Tamara Jorell

Writing life and the neighborhood

Writing life and the neighborhood

 

Hair stories: Part 2

Husband and I pulled into the parking lot of 7 Mile Fashion, a store on Broadway. At least one vendor had set up shop outside its front door, and people milled around near the entrance.

The last time I had visited the place I was alone, and it was one o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon—not a risky time to shop. On my way into the store, though, several men in the parking lot had plied me with various comments and requests. So on this trip, I wanted hair and not harassment; Husband would stick with me and make sure of that.

I entered the North Minneapolis business, making my way to the weaves and extensions aisle. I glanced around. Alone again. Where was Husband? I retraced my steps to the door and spied him outside the glass, chatting with a man. I returned to my quest for a long blonde ponytail to clip into my hair—a new look for summer. I picked through the merchandise.

Soon Husband rejoined me, clutching a container. “The guy out there lured me in with these homemade cookies.”

“No doubt.” I pointed to a package of clip-in hair extensions. “Do you think this’ll work for a ponytail?” The picture showed long blonde artificial hair hanging from a strip of elastic.

He shrugged. “Maybe?”

“I could wrap it around a few times.”

A woman appeared next to me. She tapped her bejeweled fingernail on the package I was eyeing. “Nah, that’s gonna be too heavy for you.”

I turned to her. “Really?”

“We’ll find what you want,” she said, her confidence as bright as her splashy blouse.

I liked her already. “You work here?”

Her laugh sparkled like her nails. “No, but I know what they got.”

I asked her name—it was Shonda—and described what I wanted.

“They keep those up behind the counter.” She planted her hands on her hips and scrutinized my hair for a full second. “You’re a number six-thirteen, honey.”

“Okay.”

She flicked a finger for us to follow as she plunged into our mission. Husband and I tagged along behind her like two kids scampering to keep up with their mama at the grocery store. She charged toward the checkout counter.

Two employees rang up customers, but Shonda butted up to the front of the line and slapped an open palm on the counter’s surface. The nearest employee shot a cool gaze at her.

I grimaced at Husband. My new look for summer wasn’t that important. No style emergency here. We could probably wait our turn for help.

“We need a long blonde ponytail, ten or twelve inches,” Shonda said, her head bobbing. “Color six-thirteen.”

“We’re out,” the worker said, not missing a beat, still punching keys on the till.

“No, you’re not.” Shonda flicked her hand at one section of the shelving behind the two employees. “The ponytails are right there.”

“We don’t got ‘em,” the second employee called over from his register.

A few more back and forths, and my new friend won. Like magic, some suitable options materialized.

Shonda held up an eighteen-inch-long piece—black streaks running through pale blonde strands—for $84.99. She wrinkled her nose. “Not what you’re looking for.”

I agreed. She pushed it back to the employee.

“But this one…” She snapped up another package. “This is it.”

And it was. Ten inches long. The perfect match to my hair. Only $11.99. She gave me the rundown on how to fasten it in. Expressionless, the employee tolerated Shonda’s impromptu lesson for me right there at the front of the line.

“You’re amazing,” I said to her. “You need to work here already. I’m serious.”

She snorted out a laugh. “Yeah, maybe.”

I extracted my card to pay for my new do. The transaction complete, I looked around. But Shonda was gone.

Husband and I headed for the door.

A voice, glittering with adventure, floated to me from somewhere in the store. “Bye, Tamara.”

Shonda.

I turned around to wave to her. But she was already back in the hair extensions aisle, doing what she did best.

Ponytail.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Hair stories: Part 1

The chemical odor wafted away, and the temporary salon reverted to our home again. Flicka’s two friends left, their job completed. I eyed my girl’s hair, the result of their afternoon labors. Only her bangs and a strip down one side were changed, the processed portions stark white.

What had happened? Had the girls even tried to follow the instructions on the box of silver hair dye?

I spruced up my face with a smile. “So, uh, are you happy with it?”

“Neither one knows how to work with white people hair.” Flicka chuckled. “They said it was too slippery. Anyway, it’s no big deal.”

She was right; it was no big deal. Just like when I allowed my girls—early elementary age at the time—to color their hair with Manic Panic semi-permanent hair dye in Rock ‘n’ Roll Red. A couple of mothers at church had gasped over their transformations, one finally giving sound to her thoughts.

“How did you let your girls color their hair like that—at their ages?” Her mouth flat-lined, and she shook her head.

“It’s just hair,” I said.

Her tone switched to sing-songy. “You’re a better mom than I am, apparently.”

Now, years later, I felt the same way about what had transpired on Flicka’s head: it was just hair. But what captured my thoughts most in the coloring snafu that day was the cultural piece.

From hosting dozens of little ones through Safe Families for Children, I already knew my shortcomings fixing black hair. I could manage a simple puff bun, but I usually passed the harder job of freshening hair twists or redoing Bantu knots on to Husband, the resident stylist, who bested me in patience and dexterity.

Husband's talents aside, hadn’t I heard how generally unskilled white people were with black hair? Flicka’s words returned to me. Neither one knows how to work with white people hair. What a relief now to see some equality—at least in this. What a nice surprise to learn the ground was level at the foot of the salon chair.  

So, what if we spent more afternoons trying to do one another’s hair—maybe even messing it up sometimes? What if we practiced making beauty for each other more often?

What if we tried harder to understand?

Hair lessons.jpg

  *Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Freedom

With each explosion of fireworks, Lala, our dog, presses harder against me, and I feel her trembling. She doesn’t understand there’s a celebration going on and no one’s really bombing us.

Our dog isn’t the only one who struggles; I’m told the neighborhood’s many canines quake in their coats around this time each year, sometimes even refusing to step paw outside to answer nature’s call. They’re free to go out, of course, but to them, the pyrotechnics in the night sky signal sure terror, and the endless pops imprison them in fear inside their houses.

Unlike Lala, I know I’m free. And I’m free in more ways than I live.

Freedom frames my thoughts as I drive east on Dowling Avenue, pointed toward the grocery store where I’m free to spend my money how I like before it closes early for the July holiday. On my way, I pass a house where several large tents festoon the side yard. Ribbons of smoke curl skyward from two grills. A tall slim man approaches one of them and maybe he’s holding a spatula, but who cares, because he’s dressed in exactly two clothing items: a red Speedo and an American flag worn as a cape. Husband’s at work, but I have to phone him this minute anyway, because the brand of freedom I just witnessed should be shared with others.

As I drive on, I count my freedoms on Independence Day, and like the sighting of the guy in the Speedo, they surprise me:

I’m free to live a life that doesn’t look like the next person’s.

I’m free to do the right thing, even when it's hard.

I’m free to serve others more than I do.

I’m free to keep the words that are in my head out of my mouth.

I’m free to not worry today. Or tomorrow.

I’m free to tell people I love them, even when it’s likely they won’t return the sentiment.

 

How are you free?

sparkler-839831_640.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The mirror

Chris, the handyman, knocked on our front door. I let him in and explained the job I had planned for him. Lugging his tool bag, he followed me down the stairs to the basement bathroom.  

“Here’s the mirror to be installed,” I said, pointing to the slim box leaning against the wall.

He plunked his tool bag on the floor. While he rummaged through it, he told me about his handyman work and about his other job speaking on restorative justice—something that had started twenty years ago with kids and continued now with inmates in the Stillwater, Lino Lakes, and Faribault prisons.

“It’s all about forgiveness,” he said. “If you realize you’ve been forgiven much, you’ll be able to forgive much.”

The handyman’s assessment of life and freedom pinned me to my spot. Wisdom had walked into my house with a tool bag, and just like that my to-do list upstairs stopped hollering to me.

“When someone wrongs you, it’s like they owe you a debt they might never repay.” He sliced the tape along the edge of the cardboard and tapped the mirror’s bag of fasteners into his hand. “There’s a parable about a man who owed a king a lot of money.”

I nodded. “I know that one.”

In the parable, a servant was unable to repay all the money he owed the king. As a result, the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and all he owned be sold to repay the debt. The man dropped to his knees before the king. “Please be patient with me! I’ll pay back everything I owe you in time.” The king took pity on the servant, canceled his debt, and let him go free. But the man went out and found his fellow servant who owed him much less than he had owed the king. He grabbed the man and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” The fellow servant shook with fear. “Be patient, and I’ll pay you back everything!” But the first servant refused. He demanded his fellow servant be thrown into prison until he could repay the debt. The story traveled back to the king, and he became angry, calling the first servant back in. “I canceled your debt because you begged me to,” he said. “Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant as I had on you?” In anger, the king threw him into prison to pay back his debt in full.

“If you realize you’ve been forgiven much, you’ll be able to forgive much,” he said again, rifling through his tool box. “And then there’s the whole topic of forgiving yourself, but hang on. I forgot my stud finder in the truck.”

Chris jogged up the basement stairs, and I heard the front door open and close again.

Forgiveness for others. How many talks had I heard on the topic? Many. But self-forgiveness? I couldn’t recall even one sermon on the subject.

I strode to the nearby TV cabinet and located a pen and tablet, because I didn’t want to forget.

Chris reappeared. “Now for our next episode of 'Deep Thoughts with the Handyman'.” He chuckled. “Where was I?”

I perched on the arm of the couch just outside the bathroom door, my pen ready. “Forgiving yourself.”

As he penciled marks on the wall where the mirror would hang, he told me his story of rebellion and about the following years of regret. “Then God turned on a light. I finally realized I didn’t need to keep punishing myself for my past choices. My suffering didn’t bring anything of value. I laid it all out for Him.”

I too wished I could snuff out some of my past choices. Long ago I had relegated them to a place far behind me as I looked forward. They were gone, weren’t they?

The memories only stung now when I dredged them back into my consciousness. So, what about self-forgiveness? Had I done it? Was poking the past back into its box when memories threatened to climb out and ruffle my peace the same thing?

Finished with mounting the clips that would hold the glass in place, Chris turned toward the mirror I had propped against the wall.

“Need a hand?” I said. “It’s pretty big.”

“That’d be good.”

We pulled the thirty-six by sixty-inch mirror out of the cardboard packaging, muscled it above the two sinks, and slid it into the mounted clips. I pressed the glass against the wall while Chris tightened the screws.

With the new mirror in place, I could finally take a good look at myself.

Forgiveness. And now self-forgiveness. I couldn’t do the work alone.

And I didn’t have to.

 

*Click here for more of Chris' story.

The bathroom mirror.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

More secondhand stories

Two weeks ago, I invited my readers to tell me about their favorite secondhand items. Nine people submitted their stories. (You can read the first five here.) Enjoy the final four today!

*****

the pool.jpeg

It was an if-you-haul-it you-can-have-it situation. Of course we couldn’t pass up a 20 x 30-foot above-ground swimming pool, even if it was secondhand. We had eleven children to keep entertained in the summer, not to mention all the guests and friends who hung out at our house.

My husband and a few kids traveled several hours to haul our great prize. By that evening we stood looking at the pile of metal sheets and posts lying in our yard. Never mind the thing had been already unassembled by the time my husband arrived. Never mind there was no instruction manual. We knew it was supposed to be oval. How hard could it be to set up? We would just have a pool-setting-up party. Invite a few neighbors and guys from church.

“We’ll probably be done by lunch,” my husband said.

The workers arrived; I had 17 extra people at my house that day. I served them lunch. Then I served them supper. By 10:00 p.m. we had ten posts standing. The project dragged on through the summer. There were many days of workers and extra meals. We brought in a surveyor... and a skid loader... and sand. And there were many setbacks. We read that oval pools are the most difficult to set up. We understood why.

Winter came upon us before we got to use our new-to-us pool. But by the following summer, we were open for business. That pool became the focal point of the yard... and the summer. We entertained many guests in it and had lots of heart-to-heart conversations with friends on the deck next to it while we watched our children swim. Poolside there were brats hot off the grill, guitar jam sessions, and naps in the hammock. In the pool there were volleyball games (not only with a volleyball, but also with our small children as big brothers gently tossed them over the net to waiting arms on the other side—they loved it), countless races and games of Marco Polo. Our pool even had the honor of hosting several baptisms.

As the years passed, rust became its enemy, increasing until one year we feared the pool would burst in spite of the large piece of sheet metal we’d used to support the weakest area. We knew our beloved pool could not last another year. It was with a bit of sadness we took it down in 2016. It had served our family well for fourteen years, saving us hundreds of dollars in pool passes at the local pool. All our children had learned to swim in it.

The disassembled old pool left a gaping hole in our yard. And we realized we had grown accustomed to having a pool. We used our tax refund to buy a new one, slightly smaller but still oval. (We were much quicker setting up the second one; we’d learned a few things.) But of all the secondhand items we have acquired over the years (and when you have eleven children, you learn to love garage sales and secondhand shops, believe me!), nothing quite compares to our first pool. It lived a long, good life and served its second family exceptionally well, right up until the end.

Hope, Cataract, WI

*****

bicycle built for two.jpg

Here is a secondhand item I bought for $25 after hearing it advertised on a local radio trading post program many years ago—a bicycle built for two! This bike has entertained riders of all ages and never been in a serious mishap. Just a few weeks ago, it served as a prop for a wedding photo!

Avis, Newfolden, MN

*****

I got a pink secondhand shirt from a friend. It looked metallic and felt like it weighed ten pounds. I wore it to a cousin’s church, and we all stood in a giant circle, staring at each other while communion was passed around. I thought it would be a good idea to drink the juice with my lips wrapped all the way around the little cup. And then I spilled all over my ten-pound shirt. I never got the stain out.

Thora, Minneapolis, MN

*****

When I was seven years old, we went to Salvation Army. Mom bought me a pair of bright red, swishy athletic pants (the kind with a mesh layer on the inside.) I’m pretty sure they cost five dollars. I loved those pants. And when I got home and found a five-dollar bill in the pocket, I loved them even more.

I heard on KLOVE radio that even five dollars could make a difference in someone’s life, so I sent the money to the station with a note written on a little scrap of paper. After that, I was on their mailing list for many years. I never gave to them again, but it felt good that one time.

Inga, Minneapolis, MN

*****

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Secondhand stories

Last week, I asked you about your secondhand stories. Here’s what some of you sent me:

*****

secondhand finds.JPG

I love everything second hand!  I shop for things that I could find in the stores (like clear glass canisters, or quality wooden toys from the new Hearth and Home collection at Target just waiting for some little visitors to play with) but I know this way I'll be saving a ton.  I shop for things to add to my collection like globes (so many globes), vintage quilts, or milk bottles.  I shop for things that you just can't find in any store, one-of-a-kind, never-seen-before things (like this vintage sheet that looks like it has cross-stitching on it or the rainbow and red plaid vintage xylophone).

For me, it's a combination of things that make rummage sale time the best time of the year.  I like the thought that I'm saving something from the landfill that I can still get some use out of, and I love having something that's a conversation piece and something I can connect with someone else over.

Also, to be honest, it's the thrill of the hunt.  I got lost on my way to an estate sale today, and came across the garage sale of the century.  They were charging so little for some very good things.  I can't wait to incorporate them into my home!

Jen, Grand Forks, ND

*****

horse trailer.jpg

It was a gift given to me from my husband. I had just junked my first one because it was so bad. I was feeling kinda bummed about it too as I love trailering the horses to the Crow Hassan park to ride. Without my knowledge, he got on Craig’s List, found a trailer, showed it to me, told me to get in the car and off we went to look at it. It was exactly what I needed… It was the action that was the biggest part of the gift and not the gift itself, if that makes sense. All from a guy who is allergic to horses but sees the joy they bring to my heart.

Shantell, Corcoran, MN

*****

Our Kentucky Goodwills tend to have clothing on the rattier side of secondhand, so instead, I shopped there for books. It’s amazing the classics people give away. On one occasion, I had a stack balanced between my hands and chin like the cheese-greedy mouse, Gus Gus, on Cinderella, and more than one shopper ogled at me as I teetered over to the purchase counter. I guess I could have gotten a cart.

The book I remember best from that particular haul was St Augustine’s Confessions. I had never read it before, but something about the tiny ripped Penguin edition caught my eye. Perhaps because I’ve always had a Baptist’s untrained affection for stained glass, of which there was a vibrant print with a halo-wearing Augustine on the cover. Looks aside, I read that book slowly, meditatively, through the Advent season of 2014 and loved it: his thoughts on God, his anticipation of healing in Christ’s coming reign, words of such comfort during a doubtful time in my graduate school years. I took the book with me everywhere and wore more softness and holes into the binding than was there before me. I could not be parted with it, and it was one of the few books I slipped into my bags to Thailand.

At the end of the two years I lived and worked in that country, I had acquired too many odds and ends from my travels to fit even that small paperback. I left it with a dear friend in the hopes she would find as much joy in it as I had. Eventually, my parents gave me a new copy for Christmas, and I’ve slowly been reading Augustine’s story again. Yet part of me still misses my tiny Penguin copy. While I agree that well-crafted words should resonate in the soul regardless of format, there’s a trick, a visual cue of a kind, in yellowed pages, crackly binding, text grayed from years of exposure to air, light, and thought, to awaken you to the agelessness of their wisdom. Yet books should touch many hands. One day, I will leave my own newer copy behind, not so new but battered and beautiful, for another doubter in need of an ancient light. And I pray they find it.

Dori, Mankato, MN

*****

Black n White Boots 2018.jpg

My neighbor held a clothing swap and I found a tall pair of boots. Would they fit the bill for a Minnesota winter? I brought them home.

My sister found my last pair of boots. Eight Minnesota winters later, they were worn paper thin but I had not thrown them away. Now I can. I have bona-fide replacements.

I tested the new-to-me black and white boots made in Canada on a mile-long hike to a neighborhood coffee house. After weeks of brutal cold winter, the mid-30’s thaw was irresistible. The snow melt landscape looked treacherous, however.

Those Canadian castoffs conquered the icy Minneapolis sidewalks. Friends and family noticed the new boots. I described how I found them. Then I lifted a foot so they could examine the underside. A maple leaf is replicated over the soles of the boots.

I love crunching through snow and look back over my tracks for those perfect maple leaf tread marks. It’s my new way to embrace winter.

Monica, Minneapolis, MN

*****

IMG_9706.jpg
IMG_9705.jpg

The chest of drawers in my bedroom is not second hand, nor is it third hand or even fourth. I am the sixth owner in a series that passes from mother to daughter since sometime around 1840. My dad did not like antiques. His mother graciously agreed to store the dresser for my mother when they were married rather than get rid of it, so my childhood memory of the chest of drawers is in the spare room at my grandmother’s. (Sadly, I did not inherit the high four-poster bed that was also in that room.) My husband doesn’t mind the look of antiques, but he’s not enthusiastic about drawers of odd sizes held together with pegs. They do NOT slide on smooth modern runners. Most of his clothes are stored elsewhere. But every time I lift a drawer slightly to fit it back into the chest, I am conscious of a long line of women of which I am a part. Someday I will add my daughter's name to the list taped to the inside behind the top drawer, and she will become the seventh in that line of women (although she may use the dresser to store out-of-season clothes rather than wrestle with the drawers on a daily basis.)

LeAnne, northwestern Wisconsin

 

*Tune in next week for more secondhand stories from my readers!

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Secondhand

“Let us not be too particular; it is better to have old secondhand diamonds than none at all.” Mark Twain

Today, I want to hear about you.

Do you have a favorite secondhand item in your life? A perfect pair of jeans? A useful tool you couldn’t find anywhere else? Or a book that falls open to the previous owner’s special passage?

Write a note about a secondhand item you’ve had and send it to me here (or subscribers, simply hit reply to this email.) Include a photo too, if you wish. I will publish your writing (along with your first name, location, and photo, if provided) in next week’s blog installment.

I’ll get us started…

When I first spied it on a rack at Salvation Army in 2007, I saw the marriage of versatility and style. The long gray sweater was perfect: soft, not too thick, not fussy like cashmere or scratchy like wool. The washing instructions were a breeze; it could even go in the dryer. I imagined it as another layer for a winter ensemble, a jacket for a cool spring evening, a swimsuit cover-up in the summer, fall’s perfect accessory. I snapped it up and wore it like I’d never take it off. Sometimes I even slept in it.

The family noticed.

“You’ll wear that thing anywhere and in any condition,” Husband said the day I got the sweater dirty in the garden, but wore it to Target anyway.

Flicka pointed to a picture of me on a family trip. “Mom, there’s you in your gray sweater. Again.”

“It’s your favorite of all, isn’t it, Mama?” Dicka said.

“Maybe we should bury it with you when you die,” Ricka said, laughing.

And the thought of the family balling the old thing up and tossing it into the casket before it slammed shut warmed my heart.

 The sweater this morning. Loved as much today as ever.

The sweater this morning. Loved as much today as ever.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The firewood

“Check this out,” Husband said, nodding at his phone.

I focused on the screen, and he pressed play. And in a snippet of footage from our backyard security camera, three older teenagers—or adults—emerged from the rental property across the alley. They made a beeline for our place, filled their arms with firewood, darted looks both ways, and jogged back home, leaving a trail of scraps strewn behind them for us to clean up.

Husband’s mouth settled into a hard line. He had cut and stacked that wood a week or two earlier in preparation for family time around the fire, pizzas in the outdoor oven. But my memories wandered beyond the work of wood-splitting. I recalled our frequent efforts to collect those same neighbors’ pit bull puppies that roamed the alley day and night, because the broken fence with its makeshift gate couldn’t contain them. I had hoped those—and our other small, kind acts toward the new tenants—would amount to something over time.

Instead, we were no more than a source of firewood.

A dark cloud formed over me, a sure sign of a storm brewing over my perspective. But thefts were common in the neighborhood—and wood was a small thing—so I doused my thoughts.

“I watched a good video,” Husband said the next day. “Makes me think of the neighbors stealing our wood.”

In the video’s story, a guy named Matt drove to a gas station. A man approached him, asking for money to fill his tank. Matt agreed, but while he was inside settling the pump, the man was outside stealing his full gas cans. He confronted the guy, but God dropped an idea into his mind: not only could he pay for the stranger’s gas, Matt could give him his gas cans too. And that’s what he did.

“Wow,” I said.

“I’m going over there.” Husband’s gaze flitted to the house across the alley. “I’ll tell them, ‘I saw you come over and take our wood. In the future, instead of stealing from me, just ask.’”

Husband had always addressed injustice on our big-city block with his small-town honesty. And his tactics had worked. The neighbor who had chosen to keep Husband’s ratchet set decided to return it, the kid having fun with rocks and a slingshot near our house stopped his games, and the owner of the lonely dog freed the animal from its prison in the blistering sun.

I watched Husband leave through the back door. Good timing; the neighbors were home. How would the conversation go? Before crossing the alley, though, he paused by the gate and filled a nearby box with our firewood. He headed over and rapped on their door. No answer. A minute ticked by. Still no answer. Husband left the box on the neighbors’ back step.

I frowned at the unopened door, the unfair gesture, the unmerited gift. Love’s actions, ignored.

And it all looked familiar—and just like Someone else I knew.

heartwood.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Slow down

A crushing to-do list is all fun and games until someone smashes her pinky toe on a chair in the basement.

But let’s start at the beginning…

In late March, it all began innocently enough with a list—soon to be called THE LIST. I scribbled down the tasks I needed to accomplish before Flicka’s high school graduation reception. But she’s not my only kid, so I added what the other two girls required to complete their school year. The to-dos and to-buys spanned pages. I dove into The Painting of the Basement—the biggest job of all. And while the painting would one day be cosmetic, for now it was utilitarian, calling for us to brush the cinder blocks with endless coats of a special viscous goo to prevent any more water from seeping in during heavy rains. While each layer dried, THE LIST jerked me around the house to other things.

My low back hurt. I slapped an ice pack on it and kept going. Between phone calls required to run a household, I repainted almost every room in our home. I filled out forms for school and doctors and summer camps. I ran vehicles hither and thither for bodywork or oil changes, acted as therapist for friend crises, watched badminton matches and track meets, prepared food for potlucks, and scheduled doctor and orthodontic appointments.

Slow down.

My bully of a list shoved me around some more: print, address, and send graduation invitations; shop for grad clothes; coordinate dog care for Memorial weekend; call the doctor about my back, the insurance agent, and the electrician; clean up the yard (pick up dog poop, plant, mulch, mow.)

Slow down.

A school volunteering gig, more painting, physical therapy, sorting, second-hand store runs, ice packs, and finally, an MRI for the back.

“This is what happens when you get old,” my doctor at TRIA Orthopedic said, only in fancier terms.

“Hm,” I said.

Slow down.

Then one day last week, I scurried around the basement in flip-flops, dodging tools and paint cans while heaving a laundry basket. On the way to dump the clean clothing onto the couch, I whacked my foot on a chair.

I dropped the basket and crouched to assess the damage. My left pinky toe had flopped to the side. “Oh no. No, no, no, no, no.”

I shoved the toe back into place, hobbled upstairs for the first aid tape, and wrapped the injured one up with his buddy next to him. Grabbing an ice pack, I headed back to the couch. I plopped down, propped my foot up on the pile of unfolded laundry, and bawled.

Husband hurried downstairs to me, his eyes wide. “What happened?”

I described the accident, mascara-blackened tears splashing onto my old paint shirt. (And good thing, because dashed expectations can stain fabric if you’re not careful.) Memories of the broken pinky toe on my other foot eight years earlier whooshed to mind. I had limped around for six weeks before shoes felt good again.

“Does it hurt a lot?” he asked.

I waved away his question. “Now it’ll slow me down for the next four to six weeks.”

“Maybe that’s the idea.”

“I’m a mess.” I sniffed. “You better turn me in for a newer model.”

Compassion edged his half-smile. “It’ll be okay.”

But for a week, it didn’t feel okay. I blamed myself for the incident. If I had worn more protective shoes, this never would’ve happened. If I had paid attention to the placement of the chair, if I had neglected the laundry one more day…

I sat down often, iced my back and toe at the same time, and imagined the clock ticking away precious minutes. But I also heard the birds chirp outside the window and remembered I had a little something called breathing I could once again practice.

And THE LIST turned back into the list.

 Well, shoot.

Well, shoot.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Travel stories: Ireland (part 3)

The fifth member of our traveling group was the small silent type, riding around in our pockets or purses. We pulled the little guy out for photo ops whenever we remembered him.

And he always smiled.

The shot glass bearing Dwight’s likeness was our 3D version of Flat Stanley. We perched him on shelves in interesting pubs, on the stage before the music started at The Arlington, and even in the women’s restroom at The Poor Relation, because the paint was so pretty in there.

In Cork at Canty’s, Dwight handed the little guy to the young barkeep, asking permission to take a photo of the two of them. The good-natured worker turned the small cup in his hands, his eyebrows coming together.

“May I ask the context?” he said, his happy brogue pairing well with the endless cheer we saw in him—and in employees like him all over Ireland, even though they never got tips.

Dwight told him about the shot glass’s humble beginnings as a keepsake from a birthday and about the little guy’s reality now as a world traveler. The bartender posed with the memento, and click! One more for the photo album.

But the pubs weren’t all about the photo shoots. The music lured us in and held us tight. Most places either hosted musicians or played recorded music, but not The Rob Roy the night we showed up. The young and old patrons brought the music, crooning the old songs of Ireland like a family celebrating life—and each other.

A folk ballad about the Great Irish famine drifted through the gathering.

“What’s the name of that one?” I asked a nearby singer.

His eyes smiled along with the words. “It’s ‘Fields of Athenry.’”

Dwight, Murphy, Husband, and I settled back in our booth in the corner as the next song floated to us.

Goodbye, my Boston beauty. Farewell, my Boston rose

I wish that you were here, but I know that’s the way life goes…

 

We drove the last stretches of highway from Athlone back to Dublin and into our final day in Ireland. Free of the rental car, we walked to Trinity College to view the spot where medieval art meets inspired Word in the ancient Book of Kells. We wended our way through the Temple Bar area and past a castle and cathedrals. The Hop On Hop Off bus tour of the city spared our feet for a couple of hours, but we still logged over twelve-thousand steps in the city of Samuel Beckett and James Joyce.  

That evening after dinner and music at The Arlington, we strolled by the River Liffey, multicolored lights reflecting off her waters. Our cell phone cameras tried to steal the beauty of the scene, but they couldn’t take it all in. And at the river on that March night, the Irish air didn’t chill me anymore.

My heart was too warm to let it.

 

*The following are some places we recommend:

The Old Oak, Gallagher’s Gastro Pub, The Poor Relation Grocery and Pub, The Rob Roy, Canty’s Bar, Scuuzi, The Oliver Plunkett, Corner Inn, Café Velo, Durty Nelly’s, King’s Head, Auld Shebeen, Top Deck, Carey’s Tavern, Sean’s Bar, Di Bella Italian, Lanigan’s Pub, The Arlington, King John’s Castle, Cork Butter Museum, Blarney Castle, Blarney Woollen Mills, Kilbeggan Distillery, Trinity College (The Book of Kells.)

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Travel stories: Ireland (part 2)

The steering wheel on the car’s right, the car on the road’s left. One’s perspective on life and travel changes with small things like these.

During his kilometers behind the wheel of the rental BMW, Husband listed to the left, grazing the shoulder of the road a few times.

He sucked air through his teeth. “Oops.”

Dwight shrugged. “No big deal. The guy in front of you has been riding the curb for about a quarter mile.”

We stopped in Bunratty to visit Durty Nelly’s and in Limerick to tromp around King John’s Castle. When we reached the harbor city of Galway, Murphy—somewhat improved from her bronchitis but in no way recovered from her cheese obsession—found the shop of her dreams: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers. But it was closed. Even so, Galway, with portions of medieval city walls along the meandering streets, sang to us, reminding us of the ancients and their seafaring days long before the shops and cafés we strolled by now.

Back in the car, we reached our destination: Athlone. Our hotel was beautiful, the layout confusing. All the guests’ rooms were numbered in the 400s, regardless of floor. My fellow travelers soon navigated the labyrinth with savvy, but the next morning, in hopes of running off my second (or third?) meal of fish and chips of the trip, I bumbled, alone, through the hotel until I located the workout room.

Thirty minutes on the treadmill done, I tugged on the exit’s glass door. Locked. Just outside the workout room, an employee manned the desk, dispensing towels to gym-goers. He eyed me through the glass. I tried another door several feet away. Locked. He furrowed his brow, watching me go back and forth between doors, rattling them. Finally, I shrugged at him, my palms upturned and my face heating.

He sauntered over and opened the door. “To exit next time, you need the lady code.”

The lady code? I made a note of it—if there was a next time. Relieved to be free, I scurried out, passing back through the labyrinth into our new day.  

 

We toured Kilbeggan Distillery, a fully operational whiskey distillery with a mash tun and fermentation vats, nestled on the River Brosna beyond Athlone. For a section of the tour, our guide instructed us to don safety gear and forbade us from taking photos “in case of explosion.” She offered us “a trickle of poitín” first, so we could taste Irish moonshine on its way to a better life. Or maybe it was to steel our nerves before we entered the danger zone.

Another forty-one kilometers down the road sat Clonmacnoise, a monastic site on the banks of the Shannon River. Sixth century remains speckled the acreage, soon throwing late afternoon’s long shadows around us. A holy hush softened the air. Padding through the grasses surrounding antiquity, I snapped pictures I’ll keep for the rest of my life. The afternoon sun weakened toward dusk, and the stones breathed words to me as I passed: life is a mist that soon vanishes. The time is now.

 

Our neighbor characterized one of her days in Dublin as covering the three Gs: God (Catholic mass), Guinness (the brewery tour), and the gaol (a former prison, now museum.) “You start off with God, have a beer, then end up in jail,” she said with a laugh. Similar to her time in the capital city, our second day in Athlone covered the three Ds (although not in this order): the Divine (Clonmacnoise), a distillery tour (Kilbeggan), and a detention center (if getting stuck in a workout room at a hotel could be called that.)

That evening, we trekked through the streets of Athlone to Sean’s Bar, which dates back to 900 AD. Not every pub in Ireland can say it’s the oldest in the country or can boast making the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest pub in Europe, but Sean’s proudly touts these facts.

The low-ceilinged watering hole has “a snug,” (a cubby or hidden space) where women in days past were tucked away to drink, so they wouldn't be seen. We asked strangers to take our picture. They fumbled with our cell phones, capturing shots of us on our adventure at the oldest pub in the land.

I’ll cherish the blurry photos forever.

 

*Tune in next week for the third and final installment of the story and for dining and entertainment recommendations in Ireland.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Travel stories: Ireland (part 1)

On the last day of August, my friend Murphy texted me:

Shot in the dark. Would you two be interested in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day? Super cheap flights right now. Five tickets left.

I phoned Husband at work. For a full two minutes, we deliberated over a trip to Ireland with Murphy and Dwight.

Sometimes big decisions make themselves.

We boarded our Aer Lingus flight on March 16, and it delivered us safely to Dublin early St. Patrick’s Day morning. Exiting the airport, the wind’s icy fingers clawed at me, and regret blew in. If only I had swapped out my light jacket for a big winter coat before leaving the house. And as necessary as five pairs of shoes and an extra purse were, why hadn’t I chosen a smaller suitcase? I flicked my gaze at Murphy, but she looked like she nursed only one regret: that she hadn’t left her case of bronchitis back in the States.

A train whisked us to Cork for the day’s festivities. Before the parade, we wandered into The Oliver Plunkett for brunch. A server tossed some “beer mats” (coasters) onto the table, and we ordered our first Irish Breakfast: “rashers” (bacon), “black and white pudding” (pork sausage with and without blood), baked beans, grilled tomatoes, and eggs. Our stomachs full, we got our “document” (receipt) and paid. We “knocked around” (hung out) on the streets of Cork, strolling by both cute shops and “rough sleepers” (the homeless.)

The day was frigid, but the pubs were cozy. The public restrooms were freezing (why heat a room that’s used only briefly?), but our hearts were warm; wearing green to celebrate Ireland with friends always staves off a chill.

 

The next day, the snow fell sideways, but that didn’t stop us from visiting Cork’s Butter Museum to learn a thing or two about our beloved Kerrygold. Afterward, we arranged for a cab to take us to Blarney Castle.

“How are you keeping?” the driver said as we hopped into his ride.

We exchanged pleasantries, and he asked about our travel plans.

“We’re heading to Athlone tomorrow,” Husband said.

“Athlone? Have you family there?”

I smiled at the lilt of his accent, the cheery delivery of his question.

“No,” Husband said. “Just decided to stay there, since it’s centrally located and we’re renting a car.”

“Centrally located?” The cabbie’s face split into a smile, and he chuckled. “I wouldn’t say so.”

Blarney Castle came into view, and my mind turned toward the magic of the stone. If the folklore was true, it wouldn’t hurt to have a little blarney in our lives. We left the cab and climbed the narrow, rugged steps of the castle all the way to the top. The attraction might be cliché, but we would kiss that rock like the rest of the tourists—or develop vertigo trying.

One at a time, each of us sat with his or her back to the stone, reclined, and clutched onto the bars. Smooch! And when it was Dwight’s turn, the stone kissed him back. (Not to worry—the redness and swelling went away fast.)

The girth of my suitcase—and that of the rest of our luggage—may or may not have dictated the size of the rental car Husband and Dwight picked up at the airport after our two days in Cork. We heaved our belongings into the BMW’s trunk and left town, pointing the car down Highway N20 and toward more adventures.

 

*Tune in next week for more of the story and for dining and entertainment recommendations in Ireland.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The Gala

Last Saturday night, the honored guests lined the walls of the Grain Belt Bottling House. Speechless, they poured out diverse stories, lights showcasing their beauty. I stood in front of each, listening. And hoping to understand.

Because art has volumes to say, if one has the ears to hear.

Party-goers strolled through the galleries of silent auction items, sipping drinks and chatting with friends and fellow parents, all attending the annual art event to raise funds for artist residencies at Marcy Open School in Minneapolis. Cocking their heads or adjusting their glasses, they leaned in and listened to the artwork too, and I remembered I coordinated the event years ago for exactly this: to bring humans together with creation.

My gaze landed on a piece of art—a framed poster advertising an Edward Hopper exhibit at the Walker Art Center. It beckoned me and spoke:

You and me? We’re perfect together. I match everything in your house. And remember how much you like Hopper? Get me! I’m yours!

All three of our girls had attended Marcy Open from kindergarten through eighth grade, and this was our last kid’s final year. How could I pass up this art? How could I deny school children rich arts-infused learning experiences by not buying it? I snapped up a pen, dangling on a string near the piece’s bid sheet. The starting bid was low, and my hopes were high.

After enjoying food donated by Alma, Brasa, Cocina Latina, Create Catering, and Ginger Hop, I buzzed back over to my piece. But I wasn’t the only one admiring it. In my absence, another appreciator of the work had swooped in, slashed his or her mark on the sheet, and disappeared into the crowd. I narrowed my eyes and struck a new mark. I wandered away, but soon checked back again. In such little time, someone had already been there with their bid. I grabbed the pen and went in. But the most recent writing was Husband’s. Safe. For now.

While Husband browsed art elsewhere, I continued my surveillance of the piece. And then I saw something else. Nearby hung a large hydro-stone relief sculpture of a man’s torso—with only one bid. But wait. It was scratched out! No bids? On something this majestic? So ancient Rome. So perfect. I jotted my bid number. If it came down to it, I could find a wall for it at home, couldn’t I? And wouldn’t it be fun to be the top bidder and surprise Husband?

The galleries closed; the bidding ceased; the pieces were mine. Husband strode toward me.

“Guess what I just won?” I said, bubbling over.

He raised an eyebrow. “Besides the Edward Hopper?”

I pointed to the stone wonder near us. “This.”

“Seriously?” He shook his head and laughed.

A man sauntered to us, nodding toward the relief sculpture. “What are you gonna do with your man body painting?”

I smiled. When it came to art, I had my plans. I always had my plans.

*****

Images: 1. Exhibit of kids' self portraits (not for sale), 2. A view from above, 3. Me with two of my gala ladies: Wonder Woman (middle) & Superstar (right), 4. Untitled hydro-stone relief sculpture by artist Mauro Possobon Pozzobonelli, 35 x 55 inches. 5. The Edward Hopper print, 28 x 41 inches.

*Also at the party: FultonBittercube, and Stinson Wine, Beer, & Spirits

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Sprucing up

It happens like this every year.

The snow isn’t even gone, and here I am, thrashing out of crusty Old Man Winter’s clutches. I take out my pent up energies on my house, swiping on new coats of paint and tending to repairs we’ve ignored. Does that sound like you too?

Here’s a story—first published on May 14, 2015—about repairs, replacements, and fresh outlooks through new windows. Enjoy!

***

I noticed water dribbling from a line in the basement one day. After listening to my description of the problem, the gas company sent over a technician to inspect our air conditioner, but the unit was fine. I had simply forgotten one all-important task: to change the furnace filter right after we had sanded our wood floors the previous week. Because of my oversight, the filter had clogged, forming condensation on the line, and water had dripped and pooled on the basement floor. Now I stood outside—the technician next to me—staring at the side of our house.

“See? You’re gonna have to do a patch job right there,” he said with a sniff, pointing at a small area on the stucco near the foundation.

I furrowed my brow. “Does this have anything to do with our air conditioner?”

“Naw. I’m just letting you know what you’ve gotta fix at some point.”

He moved on to the next item—a new furnace—on his for-us-to-do list.

“That thing’s gonna conk out soon,” he said, bobbing his head in a series of nods, maybe hoping his steely eye contact would break me. “Better replace it now.”

“We’ll see,” I said, brushing away his intensity. My mind flitted back to a different technician from just a few months earlier who had checked our furnace and pronounced it good. “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Don’t replace it until it totally dies,” he had said.

The current technician’s words pelted me, and before he left, I agreed to a duct cleaning. Even though it had first been my idea, his face grew the smug look of a successful hawker.

Not all of the repair people visiting our home were so crafty. Over the years, I noted the differences in technicians. There were those who got the job done in little time with minimal small talk, and then those who wove stories into their work, their visits leaking into my day.

“You wouldn’t believe the stuff I see in people’s basements,” said one technician as she swapped out our old water meter for an updated one.

“Oh? Like what?” I said, not sure I wanted to know.

“A lady I met had shelves lining her basement walls. Kennels of dogs on those shelves. Sometimes even a couple of dogs per kennel.” She pried off a bolt.

I cringed. “That makes me sick.”

“At least forty of them, I’d guess. Maybe more.” She rigged the new equipment in place and tightened the bolts again. “I told her she’d better let them go. Give them away to good homes and all that.” She swiped her arm across her forehead. “I reported her to Animal Control as soon as I left her house.”

“Oh, good.”

The repair woman finished the job, leaving me with a shiny, new meter. But I also had a bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes it’s better not hearing stories from strangers.

 

Husband and I had evaded window washing for eight years, and in 2010, we decided to replace the windows altogether. The installation guys were efficient and meticulous. Along the way, they pointed out the miniscule details of their work—the hidden nooks and crannies no one would ever see. And at every turn, they tidied up after themselves.

Spurred on by the call of hospitality, eleven-year-old Flicka whipped up a baked treat for the workmen, since they were doing such a good job. I was out plucking weeds in the garden when she later emerged from the house and delivered a small plate of fresh goodies to one of the men. She stood there—awkwardly fiddling with the edge of her shirt—eyeing him as he chewed.

“Wow,” he said, smacking his lips. “These are good.”

I smiled and ducked into the house to taste one of her treats. The hot, fresh mounds looked like muffins, but they tasted so bland I skimmed through her recipe, wondering if she had forgotten the vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar too.

But all around, it was a job well-done. The windows were beautiful and clean, the fastidious workers were gracious about the baking, and Flicka honed her hostess skills.

 

Four years after the new windows, we eagerly awaited the installation of a new metal roof. Early-morning pounding on the house—the perfect pairing with my French Roast—had never sounded so sweet. I spoke with the workmen, but my questions were met with only smiles and shrugs. I soon learned the only English-speaker on the job was the supervisor.

My mind skipped back to the roofers of my childhood. Their overly-tanned skin—slick with sweat and oil—melded with the hard rock, Hair Band anthems thrumming from their boom boxes. But the workmen on our roof in 2014 kept their shirts on—a lesson or two learned about the ozone since the 1980s, I suppose—and blasted Vivaldi, Corelli, and Handel.

While I scratched my head at the choice of music, Ricka and Dicka were focused elsewhere and saw the chance for some entertainment. They scrambled upstairs to their bedroom, slid open their window, and peeked out at the workmen tearing off the old roof.

“Yoo hoo!” they called, then ducked under the window when the workmen looked their way. After repeated teasing from the girls, one of the men at last threw a tarp over their window. The girls inched it aside to again chirp at the workers before crumbling to the floor in laughter.

“Oh, girls,” I said, shaking my head. “You might be getting on their nerves.”

But just then, one roofer lifted the tarp and warbled back at the girls.

No one watched any television during that three-day job. And I heard more classical music than I had since my childhood piano recital days.

 

Interesting people are tucked away everywhere. We venture out and see them in stores or on the streets. We learn from them in different settings. But sometimes fascinating strangers come right into our homes and add spice to our lives. And if we’re lucky, they’ll fix the air conditioner while they’re at it.

Paint.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The weather

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Charles Dudley Warner

 

The Marcy Open School Plant Sale flier mocks me from its place on the buffet. I want everything the online order form offers, but I live in Minnesota where a six-month winter is a possibility, and this year, a reality.

A garden? Pfft! Riiight.

One year ago, the average temperature for April was fifty degrees, with a high of seventy-three. It’s still cold this year, and I look out the window, scowling. The snowbanks in my yard are creeping away, but I don’t believe them. And Husband’s phone call from work doesn’t help their credibility.

“Did you hear about the twelve to eighteen inches of snow we’re supposed to be getting this weekend?” he says, chuckling. “And the 45-mile-an-hour winds?”

It’s not funny.

I’d like to think I’m immune to the weather forecast and its fallout. But I’ll admit my physical makeup sets my post-Christmas outlook to bleak and my attitude to droopy. And while March twentieth (or so) might declare a new season, the weather in Minnesota rarely practices what the calendar preaches.

I search for the shiny side—because there must be one—and in time, I find it: the persistent snowcoldgrey has numbed me, muffling my responses to adversity.

“Mom, I bumped into a parked car when I drove around the corner,” one of my teenagers says on an icy day, “but it’s just the front corner of our car that got bashed in. The other car is fine.”

My pulse stays at resting rate. “Oh.”

“Mom, I just vomited,” my middle schooler says over the phone from the nurse’s office at school.

My heartrate is even. “On my way.”

“Mom, the U of M might have waitlisted me because I got my application in so late,” another teenager of mine says.

No hitch in my breath. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“There’s another winter storm on the heels of the one that’s going to slam us this weekend,” a friend says.

I level my gaze at him, feeling nothing. I’m probably not ready for flip-flops and watermelon anyway.

snow-storm-1192790_640.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Relics

The April sky layers the cold, white stuff onto my life and maybe assumes I didn’t get the message with the first couple of inches, because here comes more to drive the point home: There’s nothing outside for you to do. Deal with your baggage.

It’s literal baggage this time, and I know right where it is.

I descend to the basement where the years are snapped away behind plastic bins I said I’d deal with later.

And ‘later’ stares at me now.

Of all the containers, there’s one I can’t face. It holds history and smells like the years and the struggles of immigrants—and my guilt of stowing it away for so long. But its contents are too rich to flaunt, too delicate to display, too precious to use, and let’s face it: I’ve never lived in a museum house.

We’re always taught things go away, but people last for eternity. As I peel back the tote’s lid, though, I only see the opposite: Grandma Dyrud is gone, but her possessions remain.

I sift through the contents again: a Bible in Norwegian, measuring five inches thick and pushing eighteen pounds; a rolling pin made in Fitjar, Norway, in 1909 for Great-grandma’s new life in America; a confirmation portrait of Grandpa’s sister; a wooden cheese board and knife; the White House Cook Book, published in 1911, with newspaper clippings and a pamphlet of wartime recipes tucked into its pages.

When Grandma handed me these antiques in the early nineties, she hoped I would share them with my future children. But Grandma’s world was durable, and my girls’ world is disposable. The Bible is portable now. I have a new rolling pin, dishwasher-safe cutting boards, and sharp knives. And my girls don’t need recipes geared toward conserving flour, butter, sugar, and eggs.

I replace the lid on the box. I’ll phone some relatives today. Someone will want to learn something new while holding something old. Someone will want to breathe in history and imagine a young woman and her rolling pin in a boat, sailing across the ocean for America.

Someone new will turn the relics back into treasures.

Relics.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Visitors

“I keep thinking about Keyondra and Antoine,” Husband said one day at the beginning of March.

His thoughts seemed out of nowhere, but I knew better. When it came to the neighborhood kids, every encounter meant something.

Keyondra and Antoine. For years, the kids came over to our place to play basketball. Their presence had carved grooves into our souls, and we never fully recovered.

But now I worried my brow. It had been months since we last saw them. Were they okay? Or was life scuffing their efforts, battering them—even right this minute?

Together we lifted them in a quick prayer.

A memory from six months earlier zinged me. A knock had sounded at the back door one day. My hair was gooped with hair dye at the time and piled on my head, a ratty bath towel circling my shoulders. Of course I couldn’t entertain a visitor in my condition, smelling like a science lab. But curiosity nibbled at me, and I peeked through the kitchen window anyway.

Keyondra.

The girl shifted from one foot to the other and waited. At almost twenty years old, she didn’t pop over often anymore, but here she was. I glanced at the timer; twenty minutes left to cover the grays. And enough time to see our kid.

I opened the door. “It’s you!” I pulled her into a hug, taking care not to drip on her. I pointed to my head. “Sorry about the stink. Hair dye.”

Her smile broke loose, then she swallowed it again. But her eyes kept dancing like they always did.

Husband came up behind me and grinned at the sight of our guest. “Hey, what’s going on?”

We learned about Keyondra’s new life in Wisconsin, her living situation, her romantic relationship. And then I rolled out all the things I needed to say in case I never saw her again: I miss you. You make me happy. You’re a good kid. I love you.

She eventually sauntered away that day, and I watched her go through the back gate, a pang ripping through my chest.

I mulled over Husband’s words—his thoughts about the kids—and they were contagious; now I kept thinking about Keyondra and Antoine too.

Two days later came a rap at the front door. I peered out the picture window.

Antoine. And a girl.

I called to Husband, a smile curving my words. “Come see who’s here.”

I opened the door. “It’s you!” I hugged Antoine.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Husband clapped the boy on the back. “I’ve been thinking about you.”

 We turned to his friend.

“This is my girlfriend,” Antoine said.

We learned the girl’s name and about her dream of working with little ones in a daycare, and we heard all about Antoine’s new job.

“How old are you now?” I asked our kid.

“Nineteen.”

“And you started coming over to play basketball at what—eleven?”

He nodded. “Something like that.”

Then I rolled out all the things I needed to say in case I never saw him again: I miss you. You make me happy. You’re a good kid. I love you.

Antoine and his girlfriend eventually strode away, and I watched them walk down the sidewalk, a pang tearing through my chest.

 

We’re not the parents of our visitors, so there’s no obligation for them to see us. We don’t have their contact information, so there’s no way to get in touch. But when thoughts of them come, we hold them up. And when they knock at our door, we answer.

(For past stories about Keyondra and Antoine, click here and here.)

basketball-hoop-463458_640.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Lala's favorite things

Time was short this week, so I gave Lala, our dog, my cell phone, and she snapped some pictures for the blog. I jotted down her thoughts: 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

More dreams

Last week, I asked my readers about their nighttime dreams. Here’s what you wrote:

*****

I have a dream where I’m outside, and I’m sprung off the ground and into the air. I go super high—probably too high—and I realize eventually I’m going to have to come down. I start to fall, but like I’m flying down. I don’t hit the ground, but sometimes I get really close and I kick off and keep flying. I almost hit the tops of houses or big cement beams by a body of water. There’s usually a dock on that body of water where someone I know is standing, but I keep flying. And then it’s kind of over.

Inga, Minneapolis, MN

 

*****

As a child growing up, our Gramma lived in a big old house in rural Stearns County. When they were all younger, during the War and post-war, there were 8 kids 2 parents in that house. When my generation came along she was living on her own. Big house, lots of empty. Very old things. Military uniforms, high school letter jackets, and lots of cardboard boxes. Mysterious but not scary. 

Flash forward to college. Huge house, 10 guys living in it. Classic 3-story structure. A wealthy Doctor once owned the house and raised a large gaggle of kids there. Now was the time for undergrads to slowly ruin it. My recurring dream is this. 

In my dream for some reason I keep going back to grad school to finish off my advanced degree. It started when I was in my early 20's. I keep meeting new young people, but I keep getting older. The first couple of years I could hide the age difference. Then it becomes obvious. Now at age 55 it's.......... part nightmare. In this dream I've convinced myself that I can finish this grad degree in a snap. The ridiculousness of moving into the college housing scene with young students never sways my mind. I 'logic' and rationalize the attempt. And of course, I don't complete the task. So the next time I have the dream, my subconscious is aware of the failed previous attempts. And each time I have this dream, parts of both houses from my past figure prominently in the story. Kind of a merged house. I'm living in them, or parts of them. Then my subconscious takes me off to another dream. 

Craig, Minneapolis, MN

 

*****

My current reoccurring dream is traveling. Always trying to get somewhere. Sometimes on foot in a big city, sometimes on a freeway in a car, many times in rural areas. There are always detours and distractions that keep me from getting to my destination. Sometimes the destination is known, such as Bible Camp or a conference, and sometimes it is unknown. In one of the latest I was in a forest with my son. The road became sandy and forked. Either way we would get stuck with our Buick. We were already stuck. We thought about walking, but 5 young (teenage) black bears were playing on the road ahead, and I worried about the mama bear being around. My boy was trying to give me a solution, but I wasn’t listening because of my fear. Later, after waking, I asked him what he thought he would have said. He said, “Wait until the bears leave, then we can walk.” (And for the record, I think the bears are his final subjects in homeschool, which are a trial for him as he just wants to be done! I may be wrong. Lol)

Linda, Eben Junction, Michigan

 

*****

I have a reoccurring dream—different scenes with the same concept. I’m driving somewhere. I’m on a wide road like a highway. I want to go one way but I end up going the complete opposite. I end up going over a bridge—it’s always over water. The bridge then turns into a county road, which turns into a dirt road, which turns into a wagon wheel road, and I’m stuck out in tall grass.

Then I have reoccurring dreams of zombies, and I’m the hero in every episode.

Shantell, Corcoran, Minnesota

 

*****

There are two dreams I have regularly. The first is that I’m in a warehouse, and I’m being chased by a bunch of clowns—five to ten of them—that look like the Insane Clown Posse. So not friendly-looking clowns. I’m running down the halls and I’m getting very tired, and I can’t seem to get away from them. I run around the corner, and there’s an elevator at the end of the hall. I run into the elevator—that turns out to be L-shaped—and I’m trying to close the door, but somehow all the clowns are able to make it in with me. The door closes and they attack me. But I always win. The End. (But it never really ends.)

The other dream I have is even more of a nightmare. I dream that I wake up to realize that I left the garage door open, and sometimes I catch the people stealing stuff out of my garage, and sometimes I just go out and find my garage completely empty.

Scott, Minneapolis, MN

 

*****

elephant dream.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

© 2014 Tamara Jorell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Subscribe to my blog!

* indicates required