up the hill and then went down, over and over again. It's such a goofily simple enterprise, sledding, but requires no mental effort and is filled with such basic joy. It was exactly what we needed to fill the gaps left by those who weren't with us. There was no way to ignore that they were hurting, but watching Todd's brother and mother, and even his uber-Nordic father, flying head-first down that hill with huge smiles on their faces was an enormous gift to all of us.

I don't know if this is a new tradition or not - Minnesota weather is too unpredictable to count on sled-level snow every year, let alone a group of grown adults wiling to go play in it - but it was a transition. It gave us the time we needed to enjoy each other's company without losing too many moments to the company we missed.

Monday, December 24, 2007

You Make Loving Fun

The official motto of my paternal grandmother's family is "Haec Omnia Transeunt," which translates to "All these things pass away." If my nuclear family had an official motto, it would be "Amas Quacae Krusteus," or, "We kid because we love."

It's something I feel I should explain to strangers, if I were capable of speaking to them. I realize every time I'm together with my parents and sibling that our primary form of communication is to mock each other. Our first language is sarcasm. To an outside observer, I'm sure it seems odd, or maybe even harsh, but we all understand that it's with only the deepest affection that we pick each other apart.

This blog itself is the subject of mockery. Cha Cha and Auntie K were sitting at the kitchen table having a conversation that, frankly, I wasn't paying much attention to when they wondered aloud if they were being bloggable. And they weren't, especially, but now I can take this chance to make fun of them for their desperate plea for attention. Turnabout!

We realized this morning that we've passed this predeliction on, as we watched Cousin A observe Mr. Baby sucking his thumb, then stare at her hand, pretend to gnaw on it, then giggle. Clearly, she's one of us.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's Like A Hard Candy Christmas

Greetings from the North!

After an only slightly delayed start, we made it to the homeland in good time. Much better time than we would have in the Mitsubishi - thanks, Worldperks miles!

Our first stop after the Lindbergh Terminal was Byerly's, a grocery store that denizens of Schnuck's or Kroger or, lord help you, Piggly Wiggly can't even comprehend. The olive bar alone is bigger, cleaner, and better lit than any grocery in Memphis. There's an expansive organic selection, easy access to international goods, a well stocked natural health section, and the take-out - oh, the take-out! It contains an entire Big Bowl to-go, plus several other fresh, ready-to-eat options, just in case all that crazily easy shopping makes you too tired to cook. Both children fell sleep while we navigated the rush-hour-on-the-Fridy-before-Christmas-in-front-of-the-Mall-of-America traffic, so we cruised by Byerly's on the way home from the airport and arrived at the ancestral estate with two grocery bags full of hot food. Which was exactly what we needed after losing at least one child in the snow drift beside the ancestral driveway.

This is just the beginning of the Minnesota food idiosyncrasies, of course. The Commander (aka Uncle Buckbuck) came home from his Byerly's run today with a giant pack of Nut Goodies, which he mistakenly believes will survive the night just because they're in the freezer. If they do, it will only be because I'm too stuffed with venison sticks and kettle corn to open the Amana.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Visions Of Sugar Plums

Holy crap, are these good!

I have not found a seasonal treat as tasty since the lamented demise of the Kemps Santa-shaped ice cream sandwiches of my youth, a never-duplicated combination of vanilla ice cream and a vaguely gingerbready outer cookie-ish layer that got just the exactly right amount of soggy. I check every year just to see if they've started making them again, but am foiled again and again. Although this year, my search did bring me to these. Do not ever doubt the sinister genius of midwestern dessert-makers.

All I Want For Christmas

I don't consider myself a materialist. When called upon to make up wishlists, I have a hard time thinking of anything I want badly enough to ask someone to give to me. If I had a little more pocket change I'd probably spend it on carcinogen-free make-up or some clearance Steve Madden pumps, but I don't really long for any particular thing.

Except, of course, my tattoo. As I mentioned way back in February, I've been plotting my first tattoo pretty much since the start of my last pregnancy. The baby is here now, and yet the ink is not. This, however, is not due to any lack of desire or even planning. I've been carefully researching tattoo shops and artists and I came to the conclusion several months ago that I wanted to get my tattoo done in Minnesota. The design I've chosen represents my homeland, and I really like the idea of having it actually created there. So I picked my shop, picked my tattooer, and compiled a whole online folder of inspiration images to help in the generation of my design.

With our upcoming trek to the tundra at hand, I emailed to set up my long-awaited appointment and was swiftly and heart-breakingly informed that the artist whose portfolio I've been flipping through for the last six months will be out of town for the holidays. Gah! I'm not giving up, though. I've emailed back to check on another artist's availability (the shop is chock-full of great ones), so there's still hope that I'll be able to get the one thing I really want for Christmas. By which I of course mean my mother's complete and unending disapproval.

P.S. I'm only going to have one week in MN to see my tattoo from design stage to completion, so if any of you artist types out there would be interested in taking a quick stab at a design to speed up the process, let me know and I'll send you the link to the Idea File.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Better Not Pout

The very few exceptions to the previously stated end date of acceptable holiday music:

1) Pretty Paper: Booker T produces Willie Nelson, what's not to love?
2) Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town"
3) A small portion of the retro-poser crooners (Bublé, Connick, Krall) who don't mess too badly with the old school arrangements
4) The annual public resurrection of Darlene Love to sing "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" on Letterman
5) The Elf soundtrack

Sunday, December 09, 2007

They're Singing Deck The Halls

Throughout my childhood, the coming of Christmas meant that the giant six-hour Christmas tape would be threaded into the reel-to-reel player, filling our home with a constant loop of holiday music drawn primarily from the 40+ songs included on the original Time-Life Treasury of Christmas. This set of albums featured classic songs by unparalleled artists - Ella Fitzgerald's "Jingle Bells," Gene Autry's "Rudolph," Julie Andrews' "Joy to the World," an indispensable dose of Johnny Mathis and of course a couple from Elvis. Perhaps this is why I have so much trouble listening to any Christmas music recorded after 1972, but I think the real reason is that all Christmas music recorded after 1972 is, quite simply, ridiculous.

This point was emphasized for me when we pointed the satellite toward XM's "Holly" channel. The constant stream of Amy Grant, Celine Dion and Clay Aiken is just about enough to send me crawling back to the analog altar of my youth. With the single self-righteous, religiously confused yet relentlessly appealing exception of "Do They Know It's Christmas," I unilaterally dismiss all seasonal music offered by or to my generation. XM would truly be earning its fee if it thought to separate Christmas music out by decade, or at least at the dividing point between good and horrendous (that point occurring, of course, in the joyless 13-year void between John Lennon's "Happy Christmas" and Wham's "Last Christmas"). Because really, all I want for Christmas is to be able to hear The Ronettes harmonizing about their "Sleigh Ride" without having to worry that Mannheim's Steamroller is following right behind.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I Know Now Why I Live In Shame

Things That Prove I'm A Dork, Or Possibly 68 Years Old:

1. As funny as I find "How I Met Your Mother," given the option, I will always choose to watch "Antiques Roadshow" instead.
2. The most frequently used pre-sets on my car radio feature stations playing music recorded before I was born.
3. I can hand-code a website but don't know how to play any video games created after Super Mario Brothers.
4. I really want a Sonicare toothbrush.
5. I wore a plaid button-down shirt the last time I went out alone after dark.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Baby, Baby Keep Me Happy

On to happier things then. Constantly happy things, specifically.

I know that somewhere down the road this will probably come back to haunt me - like when his teachers say he's disrupting class with his cheerfulness or his big sister's friends can't stop agreeing to go out with him - but right now it's hard to do anything but enjoy the fact that Mr. Baby seems nearly incapable of being in a bad mood. He has eased incisor-free out of what seemed to be a teething phase and is now back to being his regular contented self.

Sure, he fussed a bit when his sister (avoidably but accidentally) kicked him square in the frontal lobe. But he was back to chipper in no time. He smiles at us, at our friends, at our friends' children, at strangers, at animals, at personable-looking buildings and engagingly patterned socks. If anyone looks at him for more than five seconds, they will get a grin in return. It's the greatest party trick ever. And at this point, I feel like it's sort of cyclical. He's so used to people smiling at him when he smiles, that he just likes to get things going.

And while I know better than to take credit for an easy or even a happy baby, I do feel like my general outlook, stage presence and coping ability have been better with this child than with my first. Of course, other times I feel like he's developing a people-pleasing personality to handle the unusually high stress level in his life, what with the constant onslaught of curious strangers and reckless, four-year-old feet.