The Mill District in Minneapolis

14 May


What we have here is a view of Third Street Bridge and part of the Minneapolis city center.  Scott and I used to sit below the cottonwoods.

Mill District, MinneapolisMills%20District%207.jpg

Now I’m looking the other way to the Covered Stone Arch Bridge.  The bridge is in the distance, partly obscured by trees.

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CorT Thinking

24 Mar

CoRT Thinking–

One cold Saturday in March, I partook of a workshop led by Claire Perez, a member of my Lansing Writers’ Group, at Lansing Community Library.  When we made it to the audience participation part, she had us go through three writing exercises.   The CoRT Thinking exercise is the one I’m sharing with you below.  Claire ran into this exercise at an education conference.

In the website, “CorT Thinking Online, 60 Lessons in Thinking,”an Irish-based registered multimedia company called Devine media, explains the steps in Edward de Bono’s process.

de Bono designed this system as a means of practical thinking that leads to practical solutions, not so much as a way to demonstrate intelligence.  He thinks emotions are positive but that they should never take the place of “good thinking.”  He feels that the showing off of intelligence often does not lead to practical solutions to problems.  I’m not sure that I fit into his system exactly because I immediately shifted to philosophy when I moved to the “Interesting” part of the evaluation.  Looking for plus and minus points though is a way to make sure that  the options available to you are broad enough. They worked well for me and I felt that I was within the program.

Claire started out by saying, “Take a decision you’re ambitious to take.  Then look at the pluses, minuses, and the interesting possiblities that can be available to a person making that choice.”

I chose “losing weight.”

Plus, Minus, Interesting


1) I would take up less space.
2) I would feel better.
3) I would have to buy new clothes.
4) I would be happier.


1) I might have to give up desserts.
2)   I would lose my breast size.  I used to be as flat as a board.
3)  I might be hungry all day.
4)  I would be giving in to all the advertising to stay thin.


1)   I could see what I’d look like at a thinner 63.
2)  I could think about other things besides my weight.
3)  When I become thinner, will I become a different person?

My third question led me to thinking about  Alice from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and her changes in size: “I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ (What Do I Know About Me Quotes) Ah, that’s the great puzzle! The value to me in losing weight is not that I will demonstrate my will power, which was part of my goal when I had anoerexia years ago, but the promise of becoming a healthier, honed version of myself, both physically and mentally.

A question for later analysis: Going even further, when are you you and when are you not you?

Practical Reasoning Behind Use of CoRT thinking:

I found a practical application of de Bono’s approach to thinking in Graeme Allan’s blog “It’s Time for New Thinking.” Allan says that [sic] “there are two key reasons why the exploration of interesting possibilities, or alternatives, is such an integral part of the PMI tool. If we like the new idea to begin with, by looking for interesting possibilities, we can broaden our view of the idea, find more reasons to like it.  According to Allan,  “Dr de Bono insists this is only possible if we give deliberate attention to looking for interesting possibilities in an idea we already like.”  He also states the reason that de Bono uses an acronym is because “[sic]his reasoning is simple and clear: It is much easier to say: Let’s do a PMI on that idea, rather than: Let’s do a Plus, Minus, Interesting on that idea.”  Allan has been working with de Bono’s PMI tools since 1975.


Carpenter Ants

3 Mar


New York Carpenter Ant Queen (This picture is magnified.  The actual length is about two thirds this long, the body one third this size.)

The comments of my writers’ group members appear in italics.

Ants.  When I was a little girl one of my reccurring dreams concerned huge black ants that jumped from one lily pad to another.  I was terrified that I would be killed by them.

Forward forty-some years to my newly-bought  Mock Tudor house in Minneapolis.  During the final walk through my mother discovered that the left inside of my bedroom closet was wet.  In Minnesota unlike in New York, lawyers are not usually present at closings.  We had discovered the leak after having signed the contract, so my mother’s discovery came late in the game and there was no lawyer to press the issue.  After some haggling, everyone present agreed on $200.00.  Not surprisingly, the cost to fix the closet turned out to be more than $2,000.

However, we did not find that out right away because we thought it was a small leak and didn’t immediately hire someone to work on it.  I moved in during July of 1990 and we were enjoying typical Minnesota weather with many 90 degree days, so hot that it often made inside work difficult. The focus of my friends and I was the upstairs bedroom where my pregnant roommate, Roberta, was to live.  Initially she lived in my living room and used the sofa bed, so preparing the bedroom walls in the upstairs bedroom and having new carpeting installed became my priorities. Scott, my best friend in Minneapolis, Earl, and Roberta, who were both co-workers like Scott,  began to work on steaming off the old wallpaper, and preparing the walls with primer. It took a long time and come late fall I was still measuring wallpaper and Scott was still hanging it.  My bedroom closet was far from my mind.

The following summer I awoke to a buzz in the walls.  In my first blurry moments I thought one of my neighbors was using a hand saw, but that didn’t account for the fact that the sawing sound was so close to me. I walked to the closet, suspicious now, and opened the  door, confirming that the sound was indeed coming from the left interior wall.  I also saw some ants in the vicinity.  I immediately called some exterminators who came and sprayed.  They pulled apart a small section of the wall.  It was wet and full of tunnels.  There were few ants left.

They  explained that I had carpenter ants.  Typically, carpenter ants are attracted to wet wood for their nests.  There is no way to save the wet wood.  It had to be removed.  After discovering carpenter ants, the goal is to keep them from tunneling into dry wood, which they would also channel through.  At this point, Doug Baird from my Lansing Writers’ Group, reminds me that the ants do not actually eat the wood; they merely make channels through it.  The guys spent time spraying the baseboards and the surrounding area, in hopes that the ants would take the poison back to that nest and any other nests in the area.  They warned me that there were three sizes of ants in a typical nest, but the one to watch for was the queen.  She was quite large and hard to miss. If I saw the queen, I should make sure to kill her because the sight of a queen away from her current home, meant that she was looking for a new place to nest.  But my first goal should be to replace the damaged wood.

I started taking chunks  out of the wall with my hands when I came home at night.  Although wet, it was like handling driftwood because it was hollowed out.  Before I knew it the giant nest was mostly gone but so was most of the closet.  I realized that all I had for insulation was  1930s newspapers (my house was built in 1933).  I made arrangements for a plasterer to come in with his crew to rebuild the closet, with modern insulation,  and to re-plaster part of the wall in the next bedroom.  The initial cause turned out to be a leak in the juncture between a gable and the connecting part of the roof. Because of this problem, I had to have work done on the gutter outside and the piece of roof underneath it.

Alas, that was not to be the end of the story.  A few years later, I discovered a queen carpenter ant flying uncertainly in one of my living room windows.  I grabbed a paper towel and folded her into it.  Sometimes I save spiders and Daddy-long-legs, but the queen was flushed right down the toilet.  She looked just like the above picture, but she was entirely black.  I’d thrown her out, but I knew that meant there was a nest close by.  However, I didn’t immediately find one.

The second nest I discovered was in my first floor bathroom ceiling.  Again, the first sign there was a problem was the sighting of a queen.  I had yet another exterminator come.  This guy was new to the job and made me nervous because he said he hadn’t had much experience handling poison.  For a couple years afterward there was some kind of yellow gook hanging from a corner of the ceiling.  It might actually have been from the ants.  My understanding was that he used dioxin, but Gary Van Houten, also from my Lansing Writers’ Group, who has had a lot of experience with chemicals, told me that dioxin would never have been used–it is much too dangerous. Before I sold the house, I had to have that part of the ceiling reconstructed.  I can definitely testify to the damage carpenter ants do.

One thing that I can testify to is that if you tell a like story to the guys in your writers’ group, they will try to impress you with tales of their derring-do in insect devastation.  In my case, Doug told of his and his brother’s heroism in defeating yellow jackets in their parents’ basement with insect spray.  Gary started off with a rollicking tale of bees and honey in his walls, but ended up  admitting that some critter ate both the bees and the honey.

Partner Yoga

17 Feb
This blog post was inspired by a partner yoga class on February 14, Valentine’s Day, at the Lansing Community Center in Lansing, New York.  Brenda D’Angelo is the teacher of this Kripalu Yoga Class.
Partner Yoga
Put your mats side by side; sit back to back.
Interlock your arms, feel the other’s breath.
Now stretch, now lean–first backwards, then forwards.
Come together, come together.
Ask your partner, “Can we move now?”
“Am I hurting you?” “How does it feel?
Always move in sync, always speak your mind.
Come together, come together.
Try a partner twist, then stand up, form two trees.
Now a buddy boat pose, foot to foot,
Do a partner forward-fold, clasp the arms, feet in a V.
Come together, come together.


28 Jan

Harlan and Sukey Brumsted at Bob’s Lake


From lower left, then clockwise, Jimmy, John, Dave, Sukey, Harlan, and Alan Brumsted


I came to know my mother’s best friend, Sukey, when my parents attended Grandma Lela’s November funeral in Monticello.  The edict had come down from my pediatrician that it might not be a good idea for such young children–I was six and my brother was a toddler–to go to a funeral.  As a result, we both ended up in Sukey and Harlan’s house on Cornell Street in Ithaca.   Sukey had been in my life since my beginning, but this stay was my first solid memory of her.  I was full of wonder, not used to a household so dominated by four children of the male species. The house smelled of boys–that mixture of dirt, washed and unwashed clothes, and creatures, living and dead.  Sukey was in perpetual motion in the house; it seemed like she never sat down and was always doing laundry.  I didn’t always know what to do with myself during the visit, so I often found myself climbing upstairs and going into the room of the oldest boy, David.  She was one of the people who taught me to float–at Flat Rock, no less and she did try to teach me how to sew, a session which ended in tears on my part, because I didn’t understand what she wanted me to do.
Harlan was in Natural Resources and his son became a collector of butterflies and moths, carefully pinning and mounting them in what I remember to be display cases.  The other boys were less formed at that point, especially Jimmy, who was my brother’s age.    One of my most embarrassing moments during my stay came when I was playing with the boys outside.  I didn’t know how to play with boys, so when Alan and some of the boys from the neighborhood pantomimed peeing on their bicycles, I pretended I had a penis, too, and copied them.  Alan thought this was hysterical.  “Did you see what she just did?” he laughed and I was mortified.
Mom and Sukey’s relationship dated back to their days as Cornell students and sorority sisters.  One day Mom was sitting on the wall next to the campus store and a friendly girl walked over to her and said “hello.”  That was Sukey Call.  Mom became the little sister to Sukey’s big sister in Delta Gamma. Sukey took Mom to Batavia, New York to meet her family and see the family farm, which was originally a dairy farm and now grows veg crops.  Mom has categorized the Calls as friendly, confident, and highly intelligent.  When Sukey showed Mom around the farm, she lamented the days when she grew turkeys, but she was close to her family, and that impressed my mother.  After they graduated from Cornell, they both came back to Ithaca with their spouses.  A letter from Sukey to Mom at the time is signed, “Love, Sukey,” and talks about Harlan attending Cornell to achieve his PhD in Natural Resources.
Sukey was always considered to be a wonderful hostess and there was no difference with me, even though I was six.  I’d been shocked when I heard that my Grandmother Lela was dead, and, all of the sudden, here I was in this vivacious woman’s house having a completely different experience from a funeral.  Her most unique physical characteristic was the way her conversation was punctuated with laughter.  She would throw out her hands to greet you and laugh, and then say hello, and then laugh again. One day she took me for a ride in the car and I said, “Mrs. Brumsted,” and then I asked her a question.  She said, “Just call us Sukey and Harlan,” and I always did after that.  That marked an important moment in my life.  Even though her relationship with my mother would always come first, I realized that this was the family that wasn’t biological, but still was family and I would always be a part of that.
In many ways theirs was a relationship based on similarities.  They moved through their lives in tandem. Both of them had majored in different subjects in what was then called Home Economics at Cornell.  They were both allowed by their parents to go to school where they wanted to and had parents who expected them to do well.  When you walked into a room and they were there, they were among the best-looking people and you were able to hear their voices above the din.  It has always surprised me that such dominant personalities meshed, but it was always a working friendship.  Sukey was Mom’s “big sister,” so not surprisingly she started having children first, but two of her children were the same age as me and my brother.  My mother and Sukey were literally so close in timing with one of their pregnancies that Sukey took over my mother’s bed in the hospital, where Mom had given birth to Barth, to give birth to Jimmy.  Significantly, the two boys were to become friends.
Every Christmas Eve our families met after church at the Brumsted home, which was now a palatial stone house in Cayuga Heights.  Everyone was dressed up because we had just come home from church and back then people wore their very best on such occasions.  Of particular note was the clothing Harlan and my dad wore.  They always paid attention to their appearance: Harlan was the only son of a haberdasher (an older term that Harlan used meaning a seller of men’s clothing) in Batavia and my father was so tall that my grandparents had his clothes made for him by a tailor.  The suits they wore fit perfectly and their ties were silk and exquisite, maybe not what you would expect from two small-town boys.
The Christmas Eve exchange has as much to do with food and drink as it did with good conversation.  Harlan served an array of drinks including spiked eggnog, whiskey sours, bloody marys, gin and tonics, and vodka tonics.  He took great enjoyment in listing all his offerings.  His whisky sours were the best I’ve ever had.  Our food included Christmas cookies from both families, crackers with herring sauce or cheddar cheese atop, and shrimp.  Our family exchanged grapefruit from Florida, all sectioned by my father in preparation for Christmas morning, for a breakfast ring from Sukey.  This Christmas I was very aware of Sukey’s passing when breakfast came around.
When both couples were in their fifties, they accompanied each other on a plane for Munich that left out of New York City.  It was the occasion of my parents’ thirty-fifth wedding anniversary and Sukey’s sister, Liz, was designing a professional kitchen in Munich.  When they got on the plane, the stewardess informed them that the seating arrangements had been based on the passengers from a previous flight, and that even though they had tickets, they needed to sit down immediately to make sure they stayed on the plane.  Thinking quickly, Harlan said, “Well, that’s good to know, because my wife is pregnant.”  She still looked good enough to pass for a much younger woman, but she was furious with him, right on the spot.
Once they arrived at the hotel, they took time to recuperate and then all three couples joined together for dinner at the hotel.  A German man named Herman, who had rented my parents’ apartment, arrived in a tux with a bunch of Gerber daisies and a menu that he had designed himself.  Of course, he did this to celebrate the anniversary.  The Brumsteds helped us mark a number of important dates.  They were present at my brother’s wedding in Ohio, the location of which made the number of guests from New York rather skimpy.  Sukey participated in my father’s funeral in a way that was uniquely hers.  When I was getting ready to iron the pants that my father would wear when he was laid out, Sukey grabbed them, saying, “I have a lot of experience ironing men’s pants.”  She said this with verve and a laugh.  At the graveyard, when no one knew what to say when the minister asked for comments, she piped up, “He was a great dancer!” , which was a perfect summation of my father.
As in every relationship, there were some disagreements.  One went back to an incident that occurred at Shackleton Point.  From what I remember it was my birthday, but my chief memory of the day is that Alan bit me.  I might have been six or seven.  When we were visiting Sukey at the hospital during the early part of her illness, somehow that topic came up and apparently it was still a matter of contention.  “Alan did not bite Kathy,” Sukey said with high irritation. At the funeral, I mentioned the incident and Alan said, “I probably did bite you.”  He was with his daughter and she said that she was known as a biter when she was a toddler, and to emphasize her point she opened and shut her mouth, showing her perfectly  straight white teeth several times.  That day in the hospital, when the topic came up, David and I just rolled our eyes at each other, as in “Here we go again.”
In the last months of Sukey’s life, Mom went to visit her and I sometimes came along. It was a strong relationship that had lasted throughout their lives.  Initially she brought flowers, but at the very end she just brought herself.  One of the last things that Sukey said to Mom will always stay with me: “Friendship doesn’t end at death.”




The tree frog & the kangaroo mouse

10 Dec

This is a blog post from a friend of mine, Claire Perez..

19 years on a farm….

In the Fall of 2012, my husband started mowing down our squash patch.  Usually full of acorn squash, butternuts and a variety of gourds, this particular year the patch produced almost nothing.  The occasional relief from a summer drought did not provide enough rain for this low-lying patch of earth.

Before beginning to mow, Radames glanced around to see what creatures might be hiding among the bent stalks and drying leaves.  Creatures looking for seeds and other vegetation.  He spotted a grass frog, also called a leopard frog, and tried to get it away from the mower, but it jumped into the mower deck shoot.  Radames stopped the mower and grabbed the frog.  He walked it over to the pond and was about to throw it in when  he envisioned the bass and thought “Why save the frog just for the bass’s dinner.” He proceeded…

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Grandma Lela

18 Nov


Janet, Grandma Lela, Grandpa, Johnny, Bruce, and Kathy


Janet, Kathy, Karen

A couple days ago I went searching through the card box looking for a blank card, only to find four letters written to my parents by my Grandma Lela Mapes in the months before her death. The letters are written in a sloping, elegant style I associate with my father, and each letter is headed with the day and time, but not the date. Her sister, Becky, has decided that she must not be told she has cancer, but the letters reveal an ever-encroaching awareness that she is very sick. She doesn’t know about the cancer, but she does know she is getting progressively weaker. I’ve covered the background of these events in my grandparents’ lives before, but suffice it to say that the letters reflect that the State of New York had taken half of their land through the power of eminent domain and they are still living on the confiscated piece when she writes the letters. My grandparents’ bedroom slowly becomes her sick bed.

The threatening legal maneuvers of the state face my grandparents and my aunt and uncle, who live together with each family living in one half of the old-fashioned side-by-side. Grandma Lela relates this predicament in a straightforward manner in a letter written on Thursday at 2:30 pm: “We were all served with summons again yesterday telling us we were living her illegally. There will be a hearing in the court September 17 to show why we have not vacated and why we should be here.” My mother was present during one of the times a process server came to the house. She told me that when the man said he needed to serve Lela Mapes, Grandpa said he would kill him if he got near her. She had never heard Grandpa, who was a gentle man, talk that way. The next day Grandpa went to the judge and made arrangements for her to die in her own house. It was clear she wasn’t going to make it to the new one.

In the same letter Grandma reports that “the men are putting up the forms for the foundation but I don’t think the foundation will be poured this week.” In the meantime she is happily choosing bathroom fixtures, a bath tub, and tiles. She didn’t live long enough to see them. One bathroom was tiled blue with pink towels; the other was tiled in pink with blue towels. The blue bathroom contained the tub, and, as my mother always reminded me, the long wooden bench that was chosen by Grandma so her grandchildren could sit down when they toweled themselves off.

All of the letters contain references to her grandchildren. Unfortunately, she was never to meet my cousins, Corinne and John, or her six great-grandchildren. In this letter she is taking a strong interest in my schooling and that of my cousin, Bruce. She says, “I am so glad that Kathy was anxious to go to school. Does the school pick her up at the door, or does she walk to a central point.” My Aunt Alice has told her that “Bruce’s grade [is] going to try and do a year and one half in one year. . . . Maybe they won’t have time at the end of the year just reading comic books.” She finishes her thoughts with “Friday morning. A beautiful day. Plenty of rain in the night. Dad is waiting for me so good by for now. Love to all, Mother.”

However, even as she became more ill, my grandmother focuses on the foundation of their new house on the remaining land. One Wednesday at 7:30 pm, she writes, “I think–I hope–everything is ready for the foundation to be poured tomorrow. It has seemed an interminable length of time getting it ready but they have worked steadily on it and I never realized the detail that is involved in getting forms ready. It doesn’t look as though they skimped or cut corners in doing it and it should be very sound when it is done. If they pour the cement tomorrow, Dad says they probably won’t do any more on the house this week as it takes several days to dry.” Even though she is headed toward the end of her life, she is making decisions about her future house.

Behind all this is a deeper anxiety about being evicted: “Tomorrow is the date of the court hearing. Bill said none of us needed to go unless Dad wanted to. Guess their office has prepared some affidavits.” This concern is accompanied by her frustration with her family who were reluctant to have her take care of my cousin, Karen, while my Aunt Carol and Uncle Bill were on vacation: “Alice and Becky are going to look after Karen. I want to help too, but they are still carrying me around on a silver platter.”

In her next letter, headed with the inscription, Wednesday, 10 pm, she initially seems much more relaxed.  Her sister, Becky, and daughter-in-law, Alice (my aunt), have held a Smorgasbord at the church and raised $430.  Other people are taking care of Karen, but she finally gets her hands on her: “Karen seems to be enjoying her vacation too.  Becky took care of her from Fri till yesterday morning, then Dad and I went to Wanaksink and then brought her home and looked after her yesterday afternoon and today and Alice will probably take over tomorrow.”

She’s getting out with Grandpa and Ida, her sister, on a Sunday outing to the Forstman Estate at Claryville, where the New Jersey Y.M.C.A. has taken over and built a new conference center, and on a Monday visit they drive to see a Mr. Brimelow, whose wife had just died, but admits “I overdid a little Sunday and Monday and haven’t been feeling so brisk.” Later she says, “Guess I’m not the gal I used to be, it seemed to be too much for me.”  Her health must have given the coming move a new urgency: “Did I tell you we must vacate here by Dec. 31st?  When I think of everything that has to be done between now and then, I want to give up.”

Still, she continues to focus on her grandchildren. I am the next one she mentions in the letter: “Jack asked me the other day if you had said anything about Kathy’s eyes lately. He seems to think they are better. What do you think?” She closes the letter with “Love and kisses to that little school girl and her brother.” But she can’t end without a P.S.: “Tell Kathy I’d like to see her without her teeth.”

I’m not sure if she did see me “without my teeth,” but I did see her in the final months. The moments  I remember are like the letters–dateless. One time we drove to Monticello to visit her and she waved to us from the balcony of her room in the hospital like a queen–she was about three stories up, so I couldn’t touch her. There were strange attitudes about visiting patients in hospitals back in those days. Many years later, when  our Grandfather Mapes was nearing the end, my cousin, Corinne, climbed into his room through the hospital window. I guess she was just more enterprising. On another occasion, when I visited the Old House, I found Grandma  in her bedroom, surrounded by big oxygen tents and too many people. She had beautiful white hair and I remember how it looked as she lay there among the pillows.  I feel as though the letters help to fill in some of the blanks concerning what I didn’t know at the time.

The last of the letters, headed Wednesday, 7:15 pm, reveals the gravity of her situation.  She is now bedridden: “The Doctor was here this morning, he has only come every other day since Saturday, said to continue to take my medicine and stay in bed.  To tell the truth, that’s what I want to do.  He said I had three patches of pneumonia but was now more in the pleurisy stage.”  The extent of her confinement becomes obvious one day when she is left alone and one of my father’s work friends from Cornell drops by.  She admits to being frustrated because she cannot go downstairs to greet him: “I heard someone around the house that day and saw a car drive out of the driveway but I didn’t attempt to go downstairs to find out who it was as I knew I wasn’t supposed to.”  Her handwriting looks smaller  on the page in comparison to the three previous letters.  I don’t know if that is because of her fading health or the fact that she is using a smaller piece of stationery.  The construction of the house continues: “The four men, two Averys and two Couch’s are working steadily on the house.”

I was only six years old when she died, but remember her well, partly I think because she had such a lively personality and partly because she was so interested in her grandchildren.  At the beginning of the last letter, she wonders  what gifts my parents have bought with  Grandpa’s and  her money: “Our telephone visit interrupted so quickly Monday that I didn’t find out what you shopped for in Rochester, I only know you each got one thing.  Do you suppose it will be ‘continued in the next’ or will it be a mystery ‘whodunit’ that leaves you guessing.”  I cannot help but ponder if she was talking about the Great Beyond or just being whimsical.