Punky Brewster was my hero


Here are five reasons that the eight year-old me loved Punky Brewster:

  • She could take care of herself. When the show began, she was living in an empty apartment on her own. She got what she needed, and she was making it.  On her own terms. She was living the dream.
  • Punky didn’t let anything get her down or anyone tell her what to do.  She never seemed afraid of anything. When you’re eight years-old, it doesn’t get better than that.
  • She dreamed big.  Punky’s dreams of being an astronaut were eye-opening to me.  The eight year-old me didn’t even know that was an option.
  • She made up her own name.  As eight, I hadn’t yet discovered a reason to be dissatisfied with my given name–I didn’t decide that Mindy was too juvenile for me until I was ten–but it was still beyond awesome to see a kid create her own name with pride.
  • punkyFor all Punky’s wild fashion choices, big dreams, and unusual family situation, she still lived a life I could imagine.  I grew up in a world where people lived in apartments and worried about rents going up just like Punky and her neighbors. I didn’t often see that world on television, and while I didn’t think too much about that back then, I definitely noticed it.

Unfortunately the show doesn’t quite stand the test of time.  Upon recent viewing of a few episodes, I have to agree with this article that Punky wasn’t the feminist ideal I thought I remembered.  There is an option, though, for those of us who loved the idea of Punky and want to introduce that nostalgic version of Punky to our kids. Joelle Sellner has turned Punky into a graphic novel with a few updates and changes that are enough to turn Punky and her story into one of empowerment.

I’m glad Punky’s back, and I’m really glad she’s better than ever.

Twenty years ago

inuteroTwenty years ago I might as well have been living in a bunker without access to the outside world for all I knew about music or pop culture. Don’t get me wrong. My family owned a television and lived a generally normal life. We just weren’t tuned in to some things. Mostly I think that was a good thing. But occasionally I find that there are gaps. For example, I would not have recognized a Beatles song until I was an adult.  Not kidding.

This weekend I found another gap: Nirvana.  I’d always told myself that I was too young. I was only a young teen in the early 90’s after all, but the crowd at the Uptown Cheapo store for the In Utero tribute on Saturday afternoon wasn’t any older than me. Actually many were younger.  The musicians on stage spoke of memories of Cheapo, Nirvana, and being a teenager, and I found myself considering my gaps.  So I missed it the first time around.  This is clearly something worth going back for.

HighTV covering Nirvana at Cheapo

When it comes to books, I live in the future.  The nature of my job means I’m reading books before they are released.  My desk is stacked with 2014 titles right now, and it’s hard to look back to a previous publishing season to a title I didn’t get around to last year, or even earlier.  If I miss something, I’ve missed it.  Or so it seems sometimes.

I feel like I should conclude with something profound about balance, but I think I’ll just turn on some music.

Maybe I should start listening to The Current’s Teenage Kicks occasionally?  I’ll catch up with the rest of you eventually.

Friday Find: Glam Doll Donuts


I have fond memories of bakeries and donut shops from my childhood, and I tried to share my donut-related memories with my family while we waited in line at Glam Doll Donuts this week.  But my 5 year-old was more interested in the sweets in the display case than in my old stories of being her age and hanging out in the back room of the bakery where my mom worked at the time.  Once our donuts had been consumed, she just wanted to explore the shop’s unique decor.  The photo booth was a great source of curiosity, and the stage-like steps leading to the back door were screaming “put on a show” to anyone under age 6 or so.

You don’t have to be a kid to let Glam Doll capture your imagination.  It’s retro and stylish, and the idea that you can drink coffee and eat sweets into the wee hours is a good one.  It’s well worth checking out.  I know I’ll be back.  There is a donut with bacon on top that I have yet to try… :)

Monday Morning Music with Ivy

apartmentlifeToday seems like a good day to look back at my favorite songs or albums in 2012, but my gaze is set a bit further back in time.  With the news that the 400 Bar is closing, I was reminiscing about the various shows I’ve seen there over the years, and two shows stand out.  One from earlier this year, but since it was my husband’s band, I’ll leave that for another time.    The show I want to write about today was from 2005.  Ivy had recently released In the Clear, and they played a great set to a small crowd at the 400 Bar.  We Heart Music posted about that 2005 show recently and noted that Ivy has a newer album (All Hours, 2011) and video released on YouTube in 2012.   I don’t know how I lost track of this band over the years, and I must say I’m glad to revisit their mellow pop songs today.

Here is the new video, “Lost in the Sun”:

Or, if you want to live in the past on the last day of 2012, here is “The Best Thing” from Apartment Life:

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

From another time…

Thanksgiving always makes me nostalgic for a time I never experienced when life was simpler.  Or maybe life just seemed simpler because there were no screens to distract us from our families and we weren’t rushing off to Black Friday sales.

In any case, it feels appropriate to offer Frank Fairfield as a soundtrack to my nostalgia.  My husband recently saw Fairfield perform at the Entry, and he couldn’t stop raving about it.  I have to admit, Fairfield does seem like an intriguing fellow.  Timeless, perhaps?

You can learn more about Frank Fairfield in this short documentary from American Standard Time:

Thoughts on Awards Eve

I recently listened to a discussion on MPR with Kurt Anderson about this Vanity Fair article on American culture.  He observed that things haven’t changed much in the last 25 years or so, and one of the reasons he cites is a cultural nostalgia.  He writes,

“Ironically, new technology has reinforced the nostalgic cultural gaze: now that we have instant universal access to every old image and recorded sound, the future has arrived and it’s all about dreaming of the past.”

Perhaps he’s right.  He certainly makes an interesting case.  Looking at the area of pop culture I know best–children’s books, obviously–he certainly seems on the mark.  Look at last year’s Caldecott Award winner: A Sick Day for Amos McGee has a vintage look to it that make it seem like it could have been a book from my childhood rather than the newly published picture book that it is.  Not to mention, last year was clearly a historical fiction year for the Newbery.

If nostalgia is still at play in this year’s awards (announced tomorrow morning, for anyone not eagerly anticipating them like myself!), my predictions are Grandpa Green by Lane Smith for the Caldecott and Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt for the Newbery.

I wouldn’t complain if those were the books that took the awards this year, but I have to admit, there is a part of me that really wants this to be the year for humor.  Mostly, I just want I Want My Hat Back to win.  It’s kind of dark and cynical in a way that children’s just aren’t usually, and I love it.  I’d be surprised if it won, but I’m pulling for it.

In any case, I’m excited!  I’ll be up early tomorrow morning to hear the announcements live from the conference in Dallas.  Happy awards Monday, everyone! :)

Porky’s Last Stand

[When I heard that Porky’s in St. Paul was closing, I knew I had to post something about it on the blog.  And I also knew that it was the perfect topic for my first Guest Blogger on Proper Noun Blog: local stay-at-home dad, Chad Rhiger.  You may know him as the bass player for HighTV.  I know him as my husband.]

I was the only child of a single mother. In an attempt to look after “widows and fatherless boys,” a family in our congregation took my mother and me under their wing. The patriarch in this household was a man we kids called Papa Ron. Papa Ron was as keen and observant as he was silly and gregarious, quick with a self-deprecating joke or a playful insult. And he was a great lover of cars. Especially classics. He would take us boys to car shows out at the MN State Fair grounds. Being 5 years younger than his youngest son, I was not yet learned in the nuances of car identification. Papa Ron would frequently quiz me, asking the year, make, and model of a particular car, and then follow my answers with a tutorial, saying something to the effect of “Ya see, in ’65 they switched to two side-by-side square headlights. Otherwise they’re almost identical.”

PorkysAnytime we were in St. Paul, we’d stop by Porky’s. Sometimes he’d pile a few of us into his ’65 Ford Galaxy 500 and cruise up to Porky’s on Friday or Saturday nights to park and canoodle with the other car owners and afficionados. Papa Ron would show off his tutelage by quizzing me in front of the owner of whatever car. He’d ask how I knew. The owner would flash Ron an impressed look, and I’d bask in the only sense of fatherly pride I’d ever known.

A week ago I learned that Porky’s was going to be closing shop after 58 years. My patronage had slowed to maybe once or twice a year, but I was always grateful that a few of the important things from my youth were still around. I was grateful that I might be able to share these things with my daughter as well.

Yesterday was closing day. Mindy and I decided to take Ladybug to get dinner and take in the festive farewell. We stood for almost two hours in a line that snaked around the parking lot, rendering it almost useless for parking. Ironically, the road construction making way for the new Light Rail – the very Light Rail that was cited as a major contributing factor for Porky’s closing down – made an impromptu extended parking lot for the entire block in from of the restaurant. While in line we made “line buddies” with the family of four ahead of us, their five-year-old daughter being roughly the same size as our three-and-a-half-year-old. Making quips about selling our increasingly favorable place in line to the “poor suckas all the way back there” (I got on this joke good and early when the “poor suckas” in question were within earshot), we passed the time telling our kids to stay out of puddles, discussing Minnesota-isms, and talking about the institution we were there to bid farewell to.

When we finally got our food, we took a table close to our new friends. Ladybug and her new friend were excitedly making sleep-over plans. I complained that they had forgotten to give us a burger I ordered and that our order of onion rings was insultingly meager. Mindy nodded thoughtfully, understanding my annoyance after such a long line wait, but also seeming a bit disappointed that I would choose to vocalize my negativity in what had otherwise been a glowingly appreciative and sentimental wake. I smiled at her and said quietly “Bitching about the service and value is part of the experience, my love” and shot her a knowing wink. Her disappointment melted, she squeezed my arm, and continued contently munching on her pulled pork sandwich.

By the time we finished, the sun was low enough to no longer offer the warmth of early on, so we made for our car. We walked along the avenue, looking at cars to our right, hoods propped up and admirers leaning over the engines, and watching the procession on the road to our left. People in all manner of cars and motorcycles were revving engines, blasting loud and/or unique horns, and, of course, doing burn-outs in front of the gathered crowd. At the cheers and chants of the assembly, the drivers would wind up their engines, then you’d hear an unholy screech followed by gigantic plumes of rubber smoke. Yes, none of these things are good for the environment or any sense of tranquility. But they are exciting. A unifying focal point of reckless ruckus and homage. And these things, like Porky’s, will be gone sooner than we imagine.

On our way out of the make-shift carnival, I jokingly revved up the engine to our ’02 Hyundai Accent. Economy transport at it’s least sexy or impressive. The crowd lining the street roared in approval. Tracking the length of the street with my eyes, I realized that all of the chants and cheers were directed at me. “Light ’em up! Light ’em up! C’mon!” The sincerity and joy on the faces of my well-meaning taunters won me over. I braked to allow space ahead of me. Winding that little bastard up to 6 or 7 thousand RPM’s, I popped the clutch. The tires let out a slight chirp, and my little car accelerated impressively, gloriously, for maybe 50 feet. My audience erupted in whistles, laughter, and cheers. With the silhouette of the giant Porky’s sign in my rearview, I pulled on to a road leading to the freeway.

I haven’t seen Papa Ron in years. But I imagine – had he been there – he would have laughed his ass off.

Book Review: Every Crooked Pot

Every Crooked PotEvery Crooked Pot by Renee Rosen

“Every crooked pot has a crooked top.”  This is the encouragement Nina’s larger-than-life father offers her to boost her confidence.  He also makes sure that Nina has the best treatment he can get her for the port wine stain that is in and around her eye.  No matter what her father says, though, Nina is the one who has to face the kids that call her “Big Eye, Little Eye” in elementary school, and later in middle school when no one wants to be friends with the freaky girl.  This story has the feel of a memoir, and in fact much of it is based on the author’s life. The 1970’s setting and topics like losing virginity and life after high school give this teen novel crossover appeal to adults who are interested in looking back on these aspects of childhood and young adulthood.  I felt a distinct nostalgia as I read.

Recommended to older teens or adults who are in the mood for a thoughtful read about a girl discovering who she is in relation to the way she looks and the way her family is.

On the Wiki: Disabilities in teen fiction, Losing Virginity in teen fiction