Two Days of Snow (2/30)

April 4, 2018

poetry 2-30 two days snow

Two days of snow in April

is not what you’d expect.

It’s true it’s Minnesota

but even we are allowed to have spring.

 

Two-times-ten degrees colder

than what we were expecting.

Yes, it’s Minnesota,

but even we are allowed to have spring.

 

One optimistic robin singing in the snow

is one more than I expected.

Hope sits in a tree in Minnesota.

I’m convinced we will have spring.

 

 

untitled cat poem

April 4, 2018

poetry 1-30 cats.PNG

My girl says mrrrr

just because I look at her.

She’s my Little Ducky.

I feel so lucky.

 

My girl says mrow

when she wants attention now.

She’s my Jammy-Cat,

the boss, and that is that.

 

My girl is quiet

and she doesn’t deny it.

She’s my Squeaky,

just keeping it low-key with me.

 

 

Chrome-plated blog writing

January 17, 2016

 

CJ and the Chromebook

CJ is displeased that the Chromebook, not she, is my lap.

The hard drive of my trusty old G4 iBook pooped out a few years ago. I briefly made it go again by installed a new SSD drive, but after a few boots, it went back to not working. The iBook was my auxiliary computer that I used mainly for writing, so I didn’t pursue any further repair efforts.

I had been trying to make due with writing on my iPad. I can do okay touch-typing on the virtual keyboard (though I find I downsize to using only three fingers on each hand rather than all four), and I think I probably could have continued that way if only the screen were bigger. I like the writing app that I use, iaWriter, except for the part where it only shows you about six or eight lines at a time. I understand the rationale behind that, so that you focus on the current words spewing forth from your brain through your fingertips rather than always being distracted by going back and editing, but when I write these blog posts, it’s really handy to refer to earlier portions, as I frequently go off on tangents, or because the way forward is often revealed after looking and pondering what has already been written.

The volume of my writing dropped off drastically once I no longer had a real laptop on which to type. I miss writing–though I’m less sure you all miss my ramblings as much–so last week I took action. I drank the Apple kool-aid a long, long time ago, so it pains me that I have settled, due to the unignorable price difference, on a Toshiba Chromebook as my new laptop.

At least I think I have.

It feels zippy and responsive when I navigate around and the display looks crisp and bright. Because the price is so low, I was comfortable splashing out for one size larger than the smallest. It’s lightweight but feels substantial, and as a machine, has impressed me overall.

But what I have quickly become uncomfortable with is the realization that the Chrome OS is just an interface for the online Google environment and that there are no actual applications local to the computer, and certainly none that aren’t Google things. I am uncomfortable having to be logged in to all of the Google universe in order to just write this blog post. I’m not a privacy conspiracy theorist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do prefer not to make it any easier than necessary for sites and environments to rake in all that information about me. I log in if I need to, but I log back out of most sites when I finish actively using them. Especially Google properties. Hence, my reservations about this Chromebook.

I figure that if I ordered an old-fashioned, spinny hard drive for my iBook, it would run again. I hypothesize that the SSD drive was simply too-modern technology for the poor beast. Or I could upgrade and spend what I need to for a basic Macbook flavor. This has been a trial blog post, if you will, to see how comfortable I am with this Chromebook.

But I think in my heart, I’ve already made my decision.

photo of Kelly

The beginning and end photos from my 30-day DietBet. You can’t see much, if any, difference, but I can feel it!

Like so many women–and you know what? It’s not even a woman-thing. Like so many people, it is always my desire to just drop a few pounds. A month ago, I got back on the horse. I began going to the gym again three or four times a week. A couple of weeks ago, I figured out an alternative bike route to my office that is a little further but which I can ride in the same amount of time. I toned down some of my consumption habits. I joined a 30-day DietBet game.

Let’s start with the DietBet. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a website where you pay money into a multi-person game to bet that you will be able to lose a certain amount of weight. You win by meeting the target, and the pot is split by everyone who made it. For the 30-day game I just completed, the goal was to lose 4%. For me, that was 8 pounds (3.6 kg). I’m not going to lie–I joined that particular DietBet because Karina Smirnoff was the host. You know how much I love Dancing with the Stars!

I went to the gym regularly for the first few months of last year and it felt great! I dislike running, but trotting on the treadmill has kind of become my thing since I discovered the Couch to 5K business two or three years ago. It only takes a couple of weeks for me to begin seeing and feeling the difference, so that’s my approach every time I start over. I fell off the wagon (er, treadmill?) when I went on vacation last July and spent the next three-quarters of a year subsidizing other people’s memberships. But my weight also crept up to the highest it’s ever been, and so finally last month I started going again and have managed to get back in the good habit.

Feeling the inspiration on foot, I also try to bike a little more, too. From about March through about October, or for as long as the snow holds off, I bike commute to work every day, a 15-minute ride through the heart of downtown. I don’t really think of it as exercise, even though it is, and so have been trying to go out for a long ride at least once on the weekends, and a medium ride in the evening every now and then if it’s not too hot.

Perhaps you are a fan of the NFL (National Football League) and know that the Minnesota Vikings are building a brand new stadium where the Metrodome stood until last year. I guess it’s going to resemble a giant, glass Viking ship. All I really know is that they didn’t spring for bird-safe glass. We’ll see how that plays out. The area of downtown adjacent to the stadium site is also going through a major redevelopment, and shiny new office buildings are rising from the backhoed rubble of a number of former surface parking lots.

Well. All of this construction activity has wreaked havoc on the very streets that I use every day in my commute. There are closures and detours which, unless I want to go significantly out of my way in one direction or, in the other direction, ride on a busy artery with cars only thinking about the freeway access a half mile ahead. Even the quieter alternative a couple of blocks beyond that is under its own construction of a sewer project. There is no good way to bike that particular vector.

Thus, I finally broke down and tried the route that takes me along the Mississippi River bike path to a bike commuter trail to the western suburbs. I can enter and exit within blocks of home and the office. I had balked at using it because it is a longer distance, and when I’m commuting, I’m all about not wasting time. But it turns out that, even though it’s 3.25 miles versus the 2.5 miles (5.2 km vs 4 km) of the downtown route, it doesn’t take me any more time because there are only a couple of interactions with streets and I don’t usually have to stop even once, and I can just go. Riding this route for the first time was an epiphany! It’s easier, it’s so much less stressful, it’s scenic, and the longer distance fits in with my increased activity desires.

photo of several meals

These are a few of the quick (usually about 30 minutes to prepare), delicious, home-cooked meals I’ve been making.

The final component of the last month has been to be more mindful of when and how much I’m consuming. For me, the largest part of that is to cut back on the beer. Instead of three or four, I try to keep it to a couple. And instead of my favorite double IPA or big stout, I often choose ones with lower alcohol content. Along with that is the realization that it also helps to eat a lighter supper earlier rather than later. Gorging on a burger at the bar is a whole lot different than freshly preparing a meal of more sensible foods (that I actually like better anyway). A staple has been a few ounces of salmon, a pile of asparagus, and one-half cup or less of a whole grain, such as quinoa or my new favorite, farro. I have resumed documenting everything that goes down my gullet in the Lose It! app. I don’t necessarily try to meet the calorie budget that it suggests, but the act of tracking eventually causes you to more carefully consider your choices.

So doing all of these things consistently for the last five weeks paid off. I surpassed my DietBet target and lost 8.8 pounds (4 kg), and won $49.68 on my $30 bet! My stamina has increased so much from the treadmill trotting and wobbly bits are coming a little more under control. Mainly, I just feel better and that is very satisfying. The knowledge that this happens when I keep up with things is what gets me through the afternoons when I’d rather just go home (okay, that, and that I’ve been watching 30 Rock while I trot to distract myself).

But it’s my desk-neighbor at work who put the extra little spring in my step today. She’s 23 and just out of college, where she was a competitive swimmer and is still someone who you would call an athlete. A couple of weeks ago I was moaning about being sore from my first session of strength training the day before and we had a brief conversation about my activities at the gym. Well, today she asked me how it all was going and was astonished when I said I had gone fourteen times last month. We talked a little more and I mentioned that I had lost about 7 pounds (3.2 kg). In response she uttered the five words at the top of the page and that is the most gratifying and motivating thing of all!

———-

Addendum: Because I want to keep the momentum going, I joined another DietBet game. This one goes on for six months with a final target of a 10% loss. There are monthly official weigh-ins with their own mini-targets, and you can win those, too. I tried one last year with little success, but I feel like I have a better attitude now. Stay tuned!

Every now and then I come across a meal that is, to my palate, a masterpiece. There have been two recently.

Beer & Beast at the Acadia: smoke Scotch egg and Oskar Blues Reeb Rye'd ale

Beer & Beast at the Acadia: smoke Scotch egg and Oskar Blues Reeb Rye’d ale

The first was a smoked scotch egg at one of my neighborhood joints, Acadia. Once a month they have what they call “Beer & Beast” for which they make a special meal, which usually involves the smoker out back, that they pair with a special beer. I was a little skeptical about a smoked scotch egg because breaded, fried food isn’t my bag, but they have a few hotshot young cooks in the kitchen and one bite in, my fears were allayed. The egg was excellent, the Oskar Blues Reeb Rye’d beer was excellent, and the two together sent me into nirvana.

Not too long after that, another neighborhood establishment, Town Hall Brewery, had their annual Barrel Aged Beer Week. They made some crazy and delicious fancy beers, releasing one per day throughout the week. I went in right away on Monday and learned that they developed some special food items to pair with the beers. I chose the seared scallops because I have a soft spot for scallops.

photo of scallops dinner

This was one amazing plate!

I’ll admit that I gave the plate a quite the side-eye when it arrived. The scallops with bacon-onion jam, farro with fire-roasted tomatoes, and grilled zucchini floated on a pool of white sauce. Okay. Maybe they wanted to visually fill out the plate or something. I reread the menu card. “Beurre blanc,” it said. “French for white sauce makes it sound fancier,” I interpreted.

My white-sauce snobbery quickly melted away as I tasted what an excellent carrier it was, helping to blend all of the the flavors together in a most excellent way. The tastes and textures balanced each other nicely, from the salt and crisp of the scallops and the sweet and smoke of the bacon-onion jam to the savory and chewy of the farro. Once again I found myself in my happy food place.

I had already been thinking that I’d try to return later in the week once more of the beers had been released. After eating I knew I would return, if only to have that delicious plate again!

In the meantime, I encountered a chef friend to whom I raved about this meal, including recounting my attitude about the “white sauce, well, beurre blanc.” What comes around goes around. He gave the side-eye right back to me without further explanation. After we parted, I became curious about this unfamiliar cooking term and looked it up. I stood corrected and publicly apologized to beurre blanc on social media. It is not white sauce. It is white, that’s true, but it’s actually an emulsification of butter in white wine that results in a sauce-like entity that is particularly complimentary to fish and seafood.

photo of beer flight

Town Hall Barrel Aged Week, flight 1: Foolish Angel, Buffalo Bock (2015), Twisted Trace (2015)

I went back to Town Hall on Thursday. That evening, there were enough of the special beers available so I ordered a flight. In case you’re wondering, the Foolish Angel was my favorite of the beers I tried. The general manager, Scot, who I got to know last year in a bowling league at one of Town Hall’s other locations, was flitting around so I was able to compliment him on it. He was pleased because it was a new beer this year.

photo of beer flight

Town Hall Barrel Aged Week, flight 2: Project 3106 (2015), Czar Jack (2015), Duke of Wallonia (2015)

But more importantly, I had the scallops dish again! Somebody different must have been in the kitchen, though, because the plate came out with at least twice as much beurre blanc, which was twice too much, and maybe a third less farro, which was a third too little. It was still as delicious as I remembered from three days earlier, though I did not come close to finishing all of the sauce. Then I decided to take the rest of it home with me for use at a later date, an endeavor made much easier by having exactly the right sized plastic container in my bag from my breakfast. (I always pack my breakfast and eat at my desk. Saves me fifteen to thirty minutes in the morning. Fifteen to thirty more minutes of sleep. But I digress.) I long ago got over feeling embarrassed about pulling out my own container at a restaurant in order to stow leftovers. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

That night as I lay in bed I had the ultimate brain wave. Along with the leftover beurre blanc, I had half of the ingredients necessary to recreate this meal at home. I had a zucchini, onions, bacon pieces, brown sugar, and sun-dried tomatoes. My mission was clear!

I located a recipe for bacon-onion jam that used only basic ingredients, read about how to pan-sear scallops, learned some more about beurre blanc, and purchased scallops and farro. I was ready to begin. The jam recipe is not at all fussy, it just needs and hour and a half of prep and cook time to get the reduction. I got that going first and enhanced the recipe with some dried currants for good measure. The farro was next. It needed about thirty minutes, and I included chopped sun-dried tomatoes. When the farro was done cooking, I finished it by frying it for a few minutes to crisp it up a bit; there had been something a little crispy about the Town Hall plate. As the jam and farro were finishing, I heated the pan for the scallops, getting the butter and oil nice and hot. While the scallops were searing, I reheated the leftover beurre blanc in the microwave, stirring frequently. I know, I know, I can hear you laughing from here. It was a visual disaster. The fat from the butter immediately separated into yellow oiliness, and the remaining part turned into a gloppy, viscous mess. But it still tasted heavenly and it all gets re-blended in your mouth, right?

photo of scallops dinner and beer

It doesn’t look the same as the professional version, but it tasted just about as delicious.

It was only after I had carefully plated my homemade meal with the goal of downplaying the physical appearance of the beurre blanc that I realized I had completely forgotten to make the zucchini. Oh well. With six rather than four scallops, it was plenty to consume.

The meal was delicious! I paired it with Summit Great Northern Porter. The bacon and the beer really brought out the smoky characteristics of each other.

I was very pleased with the effort!

photo of scallops dinner and beer

No Town Hall brews at home, but Summit Great Northern Porter was a fine stand-in.

I saw the world in a day

March 12, 2015

Nobel Peace Prize Forum posterLast Saturday, I attended the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Forum. I heard its sponsorship promo on Minnesota Public Radio and perused their website, where saw that single-day tickets were $75(US), at which I initially balked. But then I thought, “you know, that’s not the kind of thing that comes to your town every day” and went for it. We could all use some global perspective, especially here in the United States.

The conference was over a three-day weekend. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was the headline speaker on Friday and I would have loved to hear his presentation, but the topics of Saturday’s line-up, disarmament and sustainability, were more interesting to me in general. And Saturday also featured Steven Pinker, whose book The Stuff of Thought was enthusiastically recommended to me by a friend, which I found on discount at Barnes & Noble, which I bought and began reading, and whose chapter 2 I have not gotten beyond. My friend said that after about the third chapter, it was much less dry. Apparently I’ve not felt too compelled to investigate that for myself.

photo of reception area

The first impression is that this is a swanky place. But it really is just a large, cavernous room with movable tables holding artfully stacked coffee cups. Who decided on purple?

On the day, check-in began at 7:30am. Two parts of my grand plan for the day revolved around food. The conference was conveniently located in downtown Minneapolis, and even more conveniently in the part of it with which I am most familiar but which, sadly, is no longer where my office is. I carefully planned to arrive at the check-in pretty close to right at 7:30, and then go across the street to Au Bon Pain (whose website promised they opened at 8:00 on Saturdays) for one of my favorite breakfast items, the smoked salmon and wasabi bagel sandwich thing.

All of a sudden, spring has sprung here in the upper-midwest, so I biked the less-than two miles. I arrived at the check-in at 7:25, but they were ready for me! I killed time with a cup of coffee while I read the day’s schedule. At 7:55 I wandered over to the ABP (makes me think of AVB), only to find it not open, with 8:30 listed on the door as the actual time. I reconsulted their website and Google maps and concluded that I should be at the other one, the other one a couple blocks away. I wandered over there (okay, high-tailed it) only to find that it, too, was not open, nor would it be on a Saturday. I spent a lot of battery power in confusion and finally concluded anew that I should, in fact, go back to the original location.

By this time it was 8:15 and I was beginning to feel a little anxious because, as an only child, I am a slow eater. I resumed lurking and conducted additional research on the ABP and Google maps sites. I realized that this particular location was listed twice, once on 6th Street and once on 7th Street, and not only that, but its suite number (225) was identical to the street number of the not-at-all-open other location. As I rolled my eyes in frustration, I saw that the doors were now open. I entered and filled the manager in on all of the above, and she said that she tries to get things going by 8:15.

My bagel was delicious.

I had no idea what to actually expect from the day’s talks, but I was pretty sure it would be enriching, whatever transpired. I’m not going to list the program; you can read it here, Day 2 Saturday. But I will call out what I enjoyed most.

Photo of John Packer speaking

John Packer knows how to hold an audience!

The first highlight was the breakout session. Three caught my eye; I chose John Packer’s talk, called “Managing diversity and inter-ethnic relations in peacemaking: herding cats and cutting pies,” and not because it had cats in the title, though he did start with the herding cats commercial from a few Super Bowls ago, which didn’t hurt. The base idea of the presentation was how language is used as a divider and categorizer when apportioning states and nations, and asking why this one is an “official” language of a nation or an organization, when this one with more speakers isn’t, and all kinds of interesting things about how peoples are validated or subjugated based on their mother tongue (L1). Not only that, but he was a most engaging speaker. Yes, he had projected slides, but they were only an outline and he spoke mostly extemporaneously (please compare this to later comments below). So, so interesting. I will read his books. And finish them.

Then, it was lunch time, for which I also had a master plan. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Twin Cities’ food truck boom in the last few years. A perennial favorite is Vellee Deli (I’d swear they originally spelled it “Dellee”), and they have joined the ranks of wheeled businesses that now have stationary endeavors. Their soft opening was Saturday and, unlike all the others so far, they kept their new storefront is downtown, just two blocks from the truck’s usual spot. It wasn’t a tough decision to support them rather than overpaying for the box lunch offered by the hotel. At the truck I have always gotten the burrito or bowl, so I tried the duck confit banh mi and it was delicious!

After lunch, it was time for my second highlight of the day, Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, from opposite, warring sides in Nigeria. I am atheist, but it was not hard to get behind their message which was, simply, take your worst enemy and make him your best friend, and that the killing of others in the name of your religion has no legitimate place in any religion. It’s so simple. Listening to these two men talk with each other should be required world education. For everybody.

photo of Farah Siraj performing

Though Steven Pinker came and stood right in front of me to listen to Jordanian vocalist Farah Siraj, I was far too shy to introduce myself.

Then it was time for Steven Pinker, the main impetus for my attendance. I suppose it’s only natural that that which you build up the highest in your anticipation has the greatest potential to disappoint. His topic, that we are actually experiencing the least violent time in the history of humans, was very interesting, and he had statistics to support it. But Steven, Steven, Steven. It is the death knell of a presentation to read verbatim the slides which you are flashing on the screen. Tsk tsk. John Packer in the morning used his slides as jumping-off points. Steven Pinker used them as a script. It was distracting. Womp wah.

The Saturday schedule must have been adapted based on ticket sales. I’m very certain that, three weeks ago when I bought my ticket, the general program ended after Steven Pinker, with the option of paying extra for a dinner and documentary screening. On the day, it was a cocktail hour and movie screening at no additional cost. Hurray!

photo of fancy snacks

Fancy bites during the cocktail hour

Hors d’oeuvres, light macro beers, wine, and booze were available. I wasn’t certain if I was going to hang in there for this unanticipated foray into the evening, but I gave myself time to consider it while noshing on Parmesan pastry-encrusted asparagus spears and cheese and cranberry hazelnut Raincoast Crisps (my favorite!). In the end, I decided to make the most of my $75, and thanks to all the coffee I consumed during the day, I had the wherewithal to do so.

The last feature of the day was viewing the documentary Food Chains, about how tomato workers in Florida have come together for better rights, such as providing a mechanism for women field workers to report on-the-job sexual harassment, and convincing large food chains to sign on to program to pay a penny more per pound, which basically doubles workers’ wages.

I was exhausted when I got home a little before 9pm, but what an interesting day! No disappointments about the investment.


photo of Nobel Peace Prize Forum speakers

A long day of listening and being enriched. I know you can’t really make anybody out well, but top to bottom:
Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons;
Adama Dieng, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser, Prevention of Genocide;
Courtney Radsch, Advocacy Director, Committee to Protect Journalists, who led a moment of candle-lit silence for the journalists who have been killed on the job due to conflict;
Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, Nigeria, with Reverend Mark Hanson;
Steven Pinker and his slides, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature;
Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White buffalo Calf Pipe and Leader of the Lakota Dakota Nakota Oyate, The Great Sioux Nation;
Sanjay Rawal, Smriti Keshari, Eric Schlosser, Lucas Benitez, of the documentary Food Chains

Ada Theater

I get it. Maybe you’re not so interested in my Dancing with the Stars ravings, or my weekly sharing of a “Downton Tabby” photo, or my steady stream of craft beer push-posts from Untappd. On the other hand, I am only one person. On awards show night, two-thirds of the world is live-posting. That’s hard to get away from and so I take an eighteen-hour sabbatical from social media. It’s a little better since muffling hashtags became possible in Twitter; Facebook really needs to develop some form of that feature. Fear not, gentle reader, the purpose of this post is not to bitch (but thanks for listening!).

It’s true, though, that my idea for this post began with a friend’s link, in honor of the Oscars tonight, to a list of things which you no longer find in movie theaters and his follow-up request to name the first movie we ever saw in a theater.

The first two movies I remember seeing in the theater were Bambi and The Aristocats. I was a tot long before the Disney princess machine sprang to life. Going to the theater was a special occasion. As with other “out” experiences of my childhood, there were no frills. When we ate at a restaurant, we just had water to drink because soda pop or milk was too extravagant an expense. If we went to the county fair, there was no cotton candy or game-playing, because it simply wasn’t necessary. It was fun to be there and just walk around looking at things and animals. At the theater, we didn’t indulge in popcorn or other snacks.

Bambi posterI’m inclined to think that Bambi was my first movie. My mom took me. All I can remember about the experience is that I became hysterical when Bambi’s mom was killed in the forest fire. We probably went to see this movie because my mom loves rabbits, and Thumper, of course, was a major character. That backfired on her.

The Aristocats posterI’m inclined to think that The Aristocats was my second movie because after the experience of Bambi, my mom probably wanted to make sure we saw an upbeat story. I don’t remember much about that movie other than that the lady cat wore a pearl necklace. She did, right?

In conjunction with remembering the movies, I thought about the Ada Theater in which I saw them. You might recall from other posts that I think of my childhood town fondly. The theater was right on Main Street. It still is. This afternoon I found this nice page about it.

My third movie theater memory is from high school, after we had moved back to my parents’ home town in Wisconsin. I was fifteen and my friend was fourteen, and her dad had dropped us off at the theater downtown. I don’t remember what the movie was that we were going to see, but it must have been rated PG, because we were going in on our own, but perhaps it was PG with a racy reputation, because my friend’s dad was inspired to say that I could easily pass for sixteen or seventeen. I thought absolutely nothing of it at the time, but when I was older and recalled it, I realized that it was a kind of creepy thing for him to have said. Don’t worry, I don’t remember any other questionable behavior by him.

So in honor of Oscar, those are some way-back movie memories. In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve watched Secretary, In Your Eyes, and Unfinished Sky. I recommend all three.

Music on the farm

September 29, 2014

photo of Albert and the CD player

I was shot into nostalgia a couple of nights ago when my friend posted this picture of his kid sitting, entranced, in front of Grandma’s CD boombox. Albert is three and a bit. I was fourteen or so when I sat in a similar position in front of my great aunt’s all-in-one record player. I don’t have a photo of it which is why you’re seeing Albert. The essence is the same.

It would have been mid-1977, maybe more toward the end of the year, putting me at 14 years of age or so. Give me a minute, it’s all coming back to me. That was thirty-seven years ago. It would have been while we were still living in Ohio, which would mean this tale took place during a trip to visit my grandparents in Wisconsin. My great-aunt lived 100 miles (161 km) south-southeast of my grandparents.

The difference between Albert and me is that I knew perfectly well what a record player was. I was entranced because I had two new LPs to listen to. You kids probably know them better as vinyl, if you know of them at all. Between Ohio and Wisconsin, we would have detoured down to Bloomington, Indiana, where my dad attended Indiana University in his attempt to earn a PhD (denied). Incidentally, Bloomington was where I had my only live experiencing of an earthquake. If I reread this before I post and jog my memory, I’ll find a link to a report about that mid-continental oddity. I was closer to Albert’s age when that happened and was actually sitting in the back of a lecture auditorium in class with my dad. Isn’t it funny the things you remember? I have only fond memories of our summers (and one full year) in Bloomington.

But I digress.

We called in on Bloomington on our way to Wisconsin. I can remember a lot about my time there as a three- to six-year-old. About this pass-through visit, I can only remember that I dragged my parents upstairs to a second-floor record store, because by the time I was fourteen I had been obsessed with music for a good year. I had always enjoyed music on the radio, from the time John Denver and Neil Sedaka were warbling and falsettoing their biggest hits, and Olivia Newton-John was whispering “I honestly love you.” But I had begun to possess my own copies of music because I had begun receiving an allowance. Don’t get excited. It was meted out in coins, not bills, and certainly not credit cards or iPhones. Also, this was way, WAY before you could steal for free and (largely) without ramification off the internet.

I wasn’t flush with cash, so I could only purchase two of the three albums I was interested in. The one I didn’t buy was Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat. The two I did acquire were Queen’s “A Day at the Races” and Styx’s “The Grand Illusion. I make no apologies for my choices, or that I still, thirty-five years later, love these musics.

We walked back down the stairs. Fast-forward 350 miles (565 km) to my great-aunt’s side room.

Gosh, I could digress to another tangent about how I fond I was of my aunt and her farmhouse. To this day, I am confident in saying that I would be perfectly content living in that house on that land. If only I had been more mature and financially stable when I would have had the opportunity to make that happen.

Aunt Irma was a great lady. She married well the second time around (first husband, deceased); I’m certain the house and farm were already hers, though I know her subsequent step-children ended up living in a house on the hill above the farm. We had family reunions in her side yard. She had a Collie dog named Sage. I inherited her airline-approved, sturdy cat carrier.

I guess I did digress.

photo of record player

Aunt Irma’s record player was a lot like this one. As I recall, hers had a faux woodgrain finish.

My parents slept in one of the extra bedrooms upstairs. I always found the stairs intimidating. They were very steep, and I feel like I remember one time as a tot actually falling down them a little bit. Maybe that’s why I usually was stationed on the couch in the side room. And that’s where the record player was!

I drove everyone nuts playing and replaying my two new albums for the duration of the couple days we were there. More than once, the doors to the room were closed. This was, I might add, in the days when you listened to an album all the way through, or at least the entire side. Record albums are ROM — read-only melting. You had to buy the whole thing, not just the one song you liked. With records, if you only wanted one song, you could hope that it would be released as a single, also known as a 45. But if it wasn’t, you had to get the album. I remember that I ended up with a scratch in the beginning of “Castle Walls” on the Styx album. I know I played each album at least five times over, front and back.

There’s really not much more to my Albert-inspired memory than that.

 

Credits:

Photo of Albert by his mom, Jennifer S. Used with permission.

Photo of record player from here, though I saw it on many other sites, too, so who knows who the original publisher is. Used with best intentions.

 

Why do I torture myself year after year? I willingly go to a place where I get to hang out with 150,000 of my closest friends. I spend a hot summer day outside in the sun. I tolerate waiting in long lines for the ladies room. I eat battered, deep-fried, junky food. What is this torture? Why, the Great Minnesota Get-Together, of course!

Any self-respecting Minnesotan will trek to the Minnesota State Fair at least once each year. I have friends who go multiple times. Take my friend Jen A, for example, whose husband is in the Army. They got stationed in Guam for three years. A year ago he left a month before Jen. Jen waited until after the Fair. And when has she come back for a visit? To coincide with the Fair. She has been there just about every day. I don’t know how she does it. I go for a few hours and I’m done in. Think I’m joking about attendance of 150,000? Look at this. And I went on the last Sunday. The last Sunday usually goes over 200,000.

These just in:

Quotes from Jen (which I include because I truly am impressed by your desire, determination, and stamina, and I know you were doing what you love to do): 1) “After a 15.5 hour day yesterday, I’ve logged 67 hours at the fair this year. A record for me. One day to go. (Sunday).” 2) “My last day at the fair. 16 hours for a total of 83 hours over 6 days. That’ll do.”

2014 State Fair breaks all-time attendance record. Thank goodness I didn’t go on Saturday, attendance 252,092.

So this is the fun I had at the fair.

photo of overheated Kelly

When I bike to the fair, I am hot and miserable before I even pass through the gate.

Biking to the fair.

Just like going to the fair at all, biking to it always seems like a good idea before I do it. It’s a four-and-a-half-mile ride, most of which is on a dedicated bike- and busway. Easy route, but even if the temperature isn’t too hot, I get overheated. So I’m at a disadvantage before I even get through the gate.

I should also mention that the fair encourages you to not take your car. As could benefit me, there are three bike corrals. Unfortunately they are at the three corners of the grounds other than the one where the transitway spits me out. Getting to a bike corral adds a half-mile onto my ride. But I’m glad they have them because it takes a lot of the thinking out of arriving at the Fair.

Anyway, I had a couple of personal connections at the fair.

Personal connections and vegetables in general.

My coworker’s grandmother enters vegetables every year. And she wins every year. Look at those Yukon gold potatoes! Jen (a different Jen) helped harvest those winners. And since I love vegetables, you get a photo of the west wall of the Horticulture Building. And who wouldn’t be impressed by giant pumpkins, Charlie Brown?

photo of potatoes

Blue ribbon Yukon Gold potatoes dug up and sorted by my coworker, grown by her grandmother.

photo of giant pumpkin

It’s the Great Pumpkin!

panoramic photo of vegetables

These are a few of my favorite vegetables.

photo of Larry's painting

A little purple goes a long way.

I also managed to find my nextdoor neighbor Larry’s painting in the Fine Arts building. As my mentor Chris Gargan always said, a little purple goes a long way. Or was that John Ribble? It was twenty+ years ago.

photo of mini-donut beer

Mini-donuts! In beer form!

Beer.

Natch, it didn’t take me long to acquire beer. Unlike last year, Lift Bridge Brewery made PLENTY of their Mini-Donut Brown Ale. It sounds so wrong, but it works. This year there was also a s’mores beer replete with a floating marshmallow, and a lager that came with blueberry frozen foam.

photo of Kelly with beer

Kelly visits a beer exhibit. Yes, a beer exhibit.

A great thing about the Minnesota State Fair is that it keeps up with the times. Whether it’s an evening of Minnesota bands, sponsored by The Current, or craft beer, the fair is all over it. Back by popular demand for the third year, was the Land of 10,000 Brews exhibit, also in the Horticulture Building. This is where there are six options for four-beer flight from Minnesota breweries. The selections vary daily. Sometimes there’s fancy stuff, but mostly it’s a way to support our burgeoning craft beer industry.

[Update from the interim between writing and posting: Some asshole robbed the exhibit at gunpoint a couple hours after the Fair closed for the year. Armed robbery of over $10,000.]

photo of double-wide stroller

Does she look like she’s actually having fun?

Major annoyances.

I’m pretty sure I ranted about this last year, too, and every year before that. If it’s not old enough to walk under its own power, it’s most likely not old enough to really comprehend, and therefore actually enjoy, what is going on at the fair, and should therefore be left at home. Your doublewide stroller isn’t doing anybody, and I mean anybody, least of all you, any favors. Tell the truth. Do you actually enjoy pushing that thing through the throng, having to constantly apologize to the crowd around you for needing non-standard space accommodation, the crowd which is already annoyed by the rest of the crowd? Are you having fun when the tot is screaming because it wants cotton candy, or is over-stimulated, or is over-tired? And when it falls asleep, well, what was the point anyway?

photo of parade float

It’s a parade. Yay.

While we’re on the subject of hindrances to the already crowd-hindering crowd, what about the daily parade? I guess some people watch it, but it seems like it’s mostly meaderers scattering to the curbs to make way. I find it particularly purturbing because on either side of the street it goes down are some of the things I’m most interested in, such as the aforementioned Horticulture Building and the abeermentioned Ballpark Cafe, from whence the Mini-Donut Brown Ale (and many other fine, Minnesota brews) is served, and because I always manage to encounter it. I just want to cross the damned street. Call me a chicken if you must, apropos to the fair.

photo of Kelly with a Pronto Pup

It’s a Pronto Pup. Or is it a corndog. Huh?

Fair food.

Unless you live in a cave, you’ve likely heard of all the any-state’s fair food you can get on a stick. Minnesota’s fair does food on a stick like no other. However, I mostly avoid it. Battered, deep-fried delights are so far from how I typically eat that it doesn’t take much of it to do me in. But I’ll always get a corndog. I don’t like weiners but I love me a corndog. I am a poor Minnesotan because I’m still not sure exactly what the difference is between a corndog and a Pronto Pup. What I do know is that this year I got a Pronto Pup rather than a corndog and I didn’t like it as well. I think a Pronto Pup is more of a batter batter while a corndog is more of a cornbread batter. Next year I shall go back to the corndog.

photo of Kelly eating corn on the cob

Corn!

What never disappoints is the roasted corn on the cob. Minnesota sweetcorn, grilled in the husk. ’Nuff said. Oh, except for that they compost all the discarded cobs.

 

photo of weather radar progression

How much time do I have?

Weather, more beer, more food.

All afternoon I felt like I had blown it with regard to the weather. The day before, Saturday, was a little less warm, a little less humid, less unsettled. Sunday started out overcast and not-warm, but of course by the time I got pedaling the sun came out and the dewpoint started creeping up. The forecast was for a clear afternoon with rain and thunder likely in the evening. It approached more quickly.

photo of Kelly and cutout of Mark Stutrud

Hanging out with Summit Brewing founder, Mark Stutrud. Well, a reasonable facsimile of him, anyway.

I made my move in the direction of the exit when I figured, based on radar panel number three, that I had about forty-five minutes before the heavens would open. I need about twenty-five for the bike ride. Fortunately, the main Summit Brewing counter, in the International Bazaar, is right on the way to the entrance I use next to the bike corral. Summit had a fair-only brew this year, but it was not on offer on Sunday (unless it was at an auxiliary location). Nevertheless, I ordered one of the beers that was available and participated in what was their genius marketing ploy for the fair, taking a selfie with the life-sized cutout of founder Mark Stutrud. I have actually hung out with Mark several times in person, so this was a little weird, and yet, necessary.

photo of tacos

Tacos al pastore y asada.

I had just about decided that I was out of weather-time and had every intention of heading out, when I was dazzled again by what had caught my attention on the way in, tacos from Los Ocampo. I wasn’t exactly hungry, but wanted to eat, and figured that if I ate a little more at the fair, that would be enough for the day. I went for one each of the al pastore and the asada. The nice people sitting on the bench next to me approved of my choice (having vast, it seemed, experience at one of Los Ocampos’ restaurant locations) and gave me a piece of their fried plantains. It was all very good.

photo of approaching weather

Hopefully I’ll beat this home.

I finally, finally, uncorraled my bike and headed home, a little later than I meant to. On the other hand, it wasn’t already raining so I knew whatever happened, I wouldn’t get it too bad. As it was, I only got spritzed on during the second half of the ride. I got home and took my second full shower of the day. I tied my hair up in a different way that proved to be a beneficial way, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the fair.

I hate this bike!

August 28, 2014

photo of loaner bike

This looks like a perfectly wonderful bicycle. Appearances can be deceiving.

A year ago, I got a new rear wheel for my bicycle and ever since it’s been one broken spoke after another, by which I mean three. But that’s there more than I had in fifteen years with the original-equipment old wheel. A month ago I had a two and now it’s in the shop again with another one. Fortunately, the shop to which I’ve been going, One On One, has excellent customer service and they bend over backwards to make things right with no hassle. When I walked in this time the manager (I assume he’s the manager) immediately remembered without prompting that I had just been in a few weeks ago. He offered to sell me at cost (about half of retail) a sturdier rim with thicker spokes. Okay!

Only trouble is, the loaner bike they stuck me with this time is a real plonker. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatic that they do loaner bikes and I’m grateful that I can keep riding. But of the three different bikes I’ve had in the last year, this one is THE WORST.

I enjoyed the bike a year ago. I particularly liked the handle grips and subsequently got similar ones for my bike to replace the original grips which I had worn smooth. The bike a month ago I didn’t like so well. That was mainly because of handlebars that were shaped and placed such that my thigh would block them whenever I tried to make a turn any sharper than a gentle arc. When I saw the current bike I was leery of its handlebars which appeared suspiciously similar, but they turned out to be okay.

photo of loaner bike's basket

I’ve seen all manner of basket on people’s bikes. I am not a fan of this front-mounted, metal crate. It seems to be original equipment of this model.

No, the beef I have with this bike is the basket. Look at it. It’s a monstrous metal crate. It makes for very front-heavy balance, which has taken some getting used to (I’m on day four with the bike). The shop guy touted it as a feature and boasted that he once carried four large pizzas in/on it. But more annoyingly, this mega-basket makes it practically impossible to maneuver through a doorway without banging and bashing the door and the frame. I have to go through two doors at home and two at the office. That’s a lot of bangers and mash (yes, yes, I know what bangers and mash really is).

photo of spring on loaner bike

Have you every seen one of these springs before? Neither have I. You must be really incompetent if you need that much help going in a straight line.

The balance issue is exacerbated by a weird feature I’ve never heard of in a bicycle. A strong spring joins the front wheel to the frame. This apparently is to help keep the wheel straight. Is this bike model for people who can’t grasp the basics of steering? Is it for people who really dig rid no-handed? I don’t get it. What the spring does for me, in combination with the front-mounted crate, is to make my steering go all wobbly when I remove my left hand from the handlebars to signal a turn. And while we’re on the subject, you do not signal a right turn by sticking out your right arm. You signal a right turn by up-bending your left arm at the elbow. Similarly, when I am properly signaling my right turn and you, the pedestrian, are standing on the corner looking at me, I am not waving hello to you. You’d be surprised how frequently either of these scenarios occurs.

But I digress.

A minor quibble is that the loaner bike only has eight gears. It’s true I’ve always said that I don’t need the twenty-one speeds that my own bike has because I only use four or five of them. But that many speeds allows for subtlety, I have realized. The difference on the loaner between the easy gear that I use for accelerating and the next, harder one seems vast by comparison.

The shop is waiting for the new wheel to come in. That won’t be soon enough for me.

photo of loaner bike