Archive for October, 2010

October Adventure


Fall weather has been gorgeous in Duluth. Warm sunny days, beautiful colors, cool nights. I don’t think we’ve even had frost yet, which surprises me.

Having an entire day to amuse myself, and having gotten up much earlier than I usually do on a Saturday morning, I decided to leave the house and drive to parts unknown. One thing I wanted to see was the Hebrew Cemetery in Superior, which has always piqued my interest, but I decided to take my time getting there. (As did some of the occupants of the cemetery, judging from the dates on the headstones, but that’s another story.)

I wanted to get to some garage sales in Lakeside first, since their days are dwindling just like our warm fall days. I’m not looking for anything in particular, which makes the sales more fun. I found some books, a few movies on tape  (yes, I still use my VCR) and some other small treasures.

Speaking of little treasures, St Michael’s Church on 49th Avenue East and Superior Street has a lawn filled with pumpkins of all sizes, from mini to enormous and varieties in between. (Some green ones, some pebbly looking ones, some oddly shaped ones that would lend themselves to scary carvings.) It’s a sight to behold. They are all for sale at reasonable prices, but even if you don’t want to buy one, you should go there and have a look.

I bought a large pumpkin for the front steps, and several mini versions for the mantle.  They’re so bright and beautiful. Go look!

I left Lakeside and headed to the West End to drop off a box of stuff at Salvation Army. Couldn’t leave there without stopping in for a look-see, of course, and a very nice clerk  (who has seen me in there a million times, I’m sure) gave me a very good deal on  something whose price I’d mistaken. That’s all I’m gonna say about that!

Then across the High Bridge, to Superior, and more sales. I don’t know Superior very well even though I’ve lived next door to it most of my life, but I wasn’t worried about getting lost. I followed signs and arrows and found some fun sales, missed a bunch more because I didn’t know the area, and then got on Tower Avenue for a “free will” sale at the old Video Vision building on Tower and Central Avenue.

Central Avenue happens to be the avenue that takes you from Superior across the old wooden bridge into Oliver, but is also the avenue with the road leading to the Hebrew Cemetery.

The cemetery is down a gravel road past another cemetery whose name I’ve forgotten. It’s a small cemetery, but so peaceful, surrounded by woods and not much else. I recognized a lot of local names, especially from local businesses that no longer exist, and seeing them brought back a lot of memories, like Kaner’s old store where I rented a parking place for a few years, and Sher Meats from East First Street. I especially liked the pebbles on top of some of the grave markers. I remember that from “Schindler’s List,” and I think it simply means “I was thinking of you. I was here.”

As you will note, I have made progress neither with taking photos or placing them in this blog. I will work on that.

Central Avenue in Superior will take you to the old wooden Oliver Bridge. I can remember going across that bridge with my dad when I was a kid, and I was always scared of it. It seemed old and rickety and not quite safe, but then I was a fearful child and most everything scared me. Some renovation has been done to the bridge, but it still retains that old-fashioned bridge look, and it’s quite lovely. I should have stopped to take photos, but luckily for you and your dwindling patience, I did not.

The bridge leads to Gary, New Duluth (which always reminds me of Homer Simpson shouting “There’s a NEW Mexico??”) and of course a few yard sales in that area, too. A GARAGE SALE sign and arrow, which may have been outdated, led me across Beck Road, which seemed like a new area to me, and then to I-35 near Proctor or Nopeming. (Not sure where the dividing line is.) I stopped at MacDonald’s on Boundary Avenue to answer nature’s call and also at her request/demand bought a chicken sandwich and a Mocha Frappe after my long excursion.

Down I-35 back into Duluth, but still felt like driving, so took Mesaba Avenue to the Goodwill store in Hermantown just for fun. (Both 21st Avenue and 40th Avenue Exits were closed, though they would have made for a more scenic trip.) From Arrowhead Road to Kenwood Avenue to Calvary Road and then Jean Duluth, I took the long way home.

A perfect day. Saw the sights, satisfied some curiosity, got some good books and some pumpkins and a mocha frappe. Does life get much better than that?

Before the snow flies, go off on an adventure of your own. And be sure to tell us about it!

Kitchen Disasters and Two Good Books.


My friend Kim can relate a story about having her family over for Thanksgiving dinner, going into a cupboard and finding her black cat Sam asleep in one of the baking pans. My own Sam-cat also celebrated pre-Thanksgiving dinner by falling asleep in someone’s plate before the guests showed up. It was a sunny spot, and he seized his chance. I’m not saying whose plate it was, but a note to my family: It was washed again after he awoke.

Kitchen work is most enjoyable to me. I find the chopping and cleaning and measuring therapeutic. Not saying I’m a great cook, but I do enjoy the process, and my dream job (I think) would be cooking meals for a big family where none of the members were dieting or lactose intolerant.

But I digress.

Last weekend I bought a bag of 15 bean soup mix, which was so beautiful and which I was eager to make. Fall weather and soups just go together, don’t they? I read the first part of the instructions about soaking the beans in cold water for at least 8 hours. Before I left for work on Monday morning, I put the beans in a large plastic bowl, covered them with 2 inches of cold water, and set them in the refrigerator. Weekday mornings are not long and leisurely at my house, so I was in a rush, but I remember thinking geez, that seems like a lot of beans.

When I arrived home that evening, I opened the refrigerator and saw that the beans had multiplied by about 10 times and all the water was gone. (That bowl was heavy!) I went back to the recipe and read the first line again: “Soak ONE CUP of beans in a plastic bowl for 8 hours…”

Well, hell.

I felt like a witch stirring a cauldron. Needless to say, I now have a lot of bean soup. Enough for gift giving and freezing. Enough so that I probably won’t be making bean soup any more this fall.

A few weeks ago, I was making rice in my lovely yard-sale waterless cooking pot. I don’t know why it’s called waterless cookware because it doesn’t cook food without water, but it can cook rice like nobody’s business, an art I had never mastered. I love this little pan, and I even remember exactly where I bought it and what I paid for it. (Howard Gnesen Road, one dollar.)

So there I was, nearly at the end of cooking rice, when the phone rang. It was my friend Cathy from Pennsylvania, and time flies when we’re talking. I had shut off the pan, but didn’t realize that it would seal itself shut like King Tut’s tomb. After we got off the phone, I went to the kitchen to check on the rice.

The lid was cemented to the pot.

I pulled and pried. I banged on it with a knife. I used a screwdriver to try to break the seal. I ran cold water over it, somehow thinking something would contract and the lid would pop off, but I was never good at science or whatever it is that rules those kinds of things, and that obviously was not the fix. I envisioned throwing away my wonderful cookware AND the not-cheap basmati rice.

Google to the rescue! I looked up waterless cookware troubleshooting, didn’t find what I wanted, and then went for the lowbrow line “cookware lid stuck to pan” and found my answer: Reheat the pan. And so I did, happy that the pot was not lost for the sake of a great phone call, and happy I didn’t dent or scratch it in earlier attempts. I heated up the pan, the lid came off, and guess what? Perfect rice! Perfect!

You can be too specific or hoity-toity with Google and not get what you want, a lesson I’m learning. It reminds me of a story I read years ago about a man who sent his radio back to a department store with a note saying he’d just bought it and it didn’t work. They sent it back with a long form to fill out. He filled it out the best he could, mailed it back, but they apparently rejected his form and returned the radio. He repacked the radio with this note: SHE DON’T WORK. The next week he had a brand new radio from the store. And it worked!

Sometimes simple is best.

If you are weary of your own kitchen disasters and just want to relax with some good food books, I highly recommend Laurie Colwin’s “Home Cooking” books. They are gentle, humorous and fascinating books about food, recipes, friends and living the writer’s life. They are the books I wanted to write, but she saved me a lot of time. Even the covers are beautiful:

Oh, fooey. I was going to make them the same size and put them side by side in this post, but I can’t figure out how. But you get the idea anyway. I love these books. If I had a box of 100 of them, I’d send you all copies. They’re just that good.

Read on, MacDuff.

A Day of Goodbyes.


Yesterday a lot of long-time employees left our company. It was the first major round of layoffs in a long time, and it hit us hard. Their work is being outsourced to India (about 5 years after some companies figured out how well that didn’t work) and so they stayed long enough to train our offshore staff, diligently working evenings and weekends to create a smooth transition and to be able to collect their severance pay.

It was a hard day. It was hard for the people leaving, and it’s hard for the people staying.

“They” are now out there training for new jobs, or seeking employment, or trying out their hand in self-employment or early retirement.

“We” are left with a lot of extra work, a ton of empty spaces, and the memories of our friends and coworkers whose jobs were outsourced.

It stinks.

I’ve been with this company for a long, long time. I started working there during their heyday, when we were golden, when we could do no wrong. A lot of people have been there as long as I have, or longer, and we talk about the old days when coming to work was a lot more fun. A lot of us survived layoffs, bad management, arrogant and self-absorbed company “officials,” dopey business decisions and cost-cutting steps. But nothing quite as drastic as what’s happened this week.

“Buck up, Little Beaver,” a guy said as he was passing my desk yesterday. It made me laugh, and it made me realize how much I’m going to miss these talented, creative, funny and sometimes irritating people. When you spend 8 or 9 hours a day with the same people day after day, they start to feel like family: You love them, you want to wring their necks, and you love them.

So it’s hard to buck up when you come to work the next day and see so many abandoned work stations, and you don’t laugh with the coffee group in the morning or hear the chatter around you. You’re glad to still have a job, but part of you has lost a lot of enthusiasm for it, and you wonder if it’s going to come back.

I know thousands of other companies have gone through this same thing, and I feel for them. Particularly this week. It’s not something you’d wish on anyone else, and it’s not something I ever want to go through again.

But we will. Our next group will be leaving the end of November.

It’s a lot to contemplate.

I’m awfully glad it’s Friday.