Friday, July 31, 2009

Rush River Produce

Does an annual trip constitute a Third Place? Today was the picture perfect summer day, 75 degrees and big billowy white clouds floating along a blue, blue sky, beckoning us away from the city. Each year the kids and I, usually with another family, head to the river bluffs above Lake Pepin Wisconsin to pick blueberries. It's about an hour's drive from St.Paul and we get a dose of country for the morning. We drive over hill and dale past fields of corn and farms with sheep, horses, cows and even llama!

The drive along the St.Croix river is beautiful and relaxing because we have the road to ourselves. It brings me back to similar meandering drives from my childhood along the Hudson River or along the coast from Monterey to Big Sur. We city dwellers enjoy the freedom and escape of the open road away from the traffic and stoplights, especially in summer. It's a wonderful sense of arrival to go from the 4 lane highway to a two way road and then a dirt paved windy climb alongside prancing deer to the door of Rush River Produce, a farmstead surrounded by gardens and fields of blueberries!

We spend the first half an hour wandering and taste testing. Elena is determined to find the biggest blueberries and Ian gets to work filling his box, forever the competitor to see who can pick the most. I usually plop myself on a bucket and start eating. They weigh the boxes of blueberries to determine your price as you exit, but they don't weigh us, so I treat it as an all you can eat buffet. The scenery is gorgeous, the farm is situated at the high point above Lake Pepin surrounded by rolling hills into the distance. The picking is easy and after about an hour or so we pay up, usually buying some honey and maple syrup for a total of $30. This is a much better deal than going to the amusement park, we head home full and refreshed and we have tapped into an experience which reinforces and celebrates the sensory pleasures of summer.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Unity- Unitarian

I've been a member of Unity and it has been a consistent Third Place for my family for 13 years. Our lives were reeling after Elena was born. Eric was still in residency, I was back at work and finding it hard to claim the mental space to think beyond the next moment. Unity became my sanctuary. Then and now Unity reminds me to believe in a bigger picture. The music restores me, the service inspires me and the community provides the structure to motivate me beyond my isolationist tendencies.

After my father's premature death, my nephew's forced admission to rehab due to meth abuse, my knee surgery, or just a run of the mill tough week, my instinct would be to recoil from anything social. Despite this, more often than not, I have often found myself seated on a pew at Unity crying, smiling, praying among others. There are so many repeated strains on our existence, it helps to connect with others along this journey, in the same place week after week.

Summer services are run by church members. These are some of the best sermons and on more than one occasion I have felt as if the service was designed and delivered specifically for me. Our attendance is rather erratic in the summer months, but we did make it this past week. The message was a call to be more than American consumers, but to be citizens and to see our lives, our money, our short time on earth as a precious resource.

This was uncanny because three days later I was sworn in as a US citizen. Similar to my experience at church, I stood in the Great Hall at Bethal University Seminary (as a US District Court) surrounded by 701 other people from 95 different countries and I felt the power of our new connection and status, as stated on the US coinage, E Pluribus Unum, from many one. Every one of us was there with our own story, the man I met in line from Gambia with his two year old twins, the man who sat next to me from Nicaragua who invited his accountant to witness the ceremony, the woman behind me dressed in her traditional dress from Togo, each of us with our private thoughts but all of us united through the power of ritual.

There were many factors contributing to my decision to finally become a citizen, including the Obama effect, but the tipping point has been building for some time as I have grown into being a Unitarian. We have a special Coming of Age ceremony for ninth graders at Unity which Elena will take part in this year. As I have crossed this new threshold into US citizenship, I too feel as if I have come of age.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My third place, set serenely and defiantly amid the cracked pavement and cracked people.

To stand at the door of 245 Hyde Street, San Francisco, is a miserable experience day or night. The smell of urine hangs in the air, drug deals go down, people yell at no one and about nothing. Trash flutters by, as forgotten as the people who tossed it.

But open the door and you are transported. For inside lies Hyde Street Studios, home to countless legendary musicians. Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded here, as did Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and the Grateful Dead. More recently, Hyde Street has housed the sounds of Cake, Joe Satriani and... me.

Hyde Street Studios is where I am recording my first album.

To be within the walls of Hyde Street is to forget all that is outside. When I'm there, my mind is totally focused on the music and the people I'm working with. There are no dying souls right outside worrying about one last high. There is no weather, no night or day. Sometimes I even forget about my brain injury and how wrenching it has been to me and to Catherine, my wife, and my parents and sister and friends. And there is a sound, not of drums and bass, not of guitars, not of singers, but the singular sound of being at peace.

Thank you, Hyde Street. I don't know where I'd be without you.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Car Connections

My car is a third place. We live on a hobby farm on the eastern border of Woodbury where corn and soybeans are our closest neighbors. We spent a lot of time on the road Luckily, I love my car. For 10 years I drove an eggplant-colored all-wheel-drive Dodge caravan, with erratic squeaks and door locks, in which I most-often felt like a Sherman tank driver. On my 45th birthday my husband surprised me with the gift if a new Volkswagen Jetta that runs on diesel and gets 44 miles to the gallon. This was the car of my dreams. I have admired Jetties from afar for years. They seemed sporty, but roomy and reminded me of adventures from the carefree years when I was out of college and single.

My red Jetta drives smooth as silk and is outfitted for almost any situation. In the glove compartment I have a stash of napkins for messy moments and spills of Chain tea or iced coffee, my favorite drinks. There is a pouch with quarters for parking meters along with the obligatory car manual that I consult less than I should. Purcell hand cleaner, of course, a tire gauge I’ve never used and a flashlight I forget is there when I need it.

In the door pocket to my left is a notebook for keeping lists of things I think of while driving that I can’t forget to do. There’s also our school’s phone directory, the hours for the libraries in our county, my CD case and a laminated Twin Cities map. There is also a pack of gum for those days when I forget to brush my teeth. In the passenger door pocket, I carry a Minnesota/Wisconsin road map and a magnification sheet because I cannot read a road map without glasses. I’m scared I might get lost one day when I don’t have my glasses.

A compartment between the front seats carries pens, glasses cleaner, discount coupons, lip balm and tweezers. In my advanced age, I am the victim of long stray hairs that grow overnight on my chin. I have discovered that the light streaming in the car windows together with the small mirror on my visor, provide the best place to see and remove these embarrassing hairs.

My trunk is surprisingly large and carries numerous essentials. A complete car emergency kit with tools and light, jumper cables and air pump. Also, a rope for tying down the hatch when carrying bikes; a leash for walking the dog, a towel for wiping her feet after a muddy hike, a box of peanut butter crackers to stave off starvation, a baseball cap and balls for tennis, a pouch with tampons, a box of band aids, a tiny first aid kit, and a bottle of water. I also have 5 fabric grocery bags that I am finally in the habit of using. For months after I put them there, I would get into the store and realize I had forgotten them and berate myself. There’s a blanket for laying on the back seat when I’ve taken our dog to the beach, to sit on during soccer and baseball games or for impromptu picnics. I also have the obligatory folding chair for the sidelines.

More importantly, my car is a place where I can enjoy the undivided attention of my family members – an extremely rare commodity in my life these days. In the car, I have the best conversations with our three children, broaching topics that are difficult to bring up over the dining room table, such as trouble with friends, school challenges, and sex. I once read that it is easier to talk about difficult subjects with your children when you are side by side as opposed to face to face. This has been true for me and, since our teenagers hate going on hikes (one of my favorite things) and we don’t wash dishes together, because we have a dishwasher, the car is the next best thing. My husband is a whirlwind of activity; he juggles multiple projects simultaneously and is qualified to fix any and everything. He is a lawyer, mechanic, plumber, electrician, tree mover, handyman, teacher, son, brother, father and husband all wrapped up on one. Weeks can go by when we hardly see one another, he to bed long after me and up and out before I open my eyes. On rare occasions, we find ourselves together in the car, and if I can keep him from his cell phone, we reconnect. I love to read out loud while he drives, sharing parenting books, the newspaper, essays I’ve written. We talk about our kids, our schedules, future plans. He fills me in on his myriad of projects and I share what’s going on in my world. My parents used to reconnect like this on a daily basis over cocktails before dinner. My husband rarely drinks or sits down. The car is the place where I get him all to myself.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Franken Rally

Please join Sen. Klobuchar, DFL Chair Brian Melendez, Franni Franken and Al Franken for a victory rally today from noon-1 at the Capitol. We've taken Wellstone's seat back!

Saints Game

I love this blog and the concept of Third Place. I think my experience at the St. Paul Saints last Friday fits: I went with our 10 year old and his two friends and was captivated. The Saints games are a cacophony of sights and sound. Like a teenager with ADD in math class, I could barely keep my focus on the players on the field. It was the crowd that so mesmerized me.

Immediately, I become drawn to the young, unhappy couple sitting in front of us. She, thin and dressed in a red cotton dress, was clearly annoyed with her husband (I checked for wedding rings on both their fingers). In shorts and a red T-shirt, he was ignoring her, turned away from his wife and focused on the game or his friend to his left. Her mouth hung down and I could sense her sadness like a waft of vegetables burning on the stove. She glaced up at him off and on, quietly sighing, then looking down at her lap. At one point, she quietly spoke to him, then stood and made her way past us and the others on our bench. At the isle, she stopped, glancing back towards the one who angered her, no doubt to see if he was watching her leave. No eye contact. She repeated the gesture again as she passed in front of him. I caught a hint of resignation on her face when she realized that he was not connecting with her. Then she walked away, empty handed, towards the concession stand.

Her sadness touched me deeply; I could imagine the fight that came before the game, like so many I’ve had with my husband. I longed to reach out to her and ask what she was feeling, what had happened between them, to offer my sympathy, my understanding. After she left, I considered asking him if he realized how devastated his wife was and encouraging him to reach out to her.

Later in the game, I was absorbed by the resemblences in family members, noticing how much father and son looked alike, or similarities in husbands and wives. I was especially captivated by the lips of the young mother of 4 in front and to the left of us. Her son’s lips mirrored hers exactly; striking lips with exaggerated bumps on top, just like the red wax lips we bought at the candy store as kids. I watched her remove her tiny infant from the snuggly in front of her, then bottle feed the baby, whose face was hidden behind a big-rimmed royal blue hat. Her three other young children sat sandwiched between her and her husband on the bench. I remember those snuggli days, when I carried my own children, tightly tucked to my body. She looked so calm and serene; how could she be, I wondered, with four children under four? Were the girls twins? I said nothing but so many questions swirled through my head.

Another mom caught my attention. She had two girls with her and an infant in a car seat. She was dressed like a teenager, despite her heft from a recent pregnancy, in jean shorts without a belt and doubled-up white tank tops. Her shirts had ridden up and her shorts down, leaving her brown thong all too visible. Her bare skin was showing both above and below the waist strap of the undergarment. She was standing up for the longest time as she talked to someone on her cellphone, scanning the crowd, obviously trying to locate this friend. Her skin was exposed to all who sat above her in the bleachers. I kept wondering if I should tell her she was showing. Was I the only one who noticed? Why wasn’t anyone else saying anything? Eventually, a middle-aged man sitting behind her asked her to sit down so he could watch the baseball game. What a relief. What was he thinking as he watched her expose her darriere, so unaware? Had he ever seen a thong? I wonder if his wife wore one?

At the end of the game, if you asked me to reveal the best plays of the game, I couldn’t tell you. I’m not even sure I know who the Saints played that night. I was too busy working out the more important aspects of baseball: what goes on in the stands. I remember being at a Twins game at the Metrodome when I was very pregnant with our first child. We were far from the action of the game, my seat uncomfortable and I was bored. At one point I had the startling realization that every one of the 30,000 fans in the crowd had once been in their mother’s uterus. It was an awesome thought and I felt connected, in some strange way, to the crowd.