Friday, March 24, 2006

They Thought it Was Funny, Too, Once I Explained the Joke

The other night I was watching Lost with My Ho and his Youngster. At the introduction of the scene in which Sun goes to Sawyer to ask him if she can go through his stash of medical supplies to look for a pregnancy test, there was a shot of Sawyer, the island’s crude, cunning, sarcastic con man, enjoying a new read:

I laughed out loud. My Ho and the Youngster did not.

It took me a few minutes to realize that, being guy-types, they would have no idea why seeing Sawyer reading that particular book was so funny.

I explained it to them during the commercial.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Choices, Choices

The hardest part about being a grownup, for me, is all the decisions that have to be made on a daily basis. There are big ones: Which contractor will I choose to do repair work on my house? Cool SUV or economical Honda Civic? And there are small ones: Heels or flats? Herbal tea or black?

Some people are very good at making decisions. They seem to do it without even thinking too much about the possible consequences. I’m not one of those people. Somewhere along the line I developed an intense dread of choosing wrong. On the Amazing Race, when the teams come to a point where they have a choice between two tasks, some of them invariably choose badly and end up having to start over. It kills me to watch it, every time. Because the only thing worse than choosing wrong is having witnesses.

More than once I have been so immobilized by decisions that I have allowed them to be made for me. Either I left them up to other people, or, more often, I put off choosing at all until, one by one, the options disappeared, leaving me to live with whatever was left. That passive approach may have been easier in the short run, but it also left me perpetually wondering if what I ended up with was what I really wanted, or only what I accepted. And that turned out to be not such a good thing, either.

A couple of summers ago, my sister Meghan’s good friend Janna got married in a small outdoor ceremony. It was a casual event by the side of a lake, but it was full of so much joy and celebration that I still think of it as one of the best weddings I have ever attended. The weather was perfect, Meghan, who was very pregnant with Madge at the time, sang during the ceremony, and the bride and groom wrote their own very sweet, very personal vows. One of the things I remember most about it was Janna saying to her soon-to-be husband, again and again in front of family and friends and everybody, “I choose you.” I both admired and envied the simple resolution in her voice as she spoke those words, and I’ve thought of them a lot since that wedding. Someday I’d like to be able to say to someone, “I choose you.” And mean it.

It’s never going to be easy. The looming fear of future regret will continue to keep me frozen in the aisles of the grocery store, pondering whether to buy the super-cheap bulk pack chicken at Costco or the much more expensive (but healthier and more humane) organic variety at Whole Foods. But after all this time, one very grownup truth has finally started to sink in.

Even choosing wrong, even choosing wrong with WITNESSES, is better than not choosing at all.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Great Harvest Indeed

Last Sunday, the exceptionally good people at Great Harvest Baking Company donated their facility and the ingredients for baking bread (and cookies and cinnamon rolls and muffins), and Mother Bear Project volunteers baked, worked the registers and cleaned up, and every dollar of the day’s sales went to the Mother Bear Project.

The DemiGoddesses and I had tried to volunteer to help with baking or selling, but after seeing us in action at the Pride Festival last summer, and again at the Just Giving fair in December, Amy, the Mother Bear Project founder, insisted that the girls and I once again staff the bear sponsorship table. So the three of us spent most of the day explaining to people over armloads of baked goods that the bears piled on the table were not for sale, they were for children in Africa who’ve been impacted by AIDS, and we were looking for sponsors to help us get the bears to the children. Sometimes we held the people’s bread for them as they carefully chose a bear and then wrote their name on the tag.

An article in the community paper and announcements at area church services helped bring an astonishing number of people into the bakery during the course of the day. One of Amy’s sisters donned a big furry bear costume, complete with a signature Mother Bear Project red heart and tag, to draw in even more traffic from outside. When she got tired of it, DemiGoddess the Elder eagerly volunteered to take over the bear suit for awhile. Demi the Younger and Amy’s own daughter, carrying signs, followed my dancing bear Demigoddess outside, and I couldn’t help but giggle watching the three of them boogie around and wave at passing cars from the curb in front of the bakery.

As usual, my involvement with this group has left me feeling all glowy and swoony over how kind and giving people can be. One of the day’s highlights was a woman who donated $10 to sponsor a bear at our table, and then left with her bread purchases, only to return a short while later. She came to me and said, “When I got in my car, I started to cry, and I knew I had to come back.” Then she handed me a check for $200. I nearly started crying, too.

According to an e-mail I received from Amy this morning, between the bread sales, the bear sponsoring, and the knitting kits and patterns we sold, the event brought in $8,500. I’d call that an overwhelming success.

The only fly in the ointment came after our day at the bakery was done, when the Demis and My Ho and I were at my parents’ house for our family’s traditional St. Patrick’s Day Irish dinner. The corned beef, cabbage and boiled potatoes were delicious, as always (thanks, mom), but when the basket of soda bread came around, the Demis cringed away from the sight of it.

“No bread,” they cried. “NO MORE BREAD!”

Friday, March 17, 2006

Buy This Book

Because BatGirl wrote it, and she is awesome.

Not convinced?

Check THIS out.

Still not convinced?

Well, here’s the thing. Even though BatGirl (who is also known as Anne Ursu to peole who don't care about baseball) has published two novels previously, and even though one of them won a Minnesota Book Award, apparently publishers are only interested in putting a lot of promotion behind the really huge, blockbuster books like Nicole Richie’s stupid boring piece of ass crap*. And that is just wrong.

Take a stand on behalf of good writing. Make your voice heard. Because, particularly in the world of kids' book publishing, everything depends on word of mouth.

So go! Ask for it! Leave random copies on the tables at Barnes & Noble! Face them outward on the shelves at the bookstore! Or, just order it online HERE.

You can even buy it through your Scholastic Book Club flyer, which is how I know she’s REALLY hit the big time.

*A most excellent derogatory term coined by BatGirl herself.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Well, okay then. As long as we’re clear.

Junior high kids are different these days. Yes, there’s the usual angst over boys and peer pressure, the age-old questions about why some girls get to be "popular," and why those popular girls always have to be so fucking MEAN. The Le Sportsac purses and Guess Jeans I once coveted have become Coach bags, iPods (and I’d like to know who exactly is paying for those, BTW) and Uggs, but the idea is pretty much the same.

These kids though, they’re all about identifying with things I had never even heard of back in 1984. Apparently there is a girl in Demigoddess the Younger’s “Breakfast Buddies” group at school who has been very vocal about the fact that she is not into boys. I don’t recall having any openly gay kids in MY seventh-grade class. And I went to a city school, even. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being an openly gay seventh-grader, of course.)

Demigoddess the Elder's friend Alyssa is a pro-lifer. I think it says a lot about me as a parent that I was willing to give her rides to play rehearsal in spite of that fact. I even managed to keep my mouth shut while she and the Demis had political debates in the back seat of my car.

Posted on the wall over in the school cafeteria is a great big picture of Alicia Silverstone, who was apparently named “Vegetarian of the Month” by the school’s “Vegetarian Club.” Which I guess is a group of kids who actively encourage their fellow students to forgo the cafeteria’s delicious oven fried chicken and tator tot hot dish offerings in favor of Doritos from the snack bar. I guess no one clued them in to the fact that most of those kids are “vegetarians” already.

And Last night over dinner, Demigoddess the Younger recounted the last time she’d had tacos for dinner. It was during a Girl Scouts overnight a few months ago, and the girls had made both ground-beef and meatless versions to accommodate the vegan members of their troop. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being an openly vegan Girl Scout, of course.)

Now, good beef brings me so much joy that I could never go completely vegetarian myself, but I do make an effort to buy meat from hormone-free, vegetarian-fed, humanely treated animals. This means that, for financial reasons if nothing else, I make meatless dinners once or twice a week, because that ethical stuff is freaking SPENDY. So, thinking that if she liked them, I’d give them a try, I asked Ms. Younger what she had thought of the meat-free tacos.

“Oh, I didn’t eat those,” answered Demigoddess the Younger. “I ate the ones with the meat. Because that's how I roll.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It's Self-Absorbed Ho Day!

Things have been kind of crazy in My Ho’s world lately. Between dealing with his mom’s estate, and then all of the death-of-a-baseball-superstar drama causing uproar at his place of employment, anyone else (I) would have had a very noisy nervous breakdown days and days ago. But somehow, through it all, My Ho has managed to continue getting his Youngster where he needs to be, he’s been reassuring to me during a series of anxious moments, and he even managed to peddle Girl Scout Cookies for the DemiGoddesses to his co-workers... AND sell more boxes than I did at my own work. Through it all, he’s taken care of everybody around him, in his usual generous, cheerful, kind and helpful way.

But not today.

Today it's all about you, My Ho. It’s Self-Absorbed Ho Day, which means that all day long YOU will choose where you want to go and YOU will decide what you want to do, and I am going to do nothing but follow behind, gazing at you adoringly and telling you what a fantastic human being and uber-excellent dad and boyfriend and chum to the Demis you are. Today, I will be opening the doors for YOU.

I realize this may be uncomfortable for you in the beginning. But based on the Self Absorbed Girlfriend Day that I enjoyed last November, a day in which you played a vital role, I can tell you with utmost confidence that you’ll get used to it.

Happy Birthday, My Ho!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Mourning, Continued

We Minnesotans are a stoic breed. It takes a lot to get us really wound up, and when we’ve been hurt, we tend not to show it. We just get really, really polite, and then don’t do much talking beyond the necessities of social decorum.

The outpouring of emotion around this state over the last couple of days has been truly overwhelming. I think, in the years since Kirby disappeared from the limelight, when his name didn’t come up in daily conversation much, many of us had forgotten just how much he meant to us. Or, if we didn’t forget, maybe we chose not to think about it, so deep was our disappointment in finding out that our hero was, after all, human and flawed.

But the film clips and the sound bites have brought it all back. Reading through the comments on Batgirl’s post from yesterday, people are remembering where they were, what they were doing, how old they were when they watched the ’91 World Series, or met Kirby at spring training, or got his autograph at Twins Fest. They’re remembering that part of themselves that once believed in heroes. I suspect I’m not the only one who is surprised at how powerful those returning emotions have been.

Demigoddess the Elder was only a few days old during the 1991 World Series. We covered her with a Homer Hanky in her bassinet as we watched the games on TV. By the time she was old enough to understand much about baseball, the Kirby we had known was gone.

Both my girls were visibly upset when we heard that Kirby had died, but not having lived it, I know they won’t ever fully appreciate what Kirby Puckett once meant to the people of Minnesota. I still don't think I fully understand it myself. But I think maybe I’ll take them down to the Dome tonight. I’d like them to see the things that people have left there. Maybe we’ll add a little something of our own to the memorial.

I hope, wherever he is, Kirby can feel all of this. I hope he knows that, in spite of everything, he is so loved.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Kirby Puckett

Text of Kirby Puckett's Hall of Fame induction speech, Aug. 5, 2001:

"Before I get to a few words I have prepared, I would like to thank Commissioner Selig, the organizers here at the Hall of Fame and all of these great players for being here with me today -- particularly my fellow inductees, Dave Winfield, Mr. Mazeroski himself, and to the family of Hilton Smith. I am overwhelmed by the number of great fans who traveled all of the way from Minnesota or wherever you came from. You are the best.

"I also see some of my former teammates out there. It's awesome that you guys took the time to be with me today. When I asked my family for advice about my talk today, they were quick to tell me to keep it short. So I will.

"The only problem I have with that request is the time I need to thank all of the people who have helped me get here today. Because you don't get where I am today without help from a lot of people. I hope those I leave out will excuse me, but I want to thank the coaches who taught me the fundamentals of baseball -- Dewey Kalmier of Bradley University and Bob Simmons of Triton Junior College, who also taught me some of the important fundamentals of life.

"To Carl and Eloise Pohlad and the entire Minnesota Twins organization, as well as all of the many teammates I played with throughout my career, including my buddy Dave Winfield -- I can't tell you what a joy it is to be inducted with a friend.
"The tremendous guys I played against on all of the other teams. To Ron Washington, my first roommate -- in those days we didn't have any of those single rooms like guys have today -- he was my big-league father and he showed me the ropes as I broke in[to] the big leagues. My manager and friend Tom Kelly -- he led our teams to world championships and he hasn't lost his edge today. To my good friend, Tony Oliva, an awesome hitter who helped me to become a better hitter with his tremendous knowledge of this game. I hope to be here next year listening to you give your induction speech, Tony. I love you.

"The amazing public address announcer voice of the Minnesota Twins, Bob Casey, who taught the world how to say my name. I also want to thank Ron Shapiro, Michael Maas, Brian Woods and everyone at Shapiro, Robinson, and Associates. Ron, you are not only my agent but one of my best friends. You have taught me so much about life and how to treat people, and I want you to know that I love and respect you very much, Ron. Thank you so much.

"To my mom and dad, and I'll talk more about them later. To my brother Ronnie, who's here. My sisters June, Frances and Jackie, all my sisters and brothers who followed my mom's orders to never let their little brother's clothes get dirty. I was the cleanest kid in the ghetto.

"And most importantly, my beautiful wife, Tonya, who has been there with me through a lot of the highs and lows of my career. And who has taken such great care of my life's greatest blessings, my babies, Catherine and Kirby Jr. I love you, Tonya, and thank you for all that you have done for me. And you'll always be there for me, and thanks for babysitting me for 16 years, sweetie. I appreciate it. And to Catherine and Kirby, Jr. You will never know how much your daddy loves you.

"I had a lot of help getting here today. I had some great role models along the way. My on-field heroes were the great Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Willie Mays. I wanted to be like them on the field and I am so damn proud to join them in the Hall of Fame.

"My off-the-field heroes, the people who gave me the values to live by and who inspired me with their hard work and unselfish dedication to their family were my mom, Catherine, and my dad, William. My only regret is that they and my two brothers, Donnie and Spencer, could not be physically here today. I do know that they are here spiritually. And mom's probably looking down right now and thinking about all those spankings she gave me for hitting balls through neighbor's windows and breaking lamps and breaking everything in the house. I want to tell Mom, well, Ma, I hope you can see now that it was worth it. Your little baby is going into the Hall of Fame.

"There may be a few people out there who remember a time when the word on Kirby Puckett was that he was too short or didn't have enough power to make it to the big leagues. Well despite the fact that I didn't get to play all the years I wanted to, I did it.

"And to any young person out there, if anyone tells you that you can't do what you want to do and be what you want to be. I wanted to play baseball ever since I was 5 years old. And I want you to remember the guiding principles of my life: You can be what you want to be. If you believe in yourself, and you work hard because anything, and I'm telling you anything is possible. It doesn't matter if you're 5-8 like Kirby Puckett or you're 6-6 like my man Winnie, you can do it.

"And don't feel sorry for yourself if obstacles get in your way. Our great Twins World Series teams faced odds and we beat 'em. Jackie Robinson faced odds and made this game truly the national game.

"And I faced odds when glaucoma took the bat out of my hands. But I didn't give in or feel sorry for myself. I've said it before and I'll say it again: It may be cloudy in my right eye, but the sun is shining very brightly in my left eye.

"And just think how the sun has shined. Right up to the door of this great Hall, the shrine for the greatest game in the world and the greatest players in the world, baseball.

"We call it the national game because of its great and unique history. And it doesn't matter where you came from. From the projects like me, in Chicago, or the gated communities of Beverly Hills. And because it doesn't matter what race, creed or national origin you are: Black, white, Hispanic, Japanese or whatever. It just matters how you play the game. And I played it with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my might.

"I played the game and tried to live my life in a way that would make the people that I love and care about proud. So, to my late parents, my two brothers who recently passed away, my remaining three brothers and sisters, all of my sisters- and brother-in-laws, my mother-in-law, my nieces and nephews and all the many friends that I have. And most importantly, my wife, Tonya, and my children, Catherine and Kirby, Jr. -- I hope I have made you proud. I have been blessed with so much and so many to be thankful for. And I have been blessed to play the greatest game for the greatest fans in the world. And now I join the greatest players in the Hall of Fame. For all of this, I say thank God and thank you. I love you all, thank you."

There’s nothing I could say that these people haven’t already expressed, more beautifully than I could:
Ball Wonk
Twins Geek
Brad Zellar
Scoop Jackson
Tom Bartel
Mike and Bill
Third Base Line

Monday, March 06, 2006

Hang In There, Puck

Minnesota Twins legend Kirby Puckett suffered a stroke yesterday and is in critical condition in an Arizona hospital. In a comment over at Batgirl’s site, local baseball blogger Twins Geek eloquently expressed exactly what I have been feeling since I heard the news:

“I don't mind telling you that I considered Puckett to be one of the more inspirational athletes in sports. I was proud, damn proud, that he represented Minnesota and the Twins. There are people, not just athletes, but people, that you root for because you want the world to make sense. You want the world to reward those people for their passion, their ability, their morality or their values. These are people you want to believe in because you believe in what they embody.

For me, Kirby was one of these people. Why? Let me count the ways. There was the joy he displayed while playing a game that beats players down. There was his kindness to teammates and strangers. There was his rise from poverty. There was his acknowledgement that he was one of the luckiest men on the face of the earth. And finally there was his recognition that he was a role model to kids, and needed to act like one.

The revelations a couple of years ago soiled a lot of that for a lot of us. But it also reminded us that heroes are human, and gave us a new reason to root for him. Today is reminding me that heroes are mortal too, and maybe we need to take the inspiration while we can.”

Kirby Puckett was a hero of iconic proportions in Minnesota. His on-field prowess, his place at the heart of both the ’87 and ’91 World Series teams, the work he and his wife did with local children’s charities, and his cheerful, enthusiastic persona made him irresistible. He was one of the most popular players in the Major Leagues, but even people who didn’t much care about baseball commonly had pets, and even children, named “Kirby.”

A series of ugly personal issues caused Puckett to remove himself from the pubic eye after his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, and he hasn’t been talked about a lot since then. I suspect that, like me, lots of people felt hoodwinked by Kirby Puckett. We all continue to struggle to reconcile the Puckett we grew up adoring with the guy who later seemed to be on a mission of self-destruction.

Certainly it’s fitting that, when the news broke, former teammate Dan Gladden flew to Arizona to be at Puckett’s bedside. But what I find really telling is that current centerfielder Torii Hunter considers Puckett such a close friend and mentor that Hunter took himself out of yesterday’s spring training game because he was too upset to play. And Jacque Jones, who is now a Chicago Cub, visited the hospital personally yesterday. Puckett has demonstrated that he has his demons, but there is no denying that his legacy continues to impact the Twins organization, and that he still has the love and respect of Twins players and staff, both past and present. And based on the people I’ve talked to and the things I’ve read since yesterday, his legacy has had a huge impact on a lot of Minnesota citizens as well.

My secret hope has always been that Kirby had a plan to lay low down in Arizona for a while, get his act together and then, someday, re-emerge to rebuild his reputation here in Minnesota. Today I say a little prayer that he still might still have the chance.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A Parade of Triumphant Returns

Six months ago, my local neighborhood bakery shut its doors. A sign in the window read, “Sold Out. Out of Business.”

Truth be told, I wasn’t terribly surprised. That bakery was a tiny, ancient hole in the wall that had occupied the same location, two blocks from my house, for over fifty years. It was the kind of place where old ladies in white aprons sold hand-made Danish pastries and old-school doughnuts for next to nothing. Their substantial, sticky glazed doughnuts made Krispy Kremes look like a nothing bit of sweetened air. Their old fashioned doughnuts had grease-darkened crunchy outsides that housed fluffy, perfect middles. My personal favorite was a little delight called a strawberry rhubarb puff, a sort of cupcake-shaped sweet roll with gooey, tart filling hidden inside. But a Cub Foods opened nearby a few years ago, and with the recent influx of Krispy Kreme outlets in the Twin Cities metro area, I couldn’t imagine how the little bakery stayed in business.

When that sign appeared, I wasn’t surprised, but I mourned the loss of our neighborhood institution. And I especially mourned the loss of strawberry rhubarb puffs. Which is why, the other day, when Demigoddess the Younger told me she’d seen a new sign on the bakery’s door, a sign that said, “RE-OPENING THURSDAY,” I was afraid to believe it.

This morning, with hope in my heart, I went there before work and found that it was true. Not only was the bakery open, but the tiny place was crammed with customers. The same old ladies were back behind the counter, the cases were once again filled with the very same doughnuts and Danish pastries, and, yes, strawberry rhubarb puffs. I bought the last two, along with a box full of goodies to bring to work, because when a person is blessed with such pure, unexpected joy, one has an obligation to share.

That ought to be enough happiness for one day, but believe it or not, another trimphant return is also contributing to the extra-special skip in my step today.

After last summer’s crushing episode of couch weeping, after my Twins Fest near disappointment, last night’s Twins vs. Red Sox spring training game was a gift straight from the heavens. Not because the Twins won, not because Johan Santana and Carlos Silva each pitched shutout innings, not even because Joe Mauer and Lew Ford each hit homeruns (although I would love to lay a big fat kiss right on the team’s new hitting coach, Joe Vavra).

It was a gift because, on the very first pitch of his very first at bat of 2006, Torii Hunter shelled an absolutely gorgeous homerun right out of the park, proving that he’s back, he’s healthy, and he’s ready to resume his role as the team’s leader and guiding force. With that one swing of his bat, I instantly remembered why I adore him, and the Twins, and the game of baseball to levels that defy all rational reason.

I managed not to cry, but it was close.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Softly I lay my right hand upon you…

My Ho just returned from Fort Lauderdale, where he attended his mother’s funeral on Sunday. Her passing wasn’t exactly unexpected, but one can never be totally prepared for a loss on that level. As I said when my Grandma was dying, “You can know the train is coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take when it hits you.”

I wasn’t able to go with him to Florida, so I sent flowers, which seems like such a useless, pointless thing when I so very much want to be able to, I don't know, make it less hard for him, somehow. Especially when sending flowers nowadays takes all of about seven minutes with the Internet and a credit card. But I did make sure to choose an arrangement that was cheerful and pretty and didn't look like funeral flowers. No spider mums, no gladiolas. That's something, I guess.

The thing is, I’m really, really sad that I never got to meet her.

The funeral part, at least, is in a way kind of nice in that you’re with family, many of whom you haven’t seen in a while, and even though they make you crazy and cause you to fall back into behavior patterns you thought you had outgrown when you were twelve, they’re there for you and for each other, and they’re all sad too. And they get it.

But now that part is over and he and his sister are left with the horrible detail work of canceling their mom’s credit cards and working with lawyers and sorting through the artifacts of her life, and all of that just sucks, any way you slice it.

So please, send some good vibes in his direction.

From all the rest I single out you, having a message for you,
You are to die—let others tell you what they please, I cannot
I am exact and merciless, but I love you—there is no escape
for you.

Softly I lay my right hand upon you, you just feel it,
I do not argue, I bend my head close and half envelop it,
I sit quietly by, I remain faithful,
I am more than nurse, more than parent or neighbor,
I absolve you from all except yourself spiritual bodily, that is
you yourself will surely escape,
The corpse you will leave will be but excrementitious.

The sun burst through in unlooked for directions,
Strong thoughts fill you and confidence, you smile,
You forget you are sick, as I forget you are sick,
You do not see the medicines, you do not mind the weeping
I am with you,
I exclude others from you, there is nothing to be
I do not commiserate, I congratulate you.

—Walt Whitman