Saturday, December 21, 2002

Oops, forgot to share the exciting news. ABC News covered the memorial service on Thursday night. It will be airing on either Saturday or Sunday night, depending on world events. We also got the covers of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press on Friday. If it wasn't such a sad thing, I'd say the service was a success. The lowpoint of the night came when a social worker, David, stood up to share memories of one of the men I'd worked with over the years. I'd known that he'd died, but I hadn't known that he'd been beat up and left to die. David said that the people who attacked him probably didn't even know that they'd killed him because it didn't even make the news.
This week I was reading Richard Bowes's Minions of the Moon courtesy of the wonderful Ramsey County Library in Roseville. We started hanging out at the library when we lived in St. Paul proper and quickly became enamoured of the attached coffee shop and the up-to-date and diverse speculative fiction selection. Anyway, it was late and I was reading in bed. I was at the part of the novel where the main character, Kevin, has just about hit rock bottom. I turned the page and found a little, square pamphlet saying "The Lord Is Faithful to You" over a picture of a castle on an island. In the center is a Psalm and on the back is the contact information for the Chaplain at an area hospital. It creeped me out. I couldn't help wondering if whoever left it in the book had placed it there purposely, right at that part of the story. I wondered what message they were trying to send. I wondered who was reading this book while they were in the hospital and if they'd been given the pamphlet or they'd picked it up themselves. I don't think it helped that it was a hospital that provided CD treatment, and I remembered visiting my grandfather there. (Of course, during his life, he was probably in most of the St. Paul programs at one time or another, so the hospital itself wasn't significant.) I didn't know whether to be mad, or just put it aside or stick it back into the book like all the other things you find stuck in library books. I'm not usually so paranoid. I went ahead and finished the book, which was very good - creepy, gritty, urban and sweet all at the same time. I still haven't thrown away the stupid little pamphlet.

Friday, December 20, 2002

The Mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye.
The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Today is the 18th Annual Homeless Memorial Service in Minnesota. It's part of a national remembrance of people who died over the past year while homeless. In recent years, as we've gotten more organized and I've backed away from direct service and management, my part in the preparations has shrunk to doing the flyers and program. A few days ago, I saw the list of names of people who died for the first time. I knew about twenty out of the 94 people. Some of the deaths I already knew about. The shelter staff tries to remember to let me know when they hear things, but because I'm not attending staff meetings anymore I missed some people. We try to get as much information as we can about how people died, but a lot of times we don't know. As usual, there were a number of murder victims. Being homeless can be really dangerous. I'd love to have a year go by just once without someone being beaten to death. A few died from the effects of paint sniffing, drug abuse or alcholism. I think of those deaths as deaths caused by despair. One of the paint sniffers had only recently switched to paint from alcohol. I'd known him for years and it was tough to see the deterioration. I don't think they realize how deadly it can be. When I started working here, I had no idea that I'd be learning things like the reason the huffers (paint sniffers) choose silver and gold spray paint is that it tastes better than the other colors. Anyways, the paint sniffer loved computers. About 8 years ago, I gave him a donated used one that he was able to keep for a while in his rented room. He had to give it up when he lost the room. One time I asked him if he spoke Spanish because I needed translating help. He laughed and said, "Are you kidding? I was born in the barrio in LA. I don't speak Spanish."

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Paul Auster won my heart with the first novel of his that I read, Timbuktu, a book with a main character who is both canine and homeless. Read a recent interview with him about writing and his new novel at Failbetter.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

The poet in the family has a new poem published in can we have our ball back? The site, low production values, good poets. The poem, very current and, as all his poetry, enigmatic.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Okay, okay. I'll do one more but only because it takes place in the Boundary Waters.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

The squirrel thing must have struck a chord. Here are some squirrel attack links people sent me that range from rabid to merely perplexed: recent reign of terror ends, the Squirrel Defamation League, the Anti Squirrel Coalition, squirrels vs bikes, possibly a little paranoid but maybe not anti-squirrel, reading a squirrel's mood, scary squirrels and more (check out their attack page), people against satanic squirrels, the Squirrel Defense League, and Dave Barry. Many websites blame squirrels for everything from communism to the Sept. 11th attacks but few have asked for their side of the story. This site does.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

This is for Susan. We're going to continue the animal theme for one more post. I'm telling an old story because my Thanksgiving was uneventful, though filled with good food and relaxation. The last time I told this story was in the hotel bar at World Fantasy in Chicago just a few years ago. I told it to Rob Killheffer and Jenna Felice after Rob regaled me with his awesome killer moth story. God, it seems like such a long time ago, and I miss Jenna terribly.

Attack of the Squirrels

Squirrels appear to be harmless, adaptable animals making their way amongst us humans. They have cute faces and bushy tails. They always seem to be playing. This behavior hides a more sinister nature. In my neck of the woods, there are two types of squirrels. I learned this after we had an infestation of them in our attic and walls in suburban St. Louis Park. I was on the phone with a man from a wildlife management company and he asked me what type we had. There were smaller brown squirrels (actually red squirrels) and the larger grey squirrels. The grey squirrels were the type you'd see in your yard, often looking battle torn and missing part of a tail from a run-in with a cat. If you had squirrels in your attic, the grey ones were the ones you wanted because they were loners, usually nesting only with their nuclear family. If you had the brown ones, you were in trouble because they were gregarious and you could have hundreds of them. My mind went back over the past few months. Our squirrels were bold, nasty little critters. They'd cluck away at the dog the whole time he was in the yard, even though he considered anything smaller than a large rabbit beneath his notice. They'd come down in the tree by our sidewalk and hang there at head level, scolding me as I went out to get the mail. When I planted sunflowers, I came home to find them all toppled over, broken halfway up the stems, the flowers gone. A neighbor saw them team up to accomplish that. They dug up the three hundred crocus, tulip and daffodil bulbs I spent two weekends planting. We had the brown squirrels, of course, and he gave me a quote of something around $1,000 to get rid of them. If they were only in the attic, I don't think we'd really care, but they'd started to move through the walls on the second floor and you'd hear them digging to get out into the house. Pounding on the wall only made them dig harder. Being cheap, I ended up buying a live trap and baiting it with peanut butter. I caught the first one in minutes. My neighbor recommended dunking the trap in the nearby pond and drowning the varmit, but I didn't want the death on my hands. I'd read that they would come back if you moved them less than 15 miles away even across water, so I drove a good half hour out to a huge natural area and let them go one at a time. We were lucky and didn't have a huge tribe of them. I repeated the process five different times, catching each new squirrel within a few minutes of re-setting the trap. Each time, I had to deal with the jailbird squirrel staring at me in desperation with his paws around the bars and face in a gap during the whole drive. We got the holes in the eaves fixed and life settled back to normal. I felt good about it until I found out from my friends at my volunteer job at an animal shelter that squirrels were territorial and would fight to the death with any intruders. My five were dead or they'd killed off the others. All of this brought up some memories. This was not my first encounter with the darker side of squirrels.

Island of the Tiny Killer Squirrels

One summer during college, I drove up to go canoing with my friend Shannon in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We took her family's canoe and a Duluth pack filled with a little food and gear and headed out for a three day trip. We chose a campsite on an island because we thought it might keep our food from the bears and set up camp. Even though we thought we were fairly safe from bears, we hung the pack up high in a tree at the edge of the campsite. I was a little paranoid about bears because my last trip had been ruined when the food pack was stolen by a bear. (It had been a big Duluth pack, and when it was filled, it took both of the dads on the trip to carry it. They'd hoisted it up high on a rope hanging from another rope strung between two trees. Sometime during the day when we had all been out canoeing, the bear had had to climb both trees and pull on the cross rope until the bag was low enough to grab. The scariest part was that there were no wrappers or drag marks anywhere around the spot. The bear must have lifted it clean off the ground and walked away with it. The claw marks left on the trees were pretty big.) We found out the next day from a fisherman that a bear made the crossing from one side of the lake to the other every night by swimming to the island, walking across it (right in front of where our tent was) and then continuing off into the water at the other end. He'd used the campsite many times and one time the bear had left a calling card in the form of a nice pile of steaming poop right in front of the tent's opening.
We were sitting down to relax by the campfire and enjoy the sunset, when I noticed one of the squirrels trying to get under the flap of the pack. Yelling at it didn't do any good, even when I ran right up to the tree. At this point, he'd worked his way in with only his little tail was sticking out of the pack, so I grabbed a big stick and hit the tree a couple times. The squirrel freaked out and zipped away up the tree. We hadn't noticed how noisy the island was until it fell suddenly silent. Shannon and I looked at each other from across the camp and giggled nervously. A moment later, squirrels appeared in every tree circling the clearing and started scolding us. The squirrels on the island were tiny, barely larger than chipmunks, but there were a lot of them and the noise was deafening. We made a few brave jokes about someone finding our stripped bones the next day and decided to go to bed when the racket faded a bit. All night we heard stuff hitting the tent, but we didn't know what to make of it, until the next morning, when we found sticks, pebbles and acorns piled about a half foot deep all around the tent. I can picture them clustered in branches over the tent, bombarding us and grinning their sharp toothed smiles at each other. A chipmunk stole one of our pancakes off the griddle that morning but we didn't do anything about it. We quietly cleaned up the campsite and paddled off leaving the island to the rodents.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

The Twin Cities have a mean of 155 days a year with the temperature at 32 degrees or less. You can check how many your own city has.

Monday, December 02, 2002

The December picture on my National Wildlife Federation calendar is a wolf. I don't think you can grow up in Minnesota without learning all about timber wolves. I saw my only wild wolf while crosscountry skiing at Long Lake Conservation Center in sixth grade. I was alone somewhere between the fast skiers and the beginner skiers when I Iooked up and found one looking at me only a few feet ahead of me on the trail. We stared at each other for a few moments before the noise of the skiers behind me drove it off. I did a lot more reading on wolves this past summer for a story I was writing, and as usual with my research, I hardly used any of it. I did the same thing this year with crows. Crows have fascinated me ever since I learned how smart they are while doing research on parrots. Yes, I have two stories not using much of that research, either. Last night, Alan called me into the livingroom to see this incredible story on a crow that had adopted a stray kitten. She kept it alive by feeding it bugs and worms. I guess it was from a Pax show on animal miracles. I did a search and found a site that has pictures about it so you can see it, too. (I can't believe how many people named Kitten have websites on Sheryl Crow.) Another twisted person has most of the dialogue from the show on his site but put on a different ending, I think. It's not the ending we saw last night, although it does makes sense within the context of the research I've been doing on feline behavior and cognition for my time travel, talking cat burglar, Yakuza story.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

What I'm thankful for today

Yesterday, we had no heat in the building. Something was broken on the big ancient boiler and needed to be replaced. The prediction was that it wouldn't be fixed until late today. All day Tuesday, we wore our gloves, scarves and coats, if we had them, and plodded on with what we had to do until we just couldn't take it anymore. I snuck out three hours early with a bunch of reading and curled up at home for the rest of the day. Having a virus makes being cold even worse. The shelter was going to be chilly that night, but everyone could take extra blankets. Someone scrounged up a space heater for our poor volunteers who had to stay up at the desk half the night. All of us were dreading today which was going to be even colder. This morning, I wore a turtleneck under a big wool sweater and contemplated putting on long underwear. I didn't need it, though, because when I walked into the building, a big blast of warm air greeted me. Ah, heat, how we do take you for granted!

Dragons are another thing. I like dragons a lot. Not those collectible pewter and crystal things, but the idea of dragons. In my opinion a good dragon can save a story just as easily as a well-written sword fight. Alan rented Reign of Fire for us to watch last night. It was an okay rental. We liked the movie a lot up until the end. My major quibble with it was this, when you have a movie with dragons, the dragons should be a major part the movie. There just weren't enough dragons. The dragons were very good when we could see them, but they needed a few more attacks and scenes of the dragons in devastated London. Despite this, not enough good dragons is better than too many bad dragons and I'm thankful for that.

Friday, November 22, 2002

The quote of the week comes from Karen, imagining what creepy, bondage guy was thinking at World Fantasy. "What a beautiful aura on that woman. I'd sure like to see her in leather." Thank you, Karen, you made me laugh out loud.

"Their commitment to one another mirrors their commitment to serving others." I just got back from the 2002 Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service ceremony sponsored by the McKnight Foundation. The award "recognizes exceptional volunteers who demonstrate the difference one person can make in serving others" in Minnesota. I've been privileged to know three of the honorees for the past eight years through their volunteering in the overnight shelter. All three have been with the shelter since it opened 20 years ago. Fern and Ed Ostberg have been volunteering as a couple for 54 years and are truly an inspiration. Andy Benjamin brings an incredible energy and commitment to his volunteering. All three amazing people volunteer for multiple agencies which makes it difficult to list everything that they do. If you need some ideas on the difference one person can make or just need reassurance that the world isn't a horrible place, you should follow the link to awards and read about these 11 wonderful people.
Grandma has been in the sub acute care unit at a nursing home for about a week now and she probably will be there for another week. She fell off a step ladder while putting away her Halloween decorations. She cut her head in two places, but didn't notice it right away because she doesn't remember falling. Suddenly, she was on the floor, bruised and in pain. She noticed her finger was bent out of a joint so she grabbed it and yanked it back into place. The only reason she sought out help after the fall, much later, was that she kept on falling. On Wednesday, we went to have an MRI done on her head. There was a lot of paperwork and questions aiming to find out if she had any metal in her body. One of the questions asked about welding. Grandma was a welder in the shipyards in Portland, Oregon during World War II. Ask her about Rosie the Riveter and she'll tell you the welders were the tough ones not the riveters. My grandma is 5'2" and 90 pounds soaking wet. Tatoos count as metal, too, so I had to ask her if she had one. I didn't think so, but you never know. She laughed and shook her head like I was crazy. You never know. Afterwards, one of the women helping us said she was a peanut. I'm not sure what she meant exactly, but it was intended to be flattering. The food is horrible in the nursing home so we went out to lunch on our way home. She told me about dinner the night before. She was sitting looking down at her plate and pushing her dinner around hoping that another configuration would be better. The woman across from her asked, "How can they ruin an egg salad sandwich?"

Monday, November 18, 2002

I've gotten a nice response from people on the focus on positivity, so we'll continue it at least for this post. Do any of you remember when the saying, "Commit random acts of kindness and senseless beauty," was going around? According to my Internet research, the saying started in 1982. So, it's been around for twenty years and that makes me feel really old. I was working for a commercial interior design firm when I saw an article on it in Glamour and I showed it to everyone. They took the saying to heart, putting it up on a wall with spotlights so everyone passing by through the Minneapolis warehouse district could see it. The following sites promote the practice of the kindness part of the formula, the generosity game and the random acts of kindness foundation. Good stuff, but I don't want to forget the senseless beauty part. I don't think we have enough of it in our lives.

I'd love to come up with a list of random acts of senseless beauty. I used to be a gardening magazine and seed catalog junkie. Actually, I still am a junkie, but I am in recovery. Anyway, I hated for all the pretty pictures of flowers to go to waste when I recycled them, so I started cutting them out and putting them in people's mailboxes at work and sticking them to envelopes going into the mail. Some people thought I was really strange, but most people really liked it. Other than planting bulbs, which you can't do during the most of the year in Minnesota, it was the cheapest way I could think of to share my love of flowers. So send me your senseless beauty ideas and be kind to each other as Ms. Bond says. And dance. Dancing is a kind of beauty, isn't it?

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Continuing our effort at positivity, I will now discuss the Agent Cooper method of anger management. Alan developed this after we watched the entire Twin Peaks series this summer while he was battling carpal tunnel and tendonitis and couldn't type or write. Agent Dale Cooper met the challenges and adversity life threw at him with a big thumbs up. In one scene, he lies on the floor of his room bleeding from gunshot wounds while an ancient, oblivious hotel employee ignores his plea to get a doctor. How does Cooper respond to the man? He gives him a thumbs up.

According to Alan, part of the effectiveness of the method lies in the kinetic motion, the thrusting out of the arm for the thumbs up. It does seem to work. (In fact, I just now got a thumbs up from Alan when I told him he wasn't really looking for the mustard, if he didn't find it in the refrigerator, because it was there. And it was.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

I was really crabby when I left work last night. I was mad at Microsoft. I was mad at our patchwork network made out of donated computers. I was mad at myself for wearing a light-weight coat. It was warm when I left for work, but freezing cold now that the sun was down. I pulled out of the parking lot hunched over the steering wheel and cursing myself for not bringing my gloves that morning. As I got to the end of the alley, I stopped next to about 20 guys standing in the dark, all waiting the final fifteen minutes for the shelter to open. Most of them were bent over from the cold, too, with their hands stuffed in their pockets, and their collars pulled up to their chins. Many of them pulled their hands out to wave at me and say, "Good-bye." I suddenly realized how stupid all of my complaints were. When I hit a traffic jam a few minutes later, I turned the radio to an oldies station and sang along with the Doors, CCR and Motown the rest of the way home.

Keep up with me here, "In with the good... out with the bad... in with the good... out with the bad..."

Monday, November 11, 2002

"Hello, salty goodness." Quote of the week from Sunday night's episode of Angel.

After a wonderland week where friends decended on us from all over for World Fantasy, reality hit. All week we had bad colds, bad news and the house seemed really empty without our house guests (or as empty as Alan, Burt the dog and three cats allows it be.) Lately it seems like I've entered a not-so-nice alternate world. The only consolation is that, if I understand quatum physics correctly, somewhere another Kristin lives in a world where the Republicans didn't win, friends lives are happy and sane, and she is finding the time to write everyday. Hugs to everyone. You know who you are.
Winter Happens - Be Ready!

"Any one who has resided in Minnesota for 12 consecutive months already knows that winter happens sooner or later, and we have to be ready for cold and snow." Minnesota Department of Public Safety

Winter Hazard Awareness Week was last week. I got a neat little packet of information covering everything from outdoor safety to indoor air issues and immunizations for winter vacation travel. If you live in a northern clime I'm only going to ask you once, "Have you got your little coffee can survival kit ready in your car?" If not, here's what you need: candle stubs and matches, metal cup, red bandana and plastic whistle, pencil and paper, change for phone, first aid kit with any essential medications, plastic flashlight with spare batteries, two large plastic garbage bags, safety pins, and candy bars. I usually keep an extra pair of boots, a small shovel, a blanket and some kitty litter in the trunk with my jumper cables, too. You only have to be stuck on a rural Wisconsin road once to learn your lesson.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

We won't be home this year to hand out candy. In my family, this is a horrible dereliction of duty. I feel like a Halloween failure. I haven't found any of our decorations, buried as they are in our basement. Thank goodness for the window decals from Mom. It will be great fun this year, though, with friends pouring in from all over for World Fantasy. Plans include temporary hair dye, glitter and shaking our booties. Didn't have time to carve a pumpkin this year either? You can do it virtually.

Friday, October 25, 2002

We are all heart broken today. Paul Wellstone, U.S. Senator, champion of the poor and liberal hero, died in a plane crash this morning with his wife Sheila, daughter Marsha and five others. I met Sheila a few years when she came and spent the day visiting and discussing housing and other issues with some of our transitional housing clients here at work. She came to learn more about homelessness and the struggles of poor families in the state. We have lost two strong advocates in the battle for social justice.

Based on Minnesota election law, it appears that the Democratic party will have to come up with a new candidate in the next few days and that we'll have a supplemental ballot for the Senate race.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Do petitions have any effect? How about lawn signs? Does voting for your second choice candidate, because you're afraid candidate number three (or four) will win if you vote for your favored candidate, undermine our democracy?

While I mull over these questions, I'm just sitting here waiting to see how nasty the TV ads get before the election. At least we have something to talk about other than the unseasonably cold weather.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Found: New Young Writer

Anthony Doerr, age 28, writes short stories. Has lived many interesting places. Has published in prestigious publications. Likes fishing. Check out his collection, The Shell Collector. Many thanks to Terri Windling for bringing Doerr to my attention when she published his story "The Hunter's Wife" in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Fifteenth Annual Collection. He also has a very good story, The Snake Handler," in the Fall 2002 issue of Zoetrope.

Speaking of Fishing...
I started fishing as a small child off the dock at my parent's cabin in Wisconsin. We had these small orange ice fishing rods that were the perfect size for us and catching little sunnies and perch. I remember my grandpa bending down to get a new worm for me after he'd just taken a little sunny off my hook. While he was digging in the dirt, my hook slipped in and I'd already caught another one. They were that easy to catch. It didn't take long before our parents made us start taking off our own fish. I don't know why getting the fish off the hook for the first time was so traumatic. I think we were worried about cutting ourselves on the fins and hurting the fish. That first time took forever. We stood crying on the dock holding the rod and towing the fish around in the water, while our parent's sat looking down on us from the deck. They showed no mercy. In and out of the water, the fish would go until we finally were desperate enough to wrap our hand over the fin and guide the hook out its gasping mouth.

We moved on to casting rods and bigger fish as we got older. I was ten or eleven years old when I caught my first northern pike. I was in the motor boat with my dad, and he held the fish up in the air proclaiming it was a keeper. I told him to release the fish back into the lake. He refused and said we'd be eating it that weekend. I told him that I'd never fish again if he didn't put it back. He wouldn't, and I haven't. It wasn't a hard vow to keep because I only really fished to keep my dad company. We still went out in the boat together after that, but I sat reading a book and suntanning while he trolled.

Sand Lake isn't a huge lake but it does get pretty deep, about 60 feet deep. Sometimes, after a water skiing wipe out in the middle of the lake, I'd float waiting for the boat to come around and think about how much water was around me and what that water could be hiding. There is a lake legend of a huge muskie (muskellunge). All the fisherman have a story about hooking it only to lose it when someone was slow with the net or the line broke. A neighbor had a nice sized walleye on the line when a much larger muskie came up and grabbed it. One time, my grandpa had a muskie hooked that he knew he'd have trouble landing. He brought it up along side the boat and called my grandma over with the net. She took one look at the monster and said, "Don't you dare bring that in the boat."

The best source of muskie stories was the late Gearhard Heineke, or as we knew him, the Muskie Fisherman. He was so good that he had Muskie skulls covering his barn and the fence posts that lined his property the way some people have antlers. When he came by in the boat, he'd sometimes stop in to have a beer with my dad. He had a net in his boat for muskies that could have held any of us kids. He told us that on top of dining on biggest fish in the lake, muskies also ate duckings, muskrats and daydreaming children. I'm pretty sure he was right about the first two. I'm not going to venture a guess on the last one.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Vacuity and Substance

A website disappears. A beloved website. The URL no longer exists. A search returns other sites. They refer to it, discuss it, proclaim its orginality and beauty. I am not the only admirer. All link back to nothing. Other searches lead nowhere. It is gone. Sigh.