The Great Minnesota Get Together

A few days ago a Facebook friend of mine posted the question “Why do you go to the State Fair?”

Some said that they go for the food.  Others said it’s the rides.  I like those things, but for me the Minnesota State Fair isn’t about food or rides.  It’s the energy of the fair that gets me, that makes a trip to the fair a priority every year.  I love that we’re all there to celebrate the talented people, hard work, and creativity of our state.  Some say it’s too crowded or too expensive, but it’s worth it to me to battle the crowds and pay the money to soak up that feeling of celebratory pride in the efforts of fellow Minnesotans and to explore the best of our great state.  

I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

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More photos from our day at the fair here

Past State Fair adventures:

A Weekend in Chicago

On our way out of town on Friday, I was scrolling through my social media feed when I saw a headline with the words “This might be the biggest Twin Cities weekend of the summer.”  That is not what you really want to see when you’re leaving for a weekend getaway.  We already knew we were going to miss Northern Spark and the launch of the Green Line, but we kept our eyes on Chicago.

It seemed that city was also having a pretty big weekend, and we were right in the middle of it.  Most of our fellow commuter train passengers on Saturday appeared to be headed to the Blues Festival .  We were there to play tourist.  I grew up outside of Chicago, and a part of me will always consider Chicago to be “my city” no matter how Minnesotan I feel these days.  It’s always fun to share my memories of Chicago, especially now that my daughter is old enough to get excited about it too.  I love that she showed as much enthusiasm for some of the more iconic scenes as she did a random playground we happened by.

That evening we made our way to the Wicker Park neighborhood (after the six year old was safely deposited at Grandma’s) for the reason we were willing to leave town on one of the best Twin Cities weekends of the summer.  Braid and the Smoking Popes at the Double Door’s 20th Anniversary celebration.  As soon as we saw that these two old favorites were playing, we jumped on the tickets and made our plans.

braid2014I grew up listening to these bands.  I mean that specifically: I listened to them in my late teens and early twenties.  They were, along with a few select others, my coming of age soundtrack.  Braid, in particular, was perfect coming of age music.  With lines like “let’s stop clapping / let’s start doing / a dream for the teens and in-betweens / and twenties yet unseen” the teenage me was conscious of the fact that these were guys just a couple of years older than me.  They often sang about finding your way, and it had a strong impact on me as I sorted out my ideas about life and love.  I saw them live a few times before they broke up in 1999.

In 2004, I caught the reunion tour. By then, I lived in the Twin Cities, and I was dating my now-husband.  I was in my mid-twenties, which meant that the band members were pushing thirty. My youthful optimism never considered that the show might disappoint, and it didn’t.  It actually made my Top Ten Favorite Shows even though it made me feel older than my years to have a reunion show on my Top Ten list.  I still consider myself an optimist, but I have to admit that it did occur to me, how ever briefly, that ten years might make a difference.

They opened with a song I didn’t know–the new record comes out next month–and then launched into a series of older songs from Frame & Canvas and other records I know so well.  There was no need to worry.  Funnily enough, lines like “a dream for the tweens, and in-betweens, and twenties yet unseen” can still resonate several years past one’s twenties.

The show could have ended there, and it would have been worth the trip.  It was already on my Top Ten Favorite Shows of all time–no matter what having two reunion shows on my list might mean about my age or taste.  But the Smoking Popes were up next.

smokingpopes2014The Smoking Popes were the first local band I listened to. They were the first band I saw play live so many times I lost track of when and where I saw them, and eventually it became no-big-deal in that way that local bands can sometimes get even to their super fans.  After a while, they didn’t play as much, and I moved away anyway.  I did catch them at the Triple Rock a few years ago.  That was a good show, but it doesn’t compare to the one I saw this weekend.  Saturday’s show was a reunion of the super fans.  It seemed like every song was a sing along in a crowd that knew every word.  No one yelled out “Pretty Pathetic” even though we all wanted them to play it.  Probably because we knew they were saving it for the end of the show with the stripped down beginning and dramatic end.  It was far from no-big-deal.

Here’s to the past for the memories and the music.  And here’s to what is still unseen.  Let’s stop clapping and start doing.

 

Thursday 3: Picture Book Preschool Updates

Most Thursdays I post a Thursday 3 picture on my photo blog, but this one seemed like it belonged here. Now that my daughter is in school, my Picture Book Preschool posts have been retired, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about them occasionally. Here are three new picture books that might be good choices for your preschooler:

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Is it Big or is it Little? by Claudia Rueda – I explored the topic of relative size with my daughter in this post, and it was fun to compare objects. This book is about more than just though. It looks at relative meanings of various opposites as it follows a cat and mouse around.

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light – I have already mentioned in a previous Thursday 3 that this book is a 2014 favorite of mine. It is a tour of New York City, a seek and find, and a counting book that takes us up to twenty, which makes it good for this post.

Henry’s Map by David Elliot – Who doesn’t love maps? This silly story of a neat and tidy pig trying to make a map of the farm is right on target for preschoolers. Perfect addition to this post.

Storytime Reflections

Seventy-some pairs of eyes watched last Friday as I realized I should have practiced holding up a picture book and reading it at the same time.  I was reading Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox to a storytime group at the White Bear Lake Public Library. It might seem like an odd choice of a book for someone like me to read considering I don’t have “ten little fingers,” but I’ve found it’s a good introduction to the idea of people being born with lots of different traits–only having one arm is just another possibility.  A little less common perhaps, but a possibility nonetheless.

I don’t know how much of that jived with the preschoolers in the storytime room last week, but the main thing is that we created a safe space for the sort of curiosity that people of all ages sometimes feel obligated to squash or keep to themselves.  My hope is to help people feel comfortable talking about differences of all sorts.  The more we talk, the less different we seem.

We left space for questions at the end, and at first people were shy about raising their hands. I did get a few great questions though that I thought I would answer here briefly in case you are curious too.

- Where do you get an arm like that?

I go to a doctor to get a prescription for an arm like this. Then I go to a place where they make prosthetics to get it fitted especially to me.

- How often do you have to get a new prosthetic arm?

When I was a kid, I had to get new arms frequently–at least every year, sometimes more often depending on how fast I grew. Now that I am not growing, they last a bit longer. My current prosthetic is 13 years old at this point, and I am sincerely hoping it lasts many more years.

- How do you get dressed?

This is a really common question from kids, and I have the hardest time answering it because I don’t really think about how I get dressed. I just do it. I suppose my left hand does most of the work with any buttons and zippers.

- Do you sleep with your prosthetic arm on?

No, I take it off to sleep, bathe, swim, or just relax. Prosthetics are very helpful, but not very comfortable.

- What kind of exercises can you do with one arm?

I am a bookish sort (surprise!) whose main form of exercise is taking long day dreamy walks, so I am not the most qualified to speak on this. But I will say that some of the yoga I have tried require a bit of adaptation to do them with one hand. If I were serious about fitness, I imagine a trainer could help me modify most exercises to suit my needs.

Do you have a question? Check out my FAQ or feel free to ask in the comments. :)

Welcome home

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What makes a house a home? (Or an apartment a home, in this case, I suppose.) My daughter is nearing the end of her first year of Unitarian-Universalist religious education, and that has been the focus of the program for her age group: Creating a home.

Note: If there’s ever a good time to move, it’s when your child is immersed in a weekly lesson in creating a home.  That was a happy coincidence for us.  Each week she would spend her Sunday mornings immersed in the idea that we can be intentional about our homes, that our homes are safe spaces we journey from and return to every day.  I realized as I listened to her talk about what home meant to her that moving would be easy if we were intentional about it.

We have spent the last couple of months creating a home in a new apartment in a new neighborhood.  There are still items in boxes or in not-quite permanent locations, and there isn’t much on the walls yet.  But it’s feeling more and more like home every day.

What has made this place a home for me:

  • Finding a nearby Little Free Library to adopt as ours.  It’s far enough away to be a mini-adventure and close enough to be convenient.  We’ll make regular stops there now that it’s nice outside.
  • We met our neighbors.  It turns out we are surrounded by six year old girls.  My six year old is delighted.
  • We adopted a cat and named her Disco.

Last weekend, my daughter and I cuddled in a comfy chair to watch Cosmos, and Disco joined us, purring.  That’s home.

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Mothers, Daughters, and Stories

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This past Saturday I stood in front of a very small group to read an essay that is probably the most personal thing I’ve written outside of the pages of my journal in years.  That group will decide whether I will be offered an opportunity to read my essay in front of a much larger audience as part of the 2014 Listen to Your Mother show.  I won’t hear until the end of the week whether my audition was successful.  In all honesty, I’m not sure which outcome I’m rooting for.  

Most of the writing and speaking I do these days is focused on books.  I like it that way.  It is much more comfortable to talk about books than it is to talk about myself. The essay I entered for consideration in LTYM is not at all comfortable.  There are no books.  It’s just me.  I felt a little naked up there without a stack of books to take the eyes and attention away from me.  Maybe more than a little.

My essay is about the mother-daughter relationship.  If I were to turn it into a booktalk, I would have to start with the dedication page of Dreamer, Wisher, Liar by Charise Mericle Harper:

“For my mother and my daughter–I wish we could be twelve together.  Just for a day.”

I should note that in this advance copy of the book nothing is final.  Perhaps the dedication will change before the book is published, but I hope it doesn’t.  It’s what made me pick up the book.  I can’t help but wonder what that wish would turn into for me.  

When I read What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren I felt myself getting teary eyed more than once at the relationship between Esther and her mother.  It’s a small book and perhaps a bit old fashioned, but it isn’t far off from my story.  Maybe you’ll see some of yours in it too.

If you are an 8 to 12 year old girl or just remember what it’s like to be one, you might like Dreamer, Wisher, Liar or What the Moon Said.  

Meanwhile, make a note of the date: May 8th.  Whether or not I am part of the show, Listen to Your Mother will be a good one.

Thursday 3: New Teen Fiction

Teen fiction is my preferred reading material, and I’ve been rather immersed in it in recent weeks as I prepped for a presentation at the Minnesota Educational Media Organization Conference in which realistic teen fiction was my responsibility. Here are a
few of my favorites from my part of the presentation.

  • Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon – It’s a novel set in hospice care, so be ready to cry. But it’s also pretty funny.
  • The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider – This romance/coming-of-age novel reminded me a bit of Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas, which I loved.
  • Hostage Three by Nick Lake – I read this modern day pirate thriller in one sitting. It doesn’t come out until November, so add it to your library hold list now.

  • My apologies for the lack of links and pictures in this post. I am having some computer issues, and I used the WordPress app on my phone to write this post.

    It’s okay to notice

    “You probably noticed what’s different about me,” I said to a group of second and third graders this weekend. Their Unitarian-Universalist Sunday School class is celebrating differences this quarter, and I was invited to talk to them about my difference.

    I had two main points I wanted to share with the kids. It’s okay to notice, and it’s okay to ask. But kids always have their own concerns. This group wanted to know how my fake arm worked and how I could do stuff with it. Are you left handed? Can you ride a bike? Can they make a robot arm for you? Yes. Yes. I wish! :)

    It’s funny how the concerns tend to correlate with ages. Younger kids–the preschoolers and kinders in my daughter’s class–are less concerned with the mechanics of my prosthesis and how I live my life. They stick to the basics. How did this happen? Are you okay? These are more difficult questions to answer because the answers seem so incomprehensible to them. The idea that someone can be born without a body part just doesn’t make sense. And it often takes some convincing to get them to believe that my little arm doesn’t hurt.

    “Everyone is born differently,” I say. “This is just another kind of different. Like hair or skin.” Sometimes kids will ask the same question again and again with slightly different phrasings. Parents cringe with each question, but I keep smiling. I’ve been through it before.

    Back to this weekend, I read a book to the kids to close. Harry and Willy and Carrothead is about a boy who was born with one arm too. He’s a regular kid, of course. He even plays baseball. It’s odd at first, but by end end of the story, his limb deficiency is no different than another kid’s red hair. It’s my go to book for normalizing my difference.

    I recently found another book to add to my first choices to talk about being different. Maybe next time I find myself in front of a group of kids I will read Jacob’s Eye Patch. It is essentially the book I’ve always said I would write one day. Instead of being about a little girl with one arm, it’s about a little boy who wears an eye patch. He gets lots of questions, and usually he’s happy to answer them. But this one time he’s in a bit of a hurry. (I’ve been in that situation, and I always feel bad when I can’t answer a question.)

    It’s a great book, but I especially recommend checking out the website linked above for the extra material aimed at teachers and parents. It’s an insightful resource for potentially avoiding the awkward situations when kids notice someone’s difference in public and you want to sink into the floor because they’ve pointed and loudly asked “What’s wrong with that lady’s arm?” Now that I have a kid myself, I’ve been on both sides of that situation, so there’s no hard feelings when it’s me the kid is pointing at. I promise.

    It’s okay to notice, and it’s okay to be curious. Everyone is different in some way. Mine is just a little more obvious that most.

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    Thursday 3: New Picture Books (and one bonus)

    Fall is a great time for books!  My Thursday Three for today features three newly available picture books:

    welcometo whenlions tortoiseandthehare

    • Welcome to Mamoko by Aleksandra Mizielinska – I love wordless picture books in general, but this is especially cool.  It gives a cast of characters at the beginning, and teh book is part seek-and-find, part story starter.  My daughter and I have had lots of fun with this one. :)
    • When Lions Roar by Robie Harris – Robie Harris is best known for her sex ed books for kids.  Here she teams up with one of my favorite illustrators to look at the things that scare us–from lions roaring to parents yelling–and how to calm down when we feel afraid.  Great for preschoolers.
    • The Tortoise and the Hare by Jerry Pinkney – This nearly wordless version of a familiar story is just as good as the author’s previous Caldecott-winning work.  Beautiful.
    • Bonus: Moo! by David LaRochelle – Technically this book isn’t on shelves until next week, but it is one you’ll want to watch for.  Super cute and fun.  Also minimal words, which seems to be a theme with me lately.  Here’s a trailer:

    Miss the last Thursday 3 post?  Check out Three Recent Reads

    Where are you from?

    I’m sticking with the theme from my last post and my new zine, Whereverland, for today’s Thursday Three post.  I have three books in which moving and/or exploring one’s roots plays a role.

    • Tlittlefishhe Language Inside by Holly Thompson – Emma spent most of her life as an American living in Japan–that’s home.  Now she’s back in the States re-orienting to the place her parents have always thought of as “home.”  Really beautiful teen novel in verse that explores connecting with people, places, and poetry.  Teacher/Librarian note: There’s a discussion guide here. (Teen Fiction – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)
    • Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer – Ramsey Beyer captures her first year at art school in this graphic memoir.  She’s a blogger, zinester, and an artist, so I was obviously a little biased toward liking this book even before I started reading.  It’s a more innocent look at college–no parties or hangovers here–than you might find in other books, and Beyer’s sincerity and sweetness make this a cute coming of age book that zinesters and other creative sorts will enjoy.  (Teen/Adult Memoir – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)
    • Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan – This is an oldie, but it is not to be missed.  When Naomi’s mom returns and wants custody of Naomi (and not her brother who has a birth defect), Naomi explores her father’s side with a trip to Mexico.  That one sentence description hardly does the book justice.  It is a thoughtful look at identity and family.  A long-time favorite of mine.  (Children’s Fiction – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)

    Have you read anything that fits this theme?  What would you add?