Ten Years?

I made exactly one Resolution this year: spend less money on delivery Pizza Luce. Not on delivery food in general, or pizza in general, but specifically on delivery Pizza Luce. This has nothing to do with health. This has to do with spending about $150 on Pizza Luce in December alone.

Resolutions need to be that specific to work, I think. Saying “I will lose weight” or “I will get healthy” is too vague for me. “I will not treat this restaurant as my personal kitchen three days a week,” however, seems manageable. I do admire folks who try those other, broader, goals, and I admit I get caught up in it. This is it, I think. This is the month I buckle down and finish all my crafts including the braided rug I started in 1994. But more often than not I come to my senses and amend that goal to “either claim it’s a braided rug for Barbie or give it up. Also you don’t need to DIY floor coverings. You’re an adult with a job.”

If I had one “traditional” New Years goal this year, I guess it would be to write more. Even that is cheating, as I always want to “write more.” About a week ago I thought maybe I’d make a go of it and start writing a blog entry. A few days ago I hadn’t written a word, so I thought maybe I’d search my old writings for ideas/things to plagiarize. And that’s when I realized the internet has changed since I started blogging, and the only way I could access those old things was to change with it. I clicked some things. I downloaded some files. I uploaded some things.

And that is how my old, embarrassing, mostly-about-how-much-I-want-a-nap blog posts wound up imported onto this site. Instead of writing one new entry, I imported about 500, beginning ten years ago.  I was halfway through my freshman year of college; I was immersed in a group of girlfriends I still remember fondly, even though we aren’t close anymore. I was away from my small town – albeit in a different small town – for the first time in my life. I was overly fond of commas and parentheticals. And I was pretty sure about four people were reading what I wrote, which is maybe why reading them makes me think not that I should write more, but that I shouldn’t write at all.

Anyway, it all happened. It all seemed important at the time. In the words of my 18-year-old-self, “I don’t know why I keep doing this.  I don’t have anything remotely interesting to say so I talk about myself, and no one reads it anyway because it’s uninteresting.  And yet…here we go again.”

Well, what were you doing at 18? At least my mom will get a kick out of it.

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Fashionista Flashback: Normal American Girl Edition

Happy Independence Day!

Later today, I’ll be going to a Twins vs. Yankees game, enjoying a dinner of pizza and beer, and watching fireworks. What could be more American than that, you ask?

How about…THIS?

Sugar Beet days

It’s possible that you would like some context.

I am from a small town in southwestern Minnesota, and like all small towns in southwestern Minnesota, mine celebrates its heritage every summer. We have a parade, a street dance, flea markets and games. We used to have a Junior Miss pageant that was exactly like the movie Drop Dead Gorgeous, minus the murdering, but sadly no longer.

In DDG, the theme of the pageant always incorporates America (“Amer-I CAN! Proud to be an American! Buy American!”). In my hometown, the theme of the entire celebration incorporates our town’s key crop: the Sugar Beet.

Look, anything can seem normal when you’re raised with it, including a week of celebrating beets, okay?

The pageant was always my favorite part as a kid.  But my second favorite part was the kiddie parade.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: all the kids in town are woken up early, dressed in costumes made by their aunts or mothers, and encouraged to walk down Main Street carrying signs incorporating puns on the word beet. Then they turn around and walk back up Main Street because it’s only about a block long. The whole thing takes about 15 minutes and is a general confusion of cuteness and tantrums.

Pictured above: the “prize winners” of the Sugar Beet Days kiddie parade in about 1989. My brother and I are on the far right, dressed as Polyester Captain America and a Precious Moments figurine. No, actually, according to our sign, which we must have ditched at the end of the street, we were “Uncle Sam and the Pioneer Spirit.”

It actually just occurred to me this morning that the Pioneer Spirit might not be a real character. Google seems to think the Pioneer Spirit is a bunch of buffaloes, not a four-year-old in an over-sized bonnet and what appear to be tap shoes.  My mom made it up just to give me a reason to walk down the street with my brother.  Again – anything can seem normal when you’re raised with it.

Anyway, I think we came in second that year, between Mr. and Mrs. Sugar Beet (who still haunt my dreams) and the three little pigs (who were the other kids who showed up).

The kiddie parade still goes on when there are enough kids to participate. The Uncle Sam costume (made by my aunt) actually made its third appearance a few years ago on another generation of my family and once again took home a prize.

What I’m trying to say is that my hometown is weird in the way that all small American towns are weird. Nothing ever really changes, and that’s comforting. I biked every street within that one-square mile. I swam in that town pool a thousand times, then walked to the Malt Shoppe or the pharmacy to spend my twenty-five cents on candy. I didn’t worry about politics, or war, or whether or not I’d be allowed back in to school in the fall because I was a girl. And of course my school would still be there, and no one would stop me from going to church every week, and there would always be food in the fridge and I’d always be safe and happy and free.

Anything can seem normal when you’re raised with it.

Happy birthday, America. You are weird and flawed and my home. Thank you for my happy childhood.

Well, mostly happy childhood. I think I was pretty over the parade scene by this point.

I will end you

Asthmatic Jedi For Life

In January, I got a cough. This week, I got a diagnosis: asthma.

Asthma makes me think of two things. First, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Remember that scene? Or any part of that movie? I do, because I was too young to be watching it, and my mind will forever associate “asthma” with “psychotic nannies.”

Second, and more prominently, I think of awkward, nerdy children with huge glasses, usually portrayed on TV by the likes of Martin Starr and Josh Saviano.  And then I think, “wait, that was me as a child. That’s sort of me now. Of course I have asthma.”

Sweet Yellow Cardigan

Tell me that kid doesn’t have an inhaler.

But I didn’t have asthma in junior high or high school or college. The nerds let me hang with them anyway, presumably because of the glasses. And the braces. And the love of sci fi and hatred for physical activity and the inability to talk to boys and…who are we kidding. Asthma or not, I was the queen of the nerds.

My doctor actually suggested asthma about a month ago, after my fourth visit to her and second request for codeine.  She referred me to a specialist, who was finally able to see me this week and confirm the diagnosis – kind of. “I really want to say you have asthma, but let’s do some tests first,” he said. “Because once I give you this diagnosis you will have it for life.”

Yeah, well. I also have poor vision for life. I’m left handed for life. I’m a bit freckly for life but especially in the summer. I get why the specialist was cautious, but I also get that it’ll be okay. Still, I agreed to do the test.

“Have you had any coffee, pop, or chocolate today?” he asked. “We can’t do the test if so.”

I’d had all three within the last hour.  We scheduled the test for first thing Monday morning.

So this is how I came to wake up an hour and a half early to drive across the cities in rush hour traffic on zero caffeine and zero allergy meds. This is also how I came to be in the worst mood of my life. I am not the type who can wake up with boundless energy, spend a long time in a car, not eat chocolate, and then happily interact with strangers. Only golden retrievers and my friend Mike do that. No, I’ve purposely plotted my life so I can sleep until the latest possible moment before “commuting” to work by walking half a block, stopping at one of two coffee shops on the way, and sitting at my desk and avoiding human interaction for at least an hour.

So, unshowered and wearing what I’d found at the top of the laundry pile (pink dress and oversized hoodie), the crabbiest, coughiest, but least coffee’d version of myself checked in for her methacholine challenge. Or at least she was supposed to. What I actually said was, “I’m here for a midi-chlorian test.

It was unintentional. Nerd for life.

The premise of the methacholine challenge is to test for asthma by inducing asthma, because it only works in people who already are susceptible to asthma (or something). This strikes me as a little insane. Do we test for other things like this? “We think you have a broken leg, but we can’t be sure until we smash your knee cap with a hammer to make sure your leg is susceptible to breaking.”

Anyway.

I spent an hour slowly finding it harder and harder to breathe, which counts as a “positive” test. Then I was given a huge, fast dose of meds to bring me back to “normal.” And because I’d been complaining (imagine that!), I was brought a black coffee to sip while I waited for everything to take effect. And like every time I mix coffee and medicine, I wound up shaking and talking nonsense and basically tweaking out.

And then I was declared “normal.”

“I should go back to work,” I thought as I walked out. “Or to a movie! Or maybe a quick car nap. Or a shoe store. Or maybe I’ll take a nap in my car in front of a shoe store. COMIC BOOKS! I want a sandwich. Or an Icee! I’m going to have an Icee for lunch! Where are my keys? Did I park in this lot? I need to download Return of the Mack right now. Where’s my car? How do I get home? Wow, I feel amazing! I love having asthma!”

Needless to say, I crashed pretty quickly. I almost couldn’t finish my Icee.  And to think, my Adventures With Asthma are only just beginning. Please feel free to buy me this shirt as I make this adjustment.

Then I can finally be cool, like this guy.

I was not prepared.

When I first started working at my current job, I shared an office with Sister Nora. She was 78 when I met her and did not clear five feet – not by a long shot. But she was a nun, and I was intimidated by her. That is, until one day I turned to ask her something and saw her reading a romance novel at her desk. And I mean a real romance novel, with Fabio on the cover.

I silently turned back around, blinked, and thought, “…I was not prepared for that.”

It was a true moment of surprise, and how many of those do we get as adults?

I immediately warmed to Nora. I learned how much she loved romance novels, horror movies, hot tamales, and soap operas. We spent one Mardi Gras eating cupcakes and watching “The Bold and the Beautiful” in our office. I started picking up romance novels at Goodwill and bringing them in for her. For her eightieth birthday, I made her a card featuring her favorite things.

Nora's heart

Nora got sick in early 2012. Or, sicker. This time she went to the hospital, so I went to visit her. She wasn’t expecting me and when I walked in, she was on the phone with another coworker of ours.

Nora looked at me. It took a second, then said into the phone: “Oh! It’s…it’s the girl who gives me all the dirty books!”

Yes, she knew my name. But maybe she knew me a little bit better.

This St. Patrick’s Day, it will be one year since I last saw Sister Nora. It was her birthday. She was wearing a paper party hat and opening cards with her friend; it was a good last memory.

Now I sit at her old desk. I read more romance novels than I used to. And I remember how the nun who read all the dirty books became my friend, and how much I miss her. I was not prepared for that.

Fashionista Flashback: The Ninth Day of Christmas Edition

Uh, hello. Have you seen eight other ladies dressed exactly like me, maybe dancing around a pear tree? I got distracted by some lords a-leaping.

Rachel as a dancer

My friend Ben calls this my “Palestinian Ambassador of Dance” look.

This Christmas, laugh, be merry, give thanks for all that is good in your life, and make sure your jaunty cap coordinates with your sash.

And dance.

Before and After.

Children. Just children.

I’m not going to say his name. I mean, as of right now, it’s a him. Maybe it’s even a them. I don’t care.

No, that’s not right. I care a whole hell of a lot. I care enough not to learn a new name for evil.

A few hours before, I found this quote, by any number of people if you are trusting the internet for answers: “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” I liked it. I shared it. A few hours later I still believe it, but I wonder, how?

Childhood. It should be the best thing – the best thing – in the world. Don’t you miss when everything was new and exciting and nothing bad had happened, or could happen? Isn’t it what we as a universe aim to protect? Isn’t that why we tell our children about Santa?

My childhood had some great moments. It had some icky moments. It had a whole lot of blissfully unaware moments. It had bike rides, books, swimming lessons, New Kids On The Block t-shirts. Barbies with my best friend, in a dad-made dollhouse. Scraped knees, broken arms, sprained ankles. It had bullies. It had crying. It had silly laughter and strange fashion, a lisp and a pink room with blue shag carpet. Music with my brother, sitting in “my spot” with my dad, everything with my mom. It was safe. It was blessed. I took it for granted and that’s the way it should be.

Children. If you’re lucky enough to have them, make their childhood safe and happy as long as possible and pray that the world gets better, or at least stops getting worse.

Let me know how I can help.

Children.

The Minnesota Vikings, My Pops, and Me

I wrote this last year, but I’m updating and re-posting it in light of yesterday’s huge Vikings win.  I got to experience it in person, at MOA Field, with my pops. It was great – I am still hoarse from cheering, Pops almost clapped once, and the whole day was pretty much everything I love about being a Vikings fan.

I once theorized that my relationship with the Minnesota Vikings is not unlike my relationship with men (why yes, this theory was developed in a bar!): 1) I care very strongly for them; they are basically unaware I exist. 2) I am always looking for a good tight end; they are always looking for a horny blonde.

Vikings Fan

Like that.

3) Eventually I’m going to have to stop pinning all my hopes and dreams on men who wear purple and tight pants and chase each other. 4) And finally, it’s all my father’s fault.

From age 2-6, Bonding With Pops meant watching whatever action movie was on television while falling asleep on the couch. They have fused in my memory into one long action movie I like to call Crocodile Die Hard Jones and the Hunt for the Lethal Weapons Under Siege 2. From ages 7-12, Bonding With Pops meant getting outdoorsy and going camping and fishing. Sadly, this camping tradition ended about when my dad woke up to me burning an entire deck of cards, one at a time. I wish I was kidding; that is super creepy. Ever since, Bonding With Pops has simply involved sports, and it started with the Vikings.

Together, we watched the 1998-1999 season with as much pride (and then overwhelming despair) as the rest of the state, and despite that famous miss, I was hooked. In 2000, Pops took me to the Vikings training camp to watch a scrimmage. The facts say that I was fifteen at the time, but the memories suggest I was closer to seven. I was giddy to be there, with Pops, watching Cris Carter! Robert Smith! JOHN RANDLE! And we were in the front row, somehow; probably because Pops is early for everything (I did not inherit this trait), but at the time I was pretty sure it was because my dad was magic and/or secretly important. I thought this might be the case when he perked up at some announcement and said, “I think that’s my cousin Rod doing the announcing.”

Before I could say, “You have a cousin Rod and why aren’t we using this relationship to get VIP treatment?” The announcer said, “and here comes the quarterback, Cunningham. Uh, I mean Culpepper…” To which the crowd gave a little boo and Pops said, “Yep. That’s Rod alright.” I decided not to follow this lead after all.

Despite needing to be the first person in his seat that day, Pops couldn’t stay in it for long. He got us a bag of popcorn that (again, in my memory) was as big as me, and I was not a small kid. He also ran off and bought me a Cris Carter jersey. Again, I was not a small kid, but Pops overshot it a bit — to this day, we call that my “Cris Carter dress.” I loved it immediately.

After the scrimmage, we went to the autograph line. Pops plopped me next to the gate with my camera and my notebook and disappeared while I gawked, star-struck, as all the pros walked past me and the rookies stopped to sign autographs.

If you’re wondering what kind of father would leave his teenage daughter alone in a crowd like that, so was I. I finally brought this part of the memory up to my dad last week. “Where did you go?” I asked, thinking he ran away from the crowd to smoke. He stared at me. “I was right behind you,” he said. “I had a hand on each of your shoulders! Don’t you remember? You were the same height as Denny Green!” What kind of father would leave his teenage daughter alone in that crowd? Not mine. You’d think I’d remember being held in place by a large man, but no. There is no large man in my memory other than John Randle. I may be a terrible daughter with a foggy memory of one of the best days of my young life but eh! John Randle!

John Randle

Actual picture that I actually took of the actual John Randle. I am that bad of a photographer, and I was that excited. I’m still proud of this.

That was the last time my dad and I went to a scrimmage. Until yesterday, he did not even own any Vikings apparel (I bought him a purple hat – he’s actually lucky I didn’t buy him one of the helmets with horns), whereas I’ve upped the ante with a “cousin” Adrian Peterson jersey, Robert Smith jersey, Vikings sweatshirt, two or three purple pride t-shirts, and one of those sweet blonde-with-horns hats (I will fool you yet, men). I was banned from The Boys’ apartment after Favre threw the last interception of 2010 and I let out a guttural scream that scared the cats. I went to three games at the Dome last year (all losses). And I once picked a fight in New Orleans, with a Priest, because he was wearing a Drew Brees jersey.

To be a Vikings fan is to be stubborn and proud without reason.  I’m a HUGE Vikings fan, and it’s definitely all my father’s fault.

Love you, Pops.

SKOL VIKINGS!

Rachel and Pops

Fashionista Flashback: The Girl in the Yellow Dress

Because the Red Balloon Bookshop was kind enough to put my blog On Reading on their Facebook page, and because I’ve been thinking of my meeting with Barbara Cooney anyway, I dug this photo up:

Rachel and Barbara Cooney

The date on the back is May 7, 1992, so just over twenty years ago. I remember being pulled out of school, and wearing that yellow dress (my favorite) for the full 2-hour car ride to the Cities. I took all of my personal books by Barbara Cooney as well as a bunch owned by the school for her to autograph, which she did. I still can’t believe she wrote to me more than once.

Every little girl should get to meet one of her heroines, and every heroine should have the chance to make a little girl’s day.

On Reading.

I love books. The way they look on my shelves, the way they destroy my sleep pattern, the way they educate, infuriate and delight me. I love collecting them, sharing them, borrowing them, and (of course) reading them.

I don’t remember the first book I read, although there is a video of me reading one aloud at around age five. My mother, a reader, was impressed enough to film the whole thing; it’s very boring. It would have been more entertaining to watch my childhood best friend and I play-acting The Littles series by building forts (we play-acted everything by building forts). Around that same time, my mother the reader took me out of school, allowed me to wear my best yellow dress, and drove me to The Red Balloon Bookshop to meet Barbara Cooney, the author and illustrator of many of my favorite children’s books, including Miss Rumphius.

I don’t remember as much of the day as I’d like. Mainly I remember Barbara Cooney was very old, around 75 to my 7 years, and had very white hair. And she was nice; so nice that when I wrote to her a few months later, asking if she remembered “the girl in the yellow dress,” she wrote back and assured me she did.  We wrote back and forth for a few years, but unfortunately I didn’t keep it up and we lost touch by the time she passed away. I regret it. I still have that first card, framed now, on my desk.

A few years after I met Barbara Cooney, I met my favorite book in all the world. I was maybe nine, and climbing the furniture in our living room in search of a set of dirty playing cards my brother told me about (my dad’s one contribution to our book shelf, no doubt). I found the cards disguised as a book, wedged next to a dingy, yellowed paperback with a title I recognized – The Princess Bride. I had seen the movie but until then, I didn’t know it had been a real book, and I didn’t take it off the shelf until three years later. And I never put it back.

I have three copies of The Princess Bride now, and if I needed to evacuate my apartment in a hurry I’d still take all three of them.  That first, disintegrating copy, the front cover long missing and the first page – the one that starts “This is my favorite book in all the world, but I have never read it” – has fallen off too, but that I’ve saved in a frame.  The second, a more recent hardcover, the version I read year after year without fear of it falling apart. And the third, a 1973 hardcover signed “To Rachel, As You Wish, William Goldman” – a gift from (who else) my mother, the reader. After life itself and the love of reading, this is probably the best gift she’s ever given me.

In college I became an English major because I loved reading, I loved writing, and also because a nun told me to. I read some classics, like The Brothers Karamazov, The Master and Margarita, Lolita, and some others that weren’t written by Russians, I’m sure. I name those three because I loved them, and recognize their greatness, but I will likely never re-read them. I’m sorry great literature of the past and the future, the top spot in my heart has already been taken. But please, keep trying. There are other little girls out there still in search of their Favorite.

The Princess Bride marked the first time I realized a good story could break the rules (and that’s really what that book is about to me – storytelling). But I’ve gone on long enough about that. I didn’t even intend to mention my Favorite when I started writing this. I just wanted to say how much I love a good story, a good book, because I’ve only just come out of a long period of not reading by finishing another rule-breaking story. It’s not a perfect series, it took me several years to get through all of it, and parts of it made me want to smack Stephen King upside the head, but The Dark Tower series took me on a journey.

I mean, I really hated some of it. I don’t think I ever laughed, but man, did I sob during those last few hundred pages. I love crying at books. I never knew what was going to happen, and frankly I could not explain what it was about even if you had also just finished reading it. As far as books about stories go, these seven (okay, there are eight now – the man actually wrote another one in the series in the time it took me to read the seventh) make up a dense journey full of broken rules. They’re still not my Favorite and never will be, but they are my brother’s, and that’s as good an accomplishment as any for Sai King.

I guess what I’m really saying here is I’ve finished another book. What should I read next?