Friday, June 9, 2017

How to travel for FREE

Sometimes I get stressed about travel decisions. Should I go somewhere new? I love all the places I've already been! I must go again! There are many new places to explore!

Yeah yeah #firstworldproblems but SERIOUSLY.



















2017 winner: It's a repeat! Spain, wrap me up in your olive and jamón filled embrace!

Traumatic side story: While walking around Madrid I realized it was my Middlebury ten year anniversary. I froze in the middle of the street and had a one person freak out/class reunion. Ten year old kids, who are now walking around, talking, doing all kinds of stuff, were born when I studied in Madrid. I might as well die now.

-----------------------------------------------
Actually, what I've mostly been thinking about is the best way to travel.

Here is a list of ways to travel that are not the best:
large tour groups
cruises
Las Vegas

Those are the main ones I can think of right now.

Calm down. There aren't wrong ways to travel. But booking a flight and visiting a city's highlights is literally the easiest thing to do. Again, nothing wrong with this. CHILL OUT.

Slice me some jamón!
When I think of my most memorable trips, they all involve unique connections to the destination. Meeting or visiting people who live there... Joining some normal, local activity... Looking like an overly eager foreigner trying to blend in...

But, wait, I don't understand. Can you please give an example?

- Why yes. Yes I can.

I recently volunteered with an organization called Pueblo Inglés. They run English immersion programs for professionals from all over Spain. English speaking volunteers come and spend the week speaking a whole bunch of English.

You guys, it was so much fun.

Here is how many exclamation points worth of fun it was:
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There were tons of games and activities. 1-to-1 conversations, group discussions, team challenges, trivia, theater skits... As other volunteers pointed out, it was like summer camp and, let me tell you, summer camp is way more fun as an adult.

Middle/high schoolers lack the life experience to fully appreciate camp. Their days already predominately consist of adult planned activities. And there's usually at least some preoccupation with looking cool and is ______________ noticing said coolness.

As an adult you realize being a kid is amazing. You've faced the chilly abyss of grown up responsibilities and there is no way you're passing up an opportunity to play the heck out of some games while someone else manages mealtime. Not to mention, it's been clear for awhile that looking cool is not going to happen for you.

(Can I go back to being a kid? I would be an exceptional 5 year old. Someone tell me when to eat and sleep and I will be awesome at yelling and eating dirt.)

The program also involved hearing ourselves talk a lot, explaining funny expressions like 'kick the bucket' (a personal favorite moment), and exploring La Alberca, a really charming area about 4 hours west of Madrid.

Above all, spending a week with 30 great people = new friendships and learning more about the world. I was amazed at how quickly students' English improved after only a few days. It inspired me to get my Spanish going again, but then I came home and naps.

 

Here are more pics. La Alberca: hasta la próxima!




views from Peña de Francia, monastery near La Alberca
Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Must hot dogs be the most famous American export?
Plaza de Cibeles

Templo de Debod

Palacio Real



**Sorry about the clickbait title. I really wanted you to know about this program.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Bring me the babies

The latest big family news is that Nick and Cara had a baby! I am now an aunt!

This is an important milestone towards improving my (because, yes, this is about me) somewhat lukewarm relationship with babies and young children.

To clarify, I've always LOVED my friends' kids. Even kids of acquaintances, if I really like the acquaintance. It's a default recommendation for the child, and we immediately have something in common: we both like your parents.

Strangers' kids are wildcards; there's no way to know what's going on with them. They might be fine, they might be a mess.

My new niece is going to be awesome.

A couple weeks after Henriette Josephine was born, Ellen and I made our first trip down to Iowa City for a meet and greet. Like any self-respecting mid-westerners, we brought a casserole and dessert.



An aside: Recently, I came across this handwritten recipe of my grandma's. I love seeing my grandparents' handwriting, so I felt a lot of warm, cozy feelings, and decided to help this Chicken Rice Bake live through the generations.












We get to Iowa City, and Henriette is, of course, awesome. There was about a 15 minute period during which I felt panicky about small babies. What if I forget how to hold things and drop her!!!!! What if I sneeze and fall down!!! So many things can go wrong!!! How is she so tiny!!!

But then it was all fine and I couldn't hold her enough. Henriette even came to a brewery, and to brunch, and was the most chill person in the group.

Then we had to go. Sadness!!! Bye for now, Henriette!!! You are the best and we LOOOOOVE you!!!



 

The only real blight on the whole time was, unfortunately, the Chicken Rice Bake. You may have noticed it calls for cream of celery/mushroom/chicken, and I learned cream of anything is pretty gross. (Non-mid westerners: tread carefully with any less than supportive comments of our strong, proud tradition of church lady potluck casseroles.) There's a chance my grandma wrote out this recipe for someone she didn't like that much.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Life is Perfect and Under Control

The world is changing. We ask, "What remains constant in our uncertain days?" Not closets. Certainly not closets. No! Closets must also change! They must be sorted! arranged! perfected!

Do not allow your closet to be a comfortable garbage hole.

 Why do you have so much stuff.


 Take a coffee break*. 
(*author not pictured)

 Don't freak out and get rid of everything.
Abandon stuff that's not good enough in bags on the cold, stony floor.
Savor this refinement and order with a little moderate maniacal laughter.



(This all took a very long time at the end of which I felt satisfied and neurotic, and went to La La Land [the movie not some kind of "special place"] [It was great. Clean your closet and go see it].)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Strong Opinions

Do you ever get worked up about things that should be very neutral territory? Please see below for some of my mundane, fiery hot beds of enthusiasm. I guess this could be a 'shop local' piece, but I'd prefer you think of it as an homage to industry expertise and community citizenship.


Artsy Lazy picture of VC
Viking Cleaners – Lake Street, Minneapolis

There is a dry cleaner closer to my apartment, but some pants I brought there once came back looking so tired I'm convinced they ship stuff to a sinister dry cleaning center where clothes are chemically scorched, ridiculed and beaten against rocks.

The man who runs Viking Cleaners approaches dry cleaning as a vocation. He is quiet and focused, because in the dry cleaning world expertise is best communicated through silence. Once I brought in a formal dress that had run in to some soy sauce. On pick up day it was spotless, and Mr. Dry Cleaner, in a sudden burst of subdued loquaciousness, carefully explained how he had removed the stain. I felt I had at last presented a job worthy of his wisdom. The cleaning equipment is right there in the shop, a true measure of quality, and clothes are always returned looking pristine and happy.


Grand-Wheeler Sinclair – Grand Avenue, Saint Paul

I love my auto-mechanic. They don’t overcharge or explain things in non-patronizing ways, which is nice of them considering my first response to any car issue is:

"Hey, Dad..."



followed by pathetic Google research.

But the Sinclair guy always nods and says “we’ll take a look at it.” And then is like, “this is an emergency” or “well, it’s not an emergency.”

One time I was getting gas awhile after some repairs were done, and the owner said, “Hey, do you mind if I check it out again to see how things look?” which was very thoughtful. Then he said, “Yeah, I was surprised how well this ran, (my car is not really new because whatever with AC and brakes) you’ve obviously taken good care of it.”

So completely did this thoughtfulness and praise of car attentiveness win my heart, I almost brought them Christmas cookies. I didn’t because baking is messy, but was in the shop that December and the entire neighborhood had brought so many cookies the mechanics were just standing there eating them as fast as they could to clear off counter space.



My Sister’s Closet – Grand Avenue*, St Paul

Some consignment shops only stock very current things, which is not interesting because the stuff is usually a little generic, and you can just head for sale racks at the mall.

The woman who selects clothes at MSC - St Paul knows quality, brands, and is able to spot a good piece as fast as a cheetah. While the shop does have a good selection of 'normal' things, the approach to buying is also one of vision and bravura, a willingness to step out with freedom knowing the right buyer for a 1980s Thierry Mugler dress will come along.

This is what the world needs from resale shops if we're serious about society looking good for less. People must demand to try on things like Thierry Mugler dresses, and to walk out with a fur coat, 90s denim, something homemade, a vintage tweed blazer, and a scarf that's so cute one forgets one hasn’t seen a live puppy in weeks.

My Sister’s Closet has a semi-annual everything-is-50%-off sale, but that’s another day’s worth of emotional energy.

*There's also an Uptown location.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

News Bulletin 36



Russia is sending a bunch of ships to meet some other Russian ships near Syria. They’re sailing pretty close to the U.K., who, in turn, is sending their ships to meet the Russian ships. NATO has lately used phrases like ‘provocative military maneuvers’ to express their feelings regarding Russian ship activity. The Russian army’s TV channel says submarine ships might join the sailing ships.


Gas is cheap so Saudi Arabia is selling $17.5 billion in dept. This is a new record for emerging market economy debt sales, blowing Argentina's early 2016 $16.5 billion debt sale out of the water by $1 billion (17.5 - 16.5 = 1).

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange recently lost internet privileges. The Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he’s lived since 2012, said they didn’t want to get mixed up in things after a bunch of U.S. election stuff got wikileaked. Ecuador says the internet restrictions were imposed because this is what they wanted to do and the U.S. did not make them do it.





Friday, August 12, 2016

Summer Cinema


UGH....


Jason Bourne is an unnecessary movie. Half-way through I screamed "This is so dumb give us back our precious Matt Damon".

Nothing new happens the entire time. Bourne is darker and more frustrated, there are car chases, another evil CIA director...

The film does emphasize Jason is now extra tortured about things by having him tour seedy underground international fight clubs, but it's anybody's guess as to what he cares about or wants to do.

Julia Stiles has some sort of Snowden complex, so that's different. But she dies really fast, so that fish is dead in the water.

If the series continues, Bourne will get angrier, learn more bits about his past, keep getting lost -> found -> try to take down CIA, and, after 2-3 more films, join The Expendables.


________________________________________________________
Central Park
                                                          
YAY!!!

Florence Foster Jenkins is based on the true story of an aspiring opera singer from the heights of NYC society who, objectively speaking, could not sing.

Now, I know you're dying for me to address the movie's taglines: "Based on the inspiring true story" and "Every voice deserves to be heard".

Well here it is: I hate them.

Florence thinks she's a great singer, and no one, for reasons of varying merit, tells her otherwise. She's in a padded, sometimes silly, world, partly of her own creation, and her husband, who does genuinely love her, is the most "protective" of them all. This is not inspirational.

The taglines are particularly upsetting because this is one of the best movies I've seen in a while. It's funny, bittersweet, and a wonderful picture of characters and relationships. You'll just laugh and cry about the characters and relationships through the whole darn thing. Go watch it immediately.