Category Archives: Family

February

It’s a beautiful sunny day. Clear and sunny and 3 degrees. Yes, it’s Minnesota where hell does freeze over. I know you hearty folks who love to get out and snowmobile and ski and snowshoe and winter camp and ice fish and all those other forms of winter insanity will say that it’s a fabulous winter, plenty of snow to play in, but to me it’s just COLD. Yesterday I think Rebecca got the paper and brought in the mail so I didn’t even go outside all day. Someone said that April is the cruelest month. For that honor, I’ll give my vote to February.

My office is in what we fondly call the mudroom. Long and narrow behind the family room with the door to the garage on one end, it sits on a concrete slab, which means that as well as freezing me it’s probably dosing me with radon as well. The thermostat is on the floor above me, in a sunny, south facing room that warms up around noon and shuts down the heat. “Just toasty here boss, shut ‘er down.” So here in my north facing studio there is no heat. I did recently get a space heater, but it can only do so much. Some days by three o’clock it’s so cold down here that I just give up and go upstairs and kick back in the Barcalounger with a good book and a blanket. I don’t read the book, I just nap.

Here’s another thing to hate about February. Valentine’s Day. I pretty much hate all “Hallmark Holidays,” however, Lucia and Quinn if you are reading this, please feel free to shower me with tokens of your affection on Father’s day. I think my grudge against Valentine’s Day started in fifth grade, when I gave the girl who I thought was my girlfriend a card that I bought because I like the way it looked, without reading the text. I still don’t know what it said, but it seemed to inspire a lot of derision when she showed passed it around to her buddies. This year as Rebecca and I were drifting off to sleep on that special day I said, “Thanks for not getting me anything for Valentine’s Day.”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

“Hell no. That way I don’t have to feel guilty for not getting you anything either.”

Now that’s what I call true love.

Road Trip Randomness

1300 miles on the car in 10 days. From Minneapolis to Chicago to Traverse City Michigan on the way up, with an overnight stay at Lucia’s on the way up and then straight through via Chicago on the way back, thirteen and a half hours in the car. About an hour in the car had a nice mixture of fragrance, B.O. and ripe melon, which only intensified as the hours passed.

We stayed in a mid-nineteenth century farm house on Old Mission Peninsula courtesy of our friends Charlie and Barb. It’s a big house, still much the same as it was when it was built, with added conveniences like a fairly modern kitchen and indoor plumbing, it’s an incredibly charming place. In front is a stand of giant white pines and then the orchard, first cherries and closer to the lake, apples. And then there’s Lake Michigan and an incredible stretch of beach which we had to ourselves.

Any trip to the Traverse City area turns out to be all about food. Here’s a few highlights.

Ribs at the farmhouse, we improvised an amazing sauce from the braising liquid and some plum jam that had just been cooked up. Barb whipped up a couple of pies, cherry (what else, it is after all the cherry capitol of the world) and cherry raspberry.

Dr. Mary Clemens, my friend and client came out to the farmhouse and made us a great vegetarian meal, shredded beet and parsnip salad, and whole wheat pasta with fresh tomato soup. And Barb came through with another pie.

Dinner with David and Lucia at Blu in Glen Arbor. Amazing space, with floor to ceiling glass looking out over the lake, and on this night five foot waves rolling onto the shore. We had braised pork belly for an appetizer and I had the duck confit.

Lunch at Cook’s House, a tiny place in downtown Traverse City that seats twenty people at most. I had a ham sandwich with fig compote. Remember on my last trip I had the world’s greatest ham sandwich at Frenchie’s? This was the world’s greatest ham sandwich.

Then back to the other side of the Leelanau Peninsula to Burdickville (you won’t find it on the map) and La Becasse, a restaurant specializing in French country cuisine. Another amazing meal, we split a plate of amazing risotto and I had the rack of lamb, maybe the best I’ve ever had.

On our last day Reb and I drove out to Onema to visit the Tamarack Gallery a wonderful little gallery with an eclectic collection of work by artists all over the country.

Scottsboro Boys

We had a great weekend. Lucia and David drove up from Chicago and Quinn came home to celebrate Reb’s birthday. It was great to have the whole family together, even for such a short time.

Lucia and David had to leave in the early afternoon Sunday and we capped the weekend off by attending a performance of the bound for Broadway musical Scottsboro Boys. We went with Quinn and her BF Dave, Quinn had landed free tickets courtesy her server job at Level Five, one of the restaurants at the Guthrie.

When Quinn offered us the tickets, my first instinct was to not go. Scottsboro Boys is a musical based on the story of nine black teenagers who were arrested in Alabama in the thirtys, accused of gang raping two white women while riding a freight train from Chattanooga to Memphis. They were tried and sentenced to death but the Supreme Court overturned their convictions, and in spite of the fact that one of the women recanted, they were retried and convicted several more times. All but one of them was eventually released. But not until they spent years in jail. I didn’t see how a musical about the evils of southern justice would be that entertaining. The theme of social injustice in dramatic presentations always fills me with a level of anger that I find hard to take. I had to be dragged to see Schindler’s List and probably would have walked out if I hadn’t been in the middle of the row. The idea of making a light hearted musical out of something truly evil doesn’t sit well with me.

I’m glad I went. It wasn’t a light hearted musical. They take an outdated form, the minstrel show, and bend it into a cuttingly ironic social critique. Minstrel shows featured white men in black face playing stereotypical blacks for laughs. Here, in all but one case, the black minstrels play the white characters, representing southern justice and biting, black humor. They’ve taken a huge risk presenting this sad story in a comic form that our twenty-first century sensibilities would find appallingly offensive and turn it on it’s head to make a powerful statement. And immensely entertains us in the process. From the spare set, some chairs a few planks and some tambourines, the incredible timing of the choreography and the performances of the cast, you know you are witnessing something really special.

I’m so glad that they chose the Guthrie for their final tune-up before taking the show to Broadway. I’m sure it’s going to be a huge hit. Thanks Quinn.

He’s Back

Well, it’s been quite awhile since my last post. I could make all kinds of excuses for not keeping this up, but I’m not one for excuses. Except I’ve been really busy, and I’ve been working on editing and producing a blog for someone else, and I’ve had writers cramp and maybe I’ve been a little depressed and I’ve been working on my garden and, well you know, no excuses.

I’m not going to dwell on the past so I’m just going to touch on a few things that have been going on this summer and then move on. It’s not like nothing’s been happening, it’s been a great summer with a couple of trips to Chicago, one to Traverse City and another one planned for Labor Day.

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m working, with the help of the Quinn’s bf Dave and the neighbor boys, on a major garden expansion. I’ve added about 600 sq. ft. at the back of our yard. That’s 600 sq. ft. that I don’t have to mow.

Here’s a little gallery of some of the summers event.

Joan, you will be missed.

If this is blather is to seriously be considered as a personal blog, I need to acknowledge the passing of a dear friend, memorable character and a woman who I thought of as my surrogate mom. Joan Benson, the mother of Bill, one of my very closest friends, the guy who taught me everything I know about basketball. Except what I learned from Red on Roundball.

The first time I met Joan was in 1972. I had just graduated from college and Bill and I had loaded up a Driveaway Oldsmobile to be delivered to Spokane and headed west to seek our fortunes. After driving all night we pulled into the Talking Bird Saloon in St. Regis Montana for breakfast. As we were mounting the steps to the restaurant door we saw the headline in the newspaper stand, “93 miners trapped in Sunshine Mine fire.” Bill’s father was a miner, working at another mine in the area, the Galena, but he was on the fire rescue crew and Bill knew his dad would have finished his shift at the Galena and gone right down into the Sunshine to find the survivors. If there were any.

That moment on the steps of the Talking Bird and the moment his Mom came to the door to greet us are as clear to me as if they happened yesterday. Actually much clearer, but I’m old. His dad had indeed gone down into the Sunshine the evening before, and hadn’t come home yet. “Oh, Billy” were the fist words out of her mouth, our eyes met as she embraced him and they were wide and tears were streaming down her cheeks.

In those days Bill had shoulder length blonde hair that made him look a bit like a Viking warrior. He was pretty sure his parents didn’t share my noble view of his appearance. I think the next words out of Joan’s mouth were, “God, your hair!” We went directly into the kitchen and she took the clippers to Bill, giving him a new recruit buzz in about five minutes. The rest of the next couple of days are not so clear to me. I think there were only two survivors, so the death toll was ninety-one. Bill (Big Bill, my friend’s dad) had been up all night, down in the mine which was full of poisonous gas, pulling out bodies. He had to stop because he couldn’t hold his stomach and if you lost it in your gas mask, you’d be a statistic too.

Imagine a small community losing 91 people in one terrible accident. The area consists of a scattering of small towns built up on every patch of scarce level ground along the South Fork of the Cour d’Alene River. The Bensons lived in Wallace, there was Burke, Silverton, Mullen, Pineville, Osburn and the big town, Kellogg. Bill could remind me of others. Every person in every town was effected. And that’s how I started the most memorable summer of my life, four months that played a major part in making me the person I am today.

Joan didn’t suffer fools well and she didn’t suffer me much at first. The thing that we joked about through the years was her finally forgiving me for spilling milk on her new carpet at dinner. But I also think she recognized me as a soft and pampered “Easterner.” The summer changed the soft part, but that’s another story. Fortunately she was receptive to my charm and more importantly she really liked the two women in my life over the years. She and  Bill’s dad bonded immediately with both my girlfriend at the time and the woman who eventually became my wife, both of which possess irresistible charm and neither of which could ever be described as pampered. It didn’t hurt that my antics were always good for a laugh and a story. She didn’t hide what she was thinking so it wasn’t too long before I knew I was accepted into the family. I thought of the Bensons as surrogate parents.

So rest in peace Joan. You were a beautiful, smart, loving person, fiercely loyal to those you loved and not a person anyone would mess with.

That summer is the source of about three quarters of my stories. Firestorms, whorehouses, narrow brushes with the law, my basketball baptism and rubber duckies in the river. But more about that later.

Role Reversal

Saturday night we were heading out to dinner when the garage door stopped about two-thirds of the way down. Wouldn’t go down wouldn’t go up. We were a bit late getting started to make our reservations already, I went in and popped the door loose and shut it manually, intending to deal with it in the morning.

In the morning, after charging up with coffee, a banana and cheetos we set out on a DIY adventure. Our first idea was to observe the machine in action in order to diagnose the problem. In order to do that it was, of course, necessary to reconnect the door to the opener, by sliding the runner back over the bolt protruding from the rail that holds it to the moving chain. So I grabbed the handle on the release chord and pulled it forward expecting to pop it over the bolt. First time, didn’t go. Second time, fail. Third time, not the charm. So relying on the bigger hammer  theory of mechanical repair, I grabbed the door and gave it a healthy upward push. The runner popped over the bolt and beyond, breaking the translucent housing that protected the light bulb and becoming hopelessly jammed on the other side. I wanted to call a garage repair guy, Beck wanted to call Dean the handy neighbor. She prevailed, which was a good thing. I should always yield to her better judgement. As if I have a choice.

Dean is in his seventies and I would say that I hoped to be in that good shape when I get that old, except that would mean I’d have to be in better shape than I am now. After struggling for about an hour to undo the damage that I had done, he took about thirty seconds to find the problem. Apparently the drive gear, made out of nylon, had worn down to the point of failure. A common flaw, it seems, because Dean’s replaced this component for pretty much the entire neighborhood. The parts guy a Sears knew what we’d come in for as soon as he saw that we were carrying the manual for the opener. We grabbed lunch at the 50s Grill on Brooklyn Blvd. returned with the part and everything was back together in an hour. Including the service door from the garage to the house, which also broke at some point during the repair process.

I stood out in the garage and watched for a little while, but it was apparent that I was useless in that situation. Beck stayed out to watch and learn. She’s much more mechanically adept than me and I usually defer to her when it comes to fixing stuff around the house. I know, the man card is in danger again.

Thinking about the events of the day and the fact that I do most of the cooking, we decided that I make a pretty good housewife. And she loves a man in an apron.

Next post: I’m going to cogitate on the plastic part that wears out before the machine is any where near the end of it’s life. Design flaw?

Close Call

Dodged a bullet. I almost committed an act that would put me in jeopardy of having my man card revoked. Our younger daughter who works at the Guthrie, gets two free tickets to each performance. She called last week and offered us her tickets to Romeo and Juliet. I’ve often said that we don’t take good advantage to the cultural opportunities offered here in the Twin Cities and this sounded like an chance to increase our highbrow credentials. Rebecca was on the phone with her relaying the info while I was in the middle of something important like reading Facebook entries. A range of dates was offered. I replied that Sunday would work.

Now I’m not a huge football fan. I have never once painted my face purple or maroon, or even cornflower and maise (not Michigan, Carleton.) But I have jumped on the Vikings bandwagon this year. It’s so much fun to watch Brett Favre when he’s playing for your team rather than picking it apart. I was also kind of distracted. I know there’s really no excuse for not realizing that the play conflicted with the Vikings playoff game against Dallas. Dallas. Playoff. It’s enough to boil the blood of guy my age. Not to mention the fact that I would definitely bring my guyhood into question if I spent an afternoon listening to iambic pentameter. Besides I already know the ending of the play.

I know this identifies me as obtuse, but the conflict didn’t hit my radar screen until yesterday morning. My stomach did a backflip and I broke into a cold sweat thinking about what I would say to the first guy who said, “Did you see the catch Rice made in the back of the end zone?!?” And, if I were to be honest, I’d have to reply, “No, I missed it, I was watching Shakespeare.” I couldn’t bear the shame. I also fully understand the repercussions of backing out on a date with my wife. Things could get icy at casa Keller if I didn’t approach this with utmost delicacy.

“Hey Beck… Do you think one of your fiends might want to go to the play tomorrow.”

“Why?”

I explained my predicament. She said that she was sure that she could find someone and she’d call around. All of a sudden I felt like I was the one being ditched.

So I’m off the hook. But knowing the Vikings, I’ll still be watching a tragedy.

Confusing Communication

Last night we had a small party to celebrate Quinn’s graduation from the U of M. At the risk of being a parental braggart, one semester early with a double major. I’m very proud of her. She majored in Art and Art History, her concentration in Art was ceramics. Naturally she has compiled quite a collection of pottery over the last few years and she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do with it. So she put out some of her pieces and we told the guests to help themselves before they left. Part of the collection was made up of simple thrown cylinders that she had done as a technical exercise in one of her early classes. Even though they are more practice pieces than anything else, some are very attractive. She told me that almost everyone that selected a cylinder asked her if they could drink coffee out of them. We decided that they meant that in a chemical sense, not an aesthetic sense. “They’re not mugs, they’re cylinders. When you make a mug you think about the handle and the lip and how the liquid will flow out of it and all those form follows function kind of decisions. So, yes, you can safely drink coffee out of them, just so I don’t have to see you do it.”

Another communication pitfall occurred this morning. I asked my wife if she worked next week. “You mean this week?”

It’s Sunday, right? This is the weekEND, right. So it’s the end of this week. Tomorrow is Monday and the beginning of next week right. Am I wrong on this??

Merry Christmas

Or the felicitations of whatever way you choose to celebrate the Winter Solstice. The family, Lucia, her bf David, Quinn and Rebecca are curled up around the artificial fire, by the artificial Christmas tree watching a Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, which is not a movie about a wise guy Greek detective, his equally smart ass wife and  their dog Asta, or about my great nephew and niece, who are also Greek, in part.

My daughters have grown up. They aren’t mean to each other anymore, there hasn’t been a single fight. In fact they seem to be goading each other into hysterical laughter most of the time. This is even considering we’ve been pretty much housebound because of the blizzard.

Everyone love there presents, the young folks made a snowman while I wrestled the snowblower through heavy snow. I threw a rib roast in the oven and it’s fragrance is starting to fill the house. I got a subscription to “Cook’s Illustrated” for Christmas and they had a rib roast recipe in the issue they gave me… but I didn’t follow it. It included Yorkshire pudding, which I just didn’t have the ambition to attempt.

Things are good here, hope they are for you too.

Dead Flowers

deadflowerOne of the options I’ve been pursuing is to become a rock star. Well you never know until you try, right? Seriously, I’ve been putting in some major wood shedding (hep-cat musician speak for “practice”) and have been seeing some gradual improvement in my playing. I’ve been a closet guitar player for forty years, noodling away in private, rarely playing with anyone else, never really learning any songs, just improvising away on the blues and lately some old time country and rockabilly things. I’m not particularly talented as a musician, but I’m determined. And I have a really bad case of stage fright. I’ve attended open jams and when I get called out to solo, it’s deer in the headlights time. My fingers turn to stone, I can’t remember the key we’re in, or where to start. I’ve sat there, sweating for four measures of an eight measure break. I can practice a piece for hours, play it fairly well in private, but if I have one person watching me I just can’t pull it off.

Lately I’ve been getting together to make music with a young woman who I met at a neighbor’s house last summer. Continue reading