Saturday on the Porch in the U.P.

When we got here two days ago, the chairs had blown every which way on the porch. We were lucky one hadn’t taken flight and gone through a window. Our canoe was lifted off the old bedspring that serves as its resting spot on the side of the house and tumbled across the back of the house, ending right side up behind the sauna. We found it filled with rain water, too heavy for one person to empty. For a while I thought we would have to bail it out but we lifted it together. As is often the case.

It is the end of the season here on Lake Superior. Yesterday’s great wind caused a sign to be posted on the bar’s door: “No whitefish today. Lake is too rough.” And it was rough all day, blowing hard. Our oldest bird house blew down, its ancient post snapped at the base. We have newer ones that we’ve put up in the twenty-three years we’ve been here but the fallen one was an original. It had stood out in the sand and snow watching while our old house burned down. We loved that bird house for that reason. It survived.

We took a walk in the Grand Marais School Forest before lunch. The chances of finding any blueberries left this late in the season seemed slim but we came upon patch after patch of the bluest blueberries and because I had a plastic bag in my back pocket, you know, just in case, I started picking. And it wasn’t long before I wanted to pick all the berries. This is what happens when you’re in the forest with blueberries hanging, their little round clustered selves ripe and waiting. You think, I should pick these berries so I have them. So I picked enough to put on ice cream tonight and in pancakes tomorrow and I carried the bag down the trail, its heft a source of accomplishment, but I had to stop when I saw particularly bountiful little bushes and pick more. Finally, I knotted the bag so I would quit. You have enough. It is enough.

Tomorrow is September 1st. By then, according to a goal I set for myself last year around this time, I was supposed to have put together a book of new essays. Because I write pretty short essays, I would need, say, thirty of them to make something resembling a book. I have maybe three. I’m not going to finish by tomorrow. I did a lot of things this year, including writing some decent pieces, but I wasn’t driven and I think that’s what you need to be to put together a book. Driven. I’m not that. Not right now, anyway.

In other news, it couldn’t be a more beautiful day.

My Hideous Garden Won Me a Prize

In Milwaukee, we have a saying used to denote a nonsensical statement. “Throw me a kiss from the train goodbye.” I thought of that looking just now at the title of this piece. It’s a painfully awkward title but it explains exactly what happened.

One morning last spring, I went to a Red Oak writing session. Basically the idea was to just show up, open your laptop, and write for two hours. I was the only person who came other than the Red Oak leader who greeted me and kept doing what she was doing. Should we keep doing this if it’s only the two of us, I wondered. Sure, she said. Why wouldn’t we?

So I wrote about my garden and failure, both recurring themes in my life separately and together. As is always the case, the essay started in one place and then went to France in that fabulous words-taking-flight way that happens once in a while. I got up and made a cup of coffee and then sat back down. I went to the bathroom and then sat back down. Each time, coming back, I’d remember something else, some new dimension of hideousness and I’d start to laugh in my head. This is a sensation that I adore – making myself laugh – it’s a weird little joyful thing. Once in a great while, I laugh out loud at my own stuff, the ludicrousness of a situation along with its trueness just being too much to take with a straight face.

Anyway, so I sent the essay I wrote that day to the Wisconsin Writers Association annual Jade Ring contest and it won! So I am the 2019 Jade Ring winner for humor which is pretty swell. There might have been three entries, two of them in crayon, or 5,000. I prefer to think the latter. In any event, my essay, Crop Tending, is included along with the Jade Ring winners for fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in the Wisconsin People & Ideas, the Journal of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters. Later in the fall, there is a conference where the winners get their prizes and read their essays. It’s going to be fabulous. Maybe I’ll wear green and have a flower in my hair.


I have a writing life. I’m not Stephen King but I have a writing life. One that I think about a lot – how much am I writing, is my writing any good, does it matter?

My big accomplishment this year on my blog is that everything posted has been new. No reposts, no reruns, as my husband calls them. Just fresh content, as limp and pale as it sometimes is, like the Boston lettuce I bought Saturday at a market known for its produce. I dropped eleven dollars there, had it rolled up in my pocket and was holding it in my hand, and somewhere between the limp, pale Boston lettuce and the shallots, I lost it, discovering this only when I was standing in the check-out line. I was naked of money, not having brought in my wallet, just my rolled up money like when my mother used to give me a nickel in a hanky to give to the bus driver on the bus that took us to Gun Lake to swim. I had no nickel and no eleven dollars. It felt unpleasant, but on the way out I saw a guy, out of place, maybe homeless, opening a bag with three bagels and sitting, eating one of them, at a table in the sun. Maybe he found my eleven dollars, I thought. It made me feel better.

I’ve let myself just run on like that. I’ve decided that saying something is better than saying something perfectly. Maybe I’ll go back and make it better. Maybe I won’t.

My husband made larb to put on the pale, limp lettuce to make a larb salad. Larb is a Thai dish. Howard made his with ground chicken, Thai peppers, shallots, green onions, fish sauce, and an extraordinary amount of lime juice, an orchard of lime juice, enough lime juice to wash one’s hands in and still have some left over to splash on one’s face if one wanted a particularly citrus-y pick-me-up. It was very tangy. I told a friend of mine once that I had larb for lunch and she said, “I have a problem with the name.” I agree. It isn’t a good name for a dish.

So my writing life is ever-present. It is an obligation, something I feel odd about if I don’t do, like leaving a sink full of dirty dishes and going to bed, and sometimes I wonder if that’s a good thing or not. I do know if I didn’t have this blog or have a workshop meeting the next morning, I might not ever write a word. And sometimes I think I’ve said everything a person could say. But I know that’s not true. There is more where that came from. I think. I’m not sure.

Of all the compulsions one could have, this isn’t a bad one.

Not Yet Pickled

While the cashier watched, my husband and I debated about how many pickles there were at home. “There’s that big jar in the cupboard,” he said. “Those are meal prep pickles,” I answered, distinguishing the high end, hand-packed, pickles I was about to buy from the ones I’d put in meals for homeless people. My sainthood took another hit.

I washed my car today and spray-waxed it. My car is old – 2005 – but still quite beautiful until you look closely at the tiny bubbles popping up and there is deep corrosion of the wheel covers which is depressing. But the Thunderbird emblem is unblemished and the car in motion is sleek. A man in a gas station once came over to me and said, “When you drove in, it was like a shark swimming up to the pumps.”

My friend came to a meeting yesterday with an old tin tub packed with small sunflowers, mint, tomatoes, and chives, all grown or found by her and brought for the rest of us to take home. She does this often and it smooths the edges of our intense political discussions. She also wears plaid button shirts.

This week we learned about coat blow. This is when a double-coated dog, northern dogs like our Alaskan Husky Swirl, shed rivers of hair, usually once or twice a year. It’s astonishing. For a while I thought he had a terrible disease but, no, he is blowing his coat. I love that term – blowing his coat – it is so ridiculously, perfectly feral.

We bought a raffle ticket from the Iditarod Trail Committee. The big prize is a Dodge Ram truck. The odds are 1 in 1,000 which are not bad odds particularly since we are the only two-time winners of the Milwaukee Brewers 50/50 raffle. So we have already constructed a scenario in our heads wherein we would have to drop everything once we are announced as winners on September 2nd and fly to Anchorage to claim our new truck and drive it home from Alaska through the Yukon Territory. It will probably already be snowing.

Padding Around Town

I have a truck loaded with incontinence pants.

Not a lot of people can say that.

There are other things in the truck including a five-gallon gas can (empty), a fold-out table in case we tailgate, a giant gray metal tool box like your grandpa probably had, and firewood from South Dakota. There is also an axe in the driver’s side door pocket, you know, just in case I need to fend off somebody who wants to rob me of my many incontinence pants.

But why on earth would I have a truckload of incontinence pants? I am not incontinent. Let me say that again. I AM NOT INCONTINENT. Although there is no shame in incontinence or any other kind of physical fucked-up-ness. It’s just life and bodies and things not working. We all have something not right but some people’s something requires special pants. That has to be a bummer.

I have all these incontinence pants because some very kind people wanted to give them to me for people who are homeless. There was no way to say no because the one thing I’ve learned doing this work is that homeless people need all kinds of things you’d never think of, including a way to deal with incontinence on top of the everyday struggle of finding a place to stay and something to eat. It would be pretty rough, don’t you think, to have to figure out an incontinence strategy when you only have the clothes on your back? And even rougher to suffer people’s looks, their crossing the street to be away from you, if you can’t figure it out.

Be still my bleeding heart.

Last winter, a woman in a homeless warming room asked me if there were any incontinence supplies. I looked at her puzzled for a minute and then went to ask. When I came back a half hour later with supplies, she said, “I thought you didn’t hear me.” But I did.