Sunday, October 12, 2014

Minnetonka Orchards

It's been forever since I've posted and I've finally set to updating with something new. A few pictures from our trip to Minnetonka Orchards yesterday. This was our first time to this place and it was really fun! Lots of activities besides apple picking, like face painting, petting goats, and kid rides. Z only entertained the first of those options. The line for the apple donuts was insane, but we could smell them and, well, that was it. 

It's been a beautiful fall so far. Like everyone, trying to be outside as much as possible right now, not knowing how the winter is going to be. Good memories for sure. 

Okay, I'm not sure why these pictures aren't looking very sharp here. They actually are sharp, but for some reason not here! 

Friday, January 31, 2014

My Ideal Bookshelf

I was browsing Amazon recently. In an example of the website all too accurately recommending books I might like based on my browsing history, I came across My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly La Force and fell in love with the concept:

Amazon's description:
The books that we choose to keep--let alone read--can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. In MY IDEAL BOOKSHELF, dozens of leading cultural figures share the books that matter to them most; books that define their dreams and ambitions and in many cases helped them find their way in the word. Contributors include Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Keller, Michael Chabon, Alice Waters, James Patterson, Maira Kalman, Judd Apatow, Chuck Klosterman, Miranda July, Alex Ross, Nancy Pearl, David Chang, Patti Smith, Jennifer Egan, and Dave Eggers, among many others. 

Naturally, the next thing I did was ask myself, "What are mine?!"

I'm a book lover, but I can't spend hours reading anything. I'm very particular. But when I find something I like, I'm all over it like a cheap suit and then some. I research the author, find more titles, consume it to the nth, and then get sad if the author is no longer alive and able to write more.

I read a lot as a kid, but some time around high school, I remember realizing just how incredible books could be. I was lucky to have great English teachers who assigned reading that would--now that I think about it--have lifelong impact. And they didn't choose easy stuff. It was challenging as heck!

Perhaps my proudest moment in 12th grade is when I somehow managed to correctly interpret a poem by A.E Housman in a super tense in-class Blue Book essay assignment, when the rest of the class failed to see the intended irony. The teacher read my essay out loud. I could have died out of sheer delight. Especially since this teacher had once prior ripped my first Shakespeare analysis to shreds. Big fat C. (Several girls cried in the bathroom after getting those papers back.)

But this idea of books or poetry accompanying us through life one way or another: fascinating how incalculably the things we read can influence us in our lives. And also sobering that this isn't an experience everyone gets.

At any rate, I wanted to share some of the books that have stopped me cold or have been just so terribly delightful that I so appreciate that people were put on earth to write them.

Becket by Jean Anouilh
Genre: 20th Century French theater

When I was majoring in French at St. Thomas I took a required French theater class. I thought I was going to hate it because for some reason I can't sit through plays. But it turns out I like reading plays a lot more than watching them. The syllabus for the class led us from the origins of French theater up to the 20th century, and Becket was one of our last assignments.

If there's one thing to know about the history of French theater, it is this: there was no stage direction in the early years. It was all about the words. So there were no little cues like She rolled her eyes.... But by the 20th century, the stage direction mattered just as much, if not more than the words. Becket was an example of how much theater had evolved, as it tells the sad and sometimes humorous story of Thomas a Becket and his tenuous relationship with the king of France...with tons of nuance through the stage direction. I guess I loved it so much because it was the first time reading French stuff where I was like, wow, I would read this again!

L'alouette by Jean Anouilh
Genre: 20th Century French theater

True to form, I tracked down another Anouilh play at the Half Price Books in Highland Park. This play was a tremendously interesting take on the story of Joan of Arc. Let's be honest, history glosses over her story JUST A BIT. This was the gentlest and probably most accurate portrayal of what it would have been like to be Jeanne, hearing voices telling her command the French army. I mean, seriously? And it sadly ends with her execution.

Aside from this being a really well told story, it quite honestly made me appreciate living in a time that despite its faults, doesn't do what happens in this book.

The Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbaum
Genre: Culture; Satire

Published in 1981, this book is out of print. I found a pristine copy at a used bookstore for $1.99 in 2002. It's a spot-on observation of American preppy culture that somehow manages to be factual and satirical at the same time. I'm fascinated by culture in general, but also subcultures like this one.

Frankly, I don't think this subculture exists the same way today as it once did and it has been quite misunderstood. (Hint: it has nothing to do with Abercrombie & Fitch, and has even more to do with thrift and relative austerity.) Basically if you try to be preppy, you aren't. Growing up where I did, I can think of a lot of firsthand examples of things the book talks about. It's just entertaining!

Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow
Genre: Fiction

My first legit boyfriend lent me this book the summer after my junior year of high school, after he finished reading it in the break room of the Richfield pool where he was a lifeguard. I started reading it and was like, "OMG, where has this book been all my life? It's the story of Henderson, a crotchety and hulking middle-aged guy who is a bull in a china shop wherever he goes. He heads to Africa to try to quiet the voice inside him that always says "I want, I want, I want."

While I don't readily identify with him physically or even temperamentally, I responded so strongly to his desire for something that he couldn't identify, as a high schooler feeling like there was so much more in life...which thankfully has turned out to be true. And he may be one of the most comical fictional characters ever conceived.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Genre: Fiction

This book is so well-written. And gave me the creeps! The characters in this book--one in particular--are unreal.  So much character development, so much to think about. But yeah, if you are easily scared, don't read this one home alone at night. I just love that such great novel writing was around before Smartphones. Something about that.

BCBG by Thierry Mantoux
Genre: Culture; Satire

More or less France's version of The Official Preppy Handbook. Which is funny because the concepts are only sometimes parallel. I loved this book because while you can study French culture in the typical ways, this book documents a whole other level of understanding of what is Bon Chic, Bon Genre, which if you didn't notice, is what BCBG stands for.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
Genre: Autobiography

My brother gave me this book a few years ago after he got it through a book club, though I don't think he read it. One of the most beautiful voices in writing today, I feel. The author tells her story of growing up white in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and surrounding countries. It's hilarious. It's unimaginably heartbreaking. She has an unbelievable memory for detail. I think I've read it three times.

Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod
Genre: Self-Help, I guess

I pulled this off the shelf at my in-law's cabin. Super funny, but ultimately so inspiring around the thought that the best creativity often comes from holing up and shutting out outside distractions and finding inspiration within yourself.

Sometimes I notice that after I read a book where the author has a distinctive writing style, I hear myself walking around for a day or two afterwards thinking in their cadence, and I don't like how derivative that feels. If I'm writing or making jewelry or whatever, I'll make a point of staying away from outside influence like Pinterest so I'm not doing the creative equivalent of copy & paste. I feel like it's getting harder and harder to be original since we're surrounded by--rather, bombarded--with media.

The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille
Genre: Culture

Blew my mind. A psychologist/marketer boils down the cultural significance of various things within different cultures into single words. Example: Cheese in France = Alive; Cheese in US = Dead. And this is all you need to know about how both of those cultures treat cheese. The French leave it out on the counter. Americans refrigerate the heck out of it.

Rapaille repeats this concept in all sorts of contexts. How we really feel about Love, Cars, Money. I read this in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. There are parts that feel heavily edited, like he only got a certain number of lines to get an idea across, but I've never seen someone else so clearly explain the fundamentally different viewpoints of different cultures, i.e. emotional imprinting. It makes it abundantly clear why Americans love peanut butter so much.

Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu, translated by Stanley Lombardo
Genre: Chinese philosophy

If you're feeling crazy, read this. This translation in particular. There are countless translations but this one apparently retains the most of the true sprit of the text, written VERY long ago. It's a strangely calming and relevant antidote to the frustrations of modern life.

One of my favorite passages:

Live in a good place.
Keep your mind deep. 
Treat others well. 
Stand by your word. 
Keep good order. 
Do the right thing. 
Work when it's time.

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
Genre: Fiction; short story

I am not what you'd call a short story fan, but for these I make an exception. Not all of the nine stories are equally powerful, but "Teddy" is so good. It's not what you're expecting at all.

I watched the Salinger documentary that came out recently and I think it's sometime this year that new material of his is getting posthumously published for the first time, by his design. Up until now, the world has had little from Salinger beyond Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories, many of which follow characters in the fictional Glass family. If you're a sucker for a mysterious, unconventional, slightly dark concept, you will love them. The new material is supposed to in part complete their stories.

I ended up writing a lot more than I meant to. But once in a while it feels incredible to write something whole and complete. Maybe you'll like a few of these books like I have! 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lines in the Water

Crickets in the blogosphere...dreadful.  Impossible to hit everything, but here's a little ballad I might eventually put to music:

Pinch hit hosted Thanksgiving, making it two years in a row. Only for 10 this year and not 20 so NBD. #NotMyFirstRodeo. Got smart and bought a fresh turkey instead of slaving over frozen. Delegated everything else as much as possible. Micah got into XC skiing. I nursed a rotator cuff injury from Crossfit and decided not to keep doing CF though fun while it lasted. Got some PT. Run mostly instead...when we don't have polar vortexes. Alternatively bike on indoor trainer before work and watch Niecy Nash and her crew on Clean House. Go Netflix. Squirreled away cash from selling light fixtures and other house miscellany on Craigslist, used it all on stress-free Christmas shopping. Did Feed My Starving Children event with in-laws in lieu of gifts. Got to know them better. Hosted lots of in-laws for Christmas. Incredible satisfaction from getting correct drinks in all hands in front of roaring fire. Worked on pre-potty training with Z. Reminisced about when diaper changing was not a 30-minute ordeal. Nearly cried in gratitude when it got easier again and the potty made the occasional cameo in the process. Realized the extent to which the word "potty" has infiltrated my vocabulary. House cleaning frenzy, convinced I will be swallowed by stuff if I don't fight valiantly, ALWAYS. Escaped to American Swedish Institute for first time, was inspired by holiday decor and heated solarium. Created hundreds of pieces of jewelry out of vintage and repurposed beads from Grandma Dorothy. Held a sale and donated part of proceeds to Adopt A Classroom. Helping a friend redesign her home office as she launches her business. Eating less and less stuff that was designed in labs, feeling fab as a result. Trying once and for all to have nice nails #TBD. Got a big haircut by accident, now love it. Booked a he & she-only winter getaway and am using it to emotionally tow myself through February. Read up on feng shui and cleared out everything under bed post-haste. Reading French interior design magazines to keep up my language skillz. Highlight words I don't know and look them up. #StillGotIt. Saw Lord of the Rings for first time. Only 13 years late to the party. Wrote down a list of easy dinners and taped it to the inside of the pantry door. Treated myself to the joys of Caudalie skincare products. Just realized I have a manicure in half an hour. And that little thing called a job. Did that too.

Block paragraphs generally give me hives, but I think this one serves its conceptual purpose.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Flashback - Nuits-St-Georges

Back when I was a student and in France, one day I took a spontaneous trip to the next town south, Nuits-St-Georges, for an afternoon. 

The train ticket guy eyed me suspiciously when I asked to purchase these three items at the same time: 

1. A ticket to Baden Baden, Germany to leave in two days
2. A ticket to Lausanne to leave in nine days
3. A ticket to the neighboring town on the next available train

On the lam, surely. 

In truth, I was trying to see as many little pockets of Europe as I could in the time I had. Before you leave for a big trip somewhere, you have this idea that you're going to go everywhere. But as a student, it was almost scary how a certain complacency started to take over once the reality of how much things cost set in, on a student budget. But before you know it, there you are, in France, not seeing everything you set out to. And that to me was intolerable.

In revolt of this I marched down Rue Sambin one day after class in October and made my way through the square up to the gare, ready to "go somewhere." And preferably alone since any accompaniment would surely add complication and concession. I strode up to the ticket counter, trying my best to prepare myself for the rapid fire 24-hour clock available train times that the ticket guy would doubtlessly fire at me the moment I squeaked "One round trip ticket!", after which I would most likely then stand there silently for at least four seconds while trying to do the math in my head and remind myself that yes, once again and forevermore, 19 hours means 7pm. Sorry, I didn't grow up on a military base. 

At any rate, once the transactions were completed he uttered one bon voyage for three tickets, and I was off to Nuits-St-Georges in 12 minutes. 

Nuits-St-Georges is the northern end of the Bourgogne wine region, or the Cote d'Or, just south of Dijon. If you look for French wines in the US, you will often find bottles with this town's name on them.

Here is the lovely little main street scene with its Burgundian rooftops adorned with stars and other green, yellow, and red designs. I stopped for a kir in the Cafe de Paris.

As I was walking around the town, there were all sorts of beautiful fall colors in the vines and trees and surrounding hillsides, but I was kind of annoyed with myself for not doing any research on the town or seeking out anything in it specifically. It felt like there was no one around and that maybe it was a little in vain just to show up somewhere and expect something but not really know what. I had only given myself a few hours to explore before I needed to head back to Dijon. 

On my way back to the train station I paused for a moment to take in a quaint looking handwritten sign advertising local businesses. At that moment, two elderly Frenchmen came strolling down the sidewalk and along past the sign. They completely fit into the scene and before I knew what I was saying I blurted out "Est-ce je peux prendre votre photo?" I fully expected them to say "No, you CANNOT take our photo, mademoiselle!" and immediately wished I hadn't asked. Instead, smiles spread across their faces and they nodded and exclaimed "Bah oui!"One of them licked his hand to smooth back his few remaining hairs with a look of self-conscious concern, and the other adjusted his vest and collar. I assured them "No, please, you're perfect like that. Please just stand right where you are." 

One click, one perfect picture. Then they continued on and back into their lives. This, as it turned out, was the one perfect moment that I came to Nuits-St-Georges for. 

I never got their names, but to me they are clearly Maurice and Jacques.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Making Coffee

Zanna is really into our Keurig. She frequently tells me I need to make coffee for myself. (Smart girl!)

Sometimes she likes to press the buttons, but mostly she just likes to watch it all unfold. And I don't think a cup of coffee has ever been so rooted for. Might as well be sweet baby Jesus at the end!

Waiting patiently... 

It's making noise and coffee's coming out... 

"A CUP OF COFFEE!! Aaaaaaah!!!"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

At the Skate Park in Red Oak

A few weeks ago we headed down to the southwest corner of Iowa to visit some family. One afternoon we sauntered over to the local playground, but Z was pretty ho-hum about it. Swings? Eh.

But just adjacent was the Red Oak Skate Park, and that's where the fun ensued.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Flying a Kite in Iowa

Nothing too shabby about that!