November 29, 2009

Gloomy Goodness

As I write this, it is about 2:30 p.m. CST and gloomy as heck outside.  And I couldn't be happier.

Most people to whom I relate my fondness for gloom think me mighty strange - I mean, doesn't everyone prefer sunny, warm days over 40 degree late fall gloom?  Not everyone!  Perhaps I'm the only exception.

This penchant for overcast isn't new - as a kid I loved cloudy, rainy days.  I wonder sometimes if it had something to do with my allergies.  I've had seasonal allergies since I was four, and they did seem to be alleviated somewhat by rain.  Being a sedentary kid as well, rainy/gloomy days gave me an excuse to stay inside and watch TV or play with my dollhouse instead of being shooed outside by my mom ("It's much too nice to be inside today!  Why don't you go over to Jodie's house?").

In fact, there's an inside joke in my family about my fondness for these days - I believe it was around 1975, and we were at my Grammie's for dinner.  It was this time of year, I believe - maybe even Thanksgiving Day - and the TV was on (chances are it was football).  An ad came on for Exxon, and I remember thinking in my 7 year-old head that the general look and ambiance of the ad made me feel the same way that gloomy days do.  So to this day, whenever my sis Jen calls me, she'll ask me if it's an Exxon day where I am (and now my nieces call them "Exxon Days" too!).  Yes, we're weird.  :D

Flash forward to about two years ago.  I was reading a great book called, "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  In it, she chronicles her life encyclopedia-style; it's a fantastic book.  One of the entries was entitled "Wabi-Sabi".

SHAZAM!!!  This word explained EXACTLY how gloomy days make me feel!!!  Ms. Rosenthal had seen the word in an issue of Utne Reader, and this is how they explained it:

"Wabi-Sabi: As a single idea, wabi-sabi fuses two moods seamlessly: a sigh of slightly bittersweet contentment, awareness of the transience of earthly things; and a resigned pleasure in simple things that bear the marks of that transience."  Bingo.

This is also why I love Dada art so much.  If you check out old or new Dadaist works, you'll find that many of them are on a stark white background.  Letters and numbers are often used, and many times the fonts that are utilized are very stark and Helvetica-esque.  If asked, I would venture to say that, while one might really love the piece, it wouldn't evoke for them happy days on the beach (unless the beach in question were in Norway in January).  I've always appreciated art that has that wonderful tinge of wabi-sabi to it - and not just Dada.  Even some Norman Rockwell paintings have it (I'm thinking mainly of his work entitled, "Homecoming", which shows a soldier arriving back home after WWII.  I love that you can't see his face, but if you could, I'd imagine it to be the epitome of what wabi-sabi looks like).

I say, let's embrace the feeling.  Maybe, in our never-ending quests to be 'happy' (especially this time of year, when many of us attempt to craft picture-perfect holidays that would never exist except in Martha Stewart's stylist's head) we've forgotten that we don't have to be.  All we have to do is just 'be'.  And if we can find comfort in the gloomiest of days, then perhaps we can be content with other aspects of our lives too.

November 26, 2009


Below is a very small sampling of the things for which I am most grateful:

1.  My family, which, for the last five years, has included the wonderful Kolstads;

2.  My friends (too many to list, but you should know who you are)

3.  The 'big three' - a roof over my head, plentiful to eat and clothes on my back (and for that, YOU should be thankful - me clothes-less is frightening)

4.  My limbs - I'm able to walk and type (and make art!) without any assistance

5.  My eyes and ears - despite the unfortunate bad news out there, there is still so much beauty to absorb through these very wonderful senses.  I am grateful every day that I'm able to take in my surroundings.

6.  The ability to read and write (according to WikiAnswers, 1 BILLION people worldwide are illiterate).

7.  I have a job.  Sure, I complain about it, but for now I still have it.

8.  I'm grateful I live in a country where I CAN complain - it's a freedom I fear many of us take very much for granted.  I hope with all of my being it will be forever this way, and that in the future more of the world will be able to speak freely without repercussion.

9.  The myriad opportunities that await me everyday.  I'm grateful that I can choose to accept them with a positive attitude, and I hope I do, most days.

10.  I saved my husband for last.  He is the kindest, dearest, most thoughtful and wonderful man I've had the pleasure to meet.  Anyone who's met Brian knows what I mean.  It is absolutely an honor to share my life with him and I give thanks every day that we're together. 

Take some time today to focus on what REALLY matters to you.  Our lives are all so blessed, even if they may not seem so at times.  Hey, we're above ground, right? 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

November 24, 2009

Books, glorious books!

I was just on Jill K. Berry's blog - she explains the one-off class she'll be teaching at Valley Ridge this upcoming Labor Day weekend.  It is a bookshelf made of books, and we'll be making books to place in the bookshelf.  It's really quite amazing, and I'm very excited!  I hope I can take the class!!

Jill's blog entry got me thinking about books in general.  They're such an ubiquitous item, books - but where would we be without them?  One might forget that we've only been reading books the way we do for the past 100 years or so, and to have the types of bookshelves the way we do now?  The last 75 years, tops. It used to be that you'd have a couple of Classics and the Bible.  Now look how we read!  It's incredible to me how many books are readily available.  And with do-it-yourself bookmaking from Websites like Blurb, the sky's the limit with what you'll be able to get your hands on.  It's really quite an exciting time for books!

You might've heard all of the hand-wringing by the major booksellers like Barnes & Noble and Borders over concerns about this year's holiday shopping season; they're expecting less-than-stellar sales.  Some 'experts' say we're not reading as much as we used to; others say that it's the weak economy and that more and more people are utilizing the library.  Whatever the case, I think the worry is for naught; I believe the problem will correct itself in a few years at the most.

While it may be true that we're not reading as many books for our own pleasure, I'd like to wager that we're reading now more than ever before.  In fact, I'd say that in 100 years, illteracy will all but be erased.  Why?  Because if the last 5 years or so are any indication, we'll be gleaning most of our information from this here computer thingy.  And unless you're willing to watch nothing but You Tube and Hulu videos, you'll have to learn to read, if you can't already.  Many people also predict that in the next 20-25 years most of us will be reading our books on a Kindle-type device.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.....okay, I can handle spending time on the computer for things like facebook time, e-mailing friends, uploading photos to Flickr - but READING?  Yes, I realize that I may be rereading this blog entry 25 years from now and laughing, but I'll be damned if I'm going to sacrifice my pages-and-cover books to ANOTHER computer-like device!!!   For many of us book-aholics ("bibliophiles" to you Latin speakers), the rituals of reading are as much a part of the experience of reading as the actual, well, reading.  There is a smell to books that cannot be replicated with a hand-held Kindle thingy.  You can't turn pages on that thing.  You don't need batteries to operate a book.  You also don't need an initial fee of $250 to read a regular book.  Oh sure, you can get instant gratification with the portable devices, being able to download a book and start reading it 10 seconds later.  But unless you've waited until the last second to start a 20-page term paper or you're stuck in the century's worst blizzard that will keep you in the house for the next three months, who needs a book that quickly?  Isn't Amazon's next-day shipping fast enough?  Or head to the mall if it means that much to you!

Perhaps another thing that these fake book hustlers didn't think of was the library/bookstore experience.  True book-aholics (sorry, bibliophiles!) consider these places sacrosanct.  They are my absolute favorite places to congregate, especially with my mom and sister.  Many times when we're together, we make time for a "Borders Run".  We will most certainly part ways once inside, but then we'll meet up again at the end and talk about the books we've chosen.  My mom is so well-read, she could tell you something about nearly every new book out at any given time (and yes, she reads the New York Times Book Review every week).  I tend to read more in the way of non-fiction and memoirs, but Mom gives Jen and me the books she's read, so I always have a wonderful choice awaiting me on my bookshelves.  And our library here in Fond du Lac is a wonderful gathering place, with a children's library, an art gallery, a used book store, a first-rate meeting room and a great staff.  Even with Google, you still need reference librarians!  Let's not forget the sheer pleasure of reading with like-minded souls.

And to end this blog entry full circle, let's talk about bookshelves!  If we do go the electronic route with our books, what are we going to use our bookshelves for - more tchotchkes?  Yeah, like we need any more of those!  I will take my paper books any day, thank you very much.  I mean, you can't make book art like Jill's with a Kindle!

November 22, 2009


Yesterday we had our November live trade for our Milwaukee ATC (Artist Trading Card) group - this time, it was held at Artworks in Kenosha.  It's quite a hike from Fond du Lac - about 100 miles.  But I love the group so it doesn't bother me to travel these distances.

What DOES bother me, however, is my atrocious sense of direction.  Everyone knows that eye color, hair color, left or righthandedness, personality traits - these things are hereditary.  I'm here to tell you that I'm convinced our sense of direction is too.  Me, my mom and my Grammie?  We all would get lost trying to escape a paper bag.

This being directionally challenged - its roots run deep.  My earliest memory of being lost occured when I was five.  I lived near a pretty deep woods (considering we were in suburbia) and my best friend Jodie and I decided we were going to explore these woods by ourselves.  It didn't take us long to realize that we had no idea where we were.  We must've been in pretty deep because we didn't hear our parents calling for us.  To make matters worse, I had lost a shoe in some mud and stepped on a rusty nail (Tetanus, anyone?).  When we finally made our way out of the "wilderness", I was crying and yelling, "Are you gonna spank me?".  I had clearly defined priorities, mainly the preservation of my behind (I didn't get spanked - I think Mom & Dad knew I had been punished enough).

My favorite memory of being lost happened about five years ago - my Grammie and I were on our way down to Milwaukee for the day.  I felt so prepared:  I made sure I had all of my Google maps, one for every single stop we made that day.  But of course, these maps don't account for construction and we were there in August (the height of construction season in Wisconsin).  So when we got to Water St. and it said to turn left, and there was no left, we both laughed hysterically.  It took us a good five minutes to get our bearings, but we finally figured out where we were supposed to go.  It certainly helped that the layout of the downtown area hadn't changed all that much since my Grammie lived there in the 50's.

But getting back to the live trades - each month we try and hit a new fun spot in Milwaukee, somewhere art-oriented and willing to take a crowd (sometimes a LOUD crowd) of 20-30.  Now for some reason, yesterday was a breeze.  I gave myself a little pep talk when I got in the car - "You are NOT going to get lost!" - and maybe that worked.  Maybe I'm finally figuring out which way is East.  Either way, I'm not going to jinx it by saying that I've got this direction thing down.  Brian has asked me numerous times (mainly when I'm on the phone in hysterics because I'm going to be late for my trade and he has to walk me through the directions over the phone) if I'd like a GPS.  To that I say, thanks but no thanks!  If I accept my handicap and hand over my fate to a satellite, I'm admitting defeat.  To hell with that!  I will learn the difference between a street and an avenue if it kills me.  And if I'm attempting to read a map while driving, it probably will.  :)

November 16, 2009

Adventures in Eating!

I just picked up "Waiter Rant" when I was at Borders the other day - have you heard of it?  Apparently an anonymous waiter began a blog in '05 or '06 about the perils and pitfalls (and the occasional perks) of waiting tables.  I started following the blog about a year ago - right before he became "known" (you can't put out a book and still be anonymous!).

The book is fantastic!  The author's name is Steve Dublanica, and he's a natural writer.  He gives a little backstory about how he studied in the seminary, majored in psychology, and somehow became a 'career' waiter.  It sounds like he was really good at it, even though he may not have enjoyed it all that much.  The characters he encounters are, well, characters.  I can tell you right now - I wouldn't last ONE DAY in the restaurant industry.  I get annoyed with people telling me they didn't get their paper last night - how would I handle them telling me they're food's cold or that they 'got sick' on the food, so they want a refund?  I'm seeing red just thinking about it!

But speaking of getting sick on the food, there is one section in the book that was fascinating to me.  Mr. Dublanya starts off by telling a cockroach story, and it devolves from there.  Seriously - if you are faint of heart or have a weak stomach, DO NOT read this book!  Of course, he has many points - if you have many people in one area, there will be critters, sometimes brought in by patrons themselves.  One of my favorite anecdotes was one of a well-to-do woman (the restaurant is very high-end) who sent her whole dinner back because there was a hair in her salad.  Now, that IS gross, but it turned out to be her own hair.  So the restaurant had to throw her whole dinner in the trash just because of that.

Okay, I'm going to tell you a little food story now.  It's been six years since it's happened, so I can now step back and totally appreciate the humor of the situation.  At the time?  Not so much.

Labor Day weekend of 2003, I took a trip to Toronto - by myself.  Now, some of you may not think this is a big deal but for someone who didn't get her license until the age of 24 and didn't pump gas until some years after that, this was a a major thing.  I was separated from my first husband and I thought this would be a good litmus as to how I was going to fare as a single woman, and prepare myself for the fact that I may be vacationing by myself for a while.  It was all terribly exciting.  I chose Toronto because I know that city well and I feel very comfortable there - it's my favorite place on Earth.

The first leg of the trip went off without a hitch!  I got to Toronto, found a cab right away, got settled into my hotel room and ventured off to the College Park area of town.  I was on a mission.  I wanted to recreate one of the best dessert experiences ever at a place called Fran's.  Fran's is this wonderful diner that's been around since (I believe) 1941.  It's just one of those places where you instantly feel at home.  So I settled in with my book (I was alone, remember) and my dinner and had a marvelous time.  I really felt strong and independent.  I'll show the world that nothing can stop this girl!

And then dessert arrived.  Oh, Fran's rice pudding - served warm, so unbelievably creamy and spectacular - the perfect comfort food.  It was nirvana.  I was savoring every bite and then


Oh my god - I think I just lost a tooth!  I really panicked - I spit out my mouthful as politely as I could, looking around to see if anyone was watching me and trying not to draw attention to myself.  Sure enough - when I looked in my napkin, there was a tooth staring me in the face.  Now I REALLY sweated, and felt my whole mouth with my tongue.  Everything seemed fine! 
"What'sgoingonhereomygodIthinkthisissomeoneELSE'stooth" was the only thought racing through my mind.  So I very cautiously picked the tooth out of the pudding and examined it.  Sure enough, it was NOT MINE.  I studied it for a while, not really knowing how I felt about the situation.  I was most certainly repulsed, but not to the point of nausea.  I think more than anything I was mad because I had no one to share this moment with!  Had I been with my husband I think we would've been in hysterics and I would've certainly had the courage to ask for my money back.  But things being as they were, I just asked for the check and left.  I found myself smirking on the streetcar ride back to the subway station.

Then, for a long time, I didn't tell anyone about it.  I can't remember if I was afraid to sully Fran's reputation or if this was just too creepy to discuss.  But now that some time is behind it, it's one of my favorite stories!  I mean, it is pretty funny.  But only six years later.  I only wish I had had the presence of mind to take a picture of it!

*An interesting side note:  When I finally told my sister the story, her first question to me was, "How did this happen?  Was someone standing over the vat with their mouth wide open?"  And she proceeded to pantomime her imagined scenario.  I hadn't laughed that hard in a long time.

November 15, 2009

What's so funny?

So, did anyone watch last night's Saturday Night Live?  If you did, then you'll know why I'm asking the title question.

Last night was one of those rare SNLs that just totally sucked rocks.  It doesn't happen very often - sure, there are not-so-great hosts but the cast usually can work around that and pull something fun out of it.  But last night?  Sheesh.  January Jones was the host and she was so humorless even Kristin Wiig didn't seem as funny as she usually is.

I'm going to go on a tear here, but I think the powers that be at SNL should really examine their host choices very carefully before scheduling them.  I know, I know - the whole deal is probably fraught with agents, network execs, producers, advertisers, etc. and that it's not just Lorne Michaels making the decisions.  But after 30 seasons of producing (no, not 35 years - you may recall Dick Ebersole produced SNL from 1980-1985) you'd think the guy would have SOME clout! 

Let's take, for example, January Jones.  Those of you who are loyal "Mad Men" followers know January as the icy and sad Betty Draper, Don's (Jon Hamm) long-suffering wife.  And on that show, she's perfect.  All she really has to do week after week is wear gorgeous clothes and threaten to leave Don.  But last night, we saw a side of January that we shouldn't have - her total lack of a sense of humor.  At one point, while the camera was pointed right on her you could hear her say to one of the camera operators, "WHICH camera?!?", which let the audience know right away she probably wasn't in a comedy troupe or ensemble cast before.  She also didn't show any real emotions at all, nor did she react to any of the cast members' lines.  Hey, I'm no Shakespearean actor, but I at least know to anticipate lines and try to react accordingly!  It was all a mess.  Something tells me she'll never get asked to host a second time.  Now Jon Hamm, on the other hand - I'd bet he'll be back.  He was fantastic.  And funny!

I'm going to ask an impossible question now, because it's so subjective, but what constitutes "funny"?  Obviously SNL, that most venerable of US comedy shows, has a winning formula - you don't last 35 seasons (and it's not done yet) without doing something right.  But what is it about it? 

Is it the cast?  There have definitely been better casts than others (my uncles and brothers say it's the original cast; I really liked the Mike Myers/Dana Carvey/Phil Hartman/Chris Farley years).  I think this current cast is fantastic; others say it's stale and they should completely start over.  I own the first season of SNL on DVD; it's amazing how some of the skits hold up, but others I don't either "get" (because I was seven when it first aired) or it's just not relevant or funny anymore. I do think they actually got away with MORE back then than they can now; you just can't call someone the "N-word" or use blatant drug references anymore.  Not that this is a bad thing.

Is it the news?  I love "Weekend Update" and it's regularly one of my favorite parts of the show.  The current host, Seth Meyers, is also the head writer (most of the time, the host of WU is the head writer, like Tina Fey).  I think he's very funny, with impeccable timing.  Others will most certainly disagree; maybe Norm McDonald, or Colin what's-his-name or Chevy Chase is their fave.  It all depends on one's taste and style.

Call me an optimist, but I've never given up on SNL.  I'm sure I will tune in, week after week, until it finally stops airing in 2030.  Next week WILL be better - right?  Right?   :)