Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Snow

Woke up this morning and noticed that it was much brighter outside than it has been, lately. And not in an "Oh. Look. The sun is out." way, but in a late-November "It's cloudy out, but it seems kind of strangely bright white." Yeah. You guessed it. We got snow last night.

Our last snow came down on a day when we were predicted to bounce back into the 40s, so we knew it wasn't going to last. But I saw a forecast last night that keeps us below freezing for the foreseeable future, which means this stuff isn't going away until sometime next spring. This is normal, of course, in the last few weeks of the year in Minneapolis. However, that does not make it any easier to deal with when the realization sets in. 

I'd suspect that getting dressed today will be followed by clearing the sidewalks of an inch or so of light snow. Then we'll dive into the next great adventure of the season: trying to pick up a few essentials at Target on a Sunday during the Holiday season. 

Or maybe I could stay indoors at home with a little more pie...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pumpkin Pie Bliss

I admit it. I made the aforementioned pie yesterday in the late morning, and it's already almost half gone. This wouldn't be so bad if Christopher liked pumpkin pie, but I'm the only one in the house eating it. 

It's such a great pumpkin pie recipe, though. I use the recipe out of "The Joy Of Cooking" -- although I'm not sure if it's the same recipe that's in it these days, since my cookbook is a good 20 years old. What amazes me most is that it's such a simple pie to make. There's no fussing with peeling and chopping or pitting and stem-pulling. There's no thousand-and-one ingredients. There's not even a top crust! It's just a non-nonsense pie.

I've made it for people who say they don't like pumpkin pie, and they've had to agree that this recipe is a good one. I think it's because, along with the pumpkin, evaporated milk, sugar (brown and white) and eggs, there is a whole blend of spices going on. There's a full teaspoon of cinnamon, and then a half of ginger, a quarter of nutmeg and an eighth of cloves. All of which yields a rich flavor which doesn't overpower, and yet makes itself known.

The house smelled amazing for most of the afternoon -- long after it was out of the oven. And I was in heaven this morning when piece number 3 became breakfast. (To Christopher's mild dismay.)

Oh... In case you're wondering, I did make enough piedough for a second crust, so Christopher and I decided to do a quiche for dinner. No ham in the fridge, though, so we started searching for a substitute. We ended up with a pepperoni and swiss quiche, which I sprinkled with oregano and red pepper. It was surprisingly good, actually.

Of course, there's still pie sitting in the kitchen. Is 3 o'clock too late for lunch? And if we don't have dinner until 7, is this early enough that it won't spoil my appetite? I may have to chance it...

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Morning After - Thankfully

I hope you all had a very nice Thanksgiving, yesterday. 

I must say that Christopher and I enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon at his parents' home out in Stillwater. The food was great. The dogs behaved. And we even had an incident-free game of "Apples to Apples" (it's not the most dangerously-competitive game, but can result in some eyebrow raising discussions of politics, ethics, and overall sanity). Yes, I'd have to say that it was a very nice afternoon.

The drive out to Stillwater was a little interesting--we got run halfway off the road by a black Audi Q7 (an SUV-ish thing) with a Minnesota license plate starting with SHG. Luckily my trusty Subaru has All-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes, so as the Audi came sailing from the on-ramp into the far left lane at about 80 miles per hour, I was able to keep control as I felt the left-hand side of the car drop off pavement into the median. It was loud enough (my laying on the car horn might have contributed to the noise) and rough enough to wake up Christopher (who was napping with his iPod on). When I finally got the chance to pull up alongside the Q7, I wasn't surprised to see that the driver was leaning on the middle console chatting away on his phone. I fully suspect that, had we gone completely off the road (or worse) he wouldn't have noticed. Bleh. But, by the time we got to Stillwater, my heartrate had had 15 minutes to return to normal, so we were good to go.

The only problem I'm finding is that I didn't steal away with enough leftovers to make a proper turkey-and-dressing sandwich for lunch. Luckily, I have my canned pumpkin at the ready and will have a whole pumpkin pie to dive into by around lunchtime. And THAT is something to be thankful for! ;-)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

T (day) Minus One...

I must admit that for a short time this morning I thought I had written a self-fulfilling-prophecy-style jinx, yesterday. You see, the Thanksgiving dinner I am attending tomorrow does not have pumpkin pie on the menu. (I know... heathens, right!?) But since I'm not on the list for bringing dessert, and since I already know that there are going to be at least 3 pies offered, I couldn't exactly show up with a pumpkin pie of my own. 

Thus, I have decided that I am going to bake a pumpkin pie on Friday. Of course, since I always have canned pumpkin in the house, I didn't worry about that when I went grocery shopping yesterday. 

Yep... You know where this is going...

This morning, I checked the pantry shelves only to find that I did NOT have any canned pumpkin on hand. At all. None. Not even one of the smaller cans, which I could have worked with to make a smaller pie. Which made it seem that a grocery store trip was looming large on my horizon. 

Luckily, I also had an inspiration for a Christmas gift last night, which I figured I could go purchase at Target. Since Target (and all places retail) will be madhouses on Friday, I thought today would be a safe bet. And, since most of the Target stores in this area are SuperTargets, I figured I was good to go.

** sidenote ** For those of you who don't have SuperTargets in your area, these massive stores have a full-sized Target in 2/3 of their space, as well as a fairly good-sized Target-branded grocery store filling up the other 1/3 of the space. There's lots of Target's Archer Farms- and Market Pantry-branded food products, but also full dairy, meat and produce sections. I do a lot of shopping at SuperTarget because they're priced competitively and easy to get to, but for my "serious" groceries I still go to a regular grocery store. ** end sidenote **

I got to SuperTarget at about 1pm and sailed through the store. Of course there was a full display of "things you might need for Thanksgiving dinner" right near the door, so I was able to pick up my cans of pumpkin (yes, Libby--they're "Libby's") on my way in and completely dodged the rest of the grocery section. 

Much to my surprise (and delight), I was out the door within 15 minutes, and only bought what I needed. And, really, when is the last time that happened to you at Target!?

So I think that's going to be item number one on my "This year, I'm thankful for..." list if anyone asks tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

T (day) Minus Two

This being the Tuesday before Thanksgiving--and Christopher and I having agreed to take two or three dishes to dinner on Thursday--you'll understand why I'm a little tired this afternoon.

Oh. Not enough info? Well, you see, I got up early enough this morning to be semi awake and have a lucid conversation with Christopher about what ingredients we definitely need for what we're taking. Why so early? Because I needed to make sure we were both working from the same recipes before he left for work. 

Still not sure why all of this is going on today and not... say... tomorrow? After all, I do enjoy grocery stores. I enjoy going and looking around a grocery store when I need to do something to kill time.  I love going into grocery stores in other countries to see what isn't--and is--the same. I even like doing the weekly groceries--and often end up in one grocery store or another on multiple days each week. But... even with all of that grocery-store love behind me, I refuse to go to the grocery store on the day before Thanksgiving. 

Grocery stores the day before any major holiday are bad enough. The day before Easter? Good luck getting near the eggs or ham. The Third of July? Don't even go near the meat department... or the frozen foods... or the chips... or the sodas. And the day before Christmas? Well... It's just not wise to go to any shopping-related store the day before Christmas. But the day before Thanksgiving? That's just asking for trouble.

On the day before Thanksgiving, the stores are filled with three kinds of shoppers: The Pilgrims; The Old-Hats; and The Side-Bringers.

1) The Pilgrims could also be called the "Thanksgiving-cooking-virgins." These are the people who--for whatever reason--have agreed to cook dinner this year. Even though it's their first time, they've invited all 27 relatives, 9 co-workers, and 3 "homeless" friends--at least one of whom is vegan. These poor souls have never even seen a frozen turkey, but have a list in hand and you'll find them pushing a cart filled with four cans of cranberries, more stuffing than would be needed to stuff an ostrich, a pumpkin and a bag of flour (which they're sure will turn into a pie if they just follow the directions they found via Google). They know it will all work out--as long as they only sleep for 3 hours Wednesday night.

2) The Old-Hats are the ones you wish would invite you for dinner. They are in the store to pick up last-minute and pre-made items, only. In their carts, they have rotisserie chickens and tubs of mashed potatoes and gravy. They plan to go home to put together the green bean casserole and make sure the Jell-O salad has chilled. And on Thanksgiving they're going to watch the parade, snack on olives and relish trays, then toss everything into the oven to reheat just in time for their friends to show up with a bottle or two of wine and at least two pies.

3) The Side-Bringers are just that--people who have never seen an uncooked turkey and never plan to. They are in the store with a hand basket strolling up and down the aisles looking for that one special something that will be the perfect thing to take to their aunt's/mom's/friend's/co-worker's house sometime in the middle of the afternoon on Thanksgiving. They're not in any hurry (you can tell by the way they keep clogging up the aisle for the Pilgrims who are frantically pushing their carts), and on their way home they'll realize that the ice cream they picked up won't work as a salad, but maybe they can take the chips and salsa, instead.

Oh. But we can't forget the fourth group. This is the group I seem to always wind up in: The WhyAmIHere?s. We are the ones who did all of our Thanksgiving shopping in advance, but ran out of milk at breakfast on Wednesday morning. So once again we find ourselves in the store, trapped by the carts of the Pilgrims and Old-Hats, in the checkout line behind the Side-Bringer who leaves his basket on the counter to go back in search of a bag of carrots and a tub of dip. 

So far, this year I seem to be headed for avoiding all of those factions, though. And all it took was getting up an hour or two earlier than usual this morning. 

Of course, having said all that, I get the sneaking suspicion I'm going to somehow end up in the WhyAmIHere? line tomorrow. If not, I'm definitely putting it on my "I'm Thankful For..." list.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Movie Monday, November 24th

It's Movie Posting Day! And, this week, I've actually seen a few of them, so here we go:

Quantum of Solace. By now I'm sure you all know that that is the name of the newest James Bond flick. The name comes from an original Ian Fleming-written James Bond short story, and refers to a "small amount of consolation" which... I guess... comes in the movie. You may remember that, when last we saw Daniel Craig's Bond, he had just lost his love. When Quantum of Solace starts, he is in the midst of the same drive which ended the previous movie. Here's the thing--the movie is a serious action flick. Lots of chases and explosions and thrills. But aside from a few state-of-the-art tech toys, Bond has no "gadgets"--no rocket launcher in the car; no poison pen; not even a "Bond, James Bond" to toss about. Did I like the movie? Yes. Do I wish it had been more flirty and gadgety? Definitely.

Chaos Theory. I got it through Netflix. It's centered on a fairly-average guy (Ryan Reynolds) who is all about his schedule and lists and post-its, until one day when his wife throws him off track. With his timing off, suddenly his world spirals out of control--everything from missing a ferry to being caught up in a bar fight. I mostly enjoyed the movie, but I have to admit that I kind of glazed over for a little while in the middle. Liked it? Mostly. Glad I didn't I pay to see it in a theater? Definitely.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Last night, while eating pizza in front of a friend's crackling fireplace, we watched the James Bond movie with the "unknown" actor in the title role. Remember George Lazenby? He was the second person to play Bond (Sean Connery had played him in all 5 of the previous movies), and spent the movie off-and-on romancing the stunningly attractive Diana Rigg all over Europe. This is a Bond that gives you flirtation, a few gadgets, some great scenery, and even a few moments of actual plot. Do I recommend going back and watching it? Yes. Do I think knowing the names of the lead actors will help you win at Trivial Pursuit? Definitely.

And now I'm going to log off and try to catch Samantha Who? which, along with The Big Bang Theory, makes Monday night my current favorite place for TV comedy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

'Cuz It's Easy Like...

Ah... Sunday morning. 

Have I mentioned, lately, how much I love Sunday morning? It probably seems strange that I prefer any particular morning of the week, since, honestly, they're all pretty much the same these days, but I do love Sunday mornings.

We don't need to go to a psychiatrist to figure out why, either. It's simple enough to track it back to when I was a kid. You see, my dad worked Monday through Saturday at our family drugstore. So the only day we were all at home was Sunday. 

For those of you worrying about my eternal soul (oh. how nice of you, by the way), my mom would take us to Saturday night Mass, and when I was little we had our catechism classes on Wednesdays after school. So on Sunday morning Dad would go off to church, then come home around 10:30 and we would have the entire day at home as a family.

My parents did have one rule for Sundays: It was a family day, so you couldn't go out and do other things that day. If you wanted to see friends, they should come over to our house. As we got older that changed, some, but we still always had Sunday dinner as a family. But none of that is--technically--about Sunday morning. 

Some Sunday mornings we would actually get up and go to church with my dad. He goes to the UCC church, and while the Catholic church in town has never been known for its choir (and on many Saturday nights there was only an organist and no choir at all), the UCC church had great music. So it was always fun to go with Dad and sing along with the choir. The readings were almost always the same from Saturday night to Sunday, but the folks at the UCC were always better dressed than our ragtag bunch tended to be on Saturday nights. And it was always exciting to spend that hour "alone" with Dad. 

We'd come home from church with Dad and then spend the morning reading the newspaper, or--in the fall--going out for a little "road hunting" for pheasants, and frequently there would be some kind of brunch-y meal that Mom would put together in the late morning. 

And, if you haven't already figured it out, this feeling about Sundays still carries over into my life. When I go home to visit, I try to schedule myself to leave on Monday, instead of Sunday, so I can have that time. And in my "regular" life, most weeks I try not to schedule things for Sundays until at least noon. There's just something about being curled up on the couch with the Sunday paper that allows the world outside to stay outside. 

That all said, I need to get moving. Somehow or other we're meeting our friends for "brunch" at 9:15 this morning. But at least I've had an hour of this morning--paper at the ready, winter happily outside--to daydream about those easy Sunday mornings.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Friday Food

I started this post yesterday, but somehow it got saved instead of published. (Maybe I should pay more attention to which of the little buttons I push?) Sorry for the delay.

Christopher and I are having a food-filled latter portion of the week. Last night (Thursday) we went out with a couple of my cousins to a pizza place called Jakeeno's in Minneapolis. There was a joke in the midst of our emails about the place that it "sounded exotic" and we made sure to quash that right away so as to not get anyone's hopes up. That said, however, the place does really good pizza. We had the garlic cheese toast and then a large pepperoni pizza and life was good for the four of us. Of course, the four of us being the four of us we talked enough that that amount of food took us 2 hours to get through, which made the evening that much better.

Tonight (Friday) we played host to a couple of friends at our place. It took us a while to figure out what to make, since we've never had them over to dinner before. Finally Christopher offered to make his spicy lemon chicken with rice as the main course. To carry through on the very generalized Asian food theme, I picked up one of the new Distinctively Dole Asian Island Crunch salads. Dessert, unfortunately, broke the theme to smithereens as we did homemade brownies (from the 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook--they have more sugar than flour!) and vanilla ice cream. The evening was really good. We sat around the table for probably 3 hours over dinner and dessert just talking and enjoying the company. 

** sidenote ** I looked on the Betty Crocker website for the brownie recipe I use so that I could link to it, but out of literally hundreds of brownie recipes, they only have 9 which are homemade (instead of simply doctoring a box mix), and the one I used isn't there. If you'd like the recipe, let me know and I can post it later. ** end sidenote **

As I mentioned, the whole end of the week is going to be food-filled. Tomorrow night (Saturday) we're heading out to Stillwater to celebrate Christopher's mom's birthday at a Mexican restaurant called Acapulco. Sunday we have breakfast plans with friends out at a place called The Bad Waitress. And Sunday night we're going to a friend's house to sit in front of her fire, watch a movie and order in food (probably pizza, again, which is perfectly fine by me!).

Oh. And I should also say that Christopher is planning to make not one, but two, Red Velvet Cakes tomorrow morning/afternoon. Yes, it's officially so that he can take a birthday cake out to Stillwater for his mom, but he's also comparing a couple of different recipes and trying to find out which one works better. 

** sidenote ** If you've never had Red Velvet Cake, you should know a few things: 1) it's basically a chocolate cake with food coloring; 2) it takes TWO FULL BOTTLES of red food coloring to color a single cake; 3) yes, in "Steel Magnolias" the armadillo groom's cake was red velvet. ** end sidenote **

Like I said... It's going to be a week/end of food!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Catch-Up

I wanted to let you know that I have added photos to the main two postings from last weekend's trip Up Nort. 

Be sure to check out "Travel Tuesday... Friday, November 14th" and "Of Waterfalls, Maple Syrup, and One Superior Lake" to see what the amazing sites were that I was trying to tell you about. 

I hope you enjoy them!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Travel Tuesday... Delayed

Okay. I admit it. I went to bed last night without even thinking about posting. Oops. 

But, you see, it's because I want to sort the pictures I just got back from last weekend and get some of them inserted into the past few posts. 

I promise to get caught up ASAP. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Summertime" (The Movie)

I don't think I've talked about the movie "Summertime" before, and even if I have, I'm going to talk about it again, because it's "Movie Monday" and it's the movie I watched the most recently. 

I first saw "Summertime" last summer. It's an incredible movie starring a fairly young Katharine Hepburn as an American tourist in Venice in the mid-1950s. The movie starts when she arrives and ends when she leaves, even though we know that she's been doing other travelling in Europe and is planning to do more after we say good-bye. Because of its setting, I first watched the movie when Christopher was in Venice last summer and I was home in Minneapolis. (Don't worry--he was on a family trip, so I wasn't simply left behind or anything.)

I was drawn into the movie by the long loving scenes of Venice. The architecture and the art, the people and the culture, the canals and the fireworks--everything is included in the movie. I watched Katharine as she was romanced by the city, and fell for Rossano Brazzi right along with her. When her gardenia was lost in the canal I felt the tug at my heart, too. (And... wow... was it great to hear from Christopher the next time he called from overseas!)

This weekend, Christopher brought "Summertime" with us on our trip to Tofte. I had loved the movie so much that I bought it for him, but he hadn't yet had a chance to watch it. It was strange to watch it again--this time with him, instead of simply imagining him there. This time Christopher could fill me in with stories of "We walked down that alleyway" and "You actually can't see that view from there." He explained the reason for the different colored chairs in the Piazza San Marco. And, somehow, the story was both more engrossing and less so with Christopher on the couch next to me. 

You see... "Summertime" is filled with incongruities. Beautiful flaws which make the movie--and the fantasy of a summer fling--more powerful. Jane Hudson (Katharine's character in the movie) is warned of this at the outset, too, when, while marvelling at the canals, she watches someone empty trash from an upper window directly into the water in front of her. I don't know if she recognizes that foreshadowing, though. And I don't think I noticed that the first time I watched the movie, either. On Saturday while we were watching it, though, I think what I saw was the beauty in spite of--and even enhanced by--the flaws. 

And, yet, that said, I'm now back to dreaming about two things: 1) The warmth of Summer; and 2) taking a marvellously romantic trip to Venice. After all, as winter begins to set in, we all need a fantasy to hold on to, right?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Packing Up

It's weird, you know, the feeling of packing up before you leave from a vacation. 

We had another great day, yesterday, walking trails to more waterfalls and even a lighthouse. We spent the evening watching movies and reading in front of the fire. We even got to see a ship's lights out in the distance on the Lake last night. We've done all we had planned to do while we were up here. 

This morning, as the sunrise was mostly obscured by clouds, we're moving pretty slowly. The fire actually started on the first(-ish) try. The waves are making just a little noise on the shore. 

But we've watched most of our movies. Christopher has finished reading one of the books he brought--as well as killing off the last of his Diet Coke. I've run out of postcards to write. And the Maple caramels we have left are supposed to be a gift, so we can't simply tuck into them. We'll be leaving in an hour or so, hopping back in the car for the long drive back to reality. 

I'm not sure what it is I'm feeling this morning. A sense of peace. A sense of loss. A sense of perspective. A sense of wondering what's ahead. A sense of deja vu. 

It's weird, you know, the feeling of packing up at the end of a vacation.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Of Waterfalls, Maple Syrup, and One Superior Lake

Yeah. I really need to get myself a digital camera if I'm going to keep trying to blog while travelling, aren't I?

**Update on 11/20--Photos are here! Check them out below!**

You see... It would be so much easier for you to understand what I'm talking about if I could just upload the pictures as I go along, instead of waiting until after the film gets developed. But I get ahead of myself...

Yesterday (once we got moving--even after getting out of bed to witness the 7am sunrise, it's still hard to be out the door before 10) we headed even farther north (yes. such a place exists!). 

We drove along ever-smaller backroads to buy Wild Country maple syrup at it's place of origin (out of an unmanned shack in the middle of the woods), 
and picked up some Maple Sugar Caramels as well. We stopped in Grand Marais to hike around on Artist's Point 
(and to buy some optical orange vests--having been reminded that it is deer season around here). We drove all the way up to the Grand Portage State Park (the entrance to which is--literally--a stone's throw from the Canadian border crossing) to see an amazing waterfall,
 
walking on the icy boardwalk to the point where we could see Canada just about 20 yards away (if you ignore the massive ravine in between). We hiked along the gloriously rugged Cascade River 
(which is "root beer" colored because of the minerals it picks up along the way to Lake Superior). And we had dinner at the hotel's restaurant (the Bluefin Grille) where we got to watch the full moon come out from behind clouds and shower the lake with sparkling blue light. 

And, yes, we got to spend the rest of the evening reading in front of the fire. The Lake has been remarkably calm, which is a mixed blessing, since it means it's not as cold and damp as it could be, but it also means that we don't get to see--or hear--the waves breaking along the shore. But this morning the sun came up over a distant cloudbank and the whole apartment is flooded with brilliant clear light. 

Christopher has been making our plans for the day. I can't wait to see where we end up this time!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Travel Tuesday... Friday, November 14th

I don't remember if I mentioned earlier that Christopher and I were heading "Up Nort" this weekend. If you're not from Minnesota, you should know that "Up Nort" is simply Minnesotan for "Up North"--meaning somewhere in the upper third of the state. In fact, after 4 or so hours of driving, yesterday, we landed in Tofte--a very small town right on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

We stopped in Duluth along the way to get lunch at Grandma's restaurant (an institution in Minnesota--and host of an annual marathon, although I can't imagine running a marathon after eating off their menu!), then walked over to watch a 730-foot-long ship come through into the port under the lift bridge. (Okay... that was a lot cooler than it sounds.)

After we checked in, we stopped at a local grocery store for a few provisions (including a frozen pizza) so that we could settle into our home for the weekend. We're basically in a one-bedroom apartment, so we've got a full kitchen, a fireplace, and a small deck which faces east. Lake Superior is about 30 feet from our deck, so we could hear the waves crashing even after it got too dark to see them.

We also partook of one of the bizarre pleasures of this part of the world around 7:30 last night: Sitting in a whirlpool tub--outdoors--when it was only about 40 degrees out. The full moon had just come out, and the sheltered (there are glass walls around the pool area) tub was giving off clouds of steam. I usually get overheated in hot tubs, but whenever I'd start to feel that way, I'd just put my arms out on the sides and cool down right away. It was amazing. 

We came back to our apartment and stoked up the fire and listened to the waves...

This morning we actually set an alarm so that we could be up in time to watch the sunrise. Christopher has stayed here before and has told me about doing this. Personally, I thought he was insane to get up at 6:30 when on vacation, but this morning as the sun broke through the clouds I completely understood.

Today we're headed even farther north. We're not planning to go as far as Thunder Bay, Ontario, but we both have our passports, just in case. 

I'll let you know how it turns out when I get a chance to write my next Travel Tuesday report... possibly a Saturday one.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

At a Loss for Words

As hard as it may be to believe it, I'm kind of at a loss for words today. 

I'm sitting here at home with all of the currently-normal things going on: It's cold and grey out; I found out that I didn't get another job; and I have a list of errands to run (mostly the ones I didn't do yesterday). But the day itself is different from most.

A great friend of my parents--and of our whole family--passed away last weekend after fighting a long and drawn-out battle with cancer. In fact, with the help of modern medicine and old-fashioned hard work and prayer, she had been beating it for a while. But then the side effects of the chemotherapy started to take their toll and finally tipped the battle. 

MaryAnn was an amazing woman. She and her husband lived on a farm in rural South Dakota, raising 5 incredible kids along with the livestock, crops and chickens. When we would visit them back when I was a kid, I remember being thrilled because we'd get to hang out in the basement, or go swing on a rope in the hayloft (just don't tell our parents!), or even go out to pick eggs from under the chickens. 

It's strange. I don't so much know anything about her, but I know what being near her was like. She gave hugs, but it was the look in her eye that let you know life was okay. She cooked incredible barbecued pork. She was kind and gracious, but also a mom with rules. And even up until a few months ago, she and her husband Gerald have been globetrotting around to see their kids and grandkids. 

So today I sit at home, hoping that the weather was good in South Dakota for the funeral. Hoping that their family is doing okay. Hoping that... well... I guess just...
 
Hoping... 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Travel Tuesday... or not...

I'm sitting at home this evening on the couch, typing away on my laptop. (Please don't tell my Physical Therapist that I'm doing this--she'd really prefer that I sit at a desk with good posture.)

I had every intention of going out today to run some errands. I have some close-by errands to run and some on-the-other-side-of-town errands to run. But each time I looked outside I noticed that it was grey and, in turns, drizzly, rainy, snowy and sleety. Not the names of 4 dwarfs I want to meet on any given day.

So I thought about my errands... The one that was farthest away was for something that I hadn't ever heard back on, so it may or not have been ready. The one that was an evening event was supposed to be kind of long and I didn't want to deal with glazed-over roads. And the errand with the stack of stuff involved was supposed to be a trip to the Post Office which, just before I left home, I realized was closed today for Veteran's Day.

And, yes, you know where this is going. Aside from crossing the world online, I haven't gone farther from the couch than out to pull the empty trash bin back inside. 

I plan to tell anyone who asks that it was a good day of research. Yeah... Ummm... Research. 

And if anyone asks what kind of research, I'll make that up, too.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Movie Monday

What with the election and all, I've missed the chance to write about a few movies that I've seen in the past couple of weeks. But there are some really great movies in the mix, so I want to be sure to mention them. So here they are, in the order in which I think of them:

1) Rachel Getting Married. I loved this movie. It's an "uncomfortable" movie, with Anne Hathaway (from "Princess Diaries" and "Get Smart") playing Kim, the heading-home-from-rehab sister of the eponymous Rachel. The discomfort of the movie comes from the fact that we--the audience--know just a little more about the family than most of the wedding's other guests do. So while they're all partying with the Brazilian samba dancers, or eating amazing food, or cheering during the dishwasher-loading race, we're sitting on the sidelines, keeping one hand on the fire extinguisher in case something explodes. 

2) Donnie Darko. Wow. Talk about uncomfortable. This one was from Netflix. It stars Jake Gyllenhall (in 2001--years before "Brokeback Mountain") as a troubled teenager who has nightmares and hears voices. Add in a book about the philosophy of time travel, an unidentifiable plane engine which falls from the sky into the house, and a six-foot-tall demonic rabbit named Frank, and you've got the feel of the movie. It's weird. Really good, but weird.

3) Goodbye Mr. Cool. This one is from Hong Kong, and also from 2001. It's an odd movie, about a guy who used to be a major gang leader, who has served time in prison and is now trying to start a new life--complete with a son he didn't know he had. Here's the thing--it's mainly set in a Cafe, and the food looks great. Okay, that's not the main thing. Even with the language barriers and the requisite martial arts action, it was still a movie I'd recommend. Just know that, when you get to the end of the disk you need to flip it over (and don't forget to re-set the Captions when you do that).

4) August Rush. I'm sure you saw the ads for this last year. It's got Keri Russell (TV's Felicity) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (you'll know him when you see him) as the musically-inclined parents of a young prodigy (played by Freddie Highmore--you'll recognize him as Charlie from the Tim Burton "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"). The problem with all of the musical folks? The parents only spent one night together and--due to some plot twists--neither one knows they have a son living in an orphanage. The music (yes, there's a lot of music in the movie) ranges from Irish Pub Rock to classical cello to solo guitar, and by the time you're coming to the end you can't help but hope it all turns out for everyone. 

Speaking of turning out alright for everyone... I also admit that last week I spent the money to go see...

5) High School Musical 3 - Senior Year. You've probably figured out by now that I'm a sucker for an old-fashioned musical. And if you've seen any of this franchise, you know that's exactly what you get. Lots of singing, lots of dancing, great clothes and sets, even a little plot. Since this is the first outing in theaters for the HSM crowd, everything was a little bigger, glitzier and more teen-angst ridden. We see the kids we've come to know work their way through their senior year--blending "real life" with life on-stage, using production numbers and songs to move the story along. Honestly, it's really cool--way cooler than high school--even without all of the smoking, drinking and sex of "Grease."

** sidenote ** One of my favorite things about the High School Musical franchise is how they allowed the characters to blend. In #1, the story focused on breaking your own preconceived boundaries and going out on your own limbs. My favorite--and apparently a big fan favorite, considering she goes from bit part in #1 to part of the primary cast in #3--is a big (ie, not stick thin) girl named Martha, played by KayCee Stroh, who is a brain who likes to dance hip hop. Although she didn't even have a memorable name in #1, she practically bookends #3, having now become a cheerleader. She's still bigger than most of the girls in the cast. She's still got big curly hair. And she's great. I love that. ** end sidenote **

Trying to wrap up all five movies in one thought seemed like it would be impossible when I started writing this, but I realized that they all have one thing in common: trying to belong. August Rush is trying to find the music his parents left him. We all want to be a part of the celebration while Rachel gets married. Mr. Cool wants to start a new life with his son. And everyone--including Donnie Darko--wants to fit in in High School. 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Chores

My favorite thing about Sundays is that they are about as close as you can get to Comfort Food. They're not always easy, they're not always pretty, but a well-spent Sunday will leave you warm and happy in the end. Unfortunately, as much as I love quiet and relaxing Sundays, sometimes we all have to bite the bullet and take care of tasks along the way.

So this morning Christopher and I spent a little time simply enjoying the morning, and then after a surprise pancake breakfast from Christopher (I thought he was cleaning in the kitchen, and then he showed up with pancakes!), I took the bull by the horns and headed for the yard. (Leaving Christopher to tackle the inside chores.)

We've been putting off raking for a while. You see, we really don't have many trees on our property, and the ones we do have didn't decide to lose their leaves until just this past week. In fact, the major leaf-dropper we had to wait for is a huge maple in our neighbor's backyard, which was an almost electric yellow until about 4 days ago. And, really, why rake anything until that one was done? But regardless of how late our trees are, the city of Minneapolis has a time limit on "yard waste," and our final chance to send off big black bags of leaves comes up this Tuesday morning. Procrastination was no longer an option.

When I headed outside it was grey and pretty chilly, but as I warmed up, so did the air. In fact, the more green that showed through in the yard, the more the sun came through the clouds. By the time I was finishing up my fifth bag of leaves, the day had turned out to be pretty nice. Now I'm not going to say that it was a "glorious fall day"--it was a little too chilly out for that, considering we barely made it to 30 degrees--but once the light flurries stopped it certainly turned into a nice crisp day. 

** sidenote ** While I was finishing up bag number 5 in our yard, I heard the huge- yellow-maple-owning neighbor comment that he was on bag 11, and expected to fill 10 more. As much as I would love the summer shade they get, I'm really glad I only had to fill a quarter of the bags. ** end sidenote **

By the time I was back inside, Christopher had pretty much tackled the entire interior of the house, and we were able to focus on the finer points of our Sunday afternoon. Some laundry... some errands... some ironing (that'd be Christopher, not me)... some cooking... 

It may not have been a perfect day, but comfort food isn't perfect... it's just comfortable. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A "Wicked"-ly Good Day

Christopher and I had the pleasure of getting to see the touring company of "Wicked" this afternoon at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. (Sorry... It's pretty much sold out for the entire run. If you want to go you'll need to either try the ticket lottery, or try contacting one of the so-called "Resellers.")

I was lucky enough to see it on Broadway a few years ago, but Christopher was completely new to it. He hadn't heard more than a song or two, and he hadn't even read the book. (He's much more of a reader than a musical-goer.) Of course, as with most adaptations, this is a show where reading the book is more of a detriment than a plus, so that was probably a good thing. We had great seats on the center aisle toward the front, and it was a fairly overpowering show. 

The three main characters--Elphaba, the green witch; Glinda, the witch who travels via bubble; and Fiyero, the leading man (who were played by Donna Vivino, Melissa Bohon and Cliffton Hall, respectively)--really held the show together. Vivino was undoubtedly the strongest all-around player, covering all of the nuances of the "wicked" witch's character, while also belting out some amazing songs. Cliffton Hall, playing the "brainless" love interest of both witches, was appropriately pretty for the role, while dancing up a storm and somehow also pulling off Fiyero's few more complex levels. Our Glinda was one of the understudies, and was the one person whom Christopher and I debated--I found Melissa Bohon's ability to play the humor in the role made up for a few missteps in her singing, but Christopher wasn't quite so sure--either way, without the notice in the program I never would have guessed that it wasn't "her" role.

** sidenote ** Neither Cliffton Hall nor Melissa Bohon seem to have their own websites, which is why there are no links in the above paragraph for them. But if you want to see how pretty Fiyero is, Google him... ** end sidenote **

The set was only mildly scaled down from what I remember of the Broadway set (one of the hazards of having to be able to pack it up and move it every few performances), but the show itself didn't lose anything in transit. In fact, this was the first Saturday matinee performance I have been to in a while where there was an almost immediate standing ovation as the curtain call started. 

After the standing ovation, we made our way out into the street and into just-barely-flurrying snow. We walked around downtown Minneapolis to do a little shopping, then went to see this year's Christmas display in the 8th Floor Auditorium at Dayton's... err... Marshall Field's... I mean... Macy's. I have to admit that I'm usually someone who doesn't like dealing with Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but there was something about having just left the show and walking through the chilly streets that made it all seem right. 

That probably ought to be the end of this post, but just before I started writing I came across the movie "What's Up Doc?" on TV. 

** sidenote ** If you haven't seen "What's Up Doc?" well, I may not be able to be friends with you any more--or at least we may have to scale back a little until you've had a chance to catch it on Netflix. ** end sidenote **

So I'm sitting here writing while watching this amazing slapstick-y movie starring Ryan O'Neal and Barbra Streisand, with a brand new (in 1972) starlet named Madeline Kahn. By the time the movie is done running its course, it will once again involve musical rocks, 4 matching suitcases, a San Francisco car chase and--my favorite--a Chinese dragon float and a delivery bicycle cart. All wrapped up with O'Neal, Streisand and Kahn at their somehow-understated comic best. 

"Wicked" was amazing. 
Downtown Minneapolis was almost magical. 
"What's Up Doc?" is wonderful. And, yes, just a little bit wicked. 
Sounds like a perfect way to wrap up the day. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

We Knew It Was Coming...

...but after the 70-degree days at the beginning of the week (remember how glorious it was on Election Day?), waking up this morning to snow was a bit of a jolt.

Oh, I know what you're all saying: "It's November and you live in Minnesota, what do you expect?" and "Robert, we know you spend hours each week watching the Weather Channel, you must have seen it coming?" and even "Dude, the states immediately to your west had blizzards, yesterday, where did you think it was going next?" 

My answers: Yes, I know. Yes, I know. Really, I know. 

And I'm not saying that I wanted it to stay in the 70s until next spring or anything. But one of my favorite things about fall is the middle temperatures. The cool crisp days when it's in the 50s. The hinting days with temperatures in the 40s. The mornings with frost on the ground where everything kind of glistens when the sun comes up. And we're really ready for those glistening mornings--we spent a couple of hours last Sunday washing windows for the best views.

But, instead, here I am looking out our crystal clear (with no streaks we've found so far!) windows and watching everything get covered with the first wet sticky snow of the season. I'm sure this will melt away on the next sunny day--we're only expecting an inch or two, and it probably won't even stick on the pavement. Even so, I fear this means that we're going to be skipping the middle temperature days and heading straight for winter. 

Maybe it's time to start planning a January getaway to somewhere warm. Of course, in January, "somewhere warm" will be anywhere with temperatures above freezing. sigh

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Trying to Standardize the Blog

I've been contemplating this for a while: the idea of having a semi-specific and relatively-focused topic for my blog. If you've checked out any of the blogs I have listed in the lefthand column, you'll see that they all very nicely focus on one thing. And aside from focusing on my life, mine really doesn't have a focus. 

Now there really isn't anything I can think of which I want to write about every single day. Although I like to cook and bake, I don't do it on a daily basis in such a manner that I could write a unique post each time. While I enjoy the Arts, I don't have the money to attend enough events to review something each day. And I'm way too much of a Gemini to be able to stay focused on any one thing for far too--Whoa. Wait. What's that shiny thing over there? What was I saying? Oh, yeah. All of which are reasons why I named this blog what I did when I started. 

But I've kind of come up with an idea: Breaking my posts out by day, writing on focused topics depending on the day of the week. This is in the speculative phase right now, but I'm considering the following topics:

Food (ie Cooking and Baking)
The Lively Arts (ie Art-related events for which I need to leave the house)
Restaurants
Travel (local or long distance--from a trip to Montreal to a trip to the grocery store)
Television
Potpourri (ie whatever comes to mind. I don't plan to write regular posts on the smelly stuff people put around their homes in open bowls. Well... Unless it needs to be written about.)

I figure I'll assign one topic to each day, and then write (at least obliquely) on that topic once each week. Yes. I know that there are only 6 topics listed, and there are 7 days in a week, but I figure this will give me one day to either relax or simply write... well... the kind of stuff I've been writing so far. 

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? I'll try to roll this out in the next few days, but I'd love your input in the meantime (and as we go along, of course).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

At Least I Apologized

It has been a long, strange Election Day. Christopher got up a little after 4 this morning so that he could be out the door and to his polling place by 5:45am (so they could finish setting up and be open by 7). I had every intention of seeing him off and then going back to bed, but... well... I was up long enough to be wide awake. 

Because Christopher took my car today (his is having its rear brake rotors looked at), I've been sticking close to home most of the day. Luckily, our voting location is just a block away from home. I walked over around 11 this morning and was in line for just under an hour before becoming voter number 895 in our precinct. It's been a really warm few days, so we were all enjoying standing outside in the 70-degree sunshine, chatting and watching the kids play while we waited to get our "I Voted" stickers. Oh. Yeah. And to vote, too.

Unfortunately, without the car, I was unable to take my sticker to Ben & Jerry's for my free scoop, but I have to say that I was happy to have voted, even so. Although... maybe I can blame that for my crankiness this afternoon when ONE MORE person stopped by to knock on the door and ask if everyone in the household had voted. The very polite young man then asked if he could put a paper hanger on our front door. I said no, until he explained that, without it, more people would probably come by and ask later on. At that point I agreed, saying "Okay. Fine. Sorry. I just [expletive-ing] want it all to be [expletive-ing] over." Luckily, he took my expletive-laden apology with a grain of salt and glanced at his watch saying "We just have to make it through six more hours!" 

So now it's about 7:30pm. The local polls close at 8. I'm hanging out and have just turned on the TV to check out some of the returns. Christopher's "official" day won't be over for at least another hour, and there's a very good chance that he won't be done with everything and able to make it home until at least 10 or so tonight. Since he's the one who has been working the phenomenally long hours today, I'm going to try my best to stay up until he's home. (Wish me luck!)

I hope you all made it out to vote (again... as I said yesterday... assuming that you were eligible and all that). Just think--no matter who wins we'll be making history. How cool is that?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Helping Out the Electoral Process (sorta)

Christopher and I just got back from setting up the room he'll be working in during the election tomorrow. I had never known anyone who did that kind of thing before Christopher. I mean... I knew people worked at polling places during the day, but I didn't know anyone who gave their entire day to sitting in the voting room making sure that everything goes smoothly. And, yet, that is what Christopher will be doing tomorrow for a thoroughly mind-numbing 16 hours! 

To make the start of the day go a little smoother, tonight we went over to the school where Christopher will be working and got the bare bones of the room set up. It's a multipurpose/cafeteria room in an elementary school, so I spent my time moving some tables and chairs and setting up the "voting booths" (which are, honestly, fairly spindly plastic desks with three partition walls around them). Then I spent some time taping Spanish, Russian, Hmong, Vietnamese and Somali voting instructions on the wall--covering over the lunchroom monitor schedules. Christopher spent his evening making sure everything he needs for tomorrow was in the right places, and trying to figure out the proper layout of the room so that the "Automark" machine (really a rather cool gadget) and the Ballot Counting machine were properly spaced away from other things. 

Tomorrow morning Christopher will head for the school so that he can be there around 5:45--yes in the morning. He'll have a few volunteers meet up with him around 6, so that they can open the doors to voters at 7am. From that point until 8pm, he'll be in charge of a roomful of volunteers making sure that anyone who wants to vote can have that opportunity. And... well... for anyone who isn't eligible, he'll have to deal with that, too. If all goes well, he'll get home around 9:30 or 10 tomorrow night. 

Alright, so, here's the deal:

1) We've all sat through months of political posturing and ads and mudslinging--and that was from the newscasters.

2) We've had to deal with people phoning us at odd hours to tell us what they want us to think, as well as the constant visual barrage along the roadways.

3) The rooms are set. The ballots are ready. And Christopher--and everyone like him who is going to be overseeing the elections--is waiting.

Which leaves me with only one question: What are you waiting for? Go vote. 
(Well... if you're reading this on Tuesday, November 4th, at least... and if you live in the States... otherwise--yeah--I guess you're fairly exempt...)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Falling Back... Saturday's Post on Sunday Morning

Having worked at The Minnesota Opera for a while, and then leaving that company when my position was "reorganized" last summer, it should come as no surprise that going to see "Abduction from the Seraglio" at the Opera last night was a little strange. Let me break this out in two sections: The show, and the "Show."

The show:

The show was fine. Although I worked in marketing for the Opera while I was there--writing copy for all sorts of mailings (print and otherwise) promoting the shows--I've never really been a huge opera fan. I've got to admit that I'm glad "Abduction from the Seraglio" wasn't my first introduction. It's a Mozart comedy (while this does mean it's funny, in opera terms "comedy" really just means that there's not a lot of death) about two women who have to get broken out of a harem by their true loves. In the production playing in St. Paul right now, the conceit has this all taking place in lavishly-decorated cars on The Orient Express. The set (complete with scenery moving by outside the windows) and costumes were lush. The act-closing quartets were quite enjoyable. But I have to admit that if this had been my first opera I probably would have left after the really bland first act. Luckily, Blonde (the maid) and Pedrillo (her intended) got to sing more after the first intermission, and combined with some great comic slapstick, they took me along for the rest of the ride. 

The "Show"

I fully admit that I was a little nervous about going back to the place that let me go 6 months ago. But it turned out great. I got big hugs from people I haven't seen (although I've talked to/emailed/etc) since I left the Opera. Just as good, since Christopher is young enough to be part of the Opera's "young professionals" group, Tempo (I aged out if it last year, already), we are able to get tickets for cheap after buying a membership. So we got to go to the post-show meet-and-greet at the St. Paul Hotel. The food was great. The drinks weren't too expensive. And the mingling was nice. 

So... yeah... it was a nice evening. Would I say it was a spectacular evening? No. Unfortunately "Abduction" didn't hold up its end of the bargain for that. But the rest of the evening was great.

** sidenote ** If you happen to be in the Twin Cities, The Minnesota Opera has a phenomenal discount deal for next Tuesday for "Abduction." If you're looking for a good way to get away from the hour-upon-hour of voting predictions, I would definitely check it out. Just settle in for the first act and know that it keeps getting better. (And hope that Tuesday does, too.) ** end sidenote **