Kirsten Nilsen

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Kirsten feels like she is a stranger in a strange land: suburbia. She is a mother, and a thinker. (Contrary to popular belief, the two are not mutually exclusive.) She wonders about a lot, writes about some of it, and keeps a running commentary on the rest for the entertainment of her household. Her mantra? "It's no laughing matter, but it's no matter if you laugh." Three kids, one husband, one old house, and some measure of chaos to leaven the mix.

Contributor's Stories

    Movie Night

    Posted on June 1st, 2011 by


    Every time we’ve taken our kids to the movies, it has been an unmitigated disaster.  We’re talking multiple exits from the theater—in one 90 minute film. Screams of terror as Curious George gets caught [gasp!] painting the lady’s apartment with a jungle theme. Frantic leaps over several rows of seats to get out before Master Shi Fu yells at Po the Kung Fu Panda. When they saw Up we had a solid week of nightmares.  

    And yet … we still watch movies. At home. Continue Reading...

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    In the Kitchen

    Posted on November 2nd, 2010 by

    Science leaves me cold. Math? Sure—lots of dramatic and weepy memories of failed tests, frustrating theorems, mysterious technical calculators. But my sole memory of high school Biology is that my cat cadaver was named after my then-boyfriend’s ex. I don’t have a single blessed recollection of any chemistry experiment, any physics lab, any Earth Science research. I know I took at least one science course in college, but seem to have repressed every last detail.

    As a parent, I watch in envy as other mothers crouch in the dirt with their children, carefully lifting dead bark to examine the life cycle of termites. I examine science kits in the toy store with suspicion, certain that their claims of ‘Easy!’ and ‘Fun!’ are the sole opinion of the crazy guy in Research & Development at the toy company. I dutifully peruse the pages of the National Children’s Gardening Association catalog, forlornly reflecting on my barren zucchini patch and anemic basil plants.

    Cooking, on the other hand, I can do. With gusto. With relish. I usually don’t use a recipe—maybe I’ll flip through a few to get ideas, and then I’ll fly solo, throwing in a few extra herbs here, and extra dash of allspice there. I have wondered—and tested—whether turmeric can work instead of saffron. Equally, I now know better than to mess around with a recipe for a baked good: you can’t eyeball the amount of yeast, I’ll tell you that right now. I have peered anxiously through the oven door to see if the promised rising would happen; have watched a blender’s centrifugal force splatter hot soup all over my cabinets. I have compared the yolk of an old egg to a fresh egg’s. I have guessed along with my kids about why vanilla extract smells divine yet tastes so foul on its own.

    So when this quote placed itself in my path, as I stood in my own kitchen reading Akiko Busch’s Geography of a Home, suddenly, finally, it all made sense: “My mother, like most people who know how to cook, understood that what she was doing was science, and that like any other science it required huge leaps of the imagination—at times even acts of faith. In our house, the kitchen was the place where science collaborated regularly and gracefully with creative imagination.”

    I finally saw the science. Finally saw that the curiosity, the observation, the guesses about what might work—they are not the sole domain of the creative. Nor are they the intellectual property of the scientist. In this way, the artist and the scientist are one and the same. Both follow a process towards understanding—including making assumptions that may feel completely fanciful. And finally, both artist and scientist will take the information gathered from their individual leaps of faith, and try their best to represent what they’ve found—to tell their story—in words, images, or symbols.

    Science happens everywhere—so does creativity. The kitchen happens to be the place where I most regularly play mad scientist—but equally when I point out patterns in a Cezanne still life, or teach the kids a song in 4:4 time, we are finding our own way towards science.

    I draw the line at cat cadavers though. Bad memories.

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    The Accidental Athlete

    Posted on August 4th, 2010 by

    I sat on the bleachers after school in the hot September sun, awkwardly folding long legs sideways to accommodate my backpack and gym bag. I looked around and enviously watched other thirteen year olds racing around on the field, most of them at least a head shorter than me. I hadn’t quite settled in to my new self: an eight-inch growth spurt that year sat uncomfortably on my frame, and at the start of seventh grade I could barely walk without tripping, much less run sprints in gym.

    The coach walked purposefully over to me, whistle swinging, ball in hand. “Hey – Kristin is it? Kirsten? You ever played basketball?” I shook my head shyly, mouth closed over my full set of braces. “Well, we’d like you to try out for Junior Varsity. Can you stay after school today?” Thus began the illustrious career of an Accidental Athlete. Continue Reading...

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    Posted on May 12th, 2010 by


    Its not much to look at, in all honesty.

    It’s a meal I ate every Friday night of my childhood – most of my adult years too – and the only thing that can be said of it is that it is remarkably beige.

    It is simple food: a baked potato, scooped out of its skin. Navy beans (nowadays they’d be called Great White Northern Beans, and you’d want to mail-order Rancho Gordo’s heirloom variety) – cooked all day in a pressure cooker with a chopped onion, and perhaps some chicken stock if there weren’t any vegetarians coming for dinner. By the time I can remember fixing my own plate, there was always sour cream and Bac-O chips on the table to top things off. Continue Reading...

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    Make Her Laugh

    Posted on January 24th, 2010 by

    There are 8mm movie reels of the day I met my first true love. Like a scene from Casablanca, you see a woman emerge from the plane, waving on the rollaway steps, then a man in safari-casual, and behind him, two small boys – one brunette, one blond.  The blond is maybe 18 months old, maybe 2.  The camera pans over to the spectators waving at the arriving passengers – it is an island airport, and the Arrivals hall is an open lanai.  Zoom in on the little blonde girl in a sailor dress:  that’s me, at two years old, waving so hard that my pigtails bounce.  My brother and I had clearly been told new friends were arriving in the mission field. Continue Reading...

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    What do the 1970s, Pete Seeger, Norway, Unicycles, beasts, bugs, and campfires have in common?

    Posted on January 21st, 2010 by

    The stories started as a desperate act of a toddler avoiding naps. Our oldest has been philosophically opposed to sleep since she was very small, and she quickly learned that constant talking would keep her awake on long car rides. ‘Tell me a story, Mommy. Tell me a story about when you were small.”

    And thus we would enter into the world of 1970s childhood, of half-remembered images of silliness with brothers, of adventures on wooded trails or sun scorched beaches. Story after story, mile after mile, I would tell the tales and she would giggle and question and shriek in outrage at particularly mean acts of sibling sabotage. Continue Reading...

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    A Work In Progress

    Posted on January 21st, 2010 by

    I felt stupid.

    The assignment was simple: drop off snacks for the builders at the Habitat for Humanity project, around mid-morning. We had just enough time to run our errand before heading for swim lessons at the pool.

    But I felt so stupid.

    Here I was, in this silly shiny new minivan, with three shiny happy well-fed kids driving through the roughest neighborhoods of Baltimore, carrying a tray of brownies and a few gallons of juice, to presumably pull up curbside and hand the snacks through the window.

    I carried on a running dialog with myself as I managed to miss the exit not once, but twice. “This is ridiculous. I mean, how does this show the kids “service”? They probably think this is just some long pointless errand they’re being dragged on. This isn’t giving them any kind of example! We didn’t even bake the brownies!”

    Continue Reading...

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    European Boyfriend

    Posted on January 21st, 2010 by

    “Just don’t get one of those European boyfriends! I’ll never get you back here!” my dad called out as I boarded the plane bound for London Heathrow. I was headed for a semester abroad in England, which turned into five semesters abroad, a bachelor’s degree and a Norwegian boyfriend.

    Fast forward five semesters and I found myself staring a longdistance relationship in the eye. The numbing intoxication of Totally In Love was starting to wear off slightly, and the reality of Happily Ever After with someone who grew up an entire continent away from you was a little sobering. But we love to travel! Of course we would visit both families every year! We could live anywhere—we’ll just travel with the kids! Going home to family would absolutely be the priority. And so on. Continue Reading...

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