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For the past three years I’ve lived not even a half-mile from the St. Louis Park Recreation Center with its beautiful swimming pool. (To be precise, Google Maps tells me it’s .4 miles, or an 8-minute walk.)

St Louis Park Pool.

St Louis Park Pool.

I grew up in pools like this. During our three years in Puerto Rico, where my dad was stationed on an Air Force base when I was ages 9-12, I spent entire summer days in the pool, punctuated by breaks to leap out to get a plate of french fries or an ice cream cone from Tommy, the young Puerto Rican man who worked at the snack bar. After a lot of swimming on a hot day, there was nothing like those plates of french fries with ketchup dribbled all over them, shared with a friend. The teenage lifeguards were the ultimate in cool: so grown-up, so tan, so fit, twirling their whistles, their marks of authority. At 5 p.m., when we heard Taps wafting through the air, we’d leap out of the pool and stand silently and reverently, dripping, hands over our hearts, facing the direction of wherever the American flag was being lowered for the evening. And just to show you what a year-round paradise Puerto Rico was for an outdoors-fun-loving kid, I had my 10th birthday party at the pool, and my birthday is around Thanksgiving.

I learned to swim years before that, though, at pools at other Air Force bases, in Japan and in Waco, Texas. I never took a lesson. Never feared the water, like so many of the friends I met later from more northern climates, without easy access to an outdoor pool (speaking of which, I have never been able to abide an indoor pool. They’re too cold, dim, utilitarian. Swimming, to me, means fun, freedom, sun and warmth. Not just swimming laps.) In gym class, I was generally a klutz. But when we had our swimming unit, I was right at home, while other girls, terrified, one crying even, as I recall, were shoved into the water by our sadistic gym teacher with her cane. My father was a terrific all-around athlete, always playing a sport on some just-for-fun men’s team. Also, he had grown up without parents, since they died when he was little. So, growing up in an orphanage, he was extra conscious of being an involved dad who would leave work to see me in a swim or track meet.

I’ve always been grateful to him for teaching me to swim so young without even really “teaching.” I just picked it up, and I have always felt at home in the water. Later, when I learned more about Judaism and after I’d known for some time that my father was Jewish, I read that the Talmud instructs a father to do three things for his child (son, actually): 1) teach him a way to make a living, 2) find him a spouse, and 3) teach him to swim. I know my father didn’t realize this. He was just being a great dad. But it delighted me to learn that, that he’d unwittingly followed that instruction for being a good Jewish father, like he’d absorbed it from the generations.

Anyway, it was a hot summer afternoon, near 90, humid, too hot to run, and I thought of how great it would feel to be in cool water. In a pool, as in my youth. Pools, where the black lines on the bottom always reminded me of stripes on a watermelon, one of my favorite foods. For someone who loves school and loves to learn, I am such a summer person. Summer always meant freedom, and Iove and need warmth and light. Plus, as an Air Force brat, we moved every few years, and some new schools were halls of dread. I thought of that St. Louis Park city swimming pool that I’ve eyed for 10 years now but never quite had the gumption to visit because I didn’t know how it worked (sounds so silly now that I write it.)

So I went, I swam, I loved it, I thought “how have I lived near this pool for 10 years and never come here?” After swimming laps, I lay on one of the lounge chairs, thought of the ultra-cool “older” lifeguards of my youth, of the Puerto Rico pool. How they are replaced by new ones now who look just like them but were born decades later. I think of those lifeguards I watched from the pool and of what they must look like now. Life goes on; we get older so that there will always be young people on our earth to experience those new stages for the first time.

Finally I packed up my things and left, and as I walked out the door of the Rec Center, adult men were coming in, hauling big gym bags and toting hockey sticks. I realized they were in some kind of rec league. They were enjoying the sports of their youth and the freedom and joy that came with it. For me it was summer swimming. But for these guys raised in Minnesota it was winter afternoons after school, whizzing around on ice skates on a neighborhood pond.

Tom Magliozzi of Car Talk died yesterday, and I’m sad.


I’m actually a little surprised at how sad I am, because I was not at all a faithful listener of Car Talk. Still, I always felt happy when I was driving on a Saturday morning, and they happened to be on NPR. Happy and reassured. I have a friend from Wisconsin who didn’t “get” them. She thought they were rude. I guess she didn’t get East Coast humor. Behind the teasing was sincerity, kindness and integrity, which is always the foundation of the best comedy. We’re vulnerable when our cars are acting up. How will we get to work? Who can we trust? Are the guys at the auto shop trying to cheat me, especially if I’m a single woman? We all needed Click & Clack on our side. Honest car guys, looking out for us. And they reminded us, too, that misbehaving car be damned, life is not as serious as all that.

Tom and Ray and “Car Talk” also represent some old reliable things in life that are fading away, like cars that could conceivably be maintained and repaired by a mechanically-savvy amateur. A friend of mine who made his living for a while as an auto mechanic said that he couldn’t work on his own cars anymore because they were run by computer. Fuel injection and all that, it was a new world. And now there’s they hybrid, which takes it to a whole nother level.

When I moved to Minneapolis nine years ago, newly separated and on my own, I needed to line up all my new service providers: doctor, dentist, hair salon, and among the most important, auto repair shop. That, the prospect of finding an honest repair shop, filled me with anxiety. I was driving the 1997 Toyota Camry that my mother passed down to me. So I went online to do some research and was reassured to see that the Car Talk had a website with discussion forums, one of which was people recommending car mechanics in their area.

So I found one with some raves: Amigo Service Center, on 36th & Lyndale in Southwest Minneapolis, my neighborhood. I went to Amigo for nine years of oil changes and repairs small and large. I could walk in, and Todd and Pete would call out, “Hey, Barb, how’s it going?” I could stop in on my way to work and immediately get a tire checked and pumped that I thought looked a little flat, or a tail light bulb replaced. They never tried to pull anything over on me or recommend any extras, any upcharges. If anything, too many things slipped by unchecked because they would never do any work you didn’t ask them to.

I always felt comfortable — happy, in fact — sitting at Amigo waiting for an oil change or a minor repair. Women were made to feel comfortable there, there was an array of magazines, including women’s magazines. The TV was usually tuned to CNN or in the afternoon, the Oprah Show. In fact, it was at Amigo that I watched Oprah’s last show. I was going to call it their “waiting room,” but it wasn’t. It was all one small room there, the counter right there, Todd and Pete talking to customers in person or on the phone. For a long wait, it was understood you’d probably go to “the coffee shop,” Gigi’s Cafe, down the block. They always hurried my job because they knew I was alone and would have to wait.

This past summer the Camry finally died, at age 17. Or rather, it had one too many repairs needed, another repair that would cost more than the value of the car. Darn, and I had just bought a set of Michelin Defenders. I believe in conserving, repairing things, but it got to where it made no longer made sense. So I had to say goodbye. Goodbye to the car my father had driven, to the car that my son, John, and I drove across the country from Colorado Springs back to Wisconsin as John wrote and recorded multi-layered songs on my laptop on GarageBand. Songs I still have.

So I finally bought the hybrid I’d been wanting for some time: a new Toyota Prius, both for ecological and economic reasons. The car salesman was slick, and so was the dealership, and I entered a shiny new auto world with no personal touch, in a suburb, where the motive was to get more of a buck from the customer. I do love the Prius, though. I’ll say that.

Today I took the Prius in for its first maintenance visit: a 5,000-mile oil change, tires rotated, liquids topped off. I didn’t know where anything was: how to find the service entrance and once I did, how to find my way through the huge hallway of service desks and the efficient “customer care representatives” or whatever they called them, and the sterile waiting room, much as I enjoyed the free coffee and cookies.

I could have cried at what was lost: old cars and friendly car mechanics who know you, a homey little waiting area with Oprah on TV, “Hey, Barb, how’s it going?” and Click and Clack, the Tapett Brothers. Rest in peace, Tom Magliozzi. Rest in peace, ’97 Camry. Rest in peace, that phase of my life.

The ’97 Camry, right before taking it to the dealer to be traded in:

IMG_0119 IMG_0120

This was how it should be. Morning services, then breakfast at French Meadow Cafe, and it was so beautiful out that we joined the many customers who were sitting at sidewalk tables. Paula and I both had huevos rancheros, and we sat there for hours talking about our lives. I talked about eras of my past that she’d never known about and which I’d forgotten about. They seem no longer relevant, I suppose, in my current routine life, which, I am realizing, is not drawing enough upon my colorful past and its strengths and who I am and what I love. I talked about studying Spanish, about all the geology I took to fulfill my science requirement without having to either dissect or blow up anything. And I was a nature lover and it was Colorado, so perfect. Two college months tromping around Garden of the Gods, among other places in the foothills.

French Meadow

I didn’t even keep track of the time or look at the clock. But finally we realized we’d been there a long time. The idea popped into my head that we could go to tashlich, which was being held at Lake of the Isles, a short lay-led service. I’d never been, and for anyone who doesn’t know, it’s a Jewish new year custom of tossing breadcrumbs into a body of water to symbolize the casting away of one’s sins. We parked on the east side of the lake and found a park bench to sit on (we were early) while we waited to see when and where people would be gathering.

Finally we saw little clusters of people beginning to assemble on the bridge. We were a small group, maybe 10 at most. With our lay leader, we began the short tashlich service. Then a few more people arrived. “Why don’t we start from the beginning?” So we did. And then a few more trickled in, so we started a third time. We were an assorted crew, none of whom I’d ever seen before, some in shorts. We even had a dog. From the bridge we threw our breadcrumbs, symbolizing as the text said, “the parts of us we don’t like.”

But then came the truly amazing topper-off of the day. I had a few things in my car to return to the Linden Hills library. So after Paula and I  parted, that’s where I headed. One thing that was due, and I had used up all my renewals, was a young adult novel by Gary Snyder called “Okay for Now.” I love this book, and I had just one chapter left.

I was thirsty, so I decided I’d stop by the Dunn Bros. a block from the library and read the final chapter there before turning it in. Then I noticed there were people sitting at the outdoor tables, so I brought my iced tea (which was very refreshing — I needed that!) out there and read. I thought — How often do I just sit outside and read a book like this anymore? It was so pleasant. The weather and temp and the angle of the sun just felt perfect.There’s something about the angle of the sun on autumn afternoons that touches me emotionally. I felt so content, so grateful for the moment. The book ends in a beautiful way, with these two characters who have formed a bond, and one of them is in the hospital for cancer but they both know in their bones somehow that it is going to turn out OK. And sitting there, I felt that same hope — that things may be unsettled, but somehow this is going to be a good year.

Then I went into the library to return my things. They have a book bin you put your returns on it. I noticed the DVD that was on top of the pile of returns, and it’s title was “A Good Year.” Jaw-dropping.

This is my happy place:


On summer afternoons and the particularly precious autumn afternoons like today, when you see the occasional tree like this:IMG_0194

(That is not a solar eclipse coming out you in the upper righthand corner. It is my finger.)

I go for a walk around “my” lake, and if the timing is right and the line isn’t too long, I’ll treat myself to a walleye or salmon taco and often a beer. This is my “happy meal”:


Sitting on my perch, the lake gleaming like crazy with the late afternoon sun, I feel grateful and peaceful. And believe me, I’m usually a roiling bundle of angst. This is a peace I experience nowhere else. Gazing across the lake, I see the reddish apartment building that I moved into on June 2, 2005. I’d decided to make a new life in the Cities. I thought I’d move to St. Paul. I knew it better. It was closer to Eau Claire, where John was still attending high school.

I looked at a slew of apartments near Grand Avenue in St. Paul, and while charming on the outside, with a great location, the bathrooms and kitchens often seemed dreary, with peeling paint, outdated fixtures. Not that I was looking for anything sleek and contemporary, but I wanted it cheery and bright and, OK I’ll be honest… I really wanted a dishwasher.

After looking at lots of apartments, fretting that there’d be nothing suitable in my price range, I happened upon an ad in Craigslist. A young woman named Alison was looking for someone to take over her lease of a one-bedroom on the west side of Lake Calhoun. When I walked in, I knew: This was it.

I’m a pop music nut. In fact, it’s been one of the most important parts of my life, as far back as I can remember, back to Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and novelty songs like “The Witch Doctor” and “Alley Oop,” which appealed to six-year-old me.

And I’ve never let being alone stop me from seeing one of my favorite musicians perform live when they come to town. I used to buy two tickets, thinking I’d wrangle a friend into going with me. But I didn’t want to ask them to pay for their ticket since it wasn’t their idea to go in the first place. And my budget is such that I couldn’t keep buying two tickets for every musician I wanted to see. And frankly, I don’t know anyone except my daughters who likes the music I do. (And I must say, my most memorable concerts were those I attended with them: most notably Wilco at Rock the Garden the summer of 2003 — it was Sarah’s first summer coming home from college, right after freshman year. She’d sent me the tickets as a Mother’s Day gift. I wondered who I’d go with, and Wayne reminded me that she would be home by then, so SHE would be going with me, making it doubly good — I was excited! Then Kate wanted to come, too, so we got her a ticket.) (You could do that back then. Now, Rock the Garden sells out in hours.)

Wilco was still a struggling band. Their label had dropped them, but they put out Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, anyway. Besides being fantastic music, it seemed to eerily predict — or presage, might be the better word — the fall of the Twin Towers. (U2’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” was the same.) Saran & Kate are experts at squirming right to the front of the crowd, and I grabbed onto them and followed till we were very close to the stage. Bad Plus opened for them. They performed all of YHF, followed by a set of rockers from previous albums.

Other great concerts with the girls: Ben Folds and Aimee Mann in Central Park, the summer of…2000 or so. The summer the A/C went out in the Previa right past Chicago, but we pressed on, through Ontario, Niagara Falls, Seneca Falls, Cornell, and NYC. I’ve seen Wilco in Minneapolis at the State with Kate, and we saw Missy Higgins at First Ave.

BUT I DIGRESS! which I can so easily do, especially when it comes to music.

About 10 years ago, at a Wilco concert, looking at the empty seat beside me that I had paid for, but I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, I decided enough was enough. I could start going to concerts alone. Because once you get there, it’s all about the music, anyway. And you can enjoy without worrying that the person you’re with hates the music or isn’t having fun, which has happened to me.

Here’s a rundown of some musicians I have seen while going to concerts alone: Aimee Mann, Nick Lowe, Wilco, of course, Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson, Mavis Staples, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, The Swell Season, ah — the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Ray Davies, Sondre Lerche, Amadou & Mariam, PRINCE — out at Paisley Park, Peter Asher, Bon Iver (being the hometown band from Eau Claire 🙂 ), Music on a Stick at the State Fair, which was Jeremy Messersmith, Dessa, the Jayhawks and Supersonic, and I’m sure there are more. There are also plays and musicals: at the Guthrie, the Orpheum, the Jewish Theater Company, the Ordway, the Lab Theater. Additional venues have been the State Theater, First Ave, the Cedar, the Varsity, the Fitzgerald, Midway Stadium, the Minnesota Zoo amphitheater, Temple Israel, and the Dakota. (Man, I’ve been to a lot of concerts and plays!)

There are a few performers who are like old friends, and I would happily see them whenever they come to town. Aimee Mann is one of those. I’ve seen her at Central Park in NYC, the Guthrie, the Minnesota Zoo, the Dakota and First Ave. Tonight, as I write, she is at the Fine Line Cafe with Ted Leo, playing as The Both. I really like them, and I so wanted to go. But this is starting to wear on me some. Going to clubs alone feels a little stressful, and this was a particularly late set: opening act at 9. And there’s the parking issue, being downtown. And the waiting around, trying to find a good spot and having to hold that spot, standing on your feet for hours. I wouldn’t have gotten out of there till close to midnight. And my night vision for driving has gotten really crappy. I have no depth of vision at night. Plus tomorrow night I’m going to Nickel Creek at the State. I couldn’t pass that up.

So I regretfully, regretfully decided not to go to the Fine Line tonight. Phooey. And it’s a small place with a low stage, I read, so you can feel really close to the performers. But I just can’t go to everything. And this place is unfamiliar, so I would have had to stake out parking, which stresses me because I want to park somewhere I can feel safe walking back to late at night. So I gave myself permission to just be an old fogey tonight and stay in.

But there are videos of The Both on YouTube. Plus a Tiny Desk Concert. A virtual concert in the comfort of my home. So I’m going to mix up a blueberry fizz and go watch these:

Having little time tonight, I’ll start slowly.

This weekend I watched the movie Frances Ha.

I loved the French New Wave feel of it, the lightness, breeziness even in the midst of angst-ridden situations. Because this is youth, this is joy and the exuberance of 20-something life in New York City. I loved the French New Wave feel of it. It took me back to my own 20-something years in Manhattan. I was studying at NYU, took French in Paris for six weeks in the summer of 1979 — one of my best times ever. On my wall I had a photo from Breathless, actually a poster from a European film festival at the Regency. Something about that photo made me happy and symbolized something about the life I wanted:


I remember sitting on a blustery day at the counter at the Chock Full o’ Nuts on the NE corner of Washington Square Park. This was before the days of coffeehouses — well, except for the real ones, the original ones in the heart of Greenwich Village: McDougall St., Bleecker St., etc. I saw one of the TAs for my Beginning French class, a class I loved. Normally, I don’t care for cold gray weather. But on that day, as a new returning student at NYU, grateful to be back to college life and in New York City at age 23 in the fall of 1977, it was part of the energy, and I was very happy.

More about NYC in future posts.

Happy 2014!

Hello AGAIN, world, and Happy New Year. Small attainable goals. That’s what they say to do. So today, in keeping with my vow to start this blog *for real* on January 1, even though it’s late, I will announce my Hello as this baby boomer rides the crest of our generation wave trying to make sense of it all… and also rhapsodizing 🙂


When I think of myself as a girl, in fifth grade,living on Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, I can hear two sounds in my mind’s ear. One is the periodic roar of B-52s taking off from the flight line just down the road. We got used to pausing in our lesson, everyone quiet until the plane was high in the sky, where we could no longer hear it.

The other sound, which I liked much better, was that of the Air Force band across the quad, practicing “Rhapsody in Blue.” I didn’t know what it was called then, just knew I loved the swoon, the sweetness and melancholy of that tune. Here’s a poem I wrote once for a beginning poetry class at the Loft:

March 17, 2009


In fifth grade in Puerto Rico
we learned to pause
when planes lifted off the flight line down the street,
carrying my classmates’ dads in pilot jumpsuits
for a mysterious two weeks “on alert.”

And wafting through our classroom window
late mornings, passionate music
from the boxy building across the lawn,
the Air Force band rehearsing.

Amateur musicians in uniform
with trumpets and trombones,
taking a break from desk jobs and airplanes, to practice
a daily melody I learned to love but couldn’t name,
under summer skies all school-year long

that return to me on a cold spring night in Minnesota
when I hear Gershwin
on the radio.

I remember those days when my sunny dad
whistled off to work in officer’s khaki,
and me at the pool in November with friends
and the school where we studied
in shirtwaist dresses and madras.

And I miss my father tonight,
how he played jazz piano
easily, naturally, in every key.

And that’s what I wish to do here: rhapsodize in every key, without gatekeepers and without fear. Without perfection, without self-censorship. To have writing be *fun* again. If there is a theme, it’s a loose one. Baby boomer mom tells of the life and times in which she grew up, the children she raised, her passions (those children being among the greatest of those), who she was as a girl and who she is now — which is that very same girl with a lot more wisdom.

When I was a girl, Anne Frank and her diary were among my first inspirations to write and to keep my own diary. A place for far-ranging thoughts. So this will be, in part, my figurative red-checkered cloth diary AND my rhapsody, from one who has always thought she was probably meant to be a musician more than anything else. As I didn’t learn the piano very well, these, on the laptop, are my keys.