Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A beloved cast of characters

It's lunchtime on Wednesday, so the countdown begins!  In 48 hours, I will be in the presence of three wonderful women, all four of us together for the first time since college graduation in 2006.  We've orchestrated two-person and three-person reunions, but somehow one of us is always missing and we fall short of a quartet: Tahoe 2007 (sans Ellie), New Year's Eve 2008 (sans Nat), and Austin 2010 (sans me).  

This occasion is an exceptionally special one: as you may know from previous posts this month, Nat is getting married!  Emily and Ellie arrive on the West Coast tonight, and I'm flying in Friday morning.  We are bridesmaids, we are over the moon, and we can barely contain ourselves.

How could I have made it so long without all of these goofballs?

When I dug up that picture, I found this one, too.  Almost all of these people will also be at the wedding this weekend!

I met Em and Ellie and Nat eight years ago almost to the day, in cross-country preseason before our sophomore year of college. I don't think it's possible now to replicate friendships as close as the ones we had in college: when we ate nearly every meal together, when I could track down any of them within 100 yards of my dorm room that year. They are a huge part of my college experience. We graduated together, too!

Now we hold down four different time zones.  But not this weekend!  Ooh, it's going to be great.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Changes and swagger

Ooh, I had an unexpected turn of events yesterday.  After reviewing my running log and learning I was either nearly or desperately, horrifically in need of new shoes, I high-tailed it to Run N Fun, my local running shop.  I've worn Mizuno Wave Riders in size 8 for years and years - when one pair gets tired, I dash in and out of Run N Fun without even trying on the next model.  But all summer, I felt like I was constantly shoving super-large feet into too-small shoes, and as you can imagine, that feels unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Prepare yourself for an earth-shattering Change #1: I tried on an 8.5 instead of an 8 and bought them.  Apparently, my feet are expanding, but man, these shoes are comfortable.

Now get ready for Change #2.

Seriously, what would you rather have?  Dirty, smelly, sad shoes?

or snazzy-to-the-max, flashy, not-smelly, full-of-pep GREEN speed racers?

Yes, these are the new Wave Riders!  I studied them momentarily and couldn't decide if they were the ugliest things I have ever seen or the coolest.  And then I decided on the latter.

I wore them to running club last night and loved them.  We did a tough workout combining marathon pace and hills (lots of hills) and when the going got tough, I sometimes looked down at my peppy new shoes and felt a little burst of energy.  Afterward, when I was walking across the parking lot to my car, it was undeniable.  A cool evening breeze was blowing, the sun was setting, and I had a little extra strut in my step.

I made Josh take my picture to capture my good mood and fab shoes when I got home.  I hope the strut in my step back in the parking lot didn't manifest itself quite like this, though. A little awkward.

Lesson learned: Happy shoes in the last big weeks of a marathon training cycle make a monster difference.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Oh, guys, I could spend hours and hours looking at old family photos.  Luckily, my mom shares this affinity, and she took a ton of photos of us growing up and has the vast majority organized into albums - you know, Rebecca I, Rebecca II, that kind of thing.  We watch old VHS tapes from my dad's big video camera at Christmas, and whenever we celebrate a birthday, there's always a photo album out - I suspect because my mom was flipping through it earlier in the day.

I love old photos partly because they were often taken before we learned to make appropriate faces for the camera.  I met a friend in college on a spring break camping trip who has a tradition of True Feelings photos - after you take the smiley photo, you're free to take a photo with whatever facial expression is lurking inside you.  Childhood photos are like True Feelings photos, all the time.

Last night, we had a family dinner to celebrate my brother's birthday, and after the meal, we sat down and had a good old time looking through one of his photo albums.  I spent most of this time doubled over laughing.  Take a look at this photo, for example.  While I sit with Grandpa on his chair and jovially show him the Koosh ball I had just gotten for Christmas, my brother is preoccupied with a beverage and a present of his own, which appears to be a really big knife:

the look on his face!
And if I get to show that photo to all of the internet, it's only fair that I show one of my own finer moments.  When I was a kid, my grandparents had a hot tub in their basement.  It was totally awesome and we'd go over once in awhile after dinner to sit in the hot tub, water wings and all.  By the end of the night, my brother and sister and I would be tuckered out and ready for bed.  I guess on this particular night I had reached that stage before anyone else.  Everyone is having a jolly good time, and then there's me in the background in my neon, being a tremendous party pooper:

This is a True Feelings photo for sure.
Happy Monday, right?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Please explain

Yesterday, as mentioned, I took the bus to meet Josh for a Twins game.  It requires just one transfer and drops me at Target Field's front door for the meager fee of $2.25.  It usually also comes with some bus shenanigans, which I appreciate.

I walked a few blocks from my home to the bus stop, where a hipster was sitting in the grass nearby, listening to music while he waited for the bus.  At the sidewalk extension that denotes a bus stop, I noticed two bananas and one avocado, both in pristine condition, sitting neatly next to the curb.  I frowned.  I looked at the hipster and he made 1) no mention of claiming the produce and 2) no acknowledgement of how weird this sight was.  The next step was obvious but also ran the risk of falling prey to some sort of strange prank or performance art.  I took out my camera and furtively took a photo of the scene, my dignity loosely intact.

Minutes went by, as is customary when waiting for this particular bus.  Two other passengers arrived at the bus stop.  Neither one claimed the groceries.  At the very least, this was a sad waste of an avocado, but I speculated that it may have been injected with arsenic.  I started to wonder if it was actually some sort of code meant for someone else.  My imagination began to run wild.

"If one banana is out, tonight's capers are on.  If two bananas and an avocado are out, they're off!"

Then the bus pulled up, and all four of us stepped over the produce and boarded the bus. 

When we drove past the intersection, all three pieces were gone.

Help me!!  What happened?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Last Saturday in August?!

I was late to running club this morning.  I didn't miss the run's start, which would have been an extreme bummer, given that the day's schedule called for 20 miles. But I was That Girl, the one who rolls up with her hair down and shoes untied, just as the coach is wrapping up his instructions.  Oops.

But why was I late, you ask?  It's probably understandable for any event that begins each Saturday morning at 7:00.  Today, though, it wasn't courtesy of an alarm clock failure.  As usual, I stumbled into the kitchen bleary-eyed and started making coffee and my English muffin with PB.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something orange coming from outside my kitchen window.  I had to learn more, so I put in my contacts. 

Ha!  It was just a beautiful sunrise.  I grabbed my camera, opened the door to our patio, and tottered down the alley wearing my large, fleecy yellow robe to get a better view. Thank heavens no other humans had to start their day with this sight.  But the sight of the sunrise--that was something to behold:

I finished getting ready, and when I jumped in the car 20 minutes later, the sky was back to run-of-the-mill (but still beautiful) blue with puffy white morning clouds.  It was perfect weather to start the run: The temperature was around 60, and more importantly, it wasn't sticky and humid.  (I nearly just typed a smiley emoticon--that's how satisfying I found the weather.) 

Our club had a good showing today--I'd guess 30-40 runners showed up--and there were a ton of runners out on the trails getting ready for fall races.  The route covered Lake of the Isles, a big stretch of the Midtown Greenway, West River Parkway, Minnehaha Parkway, Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun before winding back around Lake of the Isles to the start.  I felt really good today, too, which was reassuring given that I had a trainwreck of a 20-miler a few weeks ago.  I told my running buddy that another six miles wouldn't have been joyful, but they probably would have been okay. 

But of course 20 was quite enough.  Now I'm home and hydrating, and I have a few important priorities for the day. Notably:
  • Assemble a turkey-mozzarella-pesto sandwich from the contents of my fridge.
  • Spend some quality time with my couch and my Us Weekly.  ("Jen's Baby Countdown"!)
  • Haul myself over to Target Field in time for this afternoon's Twins game via the 21-94C Metro Transit special.
  • Eat ice cream.
Speaking of ice cream--and can you imagine a better way to start a sentence?--I haven't been a major consumer of State Fair food, ever since an unfortunate incident that involved Josh and I eating everything in sight at the fair over the course of, like, 45 minutes.  But ever since the reviews starting coming in, I haven't been able to get sweet corn ice cream out of my mind.  This week, I might have to wrangle some.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A full Thursday

Two years in a row makes it a tradition!

Yesterday, Grandma and I had our annual date to a Twins game.  We had originally chosen a game last month, but the mercury soared to 100 degrees that day, and we made the wise decision of postponing.  Yesterday was glorious: about 78 degrees, with a gentle occasional breeze.  We were also in the shade.  We couldn't have asked for better weather.

(A brief sidenote: the day actually started off on a sour note before it turned wonderful.  I was enjoying the beautiful morning on my run and was three miles away from home when a root on Summit Avenue's dirt path got the best of me.  I tripped, flew through the air not gracefully, and landed in what must have been a dirt patch, because a cloud of dust covered me.  I scraped up my palms and knees and generally dented my right side, but the only serious wound was to my pride.  Let it be known that I saw about three cars for the entire run until that point, when about a dozen cars drove slowly by me as I was literally brushing myself off.  Josh tried frequently through the day to get me to admit that I tripped because I was distracted by a dog sighting.  I will deny this forever.)

Anyway, I drove up 94 to pick up Grandma, and for about 25 miles of the trip, there were periodic road signs warning Helicopter work ahead.  Huh?!  I saw no evidence of this on the trip's first leg.  On the way back to Target Field, though, lo and behold, we spotted helicopters flying very low and stringing power linesWhoa.

We got to Target Field without incident, helicopter or otherwise, and Josh met us there and walked us to our Section 202 seats, down the right field line.  We watched the Moorhead Middle School Orchestra perform the national anthem, and then the game was underway.  We ate walleye fingers!  We even got a welcome message on the scoreboard in the fifth inning, thanks to Josh!  I briefed Grandma on Ben Revere (she liked his size and speed) and Jim Thome (she was pleased to learn how nice he is).  

We watched eight innings of a game that was tight despite shaky starting pitching. Before that, Grandma was feeling the tension.  She told me that she had used up all of her slang words in her cheers, including "gosh."  If the game stayed close much longer, she said, her language could get really ugly.  The Orioles stretched their lead to five runs in the seventh, so I never got to hear that next level.

It was a fast game, and we were back on the interstate before I knew it. When we got back to Grandma's house, she brought out a bag of cookies and raisin bread (her specialties) plus an embroidered dishcloth for me.  Best of all, she revealed my annual pair of socks.  She knits the most wonderful, warm, cozy socks, and everyone in our family loves them.  The way the daylight is fading in my fair city, I know I'll be wearing them constantly soon.  This pair, unbeknownst to her, was in the colors of my alma mater!!  I was thrilled.

Attached to every pair is a card with care instructions, labeled in her handwriting, which I find exceptionally comforting.  It should be made into a font.

Finally, I noticed this wonderful sign driving through a town not far from her home.  As we head into the weekend, let's hear it for Andy and Celine!

Happy days.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wish that I was on ole rocky top

Warning: a ferociously, obnoxiously long post is about to ensue.  I gotta get it all out, and then we can move on.  Subsequent posts on this topic will be briefer.

I'm finally taking action on an idea that has been percolating in my head for a long time.  Some readers have heard me mumbling about this plan and asking advice; others will be taken by surprise completely. Some of you will have no interest in this project whatsoever; others will hopefully enjoy (or at least be bemused by) my learning curve over the next 14 months or so.

It started several years ago when I read Alexandra Robbins's book Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, where Robbins spends a year undercover in a sorority house at a big (and I think Southern) university.  For context: I attended a small liberal arts college in Minnesota and believe deeply in both my alma mater and the broader values of a liberal arts education and attending a small school.  But that book piqued my curiosity: what is it like to go to a school on the complete opposite end of the spectrum? 

And one of the most obvious "opposite" qualities is a place where college football dominates the weekend.  What's it like to be part of a campus culture where the whole community starts looking forward to Saturday football games on Monday, in a state where no one plans weddings on Saturdays in the fall, in a place where 90,000 people pack a stadium every weekend to watch their beloved team?

At big southern schools, these traditions play out every weekend in a way that seems very different even from the University of Minnesota--my best comparison--where it seems like not every student would necessarily know when, where, or who the Gophers are playing on a given Saturday.  The Southeastern Conference (SEC for short) links southern universities that all have long, storied college football histories. That spills over into the campus culture in a way that draws together history and tradition and fight songs and mascots to create a culture I can't begin to understand.

Unless I experience it, right?

I don't like to commit to projects half-heartedly.  So here it goes: this year, I will follow and study one SEC football team.  I will get to know the program: players, coaches, highs, lows and traditions.  I will watch games on TV, read articles from the campus newspaper, and learn the stories behind the players.  I also should clarify that I don't even know the game of football particularly intricately, so that will be another hurdle. 

All of this research will be done so that by the time I reach the project's next stage, I'll get it.  I'll understand the fervent passion fans feel for this team, for its glorious wins and devastating, nail-biting losses. 

And then I'll see it in person!

In fall 2012, with all of the knowledge collected, Josh and I will go to the campus for game weekend to see the experience unfold in person, and I'll be all in: I'll know the fight song and cheers, know the team and its traditions.  I'll be one of the 90,000 people, part of the mayhem.  I will tailgate and wear team colors.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though: that's a long time from now.  I've done a preliminary study of my SEC options, talking to football fans and people who went to SEC schools.  (I really confused one such person when I told her about this "project" and she thought it was a work assignment.)  My finalists included Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU.

But I've reached a decision: the University of Tennessee (also known as Rocky Top, the Volunteers, and Big Orange) is going to be my team.  It fits my criteria:
  • I didn't want to jump on a bandwagon and pick simply the best team. UT is in the middle of the conference but has a lot of young players and is on its way up!  It's sort of a wild card, and I love wild cards.
  • Obviously, I want a team with a good fight song and a good mascot ("Rocky Top" is simply the best and the mascot is Smokey the Dog--enough said).
  • I want a good coach.  This man Derek Dooley is in his second year, and he seems like a straight-up dude.  He emphasizes accountability and has a likeable blend of optimism and realism.  He is also getting some good recruits!
  • Above all, I want the campus-wide passion for the team I've outlined above. 
I'm in the research phase, and beginning it was scary.  I wasn't sure how much real information I'd be able to get from Minnesota.  Luckily, we are in an exciting era of information exchange, and I think this stage is progressing much differently than it would have five years ago.  Here are my resources so far:
  • I signed up for a recap of Tennessee football and SEC football articles via the Bleacher Report, so I get daily emails collecting relevant news stories from around the web.  This is a huge help.
  • I follow the UT local beat reporters and UT bloggers on Twitter, so I get their insights immediately about how the latest practice or scrimmage went, in addition to player profiles and more in-depth stories.  This was timely and handy this week when Derek Dooley dismissed one of his top players from the program.  Rats.
  • I bookmarked the campus newspaper's website, which so far has been a goldmine of player profiles telling the stories of athletes like Nash Nance and Da'Rick Rogers, who went to high school together, committed to other schools, and then decommitted late in the recruiting process because they both wanted to play together at Tennessee. 
  • I "liked" Tennessee Athletics on Facebook, so video links and news tidbits show up daily in my Facebook newsfeed.  Reading the comments, largely from die-hard Rocky Top fans, is wonderful because they are busting at the seams to get this season underway.
It's going to be a lot easier than I expected to get informed--and because of the immediacy of online content, get excited--about Rocky Top football. 

It's just over a week until the first game of the 2011-12 season, and it's a little secret I've been hiding: I can't wait.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Good morning!

Hi, readers!  I'm planning a longer post for later, but I had to check in and share a cloud picture with you in case you are feeling in desperate need of cloud pictures.  I know it's catching on with at least one reader because I received the following text message last week:

7:51: Perfect sky picture morn

And it was.  I had noticed it when I was running that morning and thought the exact same thing but didn't have my camera.  BOO!  Yesterday morning, I did, though.  I had to take this snapshot because the white parts of the clouds looked almost metallic, like glittery silver or gold but white.  I risked life and limb for this shot because I was photographing these clouds from the middle of a coffee shop's parking lot, thus standing in the way between people and their morning coffee.  I live dangerously.  Here's the view from my neighborhood:

Later, Josh and I went to a nearby pub to celebrate my brother's birthday.  Look how excited my brother is about celebrating a quarter century of life!

A crew of his friends were there, and my sister and her friend joined us, too.  My sister has been 21 for seven months, but six of them were spent in Africa and Europe, so this was the first time all three of us have assembled at an establishment of the 21+ variety.  

Weird...but wonderful.  In a few weeks, all three of us will be living within two miles of each other in St. Paul.  I feel lucky.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Meal planning

I love themes, I love sports, and I love making everyday events feel a little bit special.  

These hobbies mash together perfectly when matching food to places and events.  For each major sporting event on the calendar, I dream about hosting a party coordinating a menu appropriate for each team's home city.  (I guess it should be added here that I also love corny and hokey ideas.)  When I brainstorm with Josh, the conversation usually involves one really easy set of answers and one awkward silence.  Take baseball's 2010 World Series, for example, which pitted the San Francisco Giants against the Texas Rangers.  

San Francisco: sourdough bread, Ghiradelli chocolate, etc.
Texas: ...barbecue?

But every Southern city claims the best barbecue, right?

I tried to do the same thing with Arizona for the 2011 All-Star Game and totally struck out.  (Ha!  Good one!)  Same thing with this year's Super Bowl: Green Bay would've been pretty easy: beer, brats, cheese, etc.  But Pittsburgh?

So you get the idea that my great dreams haven't always panned out, okay?  But I still keep an eye toward matching a city or team to its iconic food traditions, especially whenever I travel: in New England it has to be clam chowder.  If I ever get to New Mexico for the balloon festival, I'll be eating chilis all day long--and in Philadelphia, I'll have to eat a cheesesteak.

Here I am in a region of Colorado known as the Melon Capital of the World:

Secretly, Josh loves it, too.  See?  He's in Maine and his heart is all aflutter over a lobster roll.

There's an opportunity coming up soon to build on this exploration.  I'm spending a weekend in Chicago in October for the Chicago Marathon, and part of my trip-planning includes food-planning.  I've been dying to visit one of Rick Bayless's restaurants for years, so that's inked into the itinerary.  The rest of what I knew about Chicago food traditions is pizza, pizza, pizza, and I'm staying an extra night in the city post-race specifically so I can leisurely enjoy a deep-dish pie.  Yum.

But my horizons were broadened over the weekend thanks to Jeff Mauro, otherwise known as the Next Food Network Star.  He won the competition last week, and his show debuted on Sunday.  In the episode, Jeff featured a recipe for Chicago's famous Italian beef sandwiches--a phenomenon completely new to me.  He toured the kitchens of these little restaurants and delis to showcase this legendary sandwich, and I was hooked.  Another meal to add to my itinerary--probably another post-race one. 

It reminded me of all of the other regional specialties out there that I don't even know about.  Reader, help me add to my idea bank.  What foods is your city known for?  What about your favorite city's traditions?  If you live in Minnesota, what is ours?  Is it walleye-anything, or something completely different? 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

These are a few of my favorite things

On Friday night, Josh and I took in some Twins baseball at Target Field.  The radar looked ominous, but instead, the rain held off, and we were treated to a wonderful display of swirling clouds.  Clouds and baseball? 

You don't get that in a Metrodome.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Basil bonanza

This month, I have noticed myself cramming.

It started when I had two days before I left for my weekend in California and I went to a grocery store with the intentions of buying strawberries but left with strawberries, a huge watermelon, and four peaches.  This decision was motivated partially by seeing the price on the strawberries creep up while the quality of the strawberries had dipped gently, which reminded me of the date.

It's mid-August, and there's a smell in the air that will probably always make me think of leaving for college.  I heard a baseball broadcaster say yesterday that there are two weeks until September call-ups for minor-league players, and it blew my mind that the baseball season is practically winding now.  There are signs of fall starting to crop up everywhere, and don't get me wrong, I love fall.  (Get ready for an abundance of leaf pictures, kind readers.)  

But around mid-August, I start going overboard with summer produce and activities that will fade out soon for the better part of the year. As mentioned previously, I start carefully considering what my January self would like me to do and eat on a given summer day.  This weekend, that means going for a sweaty long run, eating canteloupe and corn on the cob, and hunkering down in my seat at Target Field for a balmy Twins game.

On Thursday, I dropped my friend Sara off at her house after our "Crazy, Stupid, Love" movie date.  Sara is a real live homeowner--although this feels silly to note now that we are both nearing 28--and over the past couple of years, she has worked very hard to build up her gardens and learned an enormous amount in the process.  I've seen her gardens before, but August is when gardens in Minnesota really explode, and hers is no exception: it was barely recognizable to me.  Without even realizing it, I found myself taking copious amounts of photos of the crops, which probably caught her off-guard.  I didn't even do it with the intention of blogging about it later--but now I can't resist.  (Hi, Sara!)  

Seriously: this is not even half of the whole backyard garden, and look how beautiful it is:

I also have my eye on this guy come October:

Sara is nurturing and thoughtful, so this summer project is right up her alley.  I love the pride she takes in her garden and the care she devotes to it.  Within two minutes of me entering the backyard, I had already tasted a stalk of swiss chard and a nasturtium bloom.  I was skeptical at first (see below) but it tasted good and spicy!

I loved the colors in her garden: purple and orange and red and yellow.  And green, of course.

I pretend that she tends to her garden in red shoes, too.
And then we were talking basil.  My basil is cooking along, but it's more the kind where I can grab 10 leaves for caprese-related activities than a crop that yields batches of pesto.  "I have to make pesto every week to stay ahead of my basil," Sara lamented dramatically.  I immediately started poking fun at this horrible quandry, and she threatened to send me home with some. 


The enormous plants in this row are all basil. I know Minnesota gardeners encounter a ferocious August produce surplus--it's when tomatoes and zucchinis start appearing in office kitchens everywhere--but I had never really seen it first-hand.  Whoa.

I left with an enormous bag of basil and my sweet urban gardener looked positively gleeful to get rid of it.  This is a win-win situation.

The next day I procured some pinenuts and, you got it, the pesto started flying.  I've never made my own before.  But now I realize: what's the very worst that could ever happen when one is blending basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil?  My first effort was a little over-blended, but my taste buds did not notice.

I bought a premium seat on the pesto express train.  Now I just need to make a few more batches and freeze them for winter.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Midday pizza party

I appreciate many, many parts of my job, and one element of that is my commute.  My longest commute since I joined the workforce was to a suburb 16 miles from my front door, to a suburb on the opposite side of the metro area, which made for some memorable rush-hour and/or blizzard-related snarls.  For the last several years, my commute has been six minutes.  Believe me, I do not take this for granted.  Sometimes I show my appreciation by going home for lunch!

On Wednesday, I went home for lunch because the draw of leftovers was strong.  Does everyone but me already know about Pillsbury's refrigerated roll-out pizza crust?  (That sounded like a really feeble paid endorsement, but I swear it's not.)  I just discovered it earlier this week, when I wanted to make pizza but didn't have time to make my own dough.  

Pause: That implies that I make my own dough often, which I have to admit isn't true.  But it's on my list.

Buying pre-made dough made everything come together so quickly, though, and it provided a convenient vehicle for any toppings I desired.  I have a hunch that it will come in very handy for using up summer vegetables from this month's CSA boxes.  This does not bode well (or perhaps bodes too well) for my as-yet-untested hypothesis that I could eat pizza literally every day and never tire of it.

Dinner: Brush crust with pesto.  Add fresh mozzarella, basil from the patio, heirloom tomatoes from the CSA box.  The next day, I had leftover slices and then realized I had one more tomato to use, so I tore up some more basil from the patio and went along my merry way.  Looks like caprese-themed overload, right?

NO!!  That was a trick question, and I hope no one fell for it.  

In Miles and Laurel, there is no such thing as caprese overload.  Those two words will never be strung together again in this blog.  My January self would like this lunch very much--and my August 16-18 self did, too.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shopping the friendly skies

Oh, Miles and Laurel readers.  You know by now that this blog is built on the premise of loving life's small delights. But the next delight is almost too easy.


If you've ever been on a plane, you know what it is: the in-flight catalog stocked full of strange little indulgences, from sports paraphernalia to foot massagers to patio furniture, unified under the umbrella of all somehow making life a heck of a lot better.

In cultural studies coursework back in college, my classmates and I enjoyed applying critical theory to popular culture phenomenons, which gave way to this fascination somewhere in between purely detached amusement and sincere, unabashed fondness of said phenomenons.

I continue to revel in that gray zone, and SkyMall plops right into that category.  (See also: Justin Bieber, Jersey Shore, and Lifetime movies.)  I start flipping through SkyMall during the ascent, when my Kindle, computer, and iPod are a collective no-go.  I start by poking fun in my head at the expensive gadgets.  By the time I de-plane, I leave convinced that I need a huge dog bed (for my dog that is, at press time, nonexistent) or a little toy gun that shoots marshmallows. 

On Monday's flight, I started tearing out products that drew my attention.  This went on just two or three times, until the guy in the middle seat in front of me turned around to see what I was doing.  (I'm sorry, 11D.)  

Then I crossed a treacherous line. 

I became the person who actually tucks the SkyMall into her carry-on at the end of a flight, just as the flight attendants always recommend.  I've gone down a serious road with SkyMall now, and I'm not sure I'll be able to turn back, so I might as well share the highlights.

Right away, I noticed this dog bed.  I was more interested, though, in how one would go about procuring a pile of puppies like that one.  Then I wondered how on earth the photographer coerced these puppies into 1) sitting still all together and 2) looking uniformly angelic.  The more you think about it, the more Herculean the task seems.  Is this photo fake?!
The next gem looks just like ripped jeans but is actually a comfy pair of lounge pants, complete with drawstring.  How 'bout that?
Last, there's the "The Zombie of Montclaire Moors Statue."  I just googled Montclaire Moors to make sure I never accidentally go there, and the top results were for this statue, so I think I'm safe.  If I ever ran by a yard that featured this statue, there's no guesswork to be done.  I'd faint delicately and expire on the spot.

It would be cruel, scary and also probably bad for readership numbers to leave you with the Zombie.  We shall depart the world of SkyMall, for an utterly unrelated photo, courtesy of an ad in my neighborhood newspaper.

Kate Perry, you're a firework.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Not so wild cards

Readers, my hackles were raised yesterday.  

But first a confession, to provide context:

My parents may not buy it based on how I spent my life in middle school, but I've completely lost the gift of gab via telephone.  It may have something to do with my scratchy Blackberry and lackluster reception in my apartment, not to mention the lack of non-verbal cues from a conversation partner, but conversations are just infinitely better in person. This is challenging, though, when one wants to connect with friends and family who do not live in one's residence.

So besides the obvious texts, emails, and facebook messages, I've turned gradually to rely on greeting cards as part of my communications arsenal.  I love opening my mailbox and finding a handwritten note.  (Wait, does anyone in the world not love that?)  It's even more fun when there's no occasion and the cards are of the just-because-thinking-of-you variety.  When I take a minute to scrawl a message and drop a card in the mailbox, it makes me feel like I've been at least a little bit intentional about showing a loved one I care about my connection with him or her.

Today I went to a store featuring a generous greeting card selection to buy good luck cards for a few people I wanted to nudge with luck.  The store has six long rows of cards for every occasion: birthday, sympathy, congratulations, wedding, engagement, and baby.  But I circled the rows, getting confused.  Somehow, in this selection, there was just one sad, flimsy, neutral bland good luck card.

Reader, at risk of overreacting, what does this say about our world?  We know to send cards when things go wrong. We drop cards in the mail when a birthday passes or a major, obvious life event like a wedding, graduation, or baby's birth occurs. But why don't we want a stock of cards for before something happens, to watch out for someone and give him or her an extra little spark of knowing that someone cares and is rooting for him or her? Why shouldn't there be a section full of bright, punchy, cheerful "go get 'em" cards?  Nothing momentous, nothing over-the-top: just encouraging, happy thoughts.

I dealt with my frustration by figuring that everyone who wants to wish someone good luck must be having heartfelt phone conversations with their loved ones to tell them so, making me the odd one out.  More than ever before, though, it also spurred me on to finally figure out how to make my own stash of greeting cards.  This isn't a new idea by any stretch: If Josh reads this post, he is undoubtedly rolling his eyes because he's the one who has had to endure more than one conversation about sympathy and wedding card fonts.  

I'd really like to try my hand at designing my own cards, if only to eliminate the weird cranky feelings I experience whenever I go card-shopping!  It's high time that I stop grouching and start identifying a solution to this group of problems.

Crafty readers, do you know how to make cards? is opening up this whole world for me, but should I have other websites or avenues on my radar?  I want to design them on the computer and then have them printed and shipped to me--not unlike designing a holiday photo card, I guess, but with more autonomy and control regarding font, images, color, and layout than the traditional routes.  

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When life hands you lemons...get very excited

I learned a lot about flora and fauna on my trip to California over the weekend.  

Do you know, for example, how to respond when approached by a mountain lion?  You should not fall down to the ground and expire, my first plan of attack. You should be large and shout.  Good life advice.

I also learned a lot about berries that we just don't have in Minnesota: all kinds of variations of blackberries, like dewberries, ollalieberries, and especially marionberries.  Some people in California love marionberries! (A marionberry cobbler is delightful.)  Nat's backyard also features a persimmon tree, an apple tree, and a grapefruit tree.  Needless to say, I'm envious.

But one of my favorite parts about California are the lemon trees.  Lemon trees!!  This is so foreign to me.  Lemon trees in Minnesota would keel over and die as soon as the State Fair came and went, I think.  But in California, you look at a regular old tree with nice green leaves in somebody's backyard, and then, boom!  You notice that it's filled with beautiful, bright, luscious yellow lemons.

The other fabulous detail about lemon trees that I discovered is that their leaves smell so citrusy--like the fruit itself, but somehow even better.  Once one picks a lemon leaf and sniffs it for a certain very long duration, its scent fades.  But then one can tear the leaf into small sections, and the smell comes back!

I'd like to do some research into reconfiguring American gardening zones to bring a lemon tree into my life year-round.  But if sustaining mint and basil are significant challenges, it doesn't bode well for my chances with the lemon. I will hold the lemons and its leaves close in my memory.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The city by the bay

Will modern wonders never cease?  I am tapping this post out from very high in the sky, at present just east of Battle Mountain, Nevada.  So goes the joys of the wifi-related joys of flying in the 21st century, right?  I'm on my way home after a happy weekend in San Jose with my friend Nathalia and her fiancé, Mike.  As I wrote last week, they are getting married in (less than) three weeks, but because I hadn't spent a real block of time with Nat in ages, I didn't want to try to catch up with her during wedding weekend--hence, the pre-wedding trip.  Consider it a bachelorette party for two, if that didn't sound completely weird. 
The last three days were everything I hoped for: we ran, we ate, we drove, we watched 48 Hours: Mystery--and above all, we talked...and talked and talked.  We started off the weekend with a grocery run to Trader Joe's. When we got back to Nat's house, we sat in the car for ages with the doors open and groceries waiting patiently because one story led to another story, which reminded us of something else, which basically went on for the rest of the weekend.  We did let Mike get a few words in, and it was wonderful to get to know him better.  They're great people.

Besides, how can you not love a girl whose storage system includes a box with this label?

Our biggest adventure took place Sunday morning, when the three of us drove to San Francisco's Embarcadero, the main waterfront road by the piers.  We ran along the winding sidewalk for six miles, up to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then turned around for the return trip, stopping at the Ferry Building for what at that moment was the best lemonade ever made.

If you've never been to San Francisco before, this route is a glorious introduction to the city.  I ran by Boudin Bakery, where fresh sourdough was just out of the oven, and by tiny restaurants with piles of fresh crab on display. We passed AT&T Park (where the Giants play), Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, and the Presidio.  We passed lots of tourists at Fisherman's Wharf and even got surprised by the Bush Man, a local legend who dresses up like an unassuming eucalyptus bush and pops out at said tourists to give them a fright.  (Nat and I Two parties in the vicinity emitted full-blown screams. The crowd loved it.)

Here's a life question: In the history of the earth, has a picnic ever been a bad idea?  I'd put a month's pay on no. Nat and Mike filled a big bag with lox and bagels and cream cheese and tomatoes and mimosas and chocolate milk, and after our run, we took the party (along with our friend Eddie) to a sunny, windy beach overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.  

The wind made the afternoon brisk (and sandy), but I bundled up in a big blanket and was a happy camper.

Loving the photobomb

The other fabulous element of this beach, besides the oodles of families making the most of a gorgeous San Francisco day, was that it was a dog beach.  Yes, reader, you saw that correctly.  The day involved running, friends, food, a beautiful summer day, exploring a new place, and dogs. It was one of my personal versions of heaven.  It seemed to be the dogs' idea of heaven, too.

A good day: plow into water, run to shore, shake off water, repeat
Standing tall in a life preserver
There are more California stories to come, but rest assured, the content will be shorter.
Sayonara from Lander, Wyoming!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The World Series comes to Minnesota

There’s nothing much better than watching a World Series baseball game in August.

Say what?

That’s right.  This month, the Twin Cities and the Minnesota Twins hosted the Reviving Baseball in Inner cities (RBI) World Series.  The tournament wraps up today with the junior and senior boys’ championship games at Target Field.  Because coordinating the Twins’ RBI support is one of Josh’s job duties for his work in the team’s front office, I’ve gotten an inside look at the tournament this summer.

This week, 16 teams from inner cities around the United States (plus the Dominican Republic and Venezuela) made up of kids ages 13-18 played several baseball games per day in St. Paul and Minneapolis.  They had team education sessions, spent time at the Mall of America, and stepped onto the grass at Target Field early in the week, giving each young player a chance to wonder if he and his teammates might be the lucky ones to play on the same grass this weekend for the title. The kids each have to write an essay about facing adversity before they arrive, and at the opening banquet, a winner is announced, as well as several college scholarship winners. At the banquet, the kids got to hear from Hall of Famer (and former Twin) Paul Molitor, and another local legend, Dave Winfield, spoke at the closing dinner. It’s a lot of work and planning for all parties involved: the Twins, the Major League Baseball and RBI crew in town, the volunteers, and the coaches.

But I went to a game yesterday to watch the junior Dominican Republic team take on  Houston, and I was reminded that part of what makes an event successful is when it doesn’t look like hard work.  The focus was simply on the kids and their games.  The well-organized games were motoring along, staff were exchanging score updates via Nextel radios, and it all looked like smooth sailing to me.  Someone walking past the fields wouldn’t be able to tell it was anything different than a regular evening of baseball—and on the surface from the stands, it looked that way, too. 

There was a spark to the game, though, that made the night extra-special.  These boys had all traveled a long way to Minnesota, and they wanted wins, bad.  From the Dominican-Houston diamond, I could hear the New York and Detroit dugout chants on the next field over. As the Dominican team put together a convincing win, the boys were hollering advice and encouragement in Spanish to their teammates on base, and the Houston fans and coaches were cheering their boys to stay in the game.  The sun sank low in the sky, the Dominican boys won, and both teams lingered on the field after pictures to chat.

It was good baseball--and it was pure baseball in the best possible way: kids from every background imaginable playing their hearts out on a warm summer night.  During a month when the Twins are struggling on the major league field, it’s a reminder about how special the game can be—and I’m not talking about monster home runs and dazzling Web Gems.

This program is making strides small and large in inner city communities all over the world.  If you’re reading this on Sunday morning, go check out the championship games and cheer on RBI’s good work.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Ho ho!  As you read this, I'm somewhere in the air en route to northern California for the weekend, not tapping away at my keyboard--but thanks to Blogger's magic, I have scheduled a post in my absence!

Earlier this week, I looked at the books in my bookcase to pick one to bring on the plane, in case I either finish Little Bee and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake on my Kindle or they don't click for me.  Avid readers (book readers, not Miles and Laurel readers) can empathize with me when I confess that this task yielded a stack of books on my nightstand.  

One of them was 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, an encyclopedia grouped by region that breaks down the world's most magnificent travel destinations into 200-word blurbs. The global section was too expansive to even begin sifting through, so that night, I perused the U.S. listings.  Like anyone with employment experience in college admissions, I have a motley mix of states under my belt.  I've been fortunate to be in unforgettable places like Cape Cod, Mount Rainier, and a New Hampshire blueberry patch because of work travel.  

I was alarmed to learn, though, that despite seven or eight work trips to Connecticut in five years, I somehow missed all four of the recommended 1,000 Places sights.  I've also never actually been to Minnesota's only recommended spot, the Boundary Waters.  Minnesota's lone entry is nothing compared to New York City, for example, which garnered 11 pages worth of recommendations alone, or the Hawaii section, which had five entries for five islands. 

Bottom line: By perusing the 973-page book, I learned that I haven't really checked off much of the country, let alone the world.  But there's time!  I'm also optimistic because during my next trip to California later this month, I have the chance to investigate two listings: the Monterey Peninsula (p. 577) and California Wine Country (p. 583).  Finally, this is not some sort of Julie/Julia project that calls for working my way through the whole book, which would probably require me to be jobless but also somehow still be in possession of a lot of money. 

Isn't it always fun to dream about travel, though?

Here are five places I have visited that 1,000 Places insists on checking out, in no meaningful order whatsoever:
Outside Grand Central
  • the Las Vegas Strip: I haven't experienced the strip in the intended way, but I'll never forget my only (so far) visit there.  I had a layover in Las Vegas and decided to lug my little wheely carry-on suitcase toward a taxi and head over to the strip.  It was no later than 8:30 in the morning, and I just walked up and down the strip, wheely carry-on in tow.  It was very sunny and that there were very few people on the streets, although the folks who were out had not been in for the night yet.  It was a bizarre way to experience such an iconic scene.
  • New York City: So far, my visits have been limited to strange, crunched half-days on either side of workweeks in the region.  When I saw the city for the first time in 2006, I took the train in from the suburbs and walked around for a long time, completely without direction.  Since then, I have visited the Museum of Natural History, taken a running tour around Manhattan and Brooklyn, and dined with friends.  My work travel to the region is done, so I should schedule a real trip sometime.
  • Aspen: I've landed here twice for work.  The drive from Denver is incredible (and incredibly winding, and sometimes incredibly scary, depending on the angle of a switchback and whether it is snowing).  My last visit coincided with peak aspen leaf-changing season, so the whole landscape was lit up in fiery yellow.  This area is worth its spot on the list for sure.
  • Freedom Trail: Josh and I traveled to Maine last summer for a wedding and spent about 15 hours in Boston afterward.  Seeing the Freedom Trail listed in 1,000 Places made me smile because I remembered walking the trail in miserable pouring rain and cold wind that kept flipping my umbrella.  I love New England's depth of history and would jump at the chance to visit Boston again in weather that allowed lingering along the trail.
  • San Juan Islands and Pike Place Market: Yes, we checked off both of these last month!  If they weren't in the book, I would've gotten out of bed, stomped on it, and then thrown it out the window right then and there.
Aspen leaves in early October
Now let's get to the good stuff.
    Five places on my wishlist, in no meaningful order:
    • Attending the Albuquerque Balloon Festival has been a longtime dream.  I am drawn to beautiful colors all mashed together (see: all of my cloud and sky pictures), and I can't imagine a sight much prettier than bright balloons against a blue sky.
    • Savannah's Historic District: I am developing a deep interest in southern cities.  You'll read more about this in coming months.
    • The French Quarter in New Orleans: See above. I would like to listen to music here, look at the architecture, and get a feel for the New Orleans spirit--and eat the beignets.
    • Acadia National Park is way, way up the Maine coast, and from what I've heard, it sounds like one of the most glorious places in the country.  There is also a marathon there called the Mount Desert Island Marathon, which is supposed to be very hard but is on my life's wishlist.
    • (tie) the Great Smoky Mountains and the Outer Banks, North Carolina: I signed on for an Outing Club backpacking trip to the Great Smoky Mountains during spring break of my senior year, but a surprise late winter blizzard rerouted our group to the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas.  Don't get me wrong: those mountains in Arkansas are surprisingly beautiful.  But I would love to spend a trip hiking in North Carolina.  And then sitting on the beach in North Carolina.
    What's on your wishlist, Reader?  

    If you won two round-trip flights in the continental United States, Carmen San Diego-style, where would you go?