Tiny notebooks

I love a nice, fresh, new, tiny notebook.

Honestly, I love any notebook, all full of blank pages and full of possibilities, but there is something about the tiny notebook that is especially pleasant. Small notebooks seem to be more likely to hold secrets that could also be carried in pockets, in wallets, in a zippered side compartment of a purse that only gets taken out to special events. The  tiny notebook holds such mysteries, too.

Moleskine notebooks

Here are a number of well-used Moleskine notebooks, as seen on the company's website, http://www.moleskine.com/moleskine_world/

One of my favorite brands of tiny notebook is — no surprise here — the Moleskine notebook. They’re very trendy and show up in bookstores, art supply stores and the occasional fine stationery store.

Moleskine notebooks come in all kinds of styles (generally small) and are reminiscent of small notebooks supposedly carried by the world’s great thinkers. (There are also large Moleskine notebooks, mostly for drawing and artisty things.)  Mostly, they have hard covers in black or red, but they’ve been diversifying quite a bit since they first came on the scene …. Well, wait: Here’s a bit of history, right from the company website:

Moleskine® notebook is the heir and successor to the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and  Bruce Chatwin. A simple black rectangle with rounded corners, an elastic page-holder, and an internal expandable pocket: a nameless object with a spare perfection all its own, produced for over a century by a small French bookbinder that supplied the stationery shops of Paris, where the artistic and literary avant-gardes of the world browsed and bought them.

So you can understand why they fascinate me; I want to be one of the artistic and literary avant-gardes of the world, too. But my little Moleskine with its black cover with the rounded edges, hard black cover and elastic band that guarantees privacy — right? — is not full of too many avant-garde ideas or insights. Maybe someday. Or maybe it is, and I am not being completely honest and am just being modest. It has a lot of blank pages, though, so there is plenty of room for some brilliant observations and clever turns of phrase.

Today, mundane notes on a cheap little spiralbound ... tomorrow, an agent's phone number?

I am not a notebook snob, however. Definitely not. I am not immune to the call of the small notebook at Office Max, Target or Kmart, whether the covers are in bright primary colors or naturey, misty wistful themes in dull greens, grays and browns.

Possibilities can be realized on any kind of blank page. I have a 3-inch by 5-inch notebook on my desk that came in a four-pack from Staples. An impulse buy, but I felt a little smile run across my face when I opened up the packet and pulled out the lime-green notebook. Purely for notes when I’m on the computer or on the telephone — but who knows? Maybe it will be the notebook that eventually records the phone number of a new employer of the publisher of my first novel.

I have a vast collection of tiny notebooks from other cultures: wide-ruled school notebooks from Mexico. Graph-paper pages in tiny notebooks from a papeterie near the Sorbonne in Paris. Rice-paper pages delicately stitched into artsy little notebooks found in San Francisco’s Japantown (don’t really know what I could used them for) and slightly campy, colorful “Diary” notebooks with cheap paper and interesting drawings stamped on each page from Chinatown (perfect for travel journals!)

There is plenty to be said about the standard-size notebook — I am in love withstrongly, strangely attracted to them, too. They fit right in with my love of all things office-supply, which, I have been led to believe, is actually a pretty common affliction among writers.

What’s behind this love? Honestly, I think I said it right there, in the second sentence. It is all about possibility, the never-ending hope, desire and — if you’re lucky — belief that one day, the blank page will hold the realization of a dream.


After a week of gray —  holding our breath, waiting for sun and spring to resume their respective places in our lives — we can exhale. Today is a fine day in May.

March was amazing, April was fabulous, but May, thus far, has been a tease, and a grumpy one at that. Ill-tempered and low-temperatured, bleak, gray and damp.

Responsibility comes with beautiful Minnesota weather, and I already feel guilty for shirking mine. I hear the neighbors mowing their lawn, and I should be out there doing the same. Or I should be planting the tomatoes and basil and peppers and petunias and oddly named other little plants I bought last week. I should be pulling weeds, at the very least.

This is the story of my summers: Standing in the kitchen, looking out at the berm behind my house, considering what else I can plant there, noticing some stray dandelions and remembering there are plants to put into the ground. Then spending too much time ruminating on whether to spend the next three hours getting muddy and dirty and sweaty from Major Yard Work, or to just shove a few little plants into their new home in the backyard.

By then the sun has gone under a cloud, and I chastise myself for missing out on the sunny afternoon, the opportunity to spend time in my charming yard and the new lease on life I would be giving my seedlings. So I turn away, get involved in something like, oh, my blog …

The sun is back out. I need to get going.

Brief fashion commentary

Just because you’re skinny doesn’t mean you should wear hip hugger blue jeans. If you’re skinny and you’re about 14 or 15, OK, probably, if you know there is NO CHANCE that you (or your daughter or little sister or niece) will be called a skank.

But I know a very skinny woman who is in her late 40s, and it would be doing her a real kindness to tell her that she should not be wearing a tight knit shirt tucked in to even tighter hip huggers tucked in to extremely tight, knee-high boots. Nor does it help that her tight shirt is open, well, down to THERE.

But back to the hip huggers. Women Of A Certain Age don’t always retain their youthful appearance, even if they gain not an ounce. That is true in the case of this woman.

This is what a muffin top looks like, as seen in Wikipedia. And this is not an extreme case!

Hello, can you say “muffin top?” That would be what happens when you have that extra little pudge bulging over the top of those hip huggers. It gives the appearance, for those of you not in the know, of a muffin overflowing its festive paper cup. And muffin tops can, I suppose, be a result of too many muffins, paper cup notwithstanding.

This look might be acceptable in a biker bar or in Sturgis in August, but our hip mama wore this to work. Granted, it was a casual Friday, but that was a little too casual. Perhaps I am hard-hearted. Perhaps I am worried that this woman has daughters who will think this is a good look — or, more likely, find it horrifying and pretend she is not their mother.

Did I wear hip huggers? Why yes, I did. In junior high, when I was so skinny you could count my ribs. It still was not a flattering look, even though I and all my girlfriends thought so at the time. I think that this just goes to show that some girls can grow up, but can never grow a fashion sense.

BTW: Want insightful and bitchy comments about the stars and celebs? Check out what Heather and Jessica say:  http://gofugyourself.celebuzz.com/   It’s one of the most fun gossip blogs around!

Is she gabbing about the weather again? Seriously?

I know that’s what you’re thinking, and, well, yes. Weather in Minnesota is part of life, it’s our background, so if there’s any “behind” to the mainstage of my life, it’s the weather.

So. I’m just back in the house, flushed and sweaty and wearing foggy glasses, after helping my niece K get her car unstuck from the drifts in the driveway. As getting stuck goes, it wasn’t bad. I got in the driver’s seat, put it in reverse, and she pushed. Wheels spun. Car didn’t move. One more set of hands pushing would have done the trick, but it was late and we were on our own.

Kitty Litter, I said, and she raced into the house to get some to provide a little grit under the tires. (Never travel in the snowy Midwest without a shovel and some Kitty Litter.)

That did the trick almost instantly. Once the car was safely in the garage, we both grabbed our shovels and cleaned out the driveway then went around to shovel the front walk. Some kind neighbor had already gone down the sidewalk with a snowblower. “Brownies for them,” I said, but we never know for sure who our snow angel is. Time to pay attention. So we shoveled the front walk, the steps, and tidied up the sidewalk, even though it will snow all night long and more in the morning.

When K and I came in the house, we were wet and snowy, shedding drops of snowmelt all over the back hall. We smelled like wet wool. But we were energized. I needed that fresh air. We recounted stories of other Getting Stuck instances.

I told her about the winter I lived in Springfield, Mo. My friend A and I were driving around in her red Corolla when we got stuck. We were doing the best we could to get unstuck but we needed a few more helping hands. A car with three guys was driving past and we waved our hands and hollered for them the give us a push. “How much will you pay us?” they asked.

PAY THEM? We were stunned. Nobody in Minnesota expects to be paid, or to pay, for giving someone a push out of a snow bank. “Yeah, right!” we hollered back, laughing, thinking they had to be joking. They weren’t, and drove away. We finally got ourselves unstuck, but couldn’t stop shaking our heads over the ridiculous expectation of payment.

K was also shocked by this. She lived for years in Canada, where pushing someone’s stuck car is just part of the winter landscape, as it is in Minnesota. And probably in North and South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa. In fact, she said, some people get in their big trucks or Jeeps or SUVs and drive around with the specific intent of helping get the stuck — unstuck.

There is something really satisfying about being able to help someone get unstuck.

I was stuck, big time, on Christmas morning, only a block from my house. First, I was embarrassed — I drive an SUV! How could I be stuck? Then I was lucky: A guy came out of his house and started to help by trying to push me.* We needed more help, and a guy shoveling his walk down the street joined us. Among the three of us, we figured out that the car was actually stuck on top of a hummock of hard, heavy, wet snow — like a turtle stuck on a rock, paddling like crazy but getting no leverage. We had to clear the snow from beneath. And then, with both of them pushing and me praying, I was released and rolling free.

It felt like victory! I jumped out of the car and thanked them both profusely. What a moment! We had conquered the elements and solved the problem. There were smiles all around. It was a Christmas morning gift.

Part of what makes these episodes satisfying is that here you are, in a bad situation — stuck — then getting help, frequently unasked for, and usually from a complete stranger, or strangers, and figuring out — together — how to solve the problem. You try out the plan, modify it, go at it again and then … success!

Then you both go on your way, knowing that you spent maybe ten, twenty minutes helping someone, or getting help from someone, help that came from the heart. Not because there’s money involved, but because someday you’ll need some help, or can give some help. Because it’s just what a person should do.

* Full disclosure: I soon realized that the first guy who came to my aid was the husband of a co-worker, which I mentioned to him during a moment when we were both catching our breath. I immediately vowed that I would get their family a gift certificate at Whole Foods for his help — after all, it was Christmas morning, and I knew his wife and little boy were inside their house and they probably would have been more fun to be with than a middle-aged woman stuck on a snow chunk in front of their house. And, just as I sort of expected, his wife told me a few days afer the gift certificate arrived in the mail that I had been way too generous.

I Hate Ice

I hate ice.

Except in my frosty beverage. Then, I love ice.

But this is the time of year that I HATE ICE.

Did you hear me, ice? I hate you! You scare the crap out of me.

You make me nervous and tense. You give me a headache. You make me walk like an old lady.You make me feel like an old lady. I toddle. I mince. I shuffle.

There is no confident stride with ice. No easy, swinging gait. No hurrying.

You make me feel like I’m a pig on a slippery surface — and I’m a farm girl who remembers seeing pigs walk on slippery surfaces — that moment of great surprise and indignation when their hoofs sort of gave out from under them and they had to kind of catch themselves with a squeal and a grunt. Yeah. That’s me. A squeal and a grunt.

Today I saw a young woman, a girl, really, about 16, walk into the museum as I was leaving. She was wearing skinny-girl jeans and tall boots with heels. The kind that look smart and stylish but also tight and impractical and painful. She was striding. She had the confidence of someone who didn’t expect to fall. And if she did, she would leap up, dust herself off, giggle a little and blush. Or someone would race to help her, because yes, she was cute. (Note: The one problem she might encounter would be those awfully tight jeans. No matter what your size, those things are hard to move in.)

Now if that were me — but it wouldn’t be, because I wouldn’t be wearing those boots — but let’s just say if it were — I would fall in slow motion and roll a little, praying as I went down that I wouldn’t break anything. Praying that I wouldn’t have to go to the hospital and spend three months in a body cast. Praying that my insurance was great for these kinds of accidents, and praying that I would be able to get up again.

That’s a lot of praying. There’s a lot of me to fall, and to pick up again. It would hurt. It wouldn’t be pretty. There would be blushing, yes, but also huffing and puffing and extreme embarrassment and concern about the aches and pains to come that hadn’t yet sorted themselves out. Mostly there would just be the aches and pains themselves to contend with.

There would be a moment — I am sure of this, especially if I were by myself, say, in the parking lot at work — when I would just want to lie there on the cold ground and look at the sky and rail at the universe, and God, and myself, for having to deal with such a painful and inconvenient situation. I would throw a lot of F-bombs around. I would worry about what would happen next. Then there would be a begrudging acceptance that at least I don’t live in Iraq or Sudan and if I have to go to the hospital or even just the doctor or start physical therapy, I can do that, and I don’t have to go home to my shopping cart under the I-35 bridge or the Dorothy Day Center. I would try to get up. There would be more cursing and rage and despair, but eventually, I would be back on my feet and I would proceed to mince, toddle and shuffle off into the sunset.

Ok, this might sound like a big metaphor for life. And sure, if you want to read it that way, be my guest. It’s fine, and kind of complimentary. Probably quite accurate. The thing is, to continue the metaphor that’s not intended — Iwould be able to deal.

But I would still hate ice. And I think you might hear a whole lot more about that feeling as this winter goes on.

Oh, ice. You plague me.

What I Get Is What I See

… or perhaps I should say, “What I get is what I watch.”

I’m talking about television. And I’m going to make a shocking confession: I don’t have cable. Nope. NO CABLE AT MY HOUSE. People look at me in shock and horror — sometimes shock and awe — when I make this admission. “What are you, some kind of throwback to the 1970s?” Well … yeah, maybe.

And more shocking? I don’t really mind. Because … get ready for it: I like to watch network television.

Have I totally lost all your respect? Do you now see me for the shallow person I am? Too bad. (I also read People magazine on a regular basis. I believe it’s important to be on top of popular culture. Besides, I don’t want to read anything too taxing before I go to sleep.)

It’s not that I don’t want cable or that I think it’s bad! I’m just satisfied with the options I have on network. If I had too many choices, I would be sitting with glazed eyes in front of the television, channel-surfing in frustration 20 hours a day, trying to find out what time the TNT movie starts, what the Iron Chef is doing this week or how I can redecorate my entire basement for $10 and a glue gun.

Yes: I know I have an addictive personality. I know I could get sucked in. It scares me. When I watch TV at my boyfriend’s house, I surf with a mix of feverish delight and desperation. My thoughts get jumbled because I can’t remember what channel Animal Planet is, or what  channel the CSI re-runs are on. Then bits of shows kind of stick on the surface of my brain, and when I go to bed I have a collection of fluttery images in my head, all due to not really settling down with one show.

Not so true of network TV. I have my favorites, and even when I’m in the presence of cable, I often chose those favorites. M, my boyfriend, teases me that for starters, I am afraid to venture into the higher channel numbers. Not really. I just don’t need any more complications, any more shows I have to watch.

I am nuts about “LOST.” I always enjoy a good “CSI”  — original, Miami or New York, pick any flavor. I like “Ugly Betty,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Modern Family,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and that show about the nerdy scientists — “Big Bang Theory.” And I like “Glee” so much that I want to get up and start dancing.

But get this. I’m thinking of getting cable. Only the very basic kind, no premium channels like Showtime, or HBO. What’s that all about? The converter box and aerial don’t work all that well — bad reception, mostly.  And there are too many shows that I don’t want to miss. Network shows. I mean, a little addiction isn’t so bad, is it?

Cold enough for ya?

When I woke up this morning, it was 14 below. That’s 14 degrees below zero. Yes. Farenheit. And if you are reading this any place besides Minnesota, Wisconsin, North or South Dakota or Iowa — that is to say, the Upper Midwest — oh, all right, I’ll add Alaska and I may as well add all of Canada — you’d probably be thinking that people who stay here are daft.

Well, maybe we are.

You would logically think that when it’s that cold, no one goes outside unless they have to. You’d be wrong.

My sister called and reminded me that we were going out for breakfast today. Great, I said, I’ll start dressing now and when you arrive in 45 minutes, maybe I’ll be ready. Of course we assumed that in this kind of cold weather, no one is going to be outside unless they really need to be. But oh, it’s probably not that bad, we decided. There won’t be many people out. Who would go out on a day like this?

Ok, the sun was shining. That should have been our first clue. When the sun shines in Minnesota, people automatically head toward it, drawn hypnotically — like zombies, only better looking. Doesn’t matter what the temperature is. THE SUN IS OUT! Then we need to get out, too!

So my sister, J, stops at my house and I have by now put on the layers: standard underwear, then the black silk long underwear — only the knee-length pants and the camisole, though; the long sleeves and the full-length pants are for 20 below and colder. I’m not kidding! Then on with the corduroy pants — warmer than jeans. Two pairs of socks — a light wool, then the world’s best socks, SmartWool socks. And a regular T-shirt. And a sweater. Then there’s the pashmina that doubles as a muffler, the warm hat (as opposed to the cute beret), the heavy gloves and the Lands End snow shoe-boots with extra insulation added. Finally, the full length down coat (again, Lands End –mine is fuschia!) and I roll out the door with no visible moving  joints. A puffy stick person.

As we head to the Highland Grill, our chosen breakfast spot, we discuss the nasty icy roads and the fact that we won’t see pavement for months. We agree to park in the lot by Barnes and Noble, our next destination after food — the parking lot is packed! What the heck is going on? Why are all these people here?

Walking across the street, we encounter a person who could be male, female or alien: completely swathed in hat scarves coat gloves boots — just a little slit between eyebrows and bridge of nose to see out.

The restaurant — also packed, outerwear stuffed in booths and on chairs, so the whole dining room feels upholstered. Gosh, we say to each other, and to Amy, our server, we didn’t think there would be anyone out today! She agrees: Why did all these people decide to come out in the cold?

Yeah, right. What are all those other people doing out today? What are we doing out today?

Simple. It’s in the blood. I believe that. We have some inner need, not only to seek out the sunlight, but to prove to ourselves and others that It’s Not That Bad (one of every Minnesotan’s favorite sayings). By golly, we are going to go outside, for to do so is to shake our fists at the Arctic chill. We are sons and daughters of Odin! We are descendants of Viking explorers! We thrive in adverse conditions! We have Thinsulate!

A little 14 below zero weather, as long as the sun is shining? That’s not gonna stop us. Oh no. Because it will also warm up.

In fact, it might even get up to zero. And that will feel warm.