Give It a Rest Friday Round-Up

Is feeling like one hasn’t done enough when what wasn’t done doesn’t matter uniquely a female thing? I wondered about this driving home from dropping off 150 “period packs” at a community event for homeless people. I should’ve put more tampons/pads in each pack. I should’ve included pantiliners. I should’ve put in more wipes. Like a little jingle… should’ve, you should’ve…other people would’ve, they would’ve. This, after spending three hours ripping open boxes and counting out pads and cutting my finger and worrying that it would, for heaven’s sake, bleed on the menstrual products. Jesus, Jan, give it a rest is what I said to myself and then I drove to McDonald’s and got a large order of fries and then pulled over to the side of the road and ate them all.

I’m happy about fall and winter but dread the holidays. Days without big expectations are my favorites, like this morning, for instance, when we took a detour on our drive to the dog park to get coffee and a donut from Dunkin’ (which apparently has forsaken its surname). A donut can be a holiday celebration itself when you don’t have one every day and you can avoid pesky things like pies that pitch themselves out of the oven on to the floor and dull carving knives that precipitate a life and death struggle with sinewy drumsticks on a turkey the meat of which you thought was falling off the bone. Take me for a donut and a dog walk on Thanksgiving (and Christmas and all the rest) and I’ll be happy.

We are contemplating getting a second dog. It would be another retired sled dog from the same kennel in the U.P. where our current dog, Swirl, lived before becoming a city slicker. We’ve gone back and forth about this – considering such things as how one person could handle two big dogs, say, if the other person dropped dead or something, and how we would survive double dog coat blow which may, actually, be the more pressing question. Coat blow is when a northern breed dog pretty much gets rid of his coat. It’s a seasonal thing, probably a holdover of some kind of ancient animal worship. But no two dogs are necessarily on the same clock so we could be coat blown year around. Still, that doesn’t seem like a reason not to do it.

My new life goal is not to be a screw-up Nana. I had two grandmothers, one much more present than the other and she didn’t do much more than wear an apron and breathe. I was intensely loyal to that grandmother, over-the-top loyal, and I often wonder if that’s just what grandmothers get – intense loyalty unless they’re really awful. My biggest problem is being a consistent presence since inconsistency is almost a reflex for me which is why I can’t seem to get in a routine of watering my plants for more than a couple weeks at a time. But I’m working on my grandmother badge by showing up which is an important foundation. I breathe but I have no apron.

I worry that I will never again write a decent word all the time. Well, not exactly all the time, because every couple of days I manage to find something to say. It isn’t a torment. It doesn’t drive me to drink (not any more than anything else anyway). It just preys on my mind that maybe I’ve already said the last worthwhile thing I’m going to say and then I think, so what?

Eviction Notice Friday Round-Up

The folks camping at our local Tent City are getting the boot. Each one was handed a letter today from the State Department of Transportation (on whose land beneath the freeway they are camping) saying they have until October 31st to skedaddle. My usual reflex would be to get pretty irked but no more. Now I think of these impossibly difficult conflicts as one group’s “rock and a hard place” running up against another group’s “rock and a hard place.” There isn’t always a villain. Sometimes, people just get jammed and don’t have a lot of choices – bureaucrats and homeless people alike.

What do I think about Brandt Jean forgiving his brother’s murderer, Amber Guyger? I think it was remarkable and Christ-like. And deeply personal and something on his own soul that us spectators will never understand. His hugging of Amber Guyger was so much what we, as white people, want, forgiveness for everything that has happened. We don’t say that, of course, because it would be unreasonable, but it is what we yearn for, to be washed clean of the volumes of wrongdoing – both centuries and minutes old. Would that it were so easy.

My husband turned the heat on because it was 51 degrees in the house. That’s astonishing and maybe symptomatic since he typically doesn’t turn on the heat until extremities are threatened. This, from a guy who an hour ago was napping in his shorts with the bedroom window wide open. Hormones.

It is fall, the time of the year I shed all pretense of gardening. It is the most liberating feeling on earth. Having leaves turn brown, plants get all leggy and sparse, it all signals to me the end of obligation. And it’s luscious. I feel like a just-paid babysitter walking home with a wad of ones in my pocket. I did my job. They all went to bed.

Our dog, Swirl, yearns to lay on the loveseat but he is deterred by two pillows. This is a dog who, until last spring, leaped on top of his wooden dog house whenever he pleased, along with the other 200 dogs in the dog yard who leapt up and down as if they ruled the world. Now he is citified. He walks on rugs, goes to sleep on his big soft bed, the cushion of which is in the dryer as we speak. He will, however, get on his hind legs, peer into the sink, and gently pick up a cup or a bowl and carry it elsewhere to lick. The pillows, though, are a different matter. They have the power to make him stand down. It is fascinating and lovely in a strange way.

Got My Chops Back Friday Round-Up

What I did this week was get things done. After days and weeks of moping and having a brain dull as an old tennis ball, I just focused on getting stuff done. Meetings, writing, planning, checking things off the list. Just work the list, I always say, work the list. For a person like me, productivity is its own balm. So I got balmed up this week, plenty good.

My beloved Street Angels dealt with a very sick homeless woman who was turned down at shelter because she couldn’t get to the can on her own. In a wheelchair, sick in ten different ways, weak, and living outside, she just was too much for the shelter to bear. I know. They have rules and staffing issues and all that. So Street Angels took said very sick woman to the ER where they kept her for a bit and then discharged her at 1:00 a.m. To the street. My outrage about this and other things this week led me to the conclusion that anger may be the fountain of youth since I’ve never felt more ready or able to go to war.

Yesterday, I stood next to the person who put the peas next to the chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes. We were in an assembly line to put hot meals together to distribute on homeless outreach. She was so careful to make sure the peas hugged the side of the styrofoam container furthest away from the chicken and gravy. “Some people don’t like their food touching.” And I loved that so much, that she would think of that.

Our dog basically lost his balls. There remains a facsimile of balls but it bears little resemblance to what was there. I mentioned this to my husband at the dog park, looking at Swirl’s minimalistic balls swinging like deflated balloons and he said just this, “Better small balls than a dead dog,” he being the one advocating neutering the dog to avoid cancer later. It was our first visit to the dog park in ten days – the recuperation period that long – and it was a sweet return.

When I was in second grade, my mother bought me brown oxford shoes. These were to be my school shoes. My play shoes were $1 sneakers from our dime store. I remember being astonished that she’d bought me little man shoes. They were brown with brown laces, as severe as an old nun’s habit. I wore them with white anklets. I remember to this day sitting at my desk in class and looking down at my feet and feeling such disbelief that those were my shoes. But they were and I just had to learn to live with that reality.

Unsettled Week Friday Round-Up

Friends lost an adult child/grandchild to suicide. This isn’t the first child/grandchild they have lost. I think of this many times during the day and wake up at night thinking about it. But I don’t feel frantic about needing to do something or fix something like I did before. I’m not out buying books and candles to drop off. My experience as a spectator of grieving has taught me to quit thinking I have something magic to ease the pain. All I can really do is say hello even if no one is able to answer back.

The storm last night was so loud that even in my deafness I could hear it. Thunder broke right over our house and the lightening radiated in all the windows like we were in a boat at sea. Our dog paced for a while and then leaped on the bed, something he has only done once before when he stood above me, his wolfish face just inches from mine. Last night he stared out the window, settled, then got up again until finally we all slept together, curled and twisted, like a litter of puppies until the sun came up.

I am loathe to disqualify someone from anything because of age. But Joe Biden’s statement last night during the debate suggesting that parents should make sure to have the radio or record player on at night as a way to advantage their children gave me pause. Maybe if you’re old, like Biden, Sanders, or Warren, you need to make an extra effort to be current. It might be homey to harken back to Roosevelt days when families roasted popcorn in the fireplace and retrieved apples from the fruit cellar, but it basically shows a disinterest in the actual lives of younger people, which in Biden’s case, is most people in the country.

We are going to the symphony tonight. We have season tickets and it is the first night of the new season. I know nothing about classical music. I don’t play an instrument and I can’t sing. I often don’t want to go, thinking that it would be much nicer to lay on the couch, drink rum, and watch Anderson Cooper. So around noon on symphony day, I start looking for reasons to skip out and, when there are none, I go and I sit transfixed by the concertmaster the entire time. His name is Frank Almond. He is an extraordinary violinist and quite good looking but his claim to fame is that he carried his 1715 Lipinski Stradivarius in a briefcase which someone stole from him one night in the parking ramp. It’s true. They made a movie about it. Anyway, at the end of the night, I will be glad I went – because of Frank but also the music.

If I give off tired, flat vibes, it’s because I am tired and flat. It would worry me except I know it will pass. It’s the one benefit of aging, knowing from experience that nothing lasts forever, except maybe my friends’ grief. That isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Out of Gum Friday Round-Up

It’s like old times with the rabid anti-abortion protestors coming to town. This is the week that the well-known national hate group Operation Save America is converging on Milwaukee to scream at passers-by and harass women coming to appointments at local abortion clinics. This time, unlike 20 years ago, there will be trained security at the clinics and no counter-protests, no linking of arms and singing We Shall Overcome. Typing that, I wonder if we really sang We Shall Overcome or we just felt it in our hearts but, in any event, we haven’t yet overcome because abortion is still a right in doubt, a provisional right dangling now by the thinnest thread . Happily, Garbage Fyre Fighters from the Abortion Access Front rallying and making fun of the zealots. We here in Milwaukee are grateful for good organizers and strong humor. Hate groups hate humor.

I found a birthday note for Jilly signed by Gram and Gramps stuck in Best American Short Stories, 2008, edited by Salman Rushdie. The book was in a Little Free Library in Milwaukee’s South Shore Park, next to the Best American Short Stories of 2006, 2010, and 2012, all of them ripe for the taking, like peaches in a bowl on the kitchen table. The card is much older than the book and the handwriting is even older, careful and ornate but shaky at the same time. there is this P.S. at the bottom of the card.

I found the poems my first boyfriend wrote me. Please return.

I’m going to keep the note for Jilly, just in case.


I spent part of the week between a rock and a hard place. On the horns of a dilemma, in a fat headache of situational ethics, conflicted and chagrined, all of which I soothed by buying extraordinary amounts of cheese and crackers at Costco along with a forty-pound jug of animal crackers. Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof.

Alright. It’s four pounds, not forty. Still.

I won’t say I suffered through the week – there being so much food, wine, and beer laying around – but I sure was consternated. The dilemma came down to dueling principles and I sided on the one that involved having made a personal commitment. I’d explain more but it would be pointless at this point. There are new waves to surf.


Flamethrowers burn out. I’ve seen it dozens of times. A new person appears on the scene from out of nowhere. Maybe a hundred people have been working hard on a problem, parsing it, teasing out solutions, trying to change the world step by painful step. And the new person – always smart and bright and engaging and different – shows up and decides that the process and the people involved in it are all useless. Flamethrowers don’t ask questions, though. They don’t spend time inquiring or gathering data or learning the process by which progress is made, however imperceptible it may seem, they just pour more gasoline on the torch they always carry in their purse and let fly. AOC – as much as I love her fearlessness and her brilliance – is a flamethrower. I hope she stays around long enough to also become a powerhouse legislator. It’s a harder skill to learn and harder still to practice. We’ll see.

I’m out of gum. There isn’t a stick of gum anywhere in this house, on any dresser top, in any drawer, or in any pocket. My house is a gum desert.







Dig It Friday Round-Up

I feel like I’ve aged five years in a month. It’s like the age fairy got fed up with my prancing around thinking I was forty and decided to just slam the door on that nonsense. Actually, it’s the result of getting my cataracts removed – having perfect, crisp vision comes with a cost. Blurs serve. Remember that. That which is blurry is open to interpretation.

I’ve given the torment of gardening the heave-ho. I have five pots of geraniums, a tiny patch of basil and cilantro, and one hanging plant along with the perennials already in the ground – the hostas and such that would grow even if they were paved over. The truly resilient, that’s what’s left. And no fucking vegetables, no Victory Garden (oh, so un-aptly named). I’m done with trying to be Little Miss Farmer. I am hanging up my spade forever. It’s a deep and exhilarating freedom I’ve never felt before.

A tremendously rich guy who is also a local elected official bought a $2.6 million historic house on Milwaukee’s swanky Lake Drive and is going to tear it down and build a new house. And people went nuts. Not seriously nuts. Not 24/7 picketing or tying themselves to the door knobs nuts. Just online petition and ambiguous yard signs nuts. It irked me at first that some insanely rich guy could just buy something historically important and flatten it and then I thought, so what? Nothing lasts forever. In a few years, we’ll forget it was even there.

We went to the symphony tonight and I fell asleep several times. It was a very long, very dramatic piece of music called Carmina Burana by Carl Orff that involved the full orchestra, an adult chorus of about 100 people, a youth chorus with about 50 kids, and three soloists. And captions, including this one, “she has a fine head of hair but, when it comes to seizing an opportunity she is bald.” I was awake for that one and it has stuck with me. It has also stuck with me that in this majority minority city the youth chorus of 50 kids had just a single African American child.

It is real easy to fall prey to becoming a bb in a bare room. Just rolling from side to side endlessly from one injustice to another – kids at the border, ICE ’rounding up’ families to deport, gun violence, homelessness, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and on and on. I’m pretty locked in to homelessness, menstrual equity, and senior issues but a very big part of me wants to get in the car and go to Texas to do something about the kids being kept in cages. Like what, like what could a person possibly do? I don’t know. I’m going to look into it, though, and report back.

Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

Bugged Friday Round-Up

I asked a friend in recovery how it was to not be drinking and he responded that he never thought about it until someone asked. This gave me pause. What was I hoping to accomplish with the question? Did I want an actual answer or his affirmation that he still wasn’t drinking? Was I hoping to be educated about the recovery process or make conversation? Or pin the beetle to the display board?

My husband and I are realizing that we love our new dog, Swirl, possibly more than we love each other and certainly more than we love our children. We’re keeping this to ourselves, of course, lest the information falls into the wrong hands. It just isn’t done to place a creature above one’s own family, the optics are terrible as they say. We’re aware of this so we only talk about our outrageous disloyalty in the kitchen.

Yesterday, as my friend Karen tailgated a guy who got so irked he started braking every three seconds, she yelled, kidding/not kidding, “DON’T YOU KNOW WHO WE ARE, MOTHERFUCKER? WE HAVE IMPORTANT THINGS TO PROTEST!” Just then we spied a cop car tucked on a side street and she slowed down so we looked normal, like two old friends who’d just gone thrifting at Goodwill. And I drew from this experience this: when we lose our ability to yell “motherfucker” we are done for. Thank God we’re not there yet.

My life is a steady mix of brilliance and idiot moves. Earlier this week, after leaping up in a big crowd to deliver what I thought was astute and insightful commentary on a bad public policy decision process, I scurried off to the restroom with the sole purpose of taking a picture of myself in the mirror. It was meant to be sort of a triumph picture plus I thought I looked cute in my pink shirt but I couldn’t figure out how to do it never having done it before and as I was futzing with my phone, of course, someone walked in the bathroom and looked at me a little quizzically, causing me to say, “I’m taking a picture of myself in the mirror.” Unbelievably, I got a picture of myself taking a picture of myself in the mirror as the woman walked in looking quizzical but it was so mortifying that I sent it to the Trash. Can you believe it?

My husband asked me a few hours ago if I was going to write a Friday Round-Up which immediately made me not want to not do it. I took his question as hectoring, pressure, the laying on of unreasonable expectations, which seemed to surprise him but not much. I hate questions, I really do. One wonders why I ask so many.