The recent passing of Cokie Roberts brought to mind a
piece that I had written from an actual conversation my former husband and I
had in 1996.
during the first half of 1996, journalist Cokie Roberts reported that she and
her husband Steve would write a series of columns based on their dinner
conversations. They have written a syndicated column together for several
years, but not in any newspapers to which I had access. I am not aware if their
topics are actually from their dinner conversations. At the time, I thought the
proposal seemed a bit odd, but dinner conversations can be interesting, some
even worthy of taking notes.
husband Arthur and I had the conversation related below in June 1996. He was
the cook in the family from 1971 until the end of our marriage in 2006. He was
good. I looked forward to most of his meals, and I’m sure many readers remember
disappointment in varying degrees, when what they were anticipating on a given
evening, did not appear on the table.
unusual circumstances can dictate what one ends up eating.
When I saw
the package of chicken legs on the baking tray with a matchbox, metal tongs and
seasonings, I asked Arthur, “Why aren’t we having cold cuts for dinner
cold cuts. Baby sweet pickles, giant green olives, black olives, pickled
herring, marinated artichoke hearts, various bite-size cheese cubes were usually
part of a delectable relish tray accompanying make-your-own cold sandwiches.
supermarket didn’t have the right kind of brie cheese,” Arthur replied, “so
we’re having barbecued chicken legs.”
they didn’t have the right kind of brie, we’re having barbecued
chicken?” I asked.
right. I was going to have cold cuts with brie and black olives.”
going to have cold sandwiches because we don’t have brie? How come we can’t
have cold sandwiches without brie?”
asked me what I was going to barbecue, so I thought you wanted me to barbeque
said that because I know how much you love to barbeque and I assumed you were
going to barbeque. I thought you already knew that anytime there’s a choice
between having a cold-cut dinner or something barbecued, I’ll take the cold
didn’t have the right kind of brie, anyway,” he said with a shrug.
can have cold sandwiches without brie.”
need the brie container for my new bar of Lava.”
“That explains it all—not!”)
gray-green slime has built up on the little brie can, and I want a new can for
the new bar of Lava.”
new bar of Lava is really the reason we’re having barbecued chicken
didn’t have the right kind of brie. That’s why we’re having barbecued chicken
possible to have a cold meal without brie. We could have had cold sandwiches
night we’ll have cold sandwiches…if the other supermarket has brie in the
round can for the Lava.”
is dictating what we have for dinner two nights in a row?”
discourse had been civil, and I knew enough not to press the hand that fed me.
state of Minnesota has 10,000 lakes—so the license plates say. I’m a new
Minnesotan, recently immigrated from Illinois, so I researched it. There are
11,842! That’s a lot of lakes compared to South Dakota where I grew up, which
Minnesota also has bodies of water
which are small and unnamed. One of those is an “unnamed wetland” in Roseville
which is on the route I often take as a nature walk, which includes Owasso
One mid-June day, I saw a sight so
touching that I relive and retell it often.
A mother mallard was
swimming with several small ducklings around her. The mother approached a thin
fallen branch (about four to six inches in diameter) lying in the water. She
ducked under to the other side. Then one by one, the little ducklings climbed onto
the log, all in a row, and stayed there as though they were in school and had
been instructed to do so. I counted ten baby ducklings!
That scene begged for a picture; but,
alas, I did not have my cellphone with me.
Every time I walked that route, I
looked for the mallard family. The
second time I spotted them, I was thrilled to see the mother mallard with ten
ducklings swimming around her in Lake Owasso. I counted two or three times to
make sure they were all still alive.
As the days passed, it was harder to
count the young mallards—when I saw them.
stayed near the shore where tall grasses grow and swam in and around the
Other mallard families were also on
the lake. I saw a mother with two ducklings swimming around, and another with
Blacktop trails wind through the
forested section of Owasso Hills Park. I’m delighted to spot wildlife along the
way. One day a rabbit stood still as a statue until I came near; then it ran to
the other side of the path into an area that camouflaged it well.
I came upon a young deer looking
directly at me and it didn’t run off until I was close, and then not far. I had
my cellphone that day, and when I stopped to take the deer’s picture, I was
rewarded with a nasty mosquito bite that took several days to heal.
I have also seen a
doe with two young fawns.
On the east end of the unnamed
wetland, a mated pair of Canada geese introduced me to their four young
goslings—by waddling away from me into the water. Only twice have I seen the family
of Canada geese, but they were replaced by a large brilliant white swan. What
an elegant creature with her long thin neck!
I learned to skirt black-and-white
creamy spots on the blacktop trail—especially after I noticed one that had been
squished. A couple days later, there was a flock of about twenty Canada geese
in a small green area near the wetland—and more black-and-white spots to avoid.
I finished my loop east through the
forest, then west down Owasso Hills Drive, where the large houses with
three-car garages and manicured lawns provided a very different atmosphere. Hammers
told of a new roof in progress. At first, it sounded like two houses were
getting a new roof—the other a street away—until I realized the rap-rap-rap was
the same, but an instant later. The echo like drumming in sound surround.
When I started my return home, tall
cottonwoods at the edge of the wetland cooled me with their shade; and, in
concert with the breeze, their rustling leaves serenaded me high overhead.
I saw dragon flies dart around the plants near
the water, turtles sunning on logs, and hear frogs croaking.
The gentle slope uphill required a
few more calories to navigate. It’s unlikely that my walk would be recommended for
physical fitness; but that walk was and is enjoyable, pleasing, spirit lifting,
and likely recommended for the soul.
You think writing a book will make
you famous. You take an early retirement option from teaching to write the
children’s books you had in mind. You seize the opportunity to write five texts
for picture books and three novels for intermediate-age children for a major
publishing company. Your editor edits famous authors of several Caldecott and
Newbery winning books. You discover in an interview that he was editor for your
favorite book ever—Island of the Blue Dolphins—which won the Newbery in 1960.
You are in good company!
you look through The Hornbook, the magazine devoted to children’s books, you
see full-page ads from your company for the authors who won the major prizes!
EVERY librarian in the country and beyond already knows about that author and
book and has probably already purchased multiple copies!
in your little mid-western town of 3600, you are known by many. But it’s a town
where new people move into the housing development a few miles out of town, and
only a few of them know you. There is no bookstore in town. The two that were
there and sold some books, and often wished a personalized signature—for which you
were happy to accommodate—did not have enough business to stay open.
you took advantage of two venues in the area: a downtown art fair in August and
at the housing development a few miles from town, a Holiday Market in early
December. You could buy your books from the publishing company and sell them. You
made a few hundred dollars each year.
you tally what you’ve made from those eight published books, you could have
taught for one and a half year more and made the same money—plus added more
dollars to your pension.
of your picture books, first actually, did get a Boston Globe Hornbook Honor
Award, and your first novel received an Honor Book Award for Youth from the
State of Nebraska. It didn’t move the
numbers on the royalty statements.
you receive your royalty statements every six months, you see a lot of places
where you still owe the publisher money because the books have not sold beyond
the modest advances. And, your heart breaks when you see that hundreds of your
first novel, the Nebraska award novel, was sold at 30% cost. They had not given
you first opportunity to buy some of those! Often the practice. And, you don’t
receive royalties on books sold for less than 50%!
completed your third novel, and your beloved editor gets cancer of the jaw; and
after fifty-five years of loving his work, he regrets having to give it up. At
the same time, that publishing company merges with another major publishing
company. The editor who will take the beloved editor’s place has lost her post
and finishes editing your book as a freelance editor. She is a sweet person and
patient. This is the first time you’ve had to do minor changes and quite a few.
You are granted an extension.
learn that the ALA conference is going to be in Chicago that summer and decide
to attend. One major attempt to hobnob with the powerful group. It’s their
committee which chooses the major prizes.
register, book a room at a major hotel downtown—that happens to have a view of
Lake Michigan and is close to the venues. You drive half-way into Chicago and
take a Metro train to the Loop.
meet up with people at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators,
of which you are a member, and have a scheduled two-hour watch at their booth.
An 18×24 poster of the cover (One writer friend said, “Your cover has bakery
window appeal.”) is hung in a prominent place. You display your books and do a
bit of self-promotion—something that makes you uncomfortable. There isn’t much
traffic by the booth.
your stint is over, you find the booth of your new merged publishing company.
You are aghast at the large pile of free paperback copies of your new novel
introduce yourself as the author and give your editor’s name. The booth
attendant says arrogantly, “She doesn’t work for this company anymore!”
are floored! Speechless. Your beloved editor would never have allowed an
employee to be so rude to one of his authors.
dinner that evening introduced the winners of the ALA awards, it was not
memorable. You have a pleasant time with the people at your table. There was
nothing to indicate you were an author. You introduce yourself, no one was
aware of your books. You are happy for the winners—and envious.
return to your country home near the small town. Finally, when the book is
printed, you wait for your complimentary twelve copies to arrive.
One day you drive down your lane. You are
upset when you see a bag of trash that someone must have tossed there. You get
out to pick it up and discover that it is your box of new books! The UPS truck
couldn’t get up your lane, so the driver left it there with no notification!
are disillusioned. The book is beautiful, but what an inauspicious beginning.
ahead a few years. You haven’t done much serious writing, a few poems, a few
essays, stories, memoir pieces for your writing group’s anthologies.
fall in love and move to a large metropolitan area in another state.
enter the county branch library, a huge beautiful new building. The first place
you head is the children’s novels section. You spot your latest novel! Alas,
it’s on the bottom shelf—the shelf which has the least circulation. You return
to the library about every two weeks and check for your book. It is always
there—on the bottom shelf!
check the electronic card catalogue to see if any of the other six branches
have any of your books. None! This is the only book with your name on it in
seven branch libraries.
one trip, you have the courage to pull the book from the shelf and bring it to
the woman at the desk, who says she is not a librarian, but thinks it’s nice of
you to sign the book. You show her your ID, so she doesn’t think you’re pulling
a fast one. You sign the book with your favorite blue ink pen.
youngish woman walks into the area, and the woman at the desk introduces you to
her. She is one of the children’s librarians. She has about a second to
acknowledge your presence before she walks to a door at the far end of the large
children’s picture book area and disappears.
ego is not made of steel, so it may be bruised a bit.
your latest trip to the library, you again check the shelf for your book. It’s
not there. You go to the card catalogue to see when it will be checked in and
available. It does not appear anywhere! It hasn’t been sent to a borrower at
another branch. It’s nowhere!
hurry to the far corner by the main door, where they have used books for sale.
You think you may find it there. The sign says “Used Books. Price $1.00 in good
condition. Twenty-five cents if not.”
book was in pristine condition. (After all, no one ever checked it out.) You
could rescue it for $1.00! But, it’s not there.
walk to the desk in the children’s library area and ask, “What does it mean if
a book appears to not be in any library branch?” (You have a good idea what her
answer will be.)
“That means it’s been pulled from the shelf. If its circulation doesn’t warrant
keeping it, it’s withdrawn.”
it’s in bad condition, it is recycled. If it’s in good shape, it’s either put
in the sale nook or sent to the Friends for their sale.”
may have the courage to tell her you are the author of that book.
you’re lucky, you may receive a sympathetic smile.
Do you still want to be a writer?
Selling books at the Galena Territory Holiday Market
It was a balmy late September morning, not conducive for
getting right to work after coffee in town with my congenial buddies.
so, my Xterra and I ignored the West Guilford turnoff to home and work. Feeling
self-indulgent, I drove on. It was not the first time I’d given in to that
temptation. Luciano Pavarotti’s voice had coaxed me past the turnoff many
times. The thrill of his vibrato wrapped around me like the embrace of a new
infatuation and I had no desire to cut that short. It didn’t matter that I
didn’t understand the lyrics—it was his voice, not the words, that touched
something deep inside.
certain the Xterra sensed my need. We were a recent coupling—the first ever car
of my own. The Xterra responded to the light press on the gas pedal with
smooth, deliberate ease and we rolled past the turnoff, glided down a knoll,
then climbed the grade to the top of a ridge where the trees opened to fields
below, ripe for harvest.
Number Two of “The Essential Pavarotti” had advanced to the slow and reverent
“Ave Maria” and accompanied us around the winding curves of the willow-lined
A road to the right with a sudden downhill curve beckoned and did not disappoint. I felt a tickle in the tummy, reminiscent of a slow Ferris wheel descent. The soft light of that early fall morning filtered through the yellowing leaves of birch trees along the road. A warm glow hovered above the moist verdant grass, refreshed by the previous night’s generous rain.
Xterra coasted down the two-mile hill, past a charming bay-style cottage, accelerating
while the crescendo of the melodious “Ave Maria” exhilarated me. Cows of
various colors grazed and lazed in the lush green pastures that the road had
acceleration slowed by a sudden rise, the Xterra begged a little encouragement
from me to climb the hill with a sharp curve at the top. I had to be careful
not to overshoot the curve when a well-kept barn appeared in mid-air as an
optical illusion before the rest of the landscape unfolded and put the barn in
perspective near a low bluff that fell to a slow-flowing stream below.
the intersection with a main road, I hesitated at the yield, appreciated the
lay of the farm ahead in the distance, wondered how the young daughter of the
farm’s late mistress was coping and tending the extensive flower gardens of her
Essential Pavarotti” moved from the final sustained notes of “Ave Maria” to the
snappy pace of “La Serenata” and the Xterra and I took off on a roller coaster
ride down an abrupt hill where the sign dictated “Speed 35 mph”.
we decided. “It’s thirty-five miles per hour at the top of the hill and fifty
miles per hour at the bottom where there is no sign.” At the top of the next
rise, we were right on cue with the crescendo of “O serenata, vola. O serenata,
came one of my favorite parts on this procrastination loop—gentle curves and
hills along another ridge heading back home. “Panis Angelicus” was playing. The
orchestral prelude was soft, tender, prolonged; then Pavarotti sang slow and
sensuous phrases with expressive virtuosity from pianissimo to fortissimo. The
tenderness, the rhythm, the nuances of Pavarotti’s mastery of the music were a
metaphor of love and I was mesmerized.
I had let go with the slow and decreasing “Pauper, servus, et humilis” which
was repeated once more like the unwrapping of a shawl no longer needed.
“Pauper, servus, et humilis”.
headed up the long grade, my Xterra and I, to the highest mound in the area,
accompanied by the energetic strains of “Mamma!”—obviously not the “mama” that
refers to “mother.” Rounding the curve of Whitmore Mound, then up a steep lane,
the Xterra and I came to a stop in front of my door as Pavarotti finished,
sun was twenty minutes higher. Before I entered my house, I turned and surveyed
the illuminated landscape: farms with red barns and silos, more green pastures
with cattle, cornfields, soybean fields, hardwood groves, hills, hollows,
winding roads, and a charming Victorian town with several church steeples
gleamed in the sun.
I’m tech challenged, so it’s taken a while to
muster the courage to start this blog. In fact, I think something may have been
posted, because there are messages that indicate something’s out there.
Who am I? I’m a new Minnesotan as of
2018. I lived in Galena, Illinois, from 1971 until last year. I was a fourth-grade
teacher, part-time essay and speech teacher for a community college, and a
free-lance writer. I published texts for five picture books by my husband,
Arthur Geisert, and wrote three fictionalized novels about growing up in South
Dakota published by Houghton Mifflin, later Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The publications
were from 1995 to 2009.
Arthur Geisert and I divorced in
2006. We have one grown son, Noah, in Denton, Texas. I was single until July
28, 2018, when I married a South Dakota high school sweetheart, Harold Way. We
were married at Centennial United Methodist Church in Roseville, Minnesota, where
This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.
You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.
Why do this?
Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.
The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.
To help you get started, here are a few questions:
Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
What topics do you think you’ll write about?
Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?
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