Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunny book club meeting turns blue

I spent a lovely afternoon with my book club friends, discussing The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon over coffee, quiche, shortbread (made by me--my first time ever), and delicious gluten-free lemon lavender cookies. We sat around a rectangular table in a sunny yellow dining room that had exposed wood moldings and a built-in buffet with a mirror. I love turn-of-the-century homes---wood floors, built-in-bookcases, and leaded windows. B's baby boy made cute gurgly yummy noises with each bite of sweet potato and rice cereal. Conversation lasted about three hours, and as usual I probably gabbed too much because I was high on caffeine (and also woefully short on adult conversation these days). The day was warm and sunny and felt almost spring-like. By our next book club meeting, it will be spring.

As usual, we talked about the book for maybe 20 minutes and then lapsed into a deep and somewhat depressing conversation about the state of our low-paying, unsatisfying jobs with little-to-no maternity/paternity leave or other health and family benefits. The burden of student loans came up too---loans for educations that didn't get us where we wanted to go, due to poor academic advising, or non-existent preparation for making it as a humanities major (practical skills like how to write a grant or market your work, etc).

It all made me wonder, why does it have to be this way? Why do we put up with incompetent managers, low wages, lack of decent benefits, and 50 hour or more work-weeks? Because I've been mostly self-employed for the last ten years, I'm not sure I could make it in a typical office-type job. I know I can't make it in retail or food service (been there, done that). I'm also realizing that the career I thought I wanted and trained for in college (school teacher--art education) I really don't want. There's lots of reasons for this, but mostly school culture scares me (there is such a dysfunctional relationship between parents, teachers, students, school staff, school board, and physical school environment that I couldn't possibly see how any school reform would work other than closing down all the schools and starting from scratch from a completely new model) and I'm very much an introvert who works better with people one-on-one (why I enjoy teaching private music lessons).

What if more people were self-employed? Started their own businesses? The reason why my friends stay in their jobs is because it offers stability: a constant paycheck. There's a lot to be said for stability and security (I wish I had more of it myself). But to see so many broken people who aren't using their talents to the fullest (myself included) or who have lost a sense of vocation (me too) is truly disheartening.

What's the answer? I don't know, but in my own life I'm trying to live by the wisdom of "Don't buy things you don't need with money you don't have." It's really hard. But I find that when I sleep on it, I don't go back and buy it the next day.

Also, if we could figure out how to live in villages again (I now know what it means when they said it takes a village to raise a child. I'm also beginning to believe that stay-at-home-alone-with-your-fussy-toddler-motherdom is as unnatural as putting your child in daycare for 40 hours a week. But that's another topic for another day...). If we lived in villages (okay let's call it what it is: a commune) and worked, played, cooked, raised children, etc. together on a small acreage somewhere--I think this would solve a lot of social ills. Yeah, there are lots of problems to living on a commune too, but if you lived by people you actually liked, then it would be fun (I think) and would eliminate the crappy-job syndrome/maternity leave problem that is plaguing many of my Gen X friends.

But today's book club meeting was truly lovely. Time spent with friends over coffee is a too-rare occurrence in my life.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Little Domesticities

I'm so excited about this new blog header picture. The fabric is a toaster cover my Grandma B. from Nebraska made who knows how long ago (the 60's?). Notice the scalloped machine edging. Did this brightly-colored fabric come from a fabulous shift dress? I hope so. The white cow is a little creamer I bought in Portland OR, one of my favorite cities. I love it when people come to stay because I have an excuse to use the little creamer. I take immense pleasure in filling it up with half-n-half and watching the white liquid pour out of its mouth into a steaming cup of coffee.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Yeah, I changed my template again. I was hoping for a more spring-like color. Spring can't come soon enough.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Remembering Eugene

Lately I've been thinking about Eugene, Oregon. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's part of some 7-year cycle. Maybe it has something to do with the non-stop snow and cold here, and I'm remembering 40-degree, rainy winters (which aren't much better. At least here it's sunny some days).

I feel like while I was there I didn't fully appreciate the place. We were poor. K was going to grad school, I was working at this coffee shop with horrible young managers who made me feel like I was an incompetent 10-year-old who had no idea how to slice oranges or put together a tuna melt sandwich. I was also a nanny for a family where both parents were doctors. I loved the kids, who were in 2nd and 3rd grade at the time, and the parents were very nice, but I always felt a little out of my element, working for the rich people who lived on the hill. They paid me well and were very kind to me, but I couldn't help but feel like some sort of servant when K and I were hired to rake the leaves from their expansive lawn (when their children were perfectly capable of helping out).

Or maybe being poor wasn't the issue. A lot of it had to do with the fact we had just moved far away from close friends and family, and we didn't know a soul in Oregon, other than my cousin and her husband who lived in Portland. It was hard leaving my two fun jobs in the cities--teaching music at a studio and working at a coffee shop, where I met some friends I still have to this day. We'd spend our shift working the NY Times crossword puzzle or debating educational issues while drinking the unlimited coffee that was allowed us during our shifts. The customers in the morning tended to be middle-aged professionals who tipped well and ordered the same things everyday, making our lives easy. I still remember the triple-shot espresso with whipped cream guy, who always wore a red plaid flannel shirt and had major bags under his eyes, and the nice-looking woman who always ordered a chocolate croissant. I got to see the sunrise on my walk there, and leave with at least $20 in tips for the day. Contrast that with the yucky coffee shop in Eugene, which was very corporate and forced its employees to memorize every single drink on the menu which was more extensive than the typical latte, cappuccino, espresso fare. This company had invented variations upon variations of drinks that involved different types of syrups, milks, temperatures, shots, and garnishes. Come on. I refused to memorize it and jumped at the chance to work in the back preparing sandwiches and salads.

But looking back, it's not the lack of money or crappy jobs we had that stands out. What I remember is seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time---how it was enormous and gray and fishy-smelling and windy and cold and rocky and totally overwhelming and beautiful. We walked along the beach and took photos of the sky reflected in pockets of water that lay in zebra patterns across the sand. The ocean was silver, and the sun a pale yellow among gray-purple clouds. Watching the mist roll in, and seals popping their heads out of the water, their eyes large and doe-like, sniffing the air like dogs and then somersaulting back underneath the waves. We would visit the ocean as much as possible because we knew we'd move away from it someday.

What I also loved about Eugene was the abundance of cheap, organic produce; the huge Saturday market which was an explosion of food, herbs, crafts, dreads, and drum circles; the beautiful big library they built while we were living there (I remember being amazed at the book drop, which was an automated electric belt that ate your books when you fed it); and the people we met while we were there. They were all students at the U and from somewhere else, but they were really good people. We sang karaoke in our friend's parent's basement, and I'll never forget K and our friend D singing Rawhide, or friend J writhing on the floor with the mic and screaching the National Anthem. Or the vegetarian cookouts with the singing and playing of guitars, and my friend's collection of Felix the Cat trinkets. The most amazing cup of espresso I've ever had was at a bakery in Eugene. The place looked old-fashioned with its white subway tiles and schoolhouse lights. I went there only once, and it was with another good friend. We sat there and talked in the sunlight on a Sunday morning and nibbled on danishes and sipped our whole-milk lattes.

We also had the best kitchen we've ever had. We lived on the top floor of a duplex with cute sloping ceilings and a view of a butte (the name escapes me--Spencer's butte or something). Our kitchen was huge and white, with abundant counter and storage space, and a large window looking out into the back yard where we watched high school kids smoke in the alley. We slept in the closet of the bedroom, which was shaped like a tent and was big enough for our queen-sized bed. Someone had painted the walls sapphire blue and mold grew on the ceiling, but we had a little square window above our bed to let the breeze in while we slept.

It was in Eugene that I started writing more, and going to different coffee shops to do it--places next to the U where I could be anonymous among the many students--and also close to the U's bookstore which sold tons of notebooks and pens.

It was in Eugene that I had the best flute teacher I've ever had--a doctoral student who was close to my age and wore colorful, flowy hippie shirts, had ridiculously long blond hair, laughed and snorted a lot, and was the best pool player I've ever seen. I can still see her, flying through the fastest scale I've ever heard, in her living room draped with Indian bedspreads and shelves full of music books.

I guess I could go on and on. As I write, I think about more things I enjoyed about Eugene (the green hills, the bright pink rhododendrons, the train ride we took to Portland for a day, the mossy dank forests, the hot springs we drove to, the amazing church I attended that had a water fountain and a large picture window behind the altar looking out onto a field of trees and hills, the late-night vegan bakery, the amazing bike lanes, etc....).

Maybe I'm thinking about Eugene because I don't want my adventures to be over. Now that we've come full circle and are back in MN again, I'm feeling settled for once in my life. Which is what we've been wanting for awhile--a place to put down roots. But it's scary too. Will we have a new place to look forward to again? A new place to explore? New friends to meet? Do these things get less important as you get older?