Thursday, December 27, 2007

A heads up on one of winter's little-known perils.

Nanook here, with a cautionary tale for those suffering from winter naivete. (Bear with me as I set up the story. Trust me. This is stuff you need to know).

My Nana used to take the bus to work at the Minneapolis YMCA, where she was in charge of babysitting while moms and dads exercised. You can see from this photo that she really loved those kids.

The gig was a good fit for her and a blast for my sister and me, who got to go with her once in awhile.

It was an old-school gym, with contraptions like this:

The idea was to sit on the rollers, flip the switch, and the butt fat would magically vanish. Regrettably, the gizmo didn't work, but it was no less effective than the treadmill-laundry rack in the corner of the family room.

They also had one of these:

(Equally lame, results-wise.)

So back to my story. Nana rode the bus through bad neighborhoods to work in a place which housed many deadly-looking devices. The bus ride was especially tricky in the winter, and because she was afraid of slipping on the ice, she wore rubber overshoes to give her traction on the treacherous Minneapolis streets.

But one fateful January day, as she cautiously made her way from the bus stop to the Y, she was randomly attacked.

By one of these:

It knocked her out cold. The doorman at the Y saw it happen, and Nana was rushed to Hennepin County General Hospital, where she was stitched up and sent home.

The moral of this story is that you never know. If you worry about your feet slipping on the ice, you will probably be impaled by an icicle from overhead.

I relearned this lesson last fall. When my son got a new housemate, I worried this stranger might be a pothead or a bounder.

After a few weeks, I asked how the new guy was working out. Danny squirmed a little as he told me. "He's a gun enthusiast."

Didn't see that coming.

Incidentally, you can find another example of misplaced anxiety in the national consciousness. While we're worrying about our country being attacked by terrorists, our Constitution might be eviscerated by war mongers. Didn't see that coming, either.

A postscript to the icicle story: Nana was happy when the snow melted that year, knowing she would neither slip on the ice nor be an icicle target. But one day that spring, she was looking in her purse for bus fare after work and once again got clobbered.

By one of these:

Like I said. You never know.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Excuse me. I'm having a moment.

It's Back to the Future around here.

The boys (men, actually) spent the night here. I hadn't realized how I've missed the too-loud tv and the accidentally-slammed front door while I'm trying to sleep.

Danny noted the shift in attitude...from "I can't wait to see what I got" to "I can't wait for them to see what I got them." I think they all spent too much, given that we all have everything humans could possibly need. Still, I'm enjoying my fancy white tea, my Foo Dog (a spirit who guards Chinese temples from evil spirits), and my soft "couch blankie."

And as if it weren't enough like old times, with the usual suspects dropping by for a drink (everybody's almost legal now) and a smoke, we're running a continuous loop of VHS home movies as we transfer them to DVD.

Right now Danny's snoozing on the couch (well, 3/4 on the couch--he's too tall to stretch out there) while up on the TV screen he's gumming his first cracker.

It's gone fast. And though I looked younger back in those days, I looked really tired, too. The boys were 3 months, 2, and 3 in the tape we're watching now. The performer gene is revealed as John and Joey, duded up in cowboy boots and hats with their skivvies in between, do the Three Amigos dance and "Put Down the Duckie."

Our parents make cameo appearances, too, and this is comforting as we're learning to take over as the primary holiday headquarters for at least this little twig on the family tree.

I miss the journeys to Minnesota. I don't miss the black ice and blowing snow. I miss waiting for all the travelers to arrive at my mom's house, everyone on edge a bit until the last car pulled into the driveway. We had a taste of that memory this year. Joey worked until 8:30, and it didn't feel like Christmas till we were all together.

Presents, carols, cookies. Naps, spats, laughs. Family, memories, love.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Try this holiday cocktail I just invented.

1 shot Kahlua + 1 mugful of hot Ovaltine + 1 spritz Reddi Whip =
The Naughty Ralphie.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Whatever happened to Minnesota Me?

We're looking at a potentially dreadful major ice storm in KC. I'm a bundle of contingency plans, a whirlwind of warning phone calls to adult children, a marathon of watching The Weather Channel and praying the temperature will creep up over freezing and I won't break my neck on the sidewalk.

What fun is that? Where's my sense of adventure? I used to see Oklahomans or Texans in the ditch and assume they just needed a few hours of behind-the-wheel at Molly's Winter Driving School. Now I stand in line with all the other cowards, hoarding bottled water and soup fixin's and waiting till the salt trucks go by.

Minnesota Me went ice fishing for hours on end, made snow angels until there was no snow left in the yard, skated until her nose hairs froze, and walked across the Mississippi River bridge at dawn to get to class at the University. She drank brandy and tobogganed on cafeteria trays with fast men when it was zero degrees (not recommended).

Minnesota Me drove a tiny Honda Civic with a lousy heater to a perfect attendance record at my job in the Twin Cities. Ice, snow, forty below. Didn't matter. I was brave. And hardy. And there was no attached (or separate) garage, either. I swaddled the engine block with an electric blanket, I scraped my windows twice a day. And I liked it. Okay, I never liked it.

But still. I don't like that I've gone soft, either. Taking a precious day off to avoid doing battle with Old Man Winter. What kind of Girl from the North Country does that? I make me sick.

Where's the little rosy-cheeked (some would say frostbitten) girl who trudged to the bus stop when it was still dark outside in the days when little girls weren't allowed to wear slacks to school? Hmm? Where? I'll tell you where. She's wrapped in an afghan on the couch drinking cocoa. That's where.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Elf yourself!

If you haven't done this,
do it now!

Get some pictures ready to upload, head over to Elf Yourself!, turn up the sound, and settle in for a few minutes of silly dancing fun.

Oh yeah. I have some moves.
Bet you do, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Not this guy again.

And speaking of torture...

Here's what happened yesterday with an audience at the University of Colorado:

"The first question came from a woman who asked if Ashcroft would be willing to be subjected to waterboarding.

'The things that I can survive, if it were necessary to do them to me, I would do,' he said."

Wow. Talk about a non-committal commitment.

This is how how he defends the Patriot Act:

“Let’s look at the law and see what we can do that would help us. We need to think differently, think outside the box . . . never think outside the Constitution.”

Looks like somebody's got a case of the contradictions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Here comes Johnny singin' oldies, goldies.

While his younger brothers followed the rock-and-roll path (see below), my oldest son John chose the life of a bluesman. By day, he's employed by a government contractor helping the Indian nations preserve their financial records and tribal history.

But when the time is right for racin' in the streets, John either picks up his guitar or his pool cue and goes to town.

He used to jam with the K.C. blues guys at Blayney's in Westport. Recently, he's been more serious about the nine-ball tournaments, and it looks like he'll be headed for Las Vegas in the spring for the national tournament.

Of all the gifts the guys have received, I guess I'm most grateful for music. (Though I can also make a good case for humor!) Music was their lifeline through high school, and it continues to get them through the challenges of young adulthood. When I hear their cars arrive for family gatherings, basses thumping and neighbors scowling, it makes me feel like we did something right.

And when I hear each of my sons playing music, whether it's on stage or on the basement couch, I'm moved by the power of humans to create something new, powerful, and beautiful from the joy (or pain) in our souls.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The von Jackson family non-singers.

If you haven't heard my kids' post-rock instrumental band, do yourself a favor and discover Brainbow!

Our family's rock-and-roll fantasy began when Joey received his first guitar, a Mattel Jaminator, in 1988. This precursor to Guitar Hero played amazing heavy metal leads. ( Just add attitude and imagination.)

Steve (Dad) had played keyboards in The Aces Wild, a favorite combo at University of Virginia frat parties other east coast venues during the 1960s. The lead guitarist in Steve's band was John Andrews, who later became semi-famous in Tracy Nelson's band, Mother Earth. So in spite of my history as a marching band clarinetist, our boys have rock and roll in their blood.

Their first actual band was the Knuckleheads, who played in our basement when the kids were in kindergarten, first, and second grades. We recently found one of the "basement tapes" and were reminded that the music consisted of random and anarchic notes and drumbeats, punctuated with people saying "poo-poo" and "butt."

Then the kids started getting lessons, and the music became more serious. Valium was formed in middle school, and they actually had a few paying gigs at local coffeehouses. Valium evolved into Jekas, cycling through a series of lead singers with ego issues. After dealing with temperamental behavior from the guys who actually had no musical talent (these were screaming thrash metal bands), Brainbow emerged as an instrumental only, all-original niche band.

So give it a listen and see what you think. The music's signature quality is its joyful energy and precise musicianship. All four guys participate in the songwriting, and they rehearse in a rented storage locker so as not
to disturb the peace in their respective neighborhoods.

You can catch them at Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas, clubs including The Bottleneck, Jerry's Bait Shop, The Brick, The Mission Theatre, The Hurricane, The Record Bar, Mike's, and The Gaslight. See you there!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Winnie the Wonder Dog

I try not to be the kind of animal lover who talks like this about her pet:

"Winnie's the best ol' dog in the whole wide world. Yes she is. Yes she is."

However. We do have a very cool quirky dog. And she has a story.

Back in 2004, the winner of the Westminster Kennel Club's Best in Show was "Darbydale's All Rise Pouchcove," a.k.a. "Josh," a Newfoundland. We'd watched the whole show and had been rooting for Josh throughout. The champ reminded us of Marley, a friend's Newfy we'd met back in the 80s, when it had been love at first drool.

The night after the show, Steve had a dream that a Newfy climbed into his lap. The very next day, in the Petco parking lot, a beat-up old pick-up truck was parked next to a sign that read "Newfoundland puppies." We stopped to look at them and within five minutes had seen photos of the pups' parents, written a check for $175, and brought Winnie home.

Here she is hanging with our beloved former Golden Retriever, Rosie.

Given the circumstances of her adoption into our family, is it any wonder Winnie loves dog shows? She was particularly taken with this Saluki in 2006. For the record, the truck full of Newfies turned out to be a truck full of Labs. We still love her.

She could probably be a Frisbee champ if we worked with her. And she talks, saying "I love you" with about as much predictability as Michigan J. Frog's song-and-dance trick. Like I said, she's a wonder dog.

The best ol' wonder dog in the whole wide world. Yes she is. Yes she is.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Not gonna dread it.

I'm changing my ways. It's November 10th, and so far I haven't told anyone how I'm dreading a) winter or, b) the holidays.

It's not been a conscious choice. Some kind of epiphany must have occurred during my sleep, because I'm actually looking forward to Christmas this year. I caught myself looking at some new tree decorations, and I'm skimming the catalogs with an eye toward gift-giving. (The past five years, I've chucked them all, muttering "Bah, Humbug. Money grubbing retailers. Wake me after New Year's.")

I doubt if I'll be hitting the malls on the Friday after Thanksgiving. And I will continue to cringe at the jewelry store commercials implying that if you don't get your honey a big honkin' rock, it's not actually Christmas and, by the way, you're a slacker/loser.

But I believe there are ways to enjoy the holidays without buying into the whole commercial, materialistic hairball. For instance, I'm planning to find some live holiday music every weekend. And buy some new boots so I can walk in the snow (if we get any). I'm going to start writing my holiday cards next week, and I'm going to try to track down/stalk the old friends who haven't kept me in the loop, address-wise.

I probably won't bake, because much of that yummy stuff is poison to me, but I do plan to do some healthy cooking to keep the house cozy and welcoming.

Some years we've had a big party, but this year I think we'll opt for inviting a few friends at a time for a relaxing meal and maybe a game of Scrabble or two.

The internal holiday adjustment will be more of a challenge. Both of my parents died at Christmastime, and it's become a habit for me to view the "most wonderful time of the year" as "Parental Death Season." This year I'm determined to keep the grief in perspective. It helps to consider this observation by C.S. Lewis:

"Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief."

Huh! It's not just me who romanticizes personal tragedy. And now that I've acknowledged the unfairness for this year, I can get on with reinventing the holidays for my family and myself.

Maybe it will never again be pure joy like when my sister Lisa and I were kids (photo above). But dreading anything is lazy and bad for the soul.

So death to dread!

And Merry (Early) Christmas!

Friday, November 9, 2007

My best Thursday night friends (Kelly, Toby & Ryan) explain the WGA writers' strike

It seems like a no-brainer to include internet revenue in the TV writers' fair share. How much do the media conglomerates need?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

My father-in-law is probably more famous than your father-in-law.

My husband's father, Jay Jackson, would have turned 87 today. In addition to doing dozens of voiceovers and TV commercials (he was the voice of Crest toothpaste), Jay was an early host of Tic-Tac-Dough and Twenty Questions. His most famous role, though, was as game show host Herb Norris on the "$99,000 Answer" episode of The Honeymooners. TV Guide named that episode the 6th funniest TV episode of all time, and a clip was used on "The Sopranos."

A sample of his wit: One day Jay and some friends were discussing the comparative merits of Long Island golf courses.

A friend noted, "Perry Como belongs to your country club. I've heard he's a hell of a guy."

Jay's reply: "Yes, I've heard that, too."

He was a one-of-a-kind man with a million stories to tell. And as a far-removed celebrity groupie from Minnesota, I was easily dazzled by his encounters with Lucille Ball, Louis Armstrong, and a cast of other larger-than-life characters.

My kids loved having him as a grandpa. One running gag involved my son Joey. We'd put him on the phone so grandpa could quip, "Hello, Joe. Whaddya know?" And Joey, a toddler, would reply. "Hey, Jay. Whaddya say?"

And we have some sweet recordings (somewhere) of our oldest son, John, singing "Little Sir Echo" with Grandpa Jay.

Steve and I think about Jay especially at certain times...during Ohio State and New York Giants football games, at the end of golf tournaments, and especially those nights when we wind down for the night watching classic game shows on tv.

Class, wit, warmth, and a booming baritone. That was Jay Jackson. And I'm toasting him today.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Read this. You might learn something.

Because in case you didn't know,
I was a seventh grade underwear expert.
Check out this 1967 home economics assignment.
(A-, baby!)

In conclusion, there's much more to underwear
than "I see London, I see France."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

If you'd just spent a week at this place, would you want to come back home?

I'm just sayin'.

We stalked dolphins.

Made friends on the beach.

Ate oysters.

Did the Americana thing.

Goofed off. For a whole week.

And now, real life, back to you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


At least once every fall, my dad would take the kids to the woods for what he called a "mush hike." He called it a mush hike, because if we didn't move fast enough, he'd say "mush," and we'd go faster.

Here are four out of five Wigand kids after we stopped to talk to a horse we lucked upon. Lisa was too little and stayed home with Mom. I was probably too little, too. I remember whining a lot and dad carrying me toward the end of the day.

That was the September after my cowgirl birthday. Check out my Dale Evans hat, shirt, holster, and chaps.

The un-p.c. wild game I'm shooting with my cap gun is a Bengal tiger originally shot by one of my dad's insurance colleagues. We used to lie on that tiger rug when we watched TV. Later it hung on a wall in the basement, and its plastic gums and cheeks became our favorite place to stash our candy wrappers.

It's strange how some things that were the unnoticed background of my childhood seem extraordinary to me now. The tiger rug, the Dale Evans outfit, the picket fence, the playhouse, the baton-twirling lessons, the city park right across the street.

Fun to think about. But I got stuff to do. "Mush."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nobody ever heard of my candidate.

This is so weird. I took a little Internet quiz today to see which candidate's views are most compatible with mine. Here's my guy:

He's from Alaska. He helped end the draft after Vietnam. He got the Pentagon Papers published.

And he agrees with me on everything.

The war. Healthcare. Immigration. Reproductive freedom. Gay marriage. The IRS.

Is there something wrong with him? Who's his publicist? According to Wikipedia, he came in third (after Obama and Kucinich) in a recent MySpace poll.

Great. Now I'm quoting both Wikipedia and Myspace polls.

Anyone with real info out there? Who IS this guy?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

25 years ago today...

I love this picture because both Steve and I look like we don't know what we're getting into. (I guess brides and grooms never do.) But circumstances conspired to show me that this would be the best move I'd ever make.

Two weeks before our wedding day, my dad had called to share unthinkable news. He had a brain tumor, and surgery was scheduled for Labor Day weekend. We drove to Minneapolis to be with my family during the surgery. We thought about postponing our wedding to a happier time, but that would have made Dad feel worse, so September 18, 1982, we took the plunge.

Dad was able to attend the wedding, his head still bandaged. For obvious reasons, my parents slipped in the side door of Elim Lutheran Church. I walked the aisle by myself, Steve's loving and encouraging presence beckoning at the altar, willing me not to break down.

That first year was tough--Dad died four months later, and truthfully I spent more time grieving than "newlywedding." It tested our commitment and resilience, and 1982 has become the benchmark for surviving things. We'd made it through that year, so we could make it through labor, cancer scares, lightning strikes, midlife panic attacks, rebellious teenagers, job loss, financial troubles, Steve's near drowning, my serious car wreck, various surgeries, and our parents' aging, along with the normal wear-and-tear inherent in 25 years of living with somebody.

But mostly we've had fun. We've been blessed (a word I don't throw around lightly) with great kids, good friends and more than our share of really good memories. And more love than I could have imagined or hoped for on that bittersweet day 25 years ago.

Ozarks, Part Deux

Between major household projects around here, so we made the spontaneous decision to visit our friends, the great blue heron of Bagnell Dam. Last time we were there we saw about a hundred of them. This time, only a couple.

However, there were several thousand other other migratory creatures in town.

BIKE FEST! As it turns out, Bagnell Dam is a halfway house for certain bikers on their way home from Sturgis.

Saw all kinds of everything, including my personal favorite, biker guy with small lightning rod sticking out of helmet. Unfortunately, we missed the BIKE FEST! parade. Maybe next year.

And, as another surprise bonus...

MOUNTAIN MEN FESTIVAL! So while we were taking in this idyllic scene:

We got to hear the thundering chatter of musket fire.

It was a good reminder that other psychic worlds are alive and well outside Lenexa.

Contrary to what I'd been led to believe, neither bikers nor mountain men are particularly friendly to those of us outside their cultures. Actually, I'd never been led to believe anything about mountain men, but now you know: Neither they nor Sturgis-y bikers will respond when you say "good morning" if you are a mainstream-looking girl holding the door for them at Casey's General Store.

Unexpected overnight, unexpected bikers, unexpected mountain men. It's fun to know that the universe is still out there throwing surprises around.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Greetings from Springfield

Have you been Simpsonized?
It's fun and more or less painless!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Motherhood moment du jour

Context: My three sons are John (23), Joey (22) and Danny (20).

Joey called yesterday around 2:30.

Me: Hi Joe, whatcha doin'?
Joey: Not much. Gonna pick up Danny at work at 3 and take him to get his stitches out.
Me: Stitches?
John: I wanna go, too.

Prognosis is good. Minor boo-boo of unknown (to me) cause.

Lesson learned: "Out of the loop" is a vastly underrated vantage point.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hey look!

21 moonflowers tonight.

Calling Georgia O'Keefe.

Another big batch tomorrow.

Come by for a little magic.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Page 13 from my Mom's address book (1966)


So much history on this one little page.

C. Edlund. Our neighbor, Chester Edlund. He was married to Esther Edlund, no kidding. Chester would go out drinking on Friday nights at the municipal bar (The Munie). When he came home, he'd sit in the car in the driveway and honk the horn until Esther opened the garage door.

Fantasia. The beauty shop where my mom got her hair (and her large wig) fixed by Betty Kelsey. My sister Lisa and I would go along with Mom (why??) and hang out at the salon while she got her shampoo/set. Fantasia eventually changed owners and became Abroe's House of Beauty, the site of several bad perms for me. Abroe's is also where my mom first got her hair frosted and began using a toning rinse called "White Minx," to get rid of the brassy color.

Fin Fare. Fast food, Minnesota style. They sold deep fried walleye fillets and the only cole slaw I've ever been able to eat. This was one busy place on Friday nights, conveniently located in the shadow of Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

The thing that really gets me about the address book is my mom's handwriting. It reminds me of all the notes to teachers: "Please excuse Molly's absence. She had a sore throat." And also the notes we'd take when we underage girls went on Mom''s errands to Quik 'n EZ Superette: "Two packs of Marlboros, please." My favorite Mom letters are those she wrote me in college, when her concern about my high-strung nature and my affinity for liberal arts came through loud and clear between the lines.

It's like time traveling reading the other phone numbers in the book: Chas. W. Sexton Company, where my Dad worked for 35 years. Both of my grandmas. Ruby Carlson, my strange piano teacher. Everyone in mom's bridge club. All the neighbors. Ann Springer, my bossy best friend from 1st grade. Dr, Johnson, our lousy dentist (hey, thanks for nothing).

Funny, I've never been much of a "numbers" person. But I still know so many of these by heart. 529-6664, 332-3501, 529-3006, 588-7415, 588-8990, 537-3631.

Hello? Everybody? I miss you like crazy.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

So I think I can dance.

Our friends Jeannie and Roy got married last night.

The two of them met when they were out dancing at Dick Clark's American Bandstand grill about 18 months ago. And they haven't stopped dancing since.

How Jeannie dances in dangerous heels at her age (which is also roughly my age) is beyond me. But there was something so contagious about the happy couple's dance floor moves... before we knew it, the rest of us at the reception were dancing dervishes. And may I add, "Thank God for ballet flats."

When my kids were little, at our PTA-sponsored roller skating parties, the last fifteen minutes were reserved for a mom-and-kids "sock hop." Actually it was a transparent ruse by the skating rink forcing the kids to turn in their skates before the place closed for the night, but we moms really loved it.

I've since read that women have a collective memory of celebratory, joyful, daily dancing, and that we modern party girls have a psychic longing for the release and community dancing provides. That explains why normally sedate co-workers were crowding the dance floor last night, not giving a damn about appearances or professional protocol.

Contrary to this post's headline, I am aware that I stink as a dancer, not quite as bad as Elaine Benes, but I have made my kids wince. And how many times can people try to teach me the Electric Slide??

The point is, we all need to let our hair down and dance more, to find the joy and let it out no matter how spazzy we think we look or how much Aleve we'll need in the aftermath.

Happy Life Together, Roy and Jeannie! Thanks for the dance lesson!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Looks scary, tastes great.

Water buffalo yogurt, I mean. (On sale now at Whole Foods--5 for $5.) Just had some for breakfast and oooooh is it creamy and luscious. I tried the maple. You can also get vanilla, blueberry, strawberry, chai, plain, raspberry, and a bunch of other flavors. It's kind of high in fat (8 grams per serving), but I'm thinking of it as a healthy alternative to Sheridan's custard!

People in India and other places in Southeast Asia have been eating this for centuries. It's available in the U.S. now, thanks to a Wharton MBA who bought 100 of these beasts and started the Woodstock Water Buffalo Company in Vermont.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lost weekend...and week...and then another weekend.

As a former co-worker said one Monday morning in the 70s, "I feel like Ray Milland."

No, I haven't been on a drinking binge. No bender. No toot. No spree.

It's been a surreal, time-warping, marathon journey of doctor's offices, pharmacies, and Web M.D. browsing, one neurotic day blurring into another. (If it's Friday, this must be CT-scan.)

The good news is that my innards are fine now. Having already had several -ectomies, my medical conundrum was simplified somewhat. The really terrifying and horribly icky hypotheses were disproved on Friday.

And now, after taking a cocktail of antibiotics with a lovely menu of side effects (metallic taste, leg cramps, dizziness, nausea), I'm back among the optimistic and living.

So much so that my son's $125 speeding ticket last night barely moved the needle on my stress meter.

My free advice to everyone: Eat your fiber and drink your water.

This means you.

P.S. It really helps to have a compassionate and good-humored co-pilot at these times. Thanks, Steve.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Keeping up with the Needlemans & Spulgenines

Dammit. If they can figure out how to post video on their blogs, so can I. Nevermind if I have no relevant video to post. (Can't wait for the Simpsons's movie, though.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The moonies are coming!

Looks like a bumper crop of moonflowers this year. Not familiar with these incredible plants? Here's the lowdown.

To grow some moonflowers, all you have to do is throw the spiky seed pods in the garden around Mother's Day. (For the record, I'm one of those slacker gardeners who loses interest once the temperature and humidity exceeds my embarrassingly low threshhold.)

By mid-July, you'll have clumps of gorgeous greenery on silvery stems. Then a few weeks later, the buds emerge--flauta-sized cylinders holding back their surprising gift to the summertime planet.

When they're ready, one magical night in July or August, the moonflower blooms start to explode. And what blooms they are: iridescent white, saucer-sized, lemon-scented circles of velvet that could bring Georgia O'Keefe back from the dead.

Each flower lasts only about twelve hours before it wilts and fades, eventually falling off and allowing next year's seed pod to form.

One night a few years ago I was out marvelling at the dozen or so flowers as, one after another, they opened with an almost-audible pop. A small toad hopped out from under one of the plants, and then, as if on cue, a luna moth fluttered by.

Talk about a "Witchy Woman" moment.

I love these contrary flowers, defiant and luminous in the middle of a pitch-dark night.

We should all be so daring.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I'm in a Netfix. Can you help?

Not doing too well with my Netflix queue. The mediocre movies I'm picking sit unwatched on top of the TV for a week or more, and instead of investing two hours in a decent film, I wind up mindlessly watching David Hasselhoff (or worse) on TV. How much Food Channel can I take?

What's in your queue? I especially like sleeper movies that haven't been overhyped. Nothing too violent, please. And no Matt Damon or stuffed-shirt period pieces.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Yankee Doodle Dad

I can't get through the 4th of July without thinking a lot about my Dad.

In Robbinsdale, Minnesota, where I grew up, the 4th was the best day of the year. Our town's annual "Whiz Bang Days" festival made you feel like you'd walked onto the set of "The Music Man."

Horseshoe and archery tournaments (both of which my sister Melanie won), a pancake breakfast, a fishing contest...Whiz Bang Days had it all. Attending the traveling carnival unchaperoned was a significant rite of passage for my sister and me. We'd walk to Lakeview Terrace Park hoping that no mean kids would throw firecrackers at our feet. Then, swatting at a swarm of mosquitoes, we'd watch the coronation of Miss Robbinsdale, wistfully wondering if we'd be in the running someday.

My dad's favorite event was the Whiz Bang Days parade, especially the years my sister and I played bad clarinet in the Robbinsdale City Band. He found a folding camp stool at a garage sale one summer, and this became his "PWC" or parade-watching chair. Dad stood at attention everytime the flag went by, not only the first time in each parade, which is what local tradition dictated.

Jack Wigand loved his country and embraced every opportunity to witness and applaud some patriotic pageantry. He was an old-school, flag-waving Army veteran, a credential he encouraged us to invoke as needed. In third grade, when Tim Wilson stomped on my math book, my Dad's response was, "Tell him your old man was a chief warrant officer." As time went on, I used that line a lot, and it actually may have worked once when I was trying to get into an already-filled class in college.

Dad told his army stories as often as we'd listen. One time, in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he and the other recruits were out on the firing range in the hundred-degree prairie heat. The drill sergeant asked if anyone had experience doing paperwork. Because my Dad had been an insurance clerk before enlisting, and because he sensed an opportunity to get out of the sun, he raised his hand. The drill sergeant stuck him in an even hotter trench behind the targets, where his job was to lick adhesive patches and repair the targets for the other guys between rounds.

Usually these stories had a sweet, nostalgic patina. Both Mom and Dad maintained that their days in the service were the happiest of their lives, with one exception. Dad was disturbed and ashamed to recall the day when he and his friends were taught to strangle an enemy soldier with a piano wire.

It was lucky for Dad that he remained stateside.

I wonder what he'd make of the current mess. He always voted the straight Republican ticket. (I think his darkest moment was the day he learned I was a delegate to a Democratic caucus. Well, that and the weekend I came home from college in bib overalls.) But still, I believe Dad would have despised Bush and his henchmen.

A patriotic guy with absolute notions of right and wrong has no time for crooks and liars. And whether they're stealing an election or lying about weapons or commuting sentences for rich fat cat buddies, that's who's running the show: crooks and liars making cynics and doubters of us all.

Anyway, Dad, if you're reading this on some heavenly blog, thanks for lighting the sparklers. And thanks for sitting inside with me when the fireworks got too loud. You were a Whiz Bang of a guy. And I love you and miss you today.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

my new favorite thing

Last night when it finally stopped raining, we meandered into town to see if we could get close to the Riverfest fireworks. After taking a few turns down dark alleys and around the back of old warehouses, we joined a small colony of firework fans parked next to some railroad tracks.

We had 45 minutes to kill, so we turned on KCUR, which was airing the Saturday night Fish Fry with Chuck Haddix.

While the slow trains ambled by, we listened to Ella, Bill Robinson, Bonnie Raitt, and even a guy singing "Kosher Gospel." One sad, beautiful song after another, deftly narrated by a knowledgeable but unobtrusive host.

Cool breeze blowing, clouds cruising by overhead, two old sweethearts holding hands and talking.


Until it got crowded, and we got "parked in" and I started wondering what was in those railroad containers. And if it was flammable, what if a stray firework trail made everything go kablooey?

We apologized our way out of the back alley and found a less threatening vista in an empty parking lot just uphill from the river. We saw half a dozen guys who'd just gotten off work leaning on parking meters and watching the show. It would have made a great painting.

There's a ton of serendipity out there on an aimless summer night. And the Fish Fry is its perfect soundtrack.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Attack of conscience.

I deleted a post stating my feelings about this person.
(She puts enough hate out there for all of us.)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What's wrong with this picture?

Last night my friend Trieste was recalling a terrifying Mount Hood horsefly incident from her youth.

This was all it took to induce a flashback to my family's summer picnics at Lake Independence (a public recreation area just outside of Minneapolis).

That's me upper left, creating a slacker pyramid with my siblings and our neighbors, the Russeth kids. Mysteriously absent from the photo are the hundreds of horseflies we'd battle on our way from the picnic table to the murky and lukewarm water.

Aside: Dad would strap a giant orange airplane inner tube onto the roof of the Country Squire station wagon for these outings. (We'd take turns making our moms nervous by floating too far out in the lake.) But then one year our route to the beach led us past the archery range, and, well, you don't have to be a professional humor writer to guess the punchline of that one.

Back to the scary bugs, though. Those horseflies were stupid and slow. They'd flail around in your face and then crash into you with a thud. And when they bit you? It hurt like hell. We're talking serious welts.

Steve can't remember horseflies from his childhood on Long Island. The comparable pests in that part of the world are something called "greenhead" flies.

Similarly, we didn't have chiggers in Minnesota, nor did we deal with "no-see-ums," the mysterious bugs whose nasty little bites I doctored on my sons' arms and legs after watching the fireworks at Shawnee Mission Park one year.

Of course, it's the mosquito that's the legendary hardship for my Nordic people. It's taken me awhile to get used to sleeping on a summer night without being awakened at least once by the hum of a skeeter in my ear.

Oh, and speaking of loud insects...what's the deal with cicadas? It's just wrong for insects to be larger than mice.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ennui of a Weight Watcher

I was doing so well. Lost about a pound a week so far this year. Dutifully recorded and tallied every ort of food ("Write it before you bite it.") Attending every meeting. Counting my points. Getting all my water in. Bringing my lunch. Doing the mind work. Nagging my spouse.

Then, "bam." I realized I'd become a Weight Watchers zealot. Some would say a-hole.

And the next thing I knew, I was really sick of the whole thing.

Yeesh. Those meetings. People bringing empty food wrappers and reading the nutritional information. Teenage girls counting how many chips are in a serving. The weigh-in ladies pointing at the numbers with smug judgement. The women who make peanut butter out of some astronauty powder. Or weigh chicken breasts. Or measure their ice cream. Or make a scene in restaurants. Or walk in circles around their tiny offices to get all their steps in. Or take off their wristwatches before they get on the scale.

I know everyone means well, and our leader is inspirational and funny.

But I think something is terribly wrong when I have 18 points to use in a day and I choose to blow them all on a Krispy Kreme breakfast. Or save them up all day so by dinner time I'm a low blood sugar time bomb.

Maybe I just need a break. A break made of Chips Ahoy, Lucky Charms, and a couple blocks of Tillamook cheese from Costco.

Yeah. Cheese. Some cheese sounds good. Bye for now.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Steve Day!

It's the third Sunday in June, and you know what that means.

Welcome guest bloggers John, Joe, and Dan, giving well-deserved props
to the one and only Steve-O.

I, John, As the oldest of the three sons of Molly and Steve (hugging them in the picture), feel it necessary to write the first portion of this celebratory blog. Steve-oh has always been a great go-to guy and we have shared some wonderful times in the past. From laughing and talking in our cabin in the woods of Branson to hearing about him almost getting in a fight in McDonald's drive thru. All of the wonderful parts of this fantastic person all come into one when you have known him as long and well as I have.

I love you Dad...Happy Father's Day
John Charles Jackson

heya pop. joe here. i just want to say thank you for helping to
shape me into the person that i'm so proud to be today. i couldn't have asked for a better upbringing or a cooler father to have. thank you for introducing me to rock and roll and getting me started on guitar. i can always rely on you for sound advice or to just shoot the shit or complain about stupid people.
happy father's day
i love you.

Steve-O - The most rock n roll father in all of the world. An open minded, but outspoken city person making suburbia rock. Sticking it to the man in those little ways that the man can do nothing about. Unparallelled in his positive creative and social energy that radiates from his face almomst constantly. A wonderful father and a wonderful person all around.
Love ya, steve-o

Sunday, June 10, 2007

This old (stupid) house

Our house hit the big 3-0 recently, which means that after having things on autopilot for a long time, the whole place is going to hell. Which, I know, is a normal consequence of home ownership.

But when both partners are writers with very few practical, concrete skills, it's "Fear and Loathing in Lenexa" every day.

In the past six months, we've replaced our driveway and front porch ($6000), our water heater ($550), our circuit breakers ($1200), our air conditioner's capacitor ($350). Barely caught our breath from all that when we learned our basement crack badly needs attention (initial scammer estimate $10,000, downgraded to $1500 by a structural engineer who did an inspection), and we need to regrade our back yard ($2000) to avoid further basement trouble. We had already planned to replace our rickety fence, and now that the neighbor's German shepherd can vault it, that project ($3000) has acquired new urgency.

Thursday evening, we were headed up to bed when we heard an electrical "whirrrrr" and saw the lights dim about every two minutes as the a/c starts to kick in. Found out Friday it's the compressor ($1000), but our neighbor/HVAC contractor will give us a deal on replacing the whole unit ($2050).

Needless to say the badly-needed exterior housepainting ($3500) is on hold for awhile.

It looks like a home equity loan or refinance is in our future, which stinks, because if there's anything we're worse at than fixing things, it's dealing with numbers.

Calling Dr. Kevorkian...

Thursday, June 7, 2007


I haven't been sleeping well, ever since Saturday, when Kelsey Smith was abducted from our local Target store.

I'm haunted by the image of a beautiful young woman bopping out to the parking lot with a roll of gift wrap and a bag of presents, completely unaware that her life was about to end.

I think about the little boy with the pinwheel (see my May 20 post), and I wonder if innocence and trust are set-ups in a violent world.

I think about babies in Africa and old people in New Orleans and how the slow violence of neglect steals their lives away.

I worry about the mothers' sons and daughters whose innocence is stolen in the name of Iraqi "freedom."

I'm tormented by the face of Kelsey's suspected killer, believing that at some point he, too, was an innocent.

I think about the day twenty years ago when new neighbors moved into the house behind us. She had a brand new baby, and after introducing myself to her, I touched the baby's curly hair and said, "Look at him. He's just perfect."

The new mom turned on her heel and snipped, "Well! Scripture clearly states that we're all born into sin."

I've been mocking my neighbor ever since for that comment, but when human beings are horrible, I start to wonder if she was on to something.

Are all of us humans intrinsically bad people? Or just some of us? Or do we all start out okay and then regress morally, some of us more than others? is it like a big Roy Rogers or Star Wars episode, and the whole point is for the good guys to vanquish the bad guys? How does that happen? Is it true that all we need is love? Will love change the heart of a damaged, violent, murderous soul?

I'm at a loss. And now I'm trying to wrap this up with some kind of hopeful thought.

Maybe my blogfriends can help?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

No such thing as a "friendly game of Scrabble"

Things you'd never hear in a Scrabble game with my family of origin:

"Oh well, it's only a game."
"That's ok, take your time."
"Hey! Nice play!"
"You won fair and square."
"You're only 8 years old,
so you can look up your word."

Things you'd always hear in a Scrabble game with my family of origin:

"Anybody can win if you get the damn letters."
"Is Q-U-E a word?"
"Whose turn is it?"
"I didn't go to college, and yet I'm beating you by 100 points."
"Whose turn is it?"

One time my mom was so convinced that her son-in-law was "feeling the letters," she made him wear garden gloves. Seriously.

Are you from a Scrabble family, too? Click the link at the left to find out.

Monday, May 28, 2007

In praise of cousins

We just got back from my niece's wedding in Minneapolis. The event was beautiful, and it was great catching up with my siblings--the five of us hadn't gathered in the same place since 2003. The best part, though, was watching my sons getting reacquainted with long-distance cousins. Look at the warmth in this moment (John & Joey with their Indiana cousin, Amy).

Amy was about 10 when John came along, and she loved holding each of the babies every chance she got. Now she's a mom, and the boys are enchanted by Amy's infant daughter, Haley. These too-infrequent reunions spark in me a primal longing for the old, old days when extended families stuck together. It would have been nice to have the cousins, and aunts, and uncles, and grandparents nearby when our kids were little. We have friends who function as family, in that they are witness to kids' birthdays, graduations, marriages, and other milestones. I'm so grateful for that. But blood really is thicker than water, and cousins help kids know they belong to something biologically and emotionally permanent and true.

My cousin Jane lives in Virginia, and our childhood reunions were dismally few. But, mysteriously, we still connect, as our mothers did, in the sweet spot of family, the place that knows and accepts everything.

What are your cousin stories?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Caught in a time warp. Don't send help.

A flock of geese and a handful of mallard ducks summer at Crystal Lake, a little pond in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, the town where I grew up. We used to ride our bike to the lake with bags of bread to feed the birds. My mom always issued the same admonition: "Those geese are mean."

As my husband and I arrived at the Shawnee Mission Park marina yesterday, we passed about 75 Canadian geese scrounging for food in the grass. They didn't look too vicious, but I locked the car doors, just in case.

About twenty yards from the geese stood a three-year-old boy in denim overalls. He was holding a dime store pinwheel, its blades spinning wildly in the wind. The child's sneaker toes extended over the curb as he watched the pinwheel, unaware of geese or burgers cooking or his father approaching from the picnic ground behind him.

We slowed way down to smile and wave, and the boy's dad encouraged him to wave back.

So much innocence in that moment: the little boy perfectly contented with a simple pinwheel, a family picnic in the park on a Saturday afternoon, a dad who, instead of calling 9-1-1, smiled at us and allowed his son to wave at two empty nesters on a joy ride.

(The geese were probably innocent, too. innocent as geese can be.)