Many people will tell you that their childhood was magical.  The sights, the sounds, the smells of the place we grow up become part of our personal mythology, a place we tend to think of as the norm.  It can be a place in mind to retreat in times of stress or unhappiness, a place of peace, or a place to begin long-winded stories about the past, boring children and grandchildren, over and over again.  “It was better in my day”, they start.  If you have a somewhat open mind and a willingness to listen to your elders’ stories, you will glimpse an earlier, simpler, if perhaps somewhat sanitized tale of life in the glorious past.

My magical place was the Edina of the 1960’s. Our entire neighborhood was filled with single family homes, with stay-at-home moms who made our lunches, helped us with our homework and tucked us into bed at night.  Kids played in the neighborhood, even after dark, and nothing bad ever happened.  On Halloween, kids roamed the streets without fear of harm.  Almost all the families put out a carved jack-o-lantern on their front steps and had a mom or dad at the front door handing out candy to the countless trick-or-treaters.  The Christmas holidays were happy times with homes outlined by colorful lights, snowmen in the front yards, and sleds waiting to be taken to Indian Hill, behind Cornelia Elementary.

Amy, Mom and I on the front step

Father Knows Best? Leave It To Beaver?   Maybe, but most of us did lead happy, secure lives.  Dad went to work, mom was home during the day to benignly supervise our activities and to come to the rescue when things got a little out of hand.  There was that “wait until your father gets home” attitude that kept us in line, at least towards the end of the day when our exhausted fathers would return home from a long day at work. No one wanted to face the wrath of the breadwinner.

Some of the childhood magic came from the times of the year. Imagine this: It’s a hot summer day,  blue skied with high fluffy white clouds.  Kids ride bikes up and down our quiet street.  A screen door slams, a neighbor boy calls “Mom!” as he heads for the kitchen and his afternoon Hostess cupcake.  My sister Amy and I are playing jacks on our front sidewalk, while our little brother Bobby watches.   Today is a perfect pool day. In an hour we will leave for the Edina Pool; we have just finished our lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, eaten while watching “Lunch With Casey” with its cartoons and silly skits.

The Edina Public Library was my favorite place.  One summer, my sister and I enrolled in a reading contest.  You got something, a bookmark, perhaps when you read a certain number of books.  As a ten year old, I zoomed through the required number, got my bookmark and kept reading.  Amy was three years younger and couldn’t keep up with my reading habits.  She was like the car rental company Avis, who tried harder because it was Number Two, probably a contributing factor to her unfailingly trying her best no matter what.

The library building was an old two story house on 50th Street, at the intersection of 50th and France.  It smelled of old books and polished wood floors, and something else that to me is just “library smell”.  It was a comforting aroma.   The children’s room was near the front door, the grownups’ books somewhere towards the back.  We’d browse for a while and leave with a stack of books, picture books for the little kids and novels for me.

We lived in a newer part of Edina, on land that had been recently turned from farmland and open fields into housing.  Most of our houses were built in the early to mid-60’s.  Some lots were still undeveloped when we moved in.  Today, every lot has long since been built up; some of the original houses have either been demolished and rebuilt or enlarged to the point that they are unrecognizable to me when I drive through the old neighborhood.  Mere saplings that graced our front yards in those days are now full-fledged, large-trunked trees.  It’s a settled neighborhood now, but with the same feel to it.

ChristmasIn the 1960s, long before it was a park, Arneson Acres was a field filled with black eyed susan and milkweed plants. There were little pathways, probably carved out by many children’s feet, but I imagined them to have been there from the time the land was inhabited by Native Americans.   There was another “wild place”: the sand pits.  The sand pits had big piles of sand, cement mixers and I think a cement mixing building.  There was one hill that stood behind a row of houses on Oaklawn Drive that held three mature elm trees.  My best friend Ann and I took it for ours.  At least, when we were there, no one else was.   We were forbidden to go to the sand pits, but that didn’t stop us from visiting “our” hill.

The golf course was another wild place.  We would scrounge around the edges of the course for golf balls to use for our jacks games.  A golf ball was a lucky find, for it bounced much better than the red rubber balls that came with the jacks set.   There weren’t many to be found.  The best part of the golf course was a heavily wooded island in a small mucky body of water on the south end of the course.   At first, there was a bridge of sorts, a couple of weathered two by fours.  When that vanished, access to the tangled island was cut off.  I dreamed of getting some kind of boat…

Another undeveloped place sat behind a row of several houses.  This land had a small stream that ran in the spring.  That’s what I called it.  It was more likely a low point that collected water when the snow melted, or it rained. There were old, tall trees, the kind that rare in that time, in this part of the city.  Behind that and along another fascinating small body of water, there was a meadow filled with milkweeds and black eyed susan plants.  Along this small oblong pond Ann and I found a couple of small seedlings that we somehow adopted as our own.  We talked to them and named them — remember, we were about 10 years old — and were later dismayed when we came back to one wilted, the other gone.

The suburban wild places fueled our imaginations, giving some vague indications of what life was like before settlement.  They were places where adults did not follow.  You could ride your bike on the trails in Arneson Acres, or find a little hollow to sit, watch the clouds and dream.  The “Little House “ books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were popular among the fourth grade girls.  The prairie in our neighborhood could have been Laura’s prairie, or so our young minds thought.  Somehow I didn’t hear the cars or see the rows of split levels and ramblers that lay at the edge of the acreage.  Instead, I saw covered wagons and tepees and maybe a buffalo or two.

All good things come to an end.  My family moved from Edina 1971, when I was turning fifteen.   Perhaps physically leaving my childhood environment mirrored my increasing chronological distance from childhood.  We moved on, and at the time I didn’t miss, or even think very much of what was left behind. There was so much life to be lived!  It was only years later that the magic and the charm of that time and place seeped into my heart and soul.  It was a good place, and it’s a good place still.  I left the city of Edina, but the magical parts of my Edina childhood have never left me.

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As a child, I lamented my October birthday because I thought life would have been a little better had I not been required to attend school on on my special day.   Barring the twelfth falling on a weekend, I was there.   No sense in faking a sick day on my birthday!

Surely more things of import have happened on this day (Columbus Day and the day the Twins beat the Tigers in the 1987 American League playoffs spring to mind) but there are few things that touch my life as deeply as the germination of Oktoberfest.  According to holidayinsights.com, the very first Oktoberfest was held in Munich, Bavaria, Germany on October 12, 1810.

This first big orgy of beer drinking was put on to honor  the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (King Ludwig 1) to Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The wedding took place on October 12th.  Everyone had such a knock-down good time that the Germans decided to throw one each year thereafter.

Munich still has “the” Oktoberfest, but the festival is celebrated in many parts of Europe and America even today.  It usually appears in September, when the weather is more likely to be good for outdoor  binge-drinking.

How is this significant for yours truly?  Not because I like carousing in crowds, not by a long shot.  Those days are gone for me. But I do enjoy a good beer, (okay, two or three), from time to time.  Okay, most days.   A nice cold Summit Extra Pale Ale always hits the spot at the close of an action-packed day.  It’s my Oreos, my bag of chips, my cheesecake, whatever your particular favorite junk food is.  Only my beer is not junk food:  there is some research that shows that dark beer has important nutrients that I need to keep me strong and healthy.  It’s a cholesterol-free beverage and wheat, malt and hops are good for you, right?

Whatevs.  I’m just happy to share my day with something meaningful.

I am going to reveal something about myself that I have kept under wraps for years.  It is something few friends know about me.  It is something that I am a little embarrassed to admit.  You will probably be shocked to learn my secret:  I watched “All My Children”.

It’s true!  I was a long-time viewer of the ABC soap opera.  I didn’t watch it continuously for its 41 year run; when I heard of its cancellation last April, I didn’t even consider myself a viewer, much less a fan.  At different times, though, I did watch it.  Like baseball and apple pie, it was something that I just assumed would always be there.

Like learning that an old but no longer close friend has a terminal illness, once I knew of AMC’s impending demise I made time for us to spend special moments together because the time the show would be around was now finite.  I watched for old times’ sake.  I watched so I would know how the stories, my stories, ended.

AMC was my luncheon companion when I was eating at home between noon and one pm.   Like comfort food, it reminded me so much of my mother, who was probably merely an occasional viewer, although I have vague memories of watching it together on a sick or hooky day, days that were mine:  Mom was a 50’s and 60’s housewife who never got a day off from her duties.

I watched soaps with my Nana in the late 60’s, early 70’s and they were ghastly, deadly dull affairs. Someone was always in a seven month-long coma and the big trials that were supposed to be riveting were just one long snooze.  Nothing ever seemed to happen; they certainly never showed a couple in bed.  I don’t even know that a couple could kiss on-screen, being so busy with being in comas and embroiled in dull murder trials and all.

Agnes Nixon changed all that and pretty much gave us the daytime soaps that we have had for the past forty years.  Her shows had characters from different social strata, not just the doctors and lawyers of the soaps that Nana and I watched together.  The stories were more modern and faster-paced than the shows that came before Nixon’s soaps, All My Children and One Life to Live.  She also had at least one other show, Loving, in her heyday of  the 70s and early 80s.   I started watching All My Children one summer after college when I managed to avoid meaningful, actually any, employment.    It was on about the time I got up each day.  My parents must have been so proud…

Sure, the stories could be boring or ridiculous or annoying but I would take them any day, any way, over even one of the reality or contest shows that have taken over the airwaves in recent years.  And to answer critics who say that soaps are unrealistic, why, one of my favorite movies is “The Wizard of Oz” .  Who wants to sit around watching something that could actually happen?  Besides, I kind of liked watching evil but extremely hot Dr. David Hayward bring several long-dead characters back to life for the final month of the show.

There is talk in the soap world (oh, god, am I part of it?) that AMC will be picked up by a production company and continue to churn out episodes that can be watched on the internet.  I dunno.  Watching on the internet would be too modern a venue for the dinosaur form of entertainment that was daytime soap operas.   I kissed AMC goodbye at the end of its extremely long TV run and that will be the end for me.

In this first week of my AMC-less life, the creature of habit that is my subconscious mind told me it was time to watch at noon this Monday, but not at all the two days after that. It’s not as weird as I thought it would be for it not to be on at noon, weekdays.  Whew. There is no AMC withdrawal.  I’m over it.

Still, lunchtime will never be the same again.

Unlike most people of my acquaintance, I love Mondays.  New week, new start.  The newspaper’s crosswords are easiest on Monday. I can do them quickly, and in ink. I always finish the Monday crosswords.

The chaos of the weekend is replaced by the modulated chaos of the work week.  There’s a rhythm and a flow that is missing on the last two days of the old week.   One of my titles is Queen of Starting Over; the other half of that is Professor Emeritus of Lack of Follow-through.  One feeds the other.

I start every week off with high hopes and an organized mind.  As the days pass, my plans dissolve like Jell-O on a hot sidewalk, although why anyone would put Jell-O on a sidewalk at all…and I don’t even like the stuff.  The fact is that I consistently fail to meet the ambitious standards I set for myself each and every Sunday night.  By Friday, I am thinking that next week I will overcome a lifetime of unfocussed, meandering habits. Then I have two days of lazy fun and before I know it, it’s Monday again.

My personal version of the Circle of Life.

I visited HiFi Sound yesterday. The store has been in business forever, well, fifty years anyway, and sells high-end audio equipment.  I was only there to look for a better stand for my TV/DVR and DVD player.   I found a great floor model from a discontinued line, so it was discounted.  Good buys are always pure happenstance for me.  I am not a particularly good bargain shopper.

Browsing the store, I was enchanted by a wall covered with colorful record jackets.  Artfully displayed, all the LPs were for sale.  The salesman directed me to a hallway that contained even more of them.

I was delighted as I flipped through them and found records that I had owned.  Maybe they were even my very albums!  Nostalgia for a past that I gave up with enthusiasm took me by surprise.  I remembered it all…the slide of the vinyl record when you pulled it from the paper sleeve that protected it in the record jacket.  The tightness as you fit the record on the spindle and slid it down toward the platter.  The careful movement of the tonearm to the edge of the record.    The sound of the needle as it hurried towards the beginning of the first track. The small scratches and pops that were inevitable when a sharp needle grooved into a vinyl disc.  The large and readable record jackets.  Cover art that was bright and vivid and not held in a small plastic jewel case.

CDs were a huge advance for music fans.  I couldn’t wait to replace my LPs with CDs.  It took a while, but eventually almost everything came out on disk.  Nearly unbreakable, easy to store, good sound — you can’t beat them for ease of use. You can listen in the car and they don’t break like tapes did, unless you drop them on a frozen concrete garage floor. Yes, I speak from experience.

My iPhone and its iPod app are essentials for waiting in line and walks. The time flows so much more happily when there’s a soundtrack of music I love and want to listen to.  HiFi Sound sells a nice looking port/speaker unit that you can put your iPhone in and listen to all your tunes coming out of good speakers, filling a room with sound.  I’m not there yet.  I still like my ‘old style’ CDs.

(I’m deliberately leaving out the audiophile discussion of the merits of analog versus digital music.  Too quickly, I will paddle into waters that are far, far over my head.  Best to just leave that topic to people who know of what they speak.  Or write.)

Looking at the albums and the sleek turntables, though, made me teeter on the brink of a return to the past.   The friendly salesman said they would be happy to set me up with a great system.  It’s tempting.  It really is.  But the right side of my brain tells me that I don’t have a good place to put the turntable, much less a good place to keep the records that I would want to buy.   Cats climbing on a neat stack of albums, dogs pulling them off the shelf to shred the cardboard…no, my life is not suited to a technological step backwards.  Not any more.

Still, I’m thinking fondly of my old Bang and Olufsen turntable with its (at the time) ultra-modern tonearm, the two packing crates I’d turned into my record shelves, the eagerness which which I would read the liner notes and admire the cover art of new album purchases.

I get in the car, new TV table safely in the back seat.  I hit the Sirius Radio button on the dashboard.  Ahh, Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb on the Classic Vinyl station.  When I get home, I will pop a CD in the player and listen to more of my favorite music.

Life was simple in the days of my youth.  Turntables, phones you couldn’t walk around with, books that were books and not a series of words embedded in small electronic devices.  Life is now more convenient, more portable.  It’s fun to look back but I’m glad to be here, now.

I’m an avid gardener — in my mind.   I love looking at beautiful gardens, but the hard labor of actually having one just makes me hot, tired and crabby, even while looking at the yard from the safety of the house.  Thinking that I should get out there and weed/water/plant/trim gets my creative juices flowing, generally in discovering wonderful time wasters that will prevent me from putting hand to shovel, watering can or hose.

I bought three of these lush-leaved plants at Lakewinds Coop in the summer of 2008.  Since I almost always buy plants and don’t get around to planting them for weeks, these guys were lucky to survive long enough to go in the ground.  I’m pretty sure I planted them in “last chance territory”, the end of September. I definitely brought them back to life by the miracle of watering several times that summer.

I completely forgot about them until last year when a mysterious red flower appeared in a patch of weeds.  Thrilled to have discovered a new, blooming weed (See, my Master Gardener friends?  It was sure a good thing I left this patch alone!), it dawned on me that this was one of the Cardinal plants I had slapped into the ground one fall.

Tenacious little thing, the red-flowered plant came up again this year.  Today, I dug through the bin labeled “garden” where all things plant-, seed- or garden design-related go to hibernate until hell freezes over and I actually do something with them.   It’s a Lobelia cardinalis.  Lobelias like sun to part-shade.  Unfortunately, I didn’t read the label very well when I did my last minute planting, because the spot it sits in is three-quarters shade.  That’s why it has great leaves and a couple of flowers.  The picture on the tag shows a riot of red flowers and mine, well, what you see in the picture is what is there.

Lobelia cardinalis better start packing his bags.  He’s moving to a new location soon.

I haven’t done any of the writing things I’d planned with such certainty two months ago.  Time flows so easily past me, taking my good intentions for a lazy ride.

I have been writing, though, I just haven’t been working on my fiction.

In ‘real life’, I am an animal rescuer.  I volunteer my time with a couple of different animal rescue groups (three, actually).  Some of what I do involves writing, and I love that part.  For Carver-Scott Humane Society, I network with other rescues to try and place dogs and cats from a couple of animal control/impound facilities.  Good stories and good pictures are essential to getting the attention of people who are inundated with – often quite literally – hundreds of email and phone requests every week, pleading with them to take animals into their programs, giving the animal a chance and very possibly saving its life.   The writing I can handle.  The pictures – let’s just say I’m working on developing my photography skills.

Rescue is emotionally demanding and emotionally draining work.  It is also exhilarating when you successfully place an animal in a rescue, or better yet, a permanent home.

Emotion is important for good writing but too much emotion can be detrimental.   I lose whatever amount of focus I am normally able to muster and am a mess of sorrow or elation who escapes reality by sticking her head in someone else’s writing, e.g. a good book,  or finds solace in a glass of beer.

So, I’ve been forced to do the unthinkable.  Yes, I have scheduled my personal writing time into my day.  Tomorrow morning, I am visiting an animal control facility to photograph the animals there who need rescue, so tomorrow afternoon from 2 – 5, it’s writing time.  No excuses, no daydreaming the time away, no ‘researching’ by reading a mystery novel.

It’s editing time, baby.  I plan on having an almost final draft of my story, The May Basket, by 5 p.m. CDT tomorrow.

I’ve been restless lately.   Feeling like selling my house and moving to a new one.  Maybe even building the new one, so it’s exactly the way I want it.  Yeah, it’s a crummy time to think of selling a house, but that hasn’t deterred me from looking at realtor’s listings online.

My house is too big for me:  I knew it moving in, but I loved the acre property it sits on, and you can’t beat the location for the relative quiet of suburbia with easy access to Minneapolis and St. Paul via I-394.  Convenient.

Touring the house just about six years ago, I was happy with the main floor, which is about 1500 s.f., dismayed by the completely finished basement which gives me 3000 s.f. to store stuff in and to clean.   On my first, realtor-escorted visit, we had this exchange.

Realtor:  And the basement is fully finished, so you have another 1500 square feet of living space!

Me (in full Eeyore mode): And there’s another 1500 square feet.  Oh, my.

I bought the house anyway.  Most of the houses of the size I wanted are in cities and suburbs with small lots.  I wanted – and really needed – more space, to accommodate my dog Daisy who was ultra-stressed and nervous about the proximity of too many people in our small urban home and postage-stamp sized yard.  (You can read more about Daisy and her, um, issues in my blog, Shepherd Obsession.)  What do you do when your dog wants more privacy?  You move, of course!

The house is a mid-twentieth century rambler, the type of house I grew up in, so there was a certain level of comfort in that.  And it didn’t need much work done to make it habitable, and I did all that after I moved in.  Still, the extra space unsettled me enough that I managed to fill it up with furniture.  To be fair, the guest bedroom is mostly furnished with things I inherited from my dad, so it’s not like I was out shopping for it.

I’ve been happy here and proclaimed that I would never move again.  Bat lately…I don’t know why, but it doesn’t seem like home. I’m vaguely dissatisfied and I don’t know quite with what.   Down-sizing is the word in my heart and head.  If only I had half the space to take care of, I would be happier.  I walk through the house with an eye sternly judging the usefulness or value of everything it sees.  Can I get rid of you? I ask a collection of vases in my teak cabinet.  Or you? I query a stack of unread mystery novels.  What about you? to the tile-topped table in the sunroom.  (Maybe, not until I read you, and yes.)

My mental list of what furniture I will get rid of when I move to smaller quarters grows.  The king-sized bed in the never-used guest room in the basement.  In fact, all the furniture in that room can go.  One of the couches in the family room.  Maybe the 1970s chair and ottoman, homely but comfy.  The Steinway baby grand will stay with me forever.  Purchased by my grandparents from a family who had to sell their assets during the Great Depression, I grew up loving it, and never even consider not having it in my home.  Although, it is supposed to be valuable.  Hmmm….

I don’t know if I am truly up for a move, much less a building project, but it is fun to imagine a little cottage with only the best of my possessions, new and clean, in an idyllic setting.  Meanwhile, it’s back to sorting through my accumulated junk and treasures and deciding what to donate and what to keep.

If nothing else, this house will be cleaner and will hold less unwanted clutter.

I’ve long been fascinated with St. Swithin’s Day.  It’s just so prototypically English, with a catchy rhyme in Elizabethan usage, honoring a Saxon churchman.  Traditionally, the weather today predicts the weather for the next forty days, sort of the way Groundhog Day predicts the coming or delay of spring.

‘St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain

For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.’

A Buckinghamshire variation says

If on St Swithun’s day it really pours
You’re better off to stay indoors.

Well, duh.

 

St. Swithin (or more properly, Swithun) was a Saxon Bishop of Winchester. He was born in the kingdom of Wessex around 800 and died in about 862.  He was famous for charitable gifts and building churches.  A legend says that as the Bishop lay on his deathbed, he asked to be buried out of doors, where he would be trodden on and rained on. For nine years, his wishes were followed, but then, the monks of Winchester attempted to remove his remains to a splendid shrine inside the cathedral on 15 July 971. According to legend there was a heavy rain storm either during the ceremony or on its anniversary.

If this held true for Britain’s colonial lands and points west, we here in Minnesota would be in for a good soaking from now until Labor Day.  My trusty rain gauge shows a whopping 4-1/4″ of rain since last night.  Fortunately, the story has been proven to be merely a myth.  According to the book “Red Sky at Night”, by Jane Struthers, the truth of the story has been put to the test; on fifty-five occasions St. Swithin’s Day was wet and yet did not have 40 days of rain following.  Who knew?

 

 

I pulled information on St. Swithin from the website,  Life & Culture: Calendar of Special Events and Celebrations by Mandy Barrow, (http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/stswithun.html)   A more comprehensive discussion of Swithin and his times can be found in his Wikipedia entry.

Checking Writer’s Market online for publications where The May Basket might fit (traditional women’s magazines: Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal) I learned a couple of interesting things.

Firstly, that GH and LHJ accept no un-agented fiction.  In other words, you have to be well-established or productive enough to have corralled an agent.  I’m not there yet.

The second interesting fact I gleaned from my quick perusal of their information is that they pay really, really well.  $500 to $1000 per story.  Whatever an agent takes, the writer still ends up with a decent payday for her story.  I’m at the point where five bucks and no ‘payment in copies’ arrangement would make my month.

One promising market may be Country Woman.   They don’t make any demand that a writer have an agent which is a huge plus for me.  The story has to be about rural or small town life, which can be the case of The May Basket with a bit of careful editing and the addition of a paragraph or two.

As written, The May Basket doesn’t have a stated setting. In my mind it was the kind of suburban neighborhood I live in – spacious yards surrounding  unpretentious mid-twentieth century homes, well-established trees.  There are hints to this in the writing but I never explicitly describe a place.  Adding some small town touches should be easy, right?  Right?  I’ve lived in a small town and visited a few.  I don’t have to detail cow-milking or anything, just show some of the daily flow of life in a small community.

Maybe clear setting is what has been missing from this story all along.  It has seemed complete and yet not complete.  Maybe two-dimensional is the right description. The action, such as it is, takes place in an ephemeral vacuum.  It needs to be brought down to earth.

Now I’m kind of excited about this project.  Filling out my story  with details of its place in the world will be a fun exercise, if nothing else, and perhaps will help me make a sale.