Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tomorrow... I promise...

I know. I said I'd be back on Sunday... Monday at the latest. And I had every intention of being so. But the trip to DC absolutely killed me for sleep, and I spent much of Sunday in a total fog. Yesterday was better, but I spent the day trying to get caught up on everything I haven't done since before going to Montreal. (Although I only had one comment on my blog to respond to... Talk to me people! Talk to me! ;-)

Today I ran around and got the rest of my film developed (yes... I still have a camera that uses film!), and it took three SuperTargets to do that, because 2 of them had dead one-hour machines. 

I am happy to say that I now have some great pictures from Canada to share, as well as pictures of the two cars mentioned in the "Roaring Back into the Past" post and some pictures to go with the blogs immediately following that. 

Most importantly, I have a photo which I can upload which shows the full 9-course Menu which I've been dying to tell you all about. That means I can talk about it all, without having to spend valuable space simply typing the course names over (and probably getting them wrong...). Also on these last rolls of film were pictures of the restaurants, so you'll be able to see where we were, in case you ever plan to go there and want to be able to find them. 

So, you see, this delay is really in your best interest... Really... I swear... It has nothing to do with me spending yesterday evening getting caught up on couchtime with Christopher as we watched a couple of the backlogged episodes of "Eureka" which we have had waiting for us...

Tomorrow, though... get ready to salivate!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Be Back Sunday (Monday at the latest)...

I have to admit that I'm really not sure how many people are reading this (aside from my immediate family and friends), but I wanted to let you all know that I'll be off-line for a couple of days.

If you've been paying attention, I'm off to DC tomorrow morning for my cousin's wedding. I think I'll be on the ground for about 40 hours in DC/Virginia--assuming the weird weather system off the East Coast doesn't delay my flights too badly on the way in or out.

In the meantime, I'd be THRILLED if any of you would like to post Comments to any of my past posts. I'd love to know what you think--whether you share any of my likes and/or dislikes; whether you have any recommendations to share; or whether you have any questions for me.

So... Talk amongst yourselves for a couple of days, and check back with me on Sunday or Monday. I promise that you WILL NOT want to miss the tale of the 10-course dinner (with 6 wines!) at Restaurant L'Initiale!


Canada Trip, Part 3

Alright... It seems that, in discussing my trip with people, the most intriguing topics have been the food. So I figure that I'll pare down the rest of the stuff and focus on what we ate...

Wednesday, September 17th (My brother-in-law's birthday)
Christopher and I headed out of Montreal after breakfast at Marie's. We opted on the shorter of two routes, since our main goal was to get to Quebec City and spend time there. The drive was through rolling plains, mostly, with some of the strange "here's a great big rock that's been dropped in the middle of the plain" hills. As we came upon Quebec, we crossed the St. Lawrence River and started winding our way along streets which got progressively narrower. The Pontiac G6 (rental, remember?) and I were doing okay until we had to turn the corner a couple of blocks before we got to the hotel. 

You see... in the old portions of Montreal and Quebec, the streets are pretty narrow. And when you're driving a semi-unknown car with a longer hood than you're used to, it's just not fun to turn a tight corner when there is scaffolding immediately in front of you in the intersection. Thankfully, we were able to hand the keys to the hotel's valet and not deal with the car again for two full days.

Our hotel L'Auberge St. Pierre, was just a block off of the old port, across the street from the Musee de la Civilisation and occupied a couple of old buildings, and our mini-suite was in a building which had, apparently at one time, been a Telegraph building. As we were checking in, Christopher asked the wonderful young woman at the front desk if she could arrange for a reservation at L'Echaudee, a restaurant which my cousins had recommended on Sunday night. (sorry... can't find a website for it.) 

After checking in, we left the hotel for a tour of the Musee, then a walk through diminishing showers around the port, then to a great little coffee shop (with wonderful hot chocolate!), then to the Place Royale and the wonderful shops along the streets. We returned to our hotel in time for our complimentary half-bottle of wine, then we were off to L'Echaudee for dinner.

Our meals were delicious--I can't actually remember what Christopher had for a starter and dessert, but we each had Steak and Frites for our main course. I also had a salad with a warm goat cheese "crouton" (actually a large piece of goat cheese broiled onto a slice of toast, then placed on the salad), and a slice of decadent maple sugar tart for dessert. We had a great little table by a corner window (and right next to the window to the wine "cave"), the service was impeccable, and we finished early enough to go for a long walk through the streets of the old city before settling down in our king-sized bed for the night. 

Thursday, September 18th
We got up in time for breakfast (included) at the hotel. The food was great, although the morning "waiter" seemed more interested in being speedy than he did in being pleasant. Christopher and I spent the bulk of the day being ultimate tourists. 

We walked back to the Place Royale and looked at a few more shops. Then we took the Funicular up to the Upper Town section of old Quebec and walked along the Terrasse Dufferin. We climbed the rest of the way up to the Citadel for the tour. (Because it's a working military base, there's no wandering around--you have to be with a tour. We had a very energetic tourguide who was really pretty bad at the guiding thing. about 90 minutes after we started, the hourlong tour finally ended...) 

The afternoon was simply more wandering and shopping, with a stop at a shop for a croissant and some macarons for a light lunch. It was a sunny day, cool but not cold, so we had no problem walking around and enjoying just being together.

I'd love to write about our amazing dinner at Restaurant L'Initiale, but it would make for WAY too long a post. I'll try to do it justice in its own post, soon.

(to be continued... again...)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Canada Trip, Part 2

Monday, September 15th
Marie took us to "Les Halles d'Anjou" in the morning for coffee and a light breakfast, as well as some shopping for dinner ingredients in the wonderful meat and cheese markets, as well as the seasonal vegetable market near the entrance. Duly fortified, we dropped off our wares back at the residence, then went on our way to play tourist. 

Turns out the Biodome is closed on Mondays from September to March, so we went directly to the Olympic Stadium, where we took the funicular to the top for the amazing views, and then back down and across the street to the Botanical Gardens. Even though we were late in the season, the Gardens were beautiful--especially the Chinese Garden, decorated with lighted "lanterns" (in shapes from traditional to whimsical) for an annual exhibition. We headed home after that to start work on dinner, since Christopher and I were cooking. 

We did the very American thing of using our cheese course (a brie and a camembert) as appetizer, then went on to a main course of steak in pepper sauce and roasted potatoes. Dessert was brownies and ice cream. A nice blend of the French and the American.

Tuesday, September 16th
Before we started touristing, Marie insisted we needed a proper brunch, so we went to Chez Cora for massive ham and swiss crepes (Marie and me), and a full breakfast with "foggy" eggs for Christopher. (Scrambled eggs are "brouille" in French--literally that means they're foggy.)

Christopher and I did play tourist all over town that day. We started by going back to the Biodome (it's a kind of zoo/botanical set-up with 4 different areas representing the Tropics, the Arctic, the Laurentians, and the St Lawrence River). Then we made our way to Vieux Montreal, visiting the Basilica and the shops (and tried some Maple Sugar Cotton Candy). Next we dropped into the Underground City and did some shopping. And finally another trip up Mont Royal, where this time we hiked around to the top so that we could get a good look at the city.

For dinner, Marie took Christopher and me to L'Academie--a restaurant in her neighborhood, but definitely not a "neighborhood restaurant." The ambiance is a little modern (ie. loud, because it's a large box), but the sunset was beautiful through the high windows. Our waiter was friendly and did pretty well speaking to us in both English and French as he tried to explain the specials. We uncorked our bottle of wine and enjoyed another amazing meal. We started with salads and bread, then moved into main courses. Marie had "Riz de Veau" (which she had trouble translating, but tasted quite nice, actually), Christopher had a filet mignon, and I had "Jarre d'Agneau"--rack of lamb in an amazing sauce.

** sidenote ** I love that in Montreal (and much of Quebec), there are restaurants where you are asked to bring your own wine. These places do the uncorking and the pouring for no extra fees. I wish they'd do that in the States. ** end sidenote **

Although Marie and Christopher each took coffee after dinner, we made our way back to Marie's for a light dessert of leftovers before splitting up for the night. 

(still more coming soon...)

Canada Trip, Part 1-ish

Alright. Enough with the stalling. Today I'm procrastinating other things so that I can write up Christopher's and my recent trip to Canada. So here we go...

Saturday, September 13th
We flew in to Burlington, Vermont, picked up our rental car (a Pontiac G6 with XM radio and two ill-placed cup holders), and headed north to the border. I've driven to Montreal before, but never via Vermont. I gotta say: Vermont is really pretty. Rocky/hilly and seriously wooded. It's odd, though, because once you cross into Quebec, the terrain is flatter and there are notably fewer trees. The change is almost as instantly noticeable as the fact that the border guard spoke mainly French.

We got into Montreal just a hair ahead of time and met up with my aunt Marie at her "residence"--a kind of high-rise retirement home. We were also staying there, and she showed us to our 16th-floor studio apartment with it's eastern view of the Montreal skyline, including the St. Lawrence River and Mont Royal. 

After a quick settle-in, we met up in Marie's apartment for "apero" (aperitifs) and what Marie called a "light snack." So... let's see... there were the drinks. Then there were crackers with a shrimp salad on them while we chatted. For dinner, it was Marie's "pot luck" (basically Shepherd's pie, with veggies and meat in a wonderful brown gravy and mashed potatoes on top). Before dessert, we had a really wonderful cheese course, and that was followed by a chilled pineapple dessert. Wow. Good thing it was only a light snack.

The sunset happened between the hors d'oeuvres and dinner. It was a glorious red sky, as warm as the conversation, although it didn't last nearly as long.

Sunday, September 14th
Christopher and I started with breakfast at Marie's, then went on our way into downtown Montreal. Minor problem: Sunday was the day of the Montreal marathon. So we detoured all over the place, including driving through Marie's old neighborhood! Because it was a damp day--not rainy, but dreary--we eventually found ourselves at the Musee des Beaux Arts, where we saw the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit. On our way home, we took the road over the Mont Royal, stopping for a few pictures on the way down.

Dinner on Sunday night was one of our main reasons for going to Montreal. Not only did we get to spend the evening with Marie, but also to finally meet a couple of my "cousins" (well... sort of... cousins by marriage) whom I had heard about for years. They arrived around 4:30, and although we had only just met, we fell into conversations, and cross-conversations, immediately. Oh... and the food... 

We started with more of the shrimp crackers, this time with veggies and dip, as we had some good Canadian beers. We moved to champagne before we moved to the table, then a very nice wine to go with our Chicken Savoyarde (that's with swiss cheese in a white sauce, garnished with shredded vegetables) and bread and veggies. Sunday's cheese course included Oka cheese (made by Trappist monks), among others. And dessert was an amazing homemade strawberry pie with ice cream. 

We snapped a few pictures before the end of the evening, but nothing will compete with being there!

(Stay tuned for Part 2)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

From Going to a Wedding to "Get Smart"

I know I keep promising to write about my Canada trip. But I'm not going to do it right now, either. Instead, you get two mini topics: Booking a last-minute trip and going to a movie I laughed all the way through.

1) Booking a last-minute trip. Having already sent a "Congratulations on your wedding" package to my cousin in DC earlier today, I found a "last minute deal" on Travelocity today. So I booked a flight/hotel/car package and now need to email a quick "Oh. Do you still have room for me?" note to his family to say that I'm coming. Yep, I'm planning to spend about 40 hours in the DC area this weekend. It's still not sinking in. And it's weird to think that I'm doing it without Christopher.

2) Going to a movie I laughed all the way through. Christopher and I went to see "Get Smart" tonight at one of the two-dollar theaters in the area. I had hoped to like it (I like the stars, but it had gotten sad reviews), but didn't want to expect too much. Well... There was a LOT of really stupid humor in it--including "pain" gags--but overall we laughed all the way through it. There were incredible moments of slapstick. There was witty and intelligent banter. And I know I laughed through some lines because I just couldn't stop myself. 

So, there you go. Maybe not the posting you were expecting, but my day wasn't exactly what I expected, either.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lagging behind

File my day under "The best laid plans..."

Having gotten back to Minnesota on Saturday so that Christopher and I could have yesterday to recuperate before getting back into the swing of things today, I am pleading jet lag as I look at the list of unfinished tasks I'm leaving in my wake today. Not the least of these is the obvious dearth of blog posts on interesting tales from our trip to Canada, which I promised I'd be giving you.

So here it is almost 9 at night and I'm going to do my best to give you a few pieces of our travelogue to keep you interested--and to insist that I'm not simply stringing you along:

1) When you're used to complaining about spending $3.70 per gallon for gas, spending 1.40$ Canadian per liter is a humbling shock. (Reminder for those of you not good at conversions: a liter is just over a quart; 4 quarts make up a gallon. That means we were paying about $5.50 per gallon.) 

2) If you haven't seen parts of your family in a while, I highly recommend it. On this trip I saw a great aunt I hadn't seen in probably about 5 years, and met two... ummm... "cousins" (just don't ask me to explain the family tree branching) whom I had been hearing about for years. Even though Christopher was meeting them all for the first time, we fell into conversations immediately. There were hugs all around, and by the time we were on the second course of our first meals together (I've mentioned that every evening meal had at least 4 courses, right?), it was as if we lived down the street and saw each other every weekend.

3) If you're in Montreal between now and next Sunday, I strongly suggest checking out the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Musee des Beaux Arts. We stumbled into that exhibit on Sunday the 14th, and it was pretty nifty. There were outfits from the 60s that looked current and dresses from the 90s that I would have thought were from the 70s. Possibly more importantly, I was once again reminded that going with the flow and trying something different (a museum exhibition of fashion isn't my usual first choice), can result in a wonderful afternoon.

4) When you're given the opportunity to eat amazing foods, do it. The Chicken Savoyarde was tangy and creamy, but not heavy. The Oka cheese had the perfect bite and was just soft enough to make the monks proud. The "escalope" of duck liver was amazingly non-liver tasting. I'm trying to figure out how to make the goat cheese crouton for our next dinner. And I'm happy to say that I brought the recipe for the Chewy Bars home with me. (I picked up the ingredients for the bars, yesterday. Now I just need an excuse for the calories.)

5) Looking around is better than only looking straight ahead. We found the Lapin Saute and the perfect birthday card because we walked around and paid attention to where we were. That's also how we found Maple Sugar Cotton Candy (which we bought) and some joy-inspiring carved dancing bears (which we didn't buy because they were just too expensive.) And although the 450 steps to the top of the Montmorency Falls killed our thighs, the view was a lot better there than from the much less painful cable car.

I don't know about you, but I think 5 paragraphs is probably a good amount for a "teaser." 

In the next few days I hope to lay out a few more details about places we went, foods we ate and how well we travelled. I also hope to get to the bottom of my email inbox, to finish my laundry, and to run a list of errands that I was supposed to do today.

If there's anything specific you want to hear about, leave me a comment and I'll see what I can do. Otherwise, I'll just take my chances with what translates from my brain to my keyboard, like usual.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Today's Karma

Christopher and I got back from Montreal (and Quebec City), yesterday. We specifically planned to return on Saturday so that we could have a day to recuperate, do laundry, and readjust to being at home before the week started. Christopher's sister picked us up at the airport last night with food and drink in hand (she made pumpkin "whoopie pies" with buttercream frosting filling, and brought them with sodas), and it was one more meal to add to the list of amazing food we'd had all week. 

I promise to tell you all about that trip in the next couple days. I'll fill you in on walking through the rainy port in Old Quebec and marvelling at the Chinese lanterns in the Montreal Botanical Gardens. And I can't wait to tell you about the food! We ate and ate, hoping that all of the walking would help our pants keep fitting. We were treated to everything from an amazing "potluck" which was part of the four-course "snack" my aunt made for us the first night we got in, all the way to a ten-course meal (with six different wines) which we had our final night in Quebec City. Oh. And the Maple Sugar cotton candy. And the aperitifs. And cheese courses. And macarons. And...

But that's for the next post (or three). For right now I have my own little story to tell:

As many of you know--and some of you may have guessed by now--I enjoy the idea of Karma and how some kind of cosmic balance often works out for people. This is not to say that good things always happen to good people, but sometimes the world does even itself out.

I was at the grocery store this afternoon. I was shopping to fill the fridge with milk and yogurt for the coming week, and also buying some supplies to try to duplicate a dessert my aunt made for us while in Montreal. I was standing in line getting ready to check out, musing on the amazing meals of the past week. And then I saw it: The display of "food shelf" bags--the ones you can buy for $5 and donate to the food shelf either at the grocery store, or somewhere else. 

Mind you, I saw them, but I didn't pay the closest attention. Instead, I was looking at my grocery cart, longing for the amazing cheeses and meat we bought in Montreal. And I was looking at the ingredients in my cart and imagining how bad for my health the Chewy Bars would be to have in the house. 

But then I thought about how much I had spent on travel and food in the past week--and how much I was going to be spending on the ingredients for those bars alone--and I grabbed one of the bags and put it onto the conveyer belt. 

Five dollars isn't much. It's less than a meal at McDonald's. It's even less than a meal at Taco Bell. It's not like I was doing anything all that great. But when I walked toward the door and dropped the bag into the almost-empty donation bin... well... it felt really good. 

I figured that warm fuzzy feeling was my Karmic return. It felt great. Just what I needed on my first day back from vacation. 

As I was walking outside, I stopped on the sidewalk so I wouldn't be hit by the ever-present rush of cars going by. It took a moment for me to realize that the rush wasn't present. I looked up and a young guy in an SUV had stopped off to my left--He was waiting for me to push my cart into the parking lot. I looked up and he waved me across. I smiled and waved back as I crossed the lanes to my car.

Karma. Some days it makes life worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dateline: Montreal, September 16

Christopher and I are having a great time in Montreal visiting my relatives. We've lucked out with great weather, and have been eating like kings. It's great.

The only problem is that we're a little short on internet access, so you'll have to wait a few more days for a newsy blog from me.

In the meantime, feel free to talk amongst yourselves...

A bientot.

Friday, September 12, 2008

It's All About Baggage

Have you noticed that the theme of many of my past few posts have been about baggage? Or... rather... "baggage."

After all, while I was travelling back into the past with my friends and family last weekend, I was dealing with all of the interactions which came before. Even yesterday when I was working on my toilet fill valve I was dealing with my past history of never having done that kind of thing before.

Today, on the other hand, my partner (by the way... have I mentioned that his name is Christopher?) and I are working on packing for a one-week trip to Canada--specifically Montreal and Quebec City--which we're embarking on tomorrow. We're stumbling through the newest round of regulations about which airlines charge for bags and figuring out which ones do or don't allow carry-ons. Frustratingly, we also have to deal with memories of prior bad luck with lost luggage when having to change planes while travelling. All of which means we're both rethinking our packing methods. Of course, we know that the days of bringing home bottles of maple syrup or Canadian beer are long gone, but we'd like to at least be sure that our socks and undies make it to and fro at the same time we do. (Please wish us luck... think good thoughts... cross your fingers... whatever you can do to help!)

So we're seriously under-packing and hoping to do laundry while we're there. We're putting all of our 3-ounce bottles in their Ziploc bags. And we're using some of our precious space for packing munchies just in case we get stranded somewhere along the way. 

Maybe there's a life lesson to be learned there, too: Pack light. Take only what you need. Bring munchies. 

Even so... I think I'll still miss the maple syrup.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fixing a Toilet Fill Valve

Ever had a toilet that wouldn't stop filling? You know... it runs and runs and runs and just doesn't stop? Well, if you have, you know that it is probably being caused by one of two things: The piece that plugs the tank (aka the "flapper") or the floaty thing that tells it when it's full (aka the "fill valve"). The dilemma is, what do you do when you find out that it needs to be fixed?

A few months ago, I had to change the flapper on our downstairs toilet. That's the easy one. You simply turn off the water, flush the toilet and have at it once it's empty. "Having at it" in this case is basically snapping the old one off and snapping the new one in place. You may end up with a little blue toilet water on your hands, but it's easy.

In the past two weeks, though, we've found that the fill valve has been inconsistent. Sometimes the toilet simply does it's thing, and sometimes it has been running and running basically wasting a ton of water down the overflow pipe. Since I'm the primary user of the toilet in the downstairs bathroom, I've been noticing the tell-tale sound of running water from time to time and I've tried to fix it by adjusting the height of the float. Well, as you might have guessed, that finally stopped working. So today I found myself picking up a $6.48 Toilet Fill Valve from Home Depot.

I "read" (okay... mostly they are diagrams--some of which made NO sense at all) through the instructions and it looked easy enough, so I turned off the water, flushed the toilet and started the job of replacement. Turns out it was pretty easy. There's a "hand tightened" nut on the bottom of the valve which attaches it to the water supply, and--at the same time--seals the bottom of the toilet tank so it doesn't leak out. Open and shut case... errr... tank... right?

Well... It wasn't quite that easy...

You see, I found out the hard way that the water shut-off didn't actually completely shut off the water. Of course I found this out when water started pouring out onto the floor while I undid the coupling. The water being clear, not blue, meant that it was clean new water. So no nasty blue dye, but water pretty much going everywhere. With more turns of the shut-off offering no more help, I went to work. 

Yep. There was a constant running of water as I frantically removed the coupling, pulled out the old fill valve, twisted the new valve into place and breathed a sigh of relief as the water stopped running out onto the floor, and started going into the toilet tank, instead.  (Thank god that I was in a bathroom, sitting on the floor next to a shelf filled with towels!)

But I'm happy to say that here I am... 5 hours later... and the toilet has been quiet the whole time. The towels (and my pants) have gone through the washer and dryer. And I can now add "emergency plumber" to the list of things I've done during my unemployment. 

You might even say I'm "flushed" with pride. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A DW(u)I Day

Due to the fact that there is (at best) spotty cellular phone service between my parents' home in South Dakota and my home in Minnesota, I spent most of my day with only myself as company. In other words, I spent it "Driving While un-Interrupted" or DW(u)I.

I've done this drive many times in the past 5 years, going both directions down the same road. That's enough times to know where the no-passing zone sections are, where the rest areas are, and even where I know I can stop for soda on Christmas Eve.

Today, though, I was simply watching the world go by. Enjoying the early fall scenery. It was nice to sit and ponder life without the radio on or my cellphone ringing. I had a few CDs playing as I drove, but the great thing about playing a CD you already know is that you don't have to listen to it to... well... listen to it.

In some circles, this would be referred to as some kind of zen moment. In other areas, it would be "zoning out." But for me, it was just a really nice relaxing 5.5-hour drive.

Unfortunately, since I spent a major part of my day DW(u)I, I seem to have run out of imponderables to ponder tonight in this blog. Not that I think that's a bad thing. After all, when was the last time you were lucky enough to end your day without something to complain about?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Misses Potter and Pettigrew

On my last day at home in South Dakota, we have enjoyed a leisurely day, capped by the watching of two Netflicked movies: "Miss Potter" and "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day."

I had shuffled both of them to the top of my queue to bring on my trip because they both seemed... well... entertaining (as opposed to enlightening or thought-provoking). I thought the idea of them both being period pieces and at least mildly romantic would be nice. They both lived up to those expectations. And I further came to find that they both, at their cores, have a message of following your heart and living in the moment. Unfortunately, although they were both quite nice films, I have to admit that I came away liking one more than the other.

"Miss Potter," which stars Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter (the creator of Peter Rabbit and his friends), is a very nice bio-pic. It has some wonderful animations through which her characters interact with her--although I had really been expecting more, since many of the reviews mentioned "lush animations." I found myself enjoying the auxiliary characters almost more than Miss Potter, herself. And, now that I think of it, I liked them because of the actors (Emily Watson, Ewan MacGregor, and Lloyd Owen), and not for the roles they played. Which is too bad, because I did want to like the movie.

On the other hand, "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" was quite wonderful. Frances McDormand plays Miss Pettigrew--a woman who loses her position with a nanny agency, so she insinuates herself into a position as "social secretary" for an American starlet living in London. The starlet (Amy Adams in a breathy, ditzy role) has a bit of a problem: she has three men who all want to marry her--each of which can help her career in his own way. This is where "Miss Pettigrew" pulls so quickly away from "Miss Potter." 

In "Miss Pettigrew," I found myself wanting to know more about all of these "extra" characters who filled her one day of living. Although I know the names of a few of the actors, I found myself talking about them by character names while the credits rolled. From the three suitors to the starlet's conniving "friends," they were all so well-drawn and multi-faceted that, at the end of the movie, I wanted to know more--to know what happened next to each of them, and whether they got what was coming to them (good or bad). 

Did they both live up to my requirements of being entertaining, mildly-romantic period pieces? Yes. Unfortunately, at the end of "Miss Potter," the audience is given a few lines to fill us in on the rest of her life, and yet I felt like I was missing out on something. "Miss Pettigrew," on the other hand, gives us only hints to what happens after the curtain falls, but leaves us ready to give our applause and exit the theater, thankful to have been along for the ride.

Monday, September 8, 2008

"Salad" Days

File under: When is a salad actually a "salad"?

I woke up this morning craving vegetables. Which, if you know me, you realize is pretty amazing.

If you've been following my past few days, you know that I'm currently in a small town in South Dakota visiting my parents. 

When I got into town yesterday afternoon, my mom was volunteering at a church supper at the Catholic Church. (Yes. I had been forewarned.) So my dad and I got to hang out at home for a while and then went over to meet up with my mom and have dinner. We dutifully paid for dinner (just $7.50 per adult, which makes me wonder how they make any money), and then stood and/or sat in line in the church waiting for spaces to open up in the parish hall. (Oddly enough, I realized after-the-fact that I neither genuflected nor crossed myself with holy water on the way into the church--it just didn't seem necessary since were there for dinner, not mass.)

I knew in advance that dinner was going to consist of a tried-and-true meal which has been served at the Catholic Church for years, and I have to admit that I was enticed by the catered (and, remember, this was all only $7.50) main course: Broasted Chicken and Ham, served with "special" chees-y potatoes (which had a top crust of cornflakes--that's the special part, but don't tell anyone... I think it's supposed to be a secret). Unfortunately, as we entered the hall to be served, it dawned on me why a lot of people in the States may have problems if they try to lose weight by eating salads.  

**sidenote** Have you ever had Broasted Chicken? I don't know exactly what they do to it, but it's amazing. Somewhere between fried and roasted. I've never had a dry piece of broasted chicken. Yum. **end sidenote**

But, anyway... Back to the salads. Or... rather... the "salads."

The side dishes--along with green beans--were a pasta "salad" which was oddly sweet, and a fruit "salad" which consists of all sorts of rather-expensive fresh fruit stirred into a base of cherry pie filling (which results, sadly, in all of the great fresh fruit tasting vaguely like canned cherries). I did eat the pasta "salad," but simply used the sauce from the fruit "salad" as a dip/glaze for my ham, for which it was perfectly suited.

Luckily, for dessert we were offered our choice of a slice of one of the pies which had been donated. Mom had stashed a slice of whipped peanut butter pie with chocolate shavings on top, which she figured I'd like. 

Mom was right, that pie was great--the perfect contrast to the sweetness of the "salads."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Once More... With Feeling

File under: A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing...

After one last photo-op, I left my friends this morning, after making sure they had survived the end of the night of fortieth-birthday festivities. (They apparently stayed up until 4am. I had been asleep for 4 hours by then...) 

I headed south from their place (in Northeast South Dakota, just below that weird notch where Minnesota juts into South Dakota) to my parents' home in Southeast South Dakota (they still live in the same house I grew up in). It was a shorter trip than when I drive "home" from the Twin Cities--only 3.5 hours of driving--so I decided to make a side-trip through Brookings, SD, the town where I went to college from 1985-1989.

Over the past 19 years I've gotten a lot of alumni mailings telling me how much the college and the town have changed, but I hadn't gotten to see it for myself. So this was my chance, and since I wasn't on a schedule, I decided to take it. I pulled off the interstate in Brookings and headed down the streets without even looking at the names. I guess even 19 years away didn't really matter after living there for 4 years. 

I pulled into the parking lot near Pugsley Hall and took a look at the house I lived in for my senior year, then headed cross-country as I walked the campus. I took some pictures of buildings (including the Campanile and Sylvan Theater on the main green), noted the loss of the "Bunny Wash" laundromat, walked through the new Student Union and even circled the new Performing Arts Center, but found myself drawn to the old Admin building. 

I graduated from South Dakota State University with degrees in English and French, but I came into those later in my college career. I had started out in Theater, and the main performing space at the time (and even to this day for many things) is in Doner Auditorium--which is housed in Admin. So I was pretty excited to see someone open the front door of the building and walk right in. 

I circled the building before going in, though. I think I was worried that my memories would lose some of their luster if I went in. I was surprised and a little bummed to see that the old rickety fire escape which comes out off of the stage (one story above ground) has been upgraded and looks completely safe and sturdy. 
What fun would that be in mid-winter when you have a quick change to do and have to exit the stage, slide down the fire escape, re-enter the building on the first floor, plow into the costume shop, and change--all in 3 minutes?

When I finally opened the front door to the building, I was met with a smell that is unlike that of most academic buildings. Admin has never simply had that "musty old building" smell, partly because of the Computer Lab (which apparently still exists), but also because of the smells of paint and makeup and... well... theater... which come from Doner Auditorium. I've worked in other theaters since that time, and there is always the smell of paint and makeup, but there is something particular about Doner--and I think it's the extra mix of the old mustiness of academic halls. 

I swam upstairs through the memories and found myself walking into the back of the auditorium. It was mostly dark, but some of the lights at the rear of the house were on, so I walked forward and soaked it in. 

Before I left I headed up onto the stage for one last look out from that vantage point. It's been a long time since I was on that stage (and I'm not going to lie--I was never a lead in a show, although I did have some "center stage" moments), but it felt great to be back there.
I can't begin to tell you the stories that went through my mind. (Well... At least not right now... this post is getting long enough!) What I can tell you is that I found myself surrounded by the memories... and flooded by the friendships. It took me a long time to walk back up the aisle and out the door. But I have to admit that I felt good knowing that it was all still there. 

I guess that's what this weekend has been about--reconnecting with the past in the present. And it was nice to find out that we still get along.

Okay... That last sentence is way too "Doogie Howser, MD" for me to end a post on, so let me just say that there is one other reason I was so happy to be wandering around in Brookings: my cellphone finally picked up a signal again, and I was able to send a text to my partner to tell him how much I missed having him with me this weekend. Yeah. There are times when the past just can't compete. 

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Going Beyond the Garage Party

File under: Better than a Frozen Fish Fight. 

Alright... It's late and that I've just gotten back from my friend's 40th birthday "Garage Party." So I hope you're not looking for anything too long from me for today. But don't worry--I do have a few things to comment on.

**explanatory sidenote** A typical midwestern Garage Party includes some or all of the following: a keg of beer; various people bringing salads (especially potato or pasta salads); chips and dips; a radio or CD player playing more questionable music as the evening progresses; one or more people who get too drunk too quickly and make the rest of the crowd really uncomfortable. **end explanatory sidenote**

1) I'm glad that I have great people in my life--and I'm even more glad that some of them are people who have been around for many years and through many stages of life.

2) I'm excited that my friends know me well enough that they would invite me to a Garage Party--but relieved that they wouldn't ever think of throwing me one. 

3) Bursting out laughing because the possibly-twelve-year-old kid behind the grocery store counter practically scolded you for buying four bags of tortilla chips at 9:53 on a Saturday night is probably not a good reason to run a stoplight--even if the friend you were buying the chips for is on the police force.

4) Time changes some things. Time also leaves some things the same. It's up to us to figure out what to do with what remains.

And thus, for tonight, it's time to head for bed. 

Friday, September 5, 2008

Roaring Back into the Past

I really don't know much about cars. I admit it. I know what I like in a car. I know what I don't like in a car. But I don't know much about the cars, themselves.

And yet, when the garage door opened and I saw the burgandy 1967 Camaro SS with the massive scoop on the hood, I knew there was something going on in that car. Which doesn't say that there was anything wrong with the convertible red 1967 Firebird sitting in the driveway, it's just that... well... the Firebird looked like the kind of car you cruise around in with the top down. 

The Camaro looked... well... For lack of a better way to describe it, the Camaro--with its "ghost flames" and black hood--is a Hunk. Macho. Full of raw power. Not handsome or pretty, but oozing sex appeal--like Daniel Craig's James Bond. And the engine had the rumble to match.

Wait. I don't want you to think I'm being unfaithful to my 2000 Subaru Impreza Outback--or my partner for that matter. Let me explain.

I'm currently in South Dakota for a college friend's 40th birthday. His wife invited me as a surprise, and I fully admit that I was nervous. I mean, he and I were great friends during college, but that was in the late 80s. We've always kept in touch, and I was a groomsman in his wedding--but that was something like 10 years ago (or was it more?). Actually, he was one of the first non-family people I came out to, which I did during the same phonecall when he asked me to be in his wedding. (His response to my telling him I was gay was "Okay. So are you going to be in my wedding, or not?" A response for which I will always be thankful.) I gotta say that walking into their house and seeing the look of shock and surprise was great. We pulled off that part of the weekend perfectly, but in my mind I was still wondering what the coming 36 hours would be like.

After dinner, though, we walked out to the garage and his wife suggested we take a drive in that 1967 Camaro while she put the kids to bed. So the two of us slipped into the car and went for a drive. As he revved the engine and we tore down a few back roads outside of town, the conversation flowed and the time slipped away. We were back in college in his black Z28 with gold markings and the "after-market" glass T-tops. That old Z28 (long since gone, sadly, although it did make a reappearance at their wedding) had the same feel as the Camaro--it was another hunky car. 

Those two cars, with their rumbling engines, where any conversations involve yelling more than talking, somehow--for us--created the perfect cocoon for talking. In college we talked about music, classes and the future. Tonight we talked about jobs, mortgages and our families. That cocoon that somehow always helped us talk about hopes and dreams while talking about gearshifts and miles per gallon worked its magic again tonight.

So amid the rumbling tonight we once again found ourselves talking about our lives and our hopes for the future. Oh, yeah. And cars.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Private Dip in the "Poole"

Third time was a charm for us finding "Henry Poole Is Here." Granted, it was not only the third week of searching for it, but also the third movie theater we had tried. 

After the first theater kept bouncing it for "Elegy," the second theater bumped it for something listed as "Special Event, A"--which I somehow suspect was connected to the RNC being in town. So we made the trek to a movie theater about 10 miles out of our way. I had google-mapped the location in advance, and had plotted out a list of errands to do, and was all excited that my oil was changed, my hair was cut, I picked up a snack at McDonald's, and I was still able to buy and read the first chapter-or-so of a book on HTML programming before having to be at the theater. I ended up in the parking lot about 30 minutes before the movie, and was happy to see that the movie's name was displayed on the marquee.

But as I sat in my car studying my HTML (it's to help with the unemployment factor... it's NOT my usual choice for light reading), I started to notice that no one else was pulling into the lot. At about 10 minutes before the movie I decided to go ahead and walk into the lobby and buy my ticket. Yep. The place was empty. There were 4 cars (3 plus mine) in the lot. I was sure that when my movie-date showed up, we'd end up being told that they weren't open. But we headed into the movie and got to choose our seats... out of the entire theater. Yep. Private showing in the theater. How cool is that? As if the Cinema gods were rewarding us for our efforts.

Usually, I hate it when people talk in movies--and this includes anyone who is with me. But I have to say that it kind of helped in this movie. Which is not to say that I regret chasing "Henry Poole" for three weeks. It's a very nice little movie. I loved both Luke Wilson (who plays Henry) and Adriana Barraza (his neighbor Esperanza Martinez). They were really amazing to watch as they debated faith and religion without really debating it. Her passion and quiet intensity was amazing. And he was just so likeable, without trying to be. But some times there were blank spaces that we had to fill.

Unfortunately, here is the thing about a movie which focuses on the possibility of miracles: No matter how it ends it's going to feel like it cheated. I really really liked about 85% of the movie. But I probably should have left about 10 minutes before the end. I think it's a movie where ending with a big question mark would have been great.

On the other hand, I should mention that I loved "Definitely, Maybe" which I watched on Netflix over the weekend. It focuses on Will Hayes (played by Ryan Reynolds--who has hunky potential, but in this simply plays a great guy who simply happens to be good looking) and his daughter Maya (played by Abigail Breslin). 

**sidenote** Have you ever noticed that both Luke Wilson and Ryan Reynolds have really good hair? Luke's frequently looks like it needs to be combed in the movie, but they both just have great hair. **end sidenote**

The essence of the first 3/4 of "Definitely, Maybe" is Will telling his daughter about three women he dated, all so that she can try to guess which one is her mom. The movie jumps back and forth in flashbacks, and you find yourself falling for these three diverse women--not to mention falling for Will.

In the end, yes, you do find out who Maya's mom is. And, you know, it's okay. Even more so, although Will's character ends the movie with a little bit of a question mark, you end the movie with a feeling of "Okay... They'll be okay... These are people I like and I think they'll be okay..." 

I wish I felt that way at the end of "Henry Poole." I really liked the main characters (and some of the great secondary players) at various times during the film, but I was too bothered by how the end of the movie worked itself out to contemplate whether they were going to be okay or not. On the other hand, I really do wish I had Luke Wilson's hair.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Interview follow-up

And... no... that doesn't say "Follow-up Interview."

This showed up in my email inbox, late yesterday afternoon:

Hello Robert - 
Thank you for your interest in employment opportunities with [us]. We enjoyed meeting you recently at our group interview and hope you left with the same level of enthusiasm that we all share for our company.
We had some really tough decisions to make and, at this time, do not have a position to offer you. We will keep your application on file and should our situation change, we will contact you.
Again, thank you for your interest in [us]. We wish you much success in your job search.

So here's the thing... When I applied with the company, I had applied online for a Managerial position. I was contacted by the company and told that they had already filled the Managerial positions (apparently at least 2-3 weeks prior to my finding the online posting, since one of the guys who conducted the interview was "brand new" and had been with the company for 5 weeks). I wrote back and stated that I would be interested in some of the more administrative positions (in-store Training and HR--which I've done a lot of in the past). 

By the time I went to the interview I had already spoken via email and on the phone with two different people. Through those conversations, I made my desire to look into these less-sales-oriented positions very clear. And, yet, through the dynamics of the group interview, we were all put into the same pool of candidates for basic sales positions. When asked about what we wanted from the company, our only choices were full-time or part-time. Never were we asked about specific job position desires.

Now I have to say that I've been on both sides of the interview process. I know that group interviews are a good way to get a general feeling for the pool of candidates. But it would seem to me that the two interviewers probably had no idea what specific skills any of us were bringing in. So someone like me, who has done staff scheduling for staffs of various sizes, as well as teaching and staff training for multiple years, probably didn't make it to the next interview because I didn't come across as "sales" enough. It makes me wonder if the woman who worked in Target corporate is getting a second interview; or whether the woman with years of retail experience, who was meek when speaking, is getting one. 

I guess I should be happy that at least this wasn't a job I was dying for. And I can always look at it as "interview practice" for whatever comes along next, right? But I do wonder how different the outcome would have been if the interview had been one-on-one.

Oh, well. Back to sending my resume out to see what computer program will scan it for "applicable keywords" this week. 

I'll keep you posted. (oh. sorry. no pun intended.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Let's get pizza! Wanna get pizza!?

File under: It's better than a Frozen Fish Fight.

(Does anyone know what Saturday Night Live skit that Title line is from? I barely remember it, and I really don't want to think about how many decades ago it was on TV!)

In the off chance that you know of anyone who might be interested in getting pizza, I have a soft sales pitch to throw your way. Although... This being me... you know that there has to be a digression before the main point, right? Not wanting to disappoint, here you are:

I know we've all had to do the door-to-door fundraiser thing. Whether it be Girl Scout cookies or gift wrap or--yes--pizza kits, we've all done it. But I think I've done one of the worst ones ever. 

You see, I grew up in a small town in South Dakota. Not the smallest town in South Dakota--after all they still do have a grocery store, K-12 schooling, multiple bars, and a hospital--but it was small. Small as in "There were more people who lived on the floor of the dorm my first year in college than there were in my entire graduating class" or--even better--"There were more people in my partner's high school than there were in my entire home town." 

**Sidenote** I tried to put in a link to a map, here, but my hometown wasn't on any of the South Dakota state maps I found online. If you're not familiar with the state, pull it up on Google maps and check it out. It's more interesting than you might think! **End sidenote**

You can imagine, then, that if a group of 40-60 kids in the band all got sent out to try to sell the same products, it got difficult really fast. I mean, there just wasn't that big a pool of potential buyers. But when I was in high school the band wanted to go on a trip, and we really needed money, so we headed out into the community with our information sheets and sales trackers. We practiced our sales pitches, figured out when the products would be delivered, and went on our way to sell...

Wait for it...

Don't guess... you'll be wrong...



Nope. Not goldfish, but...

Frozen Fish. 

Frozen Breaded Fish. Frozen Unbreaded Fish. Frozen Filleted Fish. Frozen Shellfish.

I particulary, for no apparent reason, remember that we were selling pollock and haddock. Both of which, I believe, were marketed as "fresh, light-meat fish." 

Now, you have to give the band director credit. He arranged all of this so that the sales would end in January, and the product would arrive just in time for Ash Wednesday. Not that I went to a Catholic school, but there were enough Catholics in my senior class that prom had to have a fish option on the menu. 

So everyone in band went out into the community and sold frozen fish. And we sold it well. When the truck unloaded in the middle of winter we hauled boxes and boxes of pollock and haddock and shrimp out into waiting cars. What I wouldn't have given for a box of pizza kits! Which, of course, brings me back to the subject of this posting: Pizza Kits being sold for fundraising.

Some great friends of mine own and run Freedom Martial Arts in Bel Air, Maryland, and they're currently doing a pizza-kit-based fundraiser. Want to help them out? Go to the Joe Corbi's website (joecorbisdirect.com), order yourself some pizza kits (or cookie dough or pretzel dogs or whatever you want), and put "Freedom Martial Arts" in when it asks who should benefit from your order. If you live close to Maryland, it's pretty cheap to do. Farther away in the States it's a little more pricey for shipping, because all of the ingeredients (like the copious amounts of cheese) are fresh, so they have to be shipped fairly expeditiously. 

And don't worry--I wouldn't suggest buying it if it wasn't perfectly good stuff. I mean... it's not pizza being delivered from your favorite grease-filled pizza joint, and it's not the brick-oven stuff you get in Italy, but it IS good, and--more importantly--it's for a good cause. Even better, since you get to put the pizzas together at home, you can choose what goes onto them. Make them as healthy--or unhealthy--as you want. Add onions, leave off the mushrooms, whatever. And each kit has the making for 3 12-inch pizzas, for the price of about one-and-a-half delivered pizzas!

So... Wanna get pizza!? Let's get pizza!

(Okay. That's my last public service announcement posting for the immediate future. I promise to be completely self-serving for at least the next few blog entries. :-)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day

My weekend as a bachelor is fast coming to a close. Not that it's a bad thing. In fact, I'm rather looking forward to hearing the garage door open indicating my partner's returning car.

On the other hand, though, his return does signal the end of the long holiday weekend. Granted as someone who is unemployed... errr... ummm... freelancing, the long weekend doesn't really make a lot of difference. In fact, I spent more time editing and copywriting for a friend's website this weekend than I have anytime recently. (As soon as it's up and running, I'm sure I'll be telling you all about it!) And I spent the early part of this afternoon doing all of the domestic chores of cleaning the house and doing laundry. Obviously the basic stuff that we usually do on the weekend had to get done--even on the holiday weekend.

On the other hand (oops. I think I may be up to three hands, now), I was good and didn't go out shopping or anything. I've worked plenty of "holidays" in retail and in customer service. Not fun. Personally, I don't like encouraging stores to stay open--especially on days like this which are supposed to be set aside for people to NOT work. Instead, I watched a movie on DVD ("Definitely, Maybe"), ate some leftovers, and have been checking out some of the news and weather on TV. So I know what's going on with Gustav, and I've watched the coverage of the rioting--or hooliganism as one of the local stations is calling it--going on in St. Paul. (Oddly enough, although I've also been checking out the national news, I haven't seen any of the altercations--which have included tear gas and all sorts of minor property destruction--on the national news. Have any of you seen any of that stuff on TV?) 

Oy. I think maybe it's time to sink into the couch, watch some fluff on TV and collapse before the week ahead. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good weekend, overall.