Friday, August 31, 2007


On this Labor Day weekend, I'm grateful that my Fridays aren't nights for exhausted celebration.

That the end of each workday isn't the happiest hour.

That Sunday evenings don't build into a feeling of dread.

I'm grateful to be a writer.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Talking To

I’d been out of touch with news over the past few days, so brought a little radio on my morning latte-walk. But just a couple of blocks into the walk, a noise drowned out my radio as if I’d turned the volume to mute.

I removed an earbud and looked around, finally catching sight of a grey squirrel perched in plain sight on a low tree branch ahead. He (she?) faced me directly and squawked ferociously.

Giving a passing thought to rabies, I kept my eyes on him as I approached. He didn’t scrabble around to hide behind the tree, as squirrels tend to do. Instead, as I passed, he moved around toward me, his body stretched forward like a pointer dog, his head extended tautly. Squared off, he continued to yell at me!

I’ve heard the cautions about human behavior: when you see something unusual going on, it’s likely a staged distraction away from something even more interesting ... like a pickpocket. Did humans steal this strategy from animals? Because, judging by that squirrel’s squawking, there must have been some kind o’ somethin’ he didn’t want me to notice. Maybe babies, out on their own?

I wish I’d thought to look anywhere but at him.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


In memory of my dad (who would have turned 90 today), I’m making clam linguine for supper.

I’ve adapted my recipe from his, which he adapted from “Enrico” - a friend, or chef, or restaurant; I don’t know which.

In retirement, Dad would spend an afternoon preparing the ingredients for this recipe -- mincing parsley, oven-drying then crumbling bread, shredding Parmesan -- until the countertop next to the stove was dotted with little measured dishes of each.

All his effort seemed impressive ... which confuses me now, since I mostly guesstimate the quantities, and consider this one of my go-to recipes when in a hurry for something at the last minute. I do use short-cuts -- packaged bread crumbs, pre-shredded Parmesan; sometimes even -- ack! -- dried parsley, though not tonight. And Dad would sip from a glass of bourbon or scotch while he prepared this recipe; I’ll pour chardonnay.

But when I lean over the skillet to breathe in the steam from garlic sauteing in butter, I’ll imagine us agreeing that it’s the best aroma in the world.

2 Tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (10oz.) whole baby clams w/liquid
Splash of white wine
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 lb linguine (cooked, hot)
1/3 cup soft fresh bread crumbs
Shredded parmesan cheese, to taste

In large skillet, saute garlic in butter. Add clams (including liquid) and wine; simmer until reduced a bit. Add peas and parsley; heat through.

Remove from heat and toss with hot linguine and bread crumbs. Sprinkle with parmesan to taste.

Servings: 4

[Prepared in photo with penne, served on a luncheon plate, accompanied by a chopped Caprese salad.]

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Artist Date

A few times in my life, I’ve bought an issue of Vogue magazine -- the September fashion issue (invariably their “Biggest Issue Ever!”) -- to see what was in, see how far out I was, and gauge how I felt about that. Always, I was 90% out-of-style, and 90% okay with it.

My most contemporaneous brush with high fashion was a time I recognized it on someone else -- on television. Circa 1990, Vogue had filled its September issue with plaids -- and not long after, there was Murphy Brown's Corky Sherwood, costumed in a fitted plaid blazer lifted right off the issue’s pages.

But as I’ve been encouraging my creativity, I’ve found myself seeking out the September issue every year. I bought it at Border’s this week, where a seventysomething checkout lady barely managed the leverage needed to drag its 840 glossy pages across the barcode scanner. “Only $4.99?” she marveled. “It’s all ads,” I said.

At least for the first 300 pages -- editorially, only the table of contents, editor’s letter and masthead appear there. But the creative ads make the issue so much fun! I like the 8- and 12-page spreads that sometimes build into little narratives ... and I like noticing them excerpted in 1- or 2-page Cliffs Notes versions later, in other magazines.

It seems that every writer knows about Morning Pages, from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron -- three pages of handwritten, stream-of-consciousness writing done first thing every morning, intended to clear the mind. But few writers acknowledge Cameron’s twin creative tool, Artist Dates -- solitary playtimes intended to repopulate the mind with pleasing images and energy.

When I reached page 51 of Vogue and saw the ad of a young woman resting on a woodpile in a barn -- dressed in couture! -- and caught myself wondering about her backstory … I realized this issue is going to be a terrific Artist Date.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

From the Classroom

There's no way the text from this page in IKEA's 2008 catalog was written by someone in the USA …

... unless the marketing team included an ex-middle-school social studies teacher, fresh from lessons on imports and exports.

Seriously -- textiles?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Map It

When I was 11, I watched until my neighbors across the street were gone, then crept into their house and drew the floorplan on a page in my writer's notebook.

I look at the diagram now and wish I'd included enough detail to bring the rooms to life this many years later. Yet I also smile, because the major item of interest on their property didn't require a break-and-entering, and doesn't even require a notation for me to remember it. It's off the page at the upper left, at the alley-end of a fence that ran along their driveway. Each week, the trash cans there held (to my mind) an intriguing number of empty beer bottles.

These days, if I feel stalled while writing a story, I'll draw a map of the setting (a room or workplace or city) and make marks in areas that interest me. When I figure out why they're interesting, the story usually gets going again.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Over the Top

When I channel-surfed onto a Food Network segment of Semi-Homemade Cooking, the set decor hijacked my little-girl eyeballs.

I stopped. I stared. I snapped a photo of the TV screen so I could keep looking at the hues and textures.

I used to love peppermint-stick ice cream, too.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Battle at Kruger

With more than 10 million hits, this You Tube video of a South African lion-buffalo interaction is a must-see.

Beyond fascinating and horrifying -- and eventually cheer-inducing! -- it's a terrific real-life illustration of how story tensions rise and resolve toward an ultimate conflict.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Behind the Bridge

When I set fiction or essays in a pharmacy, readers gobble up the behind-the-scenes aspects and ask for more. So when I found myself gobbling up the details in a recent post to a pharmacy listserv I belong to, I paid attention.

Scott Knoer, director of pharmacy at a Minneapolis hospital, gave permission to distribute the following -- excerpts from his personal observations and learnings during the first hours after last week’s collapse of the I-35 bridge.

At approximately 6:30 I received an Orange Alert page and immediately drove to work. By the time I got there, the response from our staff was overwhelming. We never had to initiate a call tree because so many people either called us or just showed up and asked how they could help.

One learning from this is that when a major artery like Interstate 35 is closed, it has a ripple effect on traffic. It took me about an hour to make a 20 minute drive to the hospital. Another learning is that cell phone communications are difficult as the system is overwhelmed by people across the country checking in with loved ones. I had about a 10% success rate when trying to contact staff and the hospital on my way in.

All of the disaster training really pays off. When I pulled up, there were police at the entrances ready to direct and guide traffic. The ED [Emergency Department] was full of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, lab staff, etc. Everyone had their occupation taped to their back so they were easily identified. Signs were on the walls indicating where you could find Pharmacy, Lab results, etc...

At one point we had four pharmacists and three technicians in the ED, running up supplies, drawing up doses, checking allergies and interactions, and handing out morphine, antibiotics, vaccines, etc. The rest of our team manned their stations, keeping supplies moving, entering orders and answering a tremendous number of phone calls.

Another learning is that while we have a stockpile for disasters, it is aimed primarily at bioterrorism. The things we really went through for this trauma event were cefazolin, lactated ringers, and tetanus vaccines. We also quickly overloaded our [pneumatic] tube system's capacity and had to use runners to get things from Pharmacy to the units.

Our Command Center was also not prepared for the huge volume of phone calls from the media and families calling the hospital. We needed more phones and people to answer them in our Hospital Command Center. We were also unprepared for the number of families that showed up at the hospital looking for loved ones. Our plan was directed at patients, not families. We did initiate a lockdown.

You generally think of physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other caregivers in a response like this, but I got to witness every department in the hospital putting their plans to work. Our Food Services staff were wheeling carts of water and sandwiches to the ED personnel. They also set up coffee and food for the families in the lobby. Our facilities people were dealing with tube volume issues and our security people were everywhere. Our volunteers and social workers were here to help patients and families.

Well done, Minneapolis! Thank you, Scott!

As for me ... I've already tucked away the “occupations taped to their backs” detail for a future story.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Family Portrait

True incident:

A house in my friend’s neighborhood was for sale. Curious by nature and interested in housing, he wandered over during a realtor’s open house to take a look inside and see the price.

The entry was unattended but, seeing the front door ajar and hearing voices deeper inside, he opened the storm door and stepped into the tiny foyer. And found himself nearly nose-to-portrait with a large, framed family photograph that hung directly opposite the door.

He recognized the man, woman, and some of the kids in the photo. He admired their casual arrangement into a pleasing composition of figures. And he noticed their dress: everyone in jeans faded to the same hue; everyone barefoot ... and everyone topless.

That’s the set-up. What’s your story?