Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kindle-d

They must have noticed I was eyeing a Nook.

I was a Kindle early adopter; I got the K1 soon after Beatrix was born and it's the device that saved me during 9 months of almost exclusive pumping. It has also caused me to be less cranky about people being late (if I don't have the device on me, I can even read on my phone!), and made travel much easier.

But lately, I've been Not So Enamored. E-book prices, which used to never be over $9.99, have gone up, and I've been putting most things on hold at the library (I am currently #46 of 77 holds for one book, thank you for asking, but many are faster). The battery on my Kindle is really starting to go, as in it only lasts a few hours. And I've been having some recent download issues that have taken some long customer service calls to solve. And, unlike other e-readers, you can't "borrow" e-books form the library.

Today, Amazon announced Kindle lending. I'll be the first to say, it's still not perfect. Only some books are available to lend, and it's not intuitive to suss which are and are not. You're "locked out" of your version when it's lent (presumably, you've already read it). You can only lend for 14 days, which is plenty long to me. The biggest problem, I think, is that you can only lend each book once, whereas with a physical copy, I am used to lending all I want "Hey, Elaine and I both loved this, you should read it!"

Still, it's better than nothing, and I am eager to give it a try. It apparently works also with the Kindle app on the iPad, iPhone, etc. There's more information here.

This is what I have to loan, first come first served:

The Hunger Games
Mockingjay
Freedom
Jane Austen Ruined My Life
The Rose Variations
Sarah's Key
Love The One You're With

(plus several I downloaded just because they were free, but that seems kind of pointless...)

Anyone got anything great they want to lend me?

Updated because we came home from a playdate this morning, and patrick handed me the new Kindle he had ordered for me.

I have the best husband ever.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Year End Giving

It's the end of the calendar year, that time when we recover from Christmas, mourn the fact that our New Year's Eve plans are not more exciting, return gifts, make resolutions, eat Christmas cookies for breakfast every day, fall into a morass at work if we go in at all (or are completely overwhelmed by things), try to see the Oscar-bait movies released, spend down our flex plan dollars and insurance deductibles (thus my foot surgery today), and make end of the year charitable donations.

If you're doing the latter, may I make some suggestions? Make it easy on yourself, just head over to GiveMN with your credit card and knock off a few donations, maybe with your spouse and a glass of wine tonight. I really can't recommend the following places highly enough — they are all great organizations that will do wonders with even the smallest amount of money:

- Skewed Visions: I sit on the board of this site-specific company, and their work will change your life. Currently we're trying to raise money to send one of the founders to St. Petersburg, Russia to do an intensive workshop with Iguan Dance, in preparation for an upcoming joint production based on Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. We only need $2,000 for all expenses with the residency — or if that does not appeal, check out Skewed Visions other projects (the main link is the page I set up as a board member).

- Nimbus Theatre: is opening a wonderful new space of their very own in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District! I love the curious and eclectic work that Nimbus does, and I am excited to have the first resident theatre company in the new NE district. Plus, let's face it, giving to a capital campaign feels good — for just $24, for example, you can purchase 1/75 of the audience seating needed!

- Open Eye Figure Theatre: Produces a wide variety of amazing work. From their mainstage productions in the Phillips neighborhood (all of which offer pay-what-you-can) to the FREE Driveway Tour shows that go to people's homes in the summer, this is one of the most diverse and accessible theatres in town.

- Serrand Epp: is the new company led by two of the former artistic directors at Jeune Lune. Recently incorporated as a non-profit, their show at the Southern Theatre in May will be amazing.

- SARPA: Is the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association, of which I am the board chair. Recently, we've been broadening our work to do more education about this amazing street, including free lectures and other events. To donate to SARPA, go to Historic Saint Paul and designate your gift.

There are so many other great non-profits I can recommend and that I gave to: Circus Juventas, Nautilus Music-Theater (of course), Springboard for the Arts (supporting artist development), Theatre of Fools, the Macalester-Groveland Community Council (or other Neighborhood Development sites), the Mental Health Association of Minnesota, my friend Pat's choice of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, The Uptake, the Waseca County Historical Society, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, cancer sites, or any case that's dear to you.

But really, do think about giving — it's amazing how much even $10 can do!

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Want to support an arts-related business that's not a non-profit? My friend Kelly runs Play by Play Books in lowertown Saint Paul, which features not just theatre books, but a great selection of gifts and otehr merchandise, all of which supports local artists. She's even got a 50% off order on Dealstork right now (though I can't seem to make a referral code work for the life of me, I think that will send you to the right place.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Crafty Christmas

This is probably the point where I should admit my utter addiction to craft blogs. I LOVE looking through them and fantasizing about all the lovely things I could make it I just had the time...Plus, the blogs themselves are amazing — tons of entries, great pictures, all kinds of creative ideas. My idea of a perfect afternoon would be a gift card to a craft store and several hours to wander around, even if I got little done afterwards. There's a lot to be learned from craft blogs.

I especially value homemade holiday gifts, and I wanted to pass on that value to Beatrix. So this year, we made candles for her teachers and for some of the people I work with. They were dead easy — just design the monograms, cut out, and Modge Podge onto candles. But I think they look nice, Beatrix enjoyed helping me, and we even bough the materials at local independent stores. I can post a picture now, since I have given them all to their intended recipients:



Tonight I also made batches of caramel corn for our neighbors who helped dig us out after the last snowstorm. The house smells fantastic!

On a more commercial note, we took Beatrix to see Santa tonight. It was just a mall Santa, and we did not spring for the photo package or anything. But she was so excited to see the "real Santa," she even brought our decorative Santa hat to show him. She was thrilled to sit on his lap and tell him she wanted a "princess teddy bear" (he looked at me to make sure I nodded before he said "ok.") We've been playing Santa at home for the last couple of days, so the simple act of being able to take her to see him was wonderful.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Seasonal Affective Disorder

My family has always been all about Christmas. Over the top decorations, Christmas Eve with Santa, my grandmother getting my grandfather to make reindeer prints on the porch roof, fresh cut Christmas trees filled with ornaments, dozens of kinds of Christmas cookies, lefse, Christmas Eve and Christmas brunch, Dayton's 8th floor, holiday shows, caroling, Christmas lights limo tours, presents both handmade and just what you wanted from your list, Toys for Tots, family from all over the world, Christmas cards, luminaria, parties — you get the picture. I'm hard-wired genetically to love the season.

Until four years ago, when my mom went into the hospital on December 12 and died on Christmas Day.

The next Christmas seemed strange, and then crashed again when my aunt ended up in the emergency room with a lung issue that, for quite some time, seemed like cancer and cost her part of a lung.

We've been building up since then, trying to regain family traditions, a strange mix of love for the holiday and a deep, painful, raw missing of my mother. We've started new traditions, like spending part of Christmas Day with friends who understand the mix of pain and joy.

This year, Beatrix is all about Christmas — that genetic love of the holiday is obvious. She shouts "It's Christmastime!" She sings carols. She kisses all the ornaments on the tree. She bakes cookies. She watches The Grinch and A Charlie Brown Christmas. She tells anyone who will listen that Santa is bringing her a princess teddy bear.

And then yesterday it all came screeching to a halt again when Patrick's mother suffered a stroke and then a car crash while driving from Iowa City to New Orleans.

It could have been so much worse. She's doing as well as can be expected. Patrick flew down right away, and he and his siblings are down there (just outside of New Orleans) with her; I want desperately to be, but really, it's not practical to add Beatrix and myself to the equation. So we're up here, trying to hold steady and keep Christmas as well as we can, while missing our family like a hole cut into our hearts. I'm really trying to make Christmas for her, but I don't know that I'm doing a very good job.

I just want Christmas back, and I am so, so afraid I am never going to get it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow-Verwhelmed

We got back to some limited functionality today. The streets were more-or-less plowed, the man who plows the alley removed the 6' snow berm that was just past our garage, we got mail delivery. Oh, and Patrick's car died in front of the house as I was loading Beatrix in to take her to daycare, and less than half an hour before the city town trucks started making their rounds. Luckily, he talked me into being calm and we made it through all of that (plus got lunch at Punch!), but we need a new battery and those aren't cheap (and are hard to wrap and put under the tree).

But honestly, I don't know what we, as a city/community/metro region are going to do. After two snow emergencies, the streets are still only barely passable. Traffic, even on major streets, is moving at a crawl since two cars can barely pass abreast. Under the snow, the streets are icy, and getting more so as cars spin out. Trips that usually take 15 minutes are taking upwards of an hour. Many of the snow banks are over my head. Schools in both Saint Paul and Minneapolis are closed again tomorrow. Let's not even talk about the Dome, though I can't honestly say I care all that much; the Circus Juventas tent stayed up so I'm happy. How long until we get back to "normal," and what will that look like?

I remember vaguely the last storm like this, the famed "Halloween Blizzard" of 1991. But it honestly, it didn't seem this bad. It didn't seem to cripple the area for the indeterminate future. I total the costs of the two back-to-back snow emergencies alone and the number is staggering. I'm worried that we have cut services too far, that we have spent so much time requiring our government to be "lean," that we've lost the ability to address a crisis like this. Sure, this is an enormous storm and not the everyday situation. But it's exactly that kind of situation that our government is supposed to help with, and all I see is a system that is so overextended that it can't possibly solve the situation.

So who makes up for that? We as citizens can dig each other out, can run the snowblower down the entire walk, can bring food to the snowbound neighbor, can collect money to privately plow the alley. But as we've known for a long time, we can't do the big things — we can't plow curb to curb, we can't haul off the snow and melt it our pile it up on a lake or whatever they do with it, we can't salt the icy streets and tow the abandoned cars. We've put our trust in the government to do that, but the government seems too stripped down to do so (while, at the same time, my property taxes go up another 10%).

So how do we solve the streets, the sidewalks, the ice, the snow (preferably before it, ugh, snows again late this week)? And then, how do we address the system, so this doesn't happen again?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Tale of Two Saint Paul Bars

Ok, at some point I'll stop it with the heavy-handed bar philosophizing, but tonight it seemed right.

We, like everyone else in the Twin Cities, are snowed in. Maybe even more so, since Patrick is specifically prohibited from shoveling, brushing off cars, even driving because of his neck surgery. I am not looking forward to starting the dig out tonight.

But in any case, we did make it through the drifts to the neighbors' Christmas party, and were talking to another neighbor. She was saying that, in the storm last week, she was stuck and had some kind of mechanical car issue, all late at night (she has 2 jobs, so is constantly at work). Stuck in the street, she went over to Sweeney's to ask for help. They flat out told her it was "impossible" for anyone to help her (and none of the patrons offered, either).

Desperate, she went down the street to the Muddy Pig. They not only sent their burliest staff member down to get her out (with plenty of patrons also offering to help), but after they got her out, he invited her back to the bar and bought her a beer. So today, she figured it was payback time, and helped several others out of the drifts (thereby proving my friend Meghan's sentiment — "Minnesota: your car might get stuck in a snowbank, but random strangers will always show up to push you out.")

With that in mind, which bar do you think my neighbor will pick next time she goes out? Or that I will? Or anyone else who heard the story?

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Tale of Two Uptown Bars

So we had a little bit of a "date afternoon" today, in an attempt to get some quality time together during this crazy holiday/recovery time.

First, we saw Black Swan at the Uptown. We see so few movies, but this was wonderful. Several fantastic performances (hello, Oscars!) and led us to a spirited discussion about art, dying art, living art, and more. Also, I sincerely hope that my daughter's love of all things ballet does not lead to a career as a dance — I can't picture a harder life.

Afterwards, we went, or started to go, to Bar Abilene for happy hour. Now, we have not been to Bar Abilene since Beatrix was born — it's not exactly child-friendly. The last several experiences we had there before then were terrible — a waiter haranguing me for not understanding that a sandwich described as "the mushroom burger" and listing only mushrooms, onions, and pico de gallo as ingredients was actually beef, another issue with food, and then the "margarita club" being discontinued right after I paid $25 for a card. The final incident was resolved by the manager at that time writing on the card that it was worth $20 of food, but when we tried to use it tonight, the extremely rude manager would not honor it. Let's just say that the reasonably tasting yet overpriced margaritas and poor bar food at Bar Abilene and I have parted ways forever. Passing by the bar later this evening, it seems that I am not the only one who felt that way.

Much to our gain, we decided to try Fusion, which we've been meaning to go to forever. Now there's a happy hour! The staff was welcoming and friendly as soon as we walked in, and the happy hour was great. We got two servings of fantastic shrimp tempura roll, a Mediterranean plate, artichoke dip, lots of great foccacia, 2 martins, and a beer for $33. Plus, valet parking is free Thursday-Saturday nights. Hell, yeah! I only wish we had stayed for dessert...

So here's the difference. Fusion was happy to see us. They treated us well, they provided good food and cheap prices, they made us feel good about going out. Bar Abilene, on the other hand, has consistently treated us poorly, and tonight not only refused to honor a previous commitment, but treated us like criminals for asking for the commitment to be redeemed. Guess which one I'll be promoting and going back to?

All in all, a very interesting dining experience to have following a movie about the future viability of art, and some lessons to be learned...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Non-Holiday Theatre

Looking for a theatre event that's festive, different, and non-holiday related?

Nimbus Theatre is holding a sneak preview of their brand new Northeast Minneapolis space tomorrow afternoon. Come and give your opinion as to what it should include, scope out the space for your shows and events, and generally celebrate a new Twin Cities theatre space!

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Nimbus Open House
1517 Central Ave NE
Wednesday, December 8 • 4:30 - 6:30pm

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snowman



Pick one ornament to write about? Really? As if there were not an entire treeful of hanging ornaments, and a houseful of decorations pulled out annually, each one with its own involved story? As if there were not boxes of Christmas decorations carefully catalogued and waiting for at my mother's old house, each with their own stories? As if I did not still miss ornaments I no longer have, such as the much-mourned "Dancing Rabbit Blow Horn?"

The truth is that I had one ornament in particular I was thinking of, a baby snuggled in a nutshell cradle, that was mine when I was a child and has hung on the tree since. But my 2.75 year old daughter has fallen in love with the "baby ornament" and takes it with her wherever she goes. It's now clutched in her hand as she sleeps downstairs, with the stand-up Santa my father gave me and the angel that is supposed to go on top of the tree arranged at the foot of her crib. My daughter, who replicates me in so many ways, has developed the passionate love for Christmas that runs deep in my family, and seeing the holiday through her eyes makes this bittersweet time so unbelievably, incredibly wonderful.

So instead I picked an ornament that is much more recent. Four years ago I spent the holiday season in my mother's hospital room, as she lay dying of colon cancer. It was our first married Christmas, the first living in the house together, the first of many things, but for my mother it was the last, and that trumped it all. Before everything went down I had signed up for a gift exchange in my online community, and one day a package arrived from my Secret Santa, full of incredibly thoughtful things I could use in the hospital room (lip balm, chocolate, a stuffed toy,etc.) — and this snowman, to remind me of the winter outside. My Santa that year has since moved on from that community, but Whitty, wherever you are, you knew that I needed that reminder that there was life outside.

My mother died on Christmas Day, her favorite holiday. Every year, when I clip this snowman on to the tree, I am reminded of that time, and of all that have given me the courage and caring to go on past it. I remember my mom, and her love of Christmas. I think of my husband, and his quirky collection of snowman ornaments that we've added this one too. And I smile at my daughter, who shouts "SNOWMAN!" as she unwraps it and gives it to me to put on the tree.


Please visit the other bloggers writing on this topic today. I'm excited to be part of the virtual world we've all created!

Holiday Shows

Ok, perhaps it's because I am in theatre, but I love holiday shows. I work with and know so many wonderful, talented people, and when they give the gift of doing what they do best, there's just nothing like it to make me feel humbled and happy and filled with holiday spirit. So here, in no particular order, is what I am thinking of this year:

The Holiday Pageant at Open Eye Figure Theatre. I've loved this show through many incarnations, in large house and small venues, with multiple casts of the finest performers in the Twin Cities. Based on the medieval Mystery Plays (see, you had me there) it's a mix of the sublime and the hilarious. If you're reading this before 4pm on Sunday, we're sponsoring a show in honor of my mother today, so come on down! But of there is one show you should not miss this year (and it's perfect for families, too), it's this one.

A Life of Serious Nonsense is a Theatre of Fools quirky take on holiday spirit. Running December 16-18, it's a warm and lovely tale of the human hart, a kind of modern day "Gift of the Magi" with a far less tragic ending.

More so than even theatre companies, dance companies often make their whole year's income on the holiday show (yes, that means they often lose money on the experimental works they present, so think of your holiday ticket as a kind of subsidy and then go back later in the year and purchase tickets for the edgier show — it's a win-win!). That's why you have your choice of Nutcrackers aplenty this time of year. You can't go wrong with the classic Loyce Holton version at MDT, but this year we're taking our little aspiring ballerina to Ballet Minnesota's version, where her friend Ella is a very talented little angel.

I sit on the board at Skewed Visions, which is kind of the antipathy of the holiday show. But in arguably the same spirit, we're raising money to send Sean to the north of Russia this winter, in a one-of-a-kind residency. Please think about contributing!

There are any number of holiday shows out there, and I confess to a love of them all, even the old chestnuts like A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie. If you see things every year, I'd love to know what you love. If you don't currently see holiday shows, think of adding it to your holiday traditions. I promise you it's worth the time and effort!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Town Talk Diner

As my friend Kate put it, one of the biggest falls from grace in the Twin Cities restaurant scene.

We just drove through the snow on a rare date night (and because we had an expiring DealStork). Let's just say that as we left we were tempted to tell the couple coming in that they might want to hit Denny's across the street instead.

We went because we last summer we went to a Clockwork party that hired out TT bartenders, and at which Patrick had one of the best old-fashioneds of his life. Those bartenders must have been part of the staff walk-out or something. His old-fashioned tonight was watery, flavorless, and to add insult to injury was served in a wineglass (thus only about half the pour after the ice was added).

They were out of many of the items on the menu, which I never take as a good sign. My grilled cheese, a simple enough dish to prepare, was seriously akin to the Denny's. Patrick's meat pie, talked up as as one of the stellar items that the new chef was making, was skimpy on the meat and served in a bowl with a puffed topping that cleverly disguised that the bowl was less than half full below. It was a smaller serving than a cup of soup.

The room was more or less empty, just a few other tables, and absolutely freezing. We didn't stay for dessert, even though we were still hungry, because they were also out of most of the items on the dessert menu. And let's just say I don't think it was because of the mad dinner rush that arrived before us.

We are seriously now back home and heating up frozen food from Trader Joe's. The whole thing makes me really sad, and angry at myself for wasting a rare night out.

(Just got a text though from Clara, who had taken Beatrix to the Holidazzle parade while we were out. Beatrix loved the parade, so at least one of us had a great night. And Patrick and I did have some alone time, which was nice.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Rest of Day 1 - NAMPC

Day One continued apace. I went to a break-out on corporate fundraising and had a bit of session envy when I saw the tweets from the audience engagement session. I suppose I picked up a few tips, but the session was more like a commercial for how great the two companies presenting were than general truths about corporate fundraising. Good to be reminded, though, that only 4% of giving, on average, comes from corporations, and that it is the personal connection that really causes them to give.

One person, though, said "Remember, everyone in your audience works for someone," but I no longer think that's true. Probably 25% of the audience for my clients are students, retirees, or otherwise don't work. Another high percentage, maybe 25%, are self-employed (and we seem to have a lot of self-employed board members). So that leaves 50% working for corporations, and I have to think about how to best tap that.

The general consensus, in talking to people, is that the break-outs are a little disappointing, but everyone was blown away by Chip Heath. So I guess I represent the general demographic. A good tip for the conference organizers, though, to try to curate the break-outs more. We'll see how today goes.

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Very nice reception at the San Jose Museum of Art last night, with some really good conversations, especially with Minnesota folks. Strange that we have to come all the way out here to do that. Good food, and a really beautiful museum. I don't get to museums enough, another ironic fact. I suppose this conference is all about showing me things to change.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day .5 at the National Arts Marketing Conference

#NAMPC10. The hashtags are flowing heavy. But are we perhaps to involved in our own tweeting cleverness to pay attention?

I am. I got distracted during the "Future Arts Managers" break-out session by the cold room and the blister on my feet, so ducked out and went on a short walk in the San Jose sunshine for some band-aids. I'm in a warm room, reflecting, and feel much better, thank you.

I have to say it is an ENORMOUS treat to be surrounded by smart people, thinking about the work I do. But this conference, so far, is raising a lot more questions than answers, and I suppose that's ok.

The keynote this morning was incredible. Chip Heath (author of SWITCH and MAKE IT STICK) is my new personal hero. He was bright, he was personable, he presented some really interesting ideas and "a-ha" moments in ways that made you actually think you could go home and do something with them. My favorite points were the ideas of the "curiosity gap" — where you intrigue people by hinting that you are going to give them some new information (value-added, I suppose), and the "curse of knowledge," where we know SO much about our subject that we risk overwhelming our audience with too much information, stimulus, activity.

His advice? A mis-spelled acronym, with incredible potency:
Simple
Unexpected
Concrete
Credible
Emotional
Stories

Of course, it begs the question — if we ALL tell emotional, evocative, heart-rending stories, won't our missions be lost in a sea of personal anecdotes? Will what we do be lost to who it effects?

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More later. Break-outs so far not so amazing, but I'm going to give them more time. Meanwhile, looks like we are now on official "networking break." Yesterday that included ice cream bars, so I have high hopes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

On Friday, I went to a forum by the Arts Learning Xchange and I've been thinking about it all weekend.

The basic premise was "How to Stand Out In a Crowded Consumer Climate." General Mills' Vice President of Marketing Mark Addicks discussed their brand-building and promotion, and Fred Haberman, CEO of his own marketing firm, discussed cause-related promotion; this was followed by a brief Q&A and an interactive exercise.

As unprofessional as it is, I have to admit to ignoring the final interactive exercise and discussing with some colleagues how the topics discussed applied to their organization instead. And, though I am certainly thinking a lot more about CSR marketing, that presentation was a little more diffuse, though I do think the trends Mr. Haberman discussed (ranging from "I'm overwhelmed!" to "I'm in control!") bear further reflection, and the firm seems to be tops at what they do. (Also, a tip for Mr. Haberman — it took me 3 more and more refined Google searches to find the link above, though I did get MPR and bizjournal stories about his form on the first two hits.)

However, the presentation really sticks with me, admittedly mainly because of the presentation from Mr. Addicks. I think he got me right at the beginning when he said "You are what we work toward. Your theatres, your galleries — we work hard all week so we can attend them on the weekend." I have to admit I had never thought of the arts like that, as a reward people work to get to. Talk about uplifting!

He had a lot of other important points as well. His division at General Mills has a "brand champion" for every product, someone who they know a lot about that they base each product on — a tween girl named Sasha, a mid-thirties first time dad named Dan, etc., each with their own profile. I've long been told to have a certain specific person in mind for your marketing efforts, but this is the first time it clicked for me. I still think, though, that for a theatre it might work best to have an overall champion in mind and then one for each show, much as General Mills has one for each product. Trix is as different from the Lara Bar as a musical is from "Waiting for Godot" (though I suppose this is where we ignore the fact that "Spring Awakening" gave dramatic new life to Maeterlinck...).

He also encouraged us to consider "Is there a bigger box?" Does more competition actually help rather than hurt, especially if the issue is reframed?

Finally, he encouraged really listening to people, in everything from focus groups to Twitter. Again, this is not rocket-science advice, but looking at this through the filter of finding ways to engage, enhance, and deepen the experience gives it a whole new light.

I'm going to the National Arts Marketing Conference next weekend in San Jose, and I am sure I'll have a lot more to say on this topic by then. But right now, I'm really fascinated by how just slightly spinning your marketing approach can give you a whole new angle. Is this what I'm looking for?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Flip this House!

Many of you may not know that I did not just inherit one house — I inherited two.

My father built me a dollhouse for my 4th (?) birthday. It was incredibly deluxe, solid wood in a white colonial style with green trim, decorated in the hippest of early 1970s wallpaper and carpet. There were built-in bookcases, windowboxes, even my initials on the shutters. I was in heaven, and played with it, in many incarnations, for over ten years.

Recently, Beatrix has been especially interested in dollhouses. Every time we go to a toy store she wants to play with them. In particular, we have spent hours in Creative Kidstuff playing with the Calico Critters animal families and their homes.

But have you priced out dollhouses lately? They are ridiculous, either incredible expensive ($100 to $200 and up) for wooden ones (and I don't like any of the designs much anyway), or tacky plastic, or both. So we decided to renovate my old dollhouse and "flip" it for a picky new owner...

Here it is originally:


Here it is after some work. We decided to start out simply, just painting the walls and covering the floors with felt. We can always get more elaborate later. Patrick did almost all of the planning and work:



Here's the final version, complete with the Hopskotch Rabbit family (Beatrix's favorite from Calico Critters:


Beatrix is, predictably, in love with it. The dining room furniture ends up in the bathroom half the time and the little teeny tiny bars of soap will be the death of me, but its worth it for how much enjoyment she gets. It's nice to pass it on, and especially wonderful to have her understand how much love went into its renovation.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!


Though Beatrix even went trick-or-treating as a baby (she was a banana, it was adorable), this is the first year that she has really gotten into it. And there was certainly a lot to get in to:

- 2 parties with her daycare
- the annual pumpkin carving at Roering Auto Body — at her request, I carved a cat
- Boo Bash on Grand Avenue with Harry and Kelsey last weekend
- Trick-or-Treating at Kowalski's on Tuesday — it was great, they gave you a bag as you walked in, and then there were different stations et up throughout the store with chips, apples, candy, etc.
- music class in costume at MacPhail
- Trick-or-Treating in Highland yesterday; I have to say this was better than Boo Bash, with a lot more places participating and a variety of things, from candy to wooden train cars to stickers

After all that I thought that tonight's REAL Trick-or-Treating might be anticlimactic, but she had a blast going around our block and getting candy. I love our neighborhood, and she was thrilled to see everyone.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Give to the Max Day

I'm volunteering with the group that is planning this and it should be a great event! Here's a request for volunteers from their volunteer coordinator:

Are you interested in maximizing your time and volunteer effort for hundreds of great causes all at once? Then get involved with GiveMN's "Give to the Max Day 2010" on Tuesday, November 16th from 8 a.m. to midnight! http://givemn.razoo.com/p/gtmd

Last year, more than 38,000 donors raised $14 million for 3,434 nonprofit organizations throughout Minnesota in just one day! These organizations provide critical services for our state, including feeding our hungry, sheltering our homeless, assisting our elderly, nurturing our youth, improving our welfare, maintaining our heritage, and protecting our environment.

This year GiveMN has teamed up with The UpTake http://theuptake.org/ to promote nonprofit and individual giving LIVE online! Representatives from more than 80 organizations from all over the state will educate viewers about their nonprofit mission and encourage Minnesotans to give to their favorite causes through an all-day, live-stream event.

This year’s LIVE Internet broadcast is critical to the success of Give to the Max Day. But, it’s also an extremely large undertaking. That’s why we need your help!

Volunteers are needed to:
--greet and register the nonprofits as they arrive for their online appearance;
--staff the hospitality area and assist with food and beverage needs;
--help prepare nonprofit representatives to appear live on camera;
--run any last minute errands that may come up during the day;
--help set up the day before and take down the day after the event.

We are looking for 60+ volunteers for 3-5 hour time slots starting at 7:30 a.m. until just after midnight. Volunteers are the key to any successful charity event, so please consider lending a hand!

For more information about how you can get involved contact Carin Skoog at carinskoog@yahoo.com or 612-619-7385. Please leave a message with your name and contact information and we'll get back with you shortly!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Spirit of Halloween

Uh-huh, Halloween already this weekend (as Beatrix has reminded us several times).

If you are looking for something different to do, I highly recommend A SPIRIT OF HALLOWEEN by Theater of Fools. The company is a "Vaudeville for the 21st Century" group that I have been working with, and this piece, written by co-founder Lloyd Brant, is deliciously spooky. He originally conceived the piece as an opening act for a concert tour by The Doors, and the one-man show, based on a shaman-clown that resurrects Jim Morrison's spirit, is spookily quirky. Go to their website for tickets, and if you select the promotional rate because I told you to you can get a 25% groupon-like discount.

But hurry, it only runs this weekend, Thursday through Sunday at the Jewel Theater (above Twin Cities Magic, 250 E. 7th Street in Saint Paul.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Holy Grail of Customer Service

Customer service is my bugaboo. As someone who goes out a lot and spends perhaps too much of my income on consumables (or at least so says my financial planner), I am incredibly aware of how I am treated, and make my decisions accordingly. I'm also not shy about letting people know (as those on my Twitter feed can attest).

Case in point: Punch Pizza, for whom my love is well-documented. I made an offhand tweet recently about how the service had been a little off but how G.D. good the pizza was, so I forgave it. Soon after got a tweet asking what happened, and an exchange of information about what I was disappointed in, how it could have been better, and a gift certificate in the mail (against my protestations, since it really was not a big deal.) Well done, and if I wasn't already a customer for life, I would be now.

A similar situation happened over the summer with Pizza Luce, including an email exchange. And then, radio silence. Not even a "Hope you'll give us another chance!" Won't be brunching there soon. And Heidi's? After a horrible experience there a few years back, and them swearing (after Patrick called them about it) they would look into it and then never calling back — well, I don't care if the new location is giving away truffle risotto and a 1932 Bordeaux, I'm not going.

Same with service industries. my roofing company (Springer Exteriors, for those keeping track) has been amazing at helping us deal with recent hail damage, even though it did not affect the roof at all. They've made 3 trips out here to help with work they didn't even do. The Sears Appliance Outlet responded to a frustrated tweet I made a while back and solved the situation with grace and humor. I have to say that, though I love my Select Comfort bed, their customer service has been abhorrent; jy side of the bed leaks so badly I wake up in a deflated section with pinched nerves and all they can do is tell me it will cost $100 to fix it. Or I could just buy a new bed...

I guess what I am saying is that I have a lot of things I look for in a shopping experience. I prefer to buy locally if possible, and I like establishing a relationship with the business. But top on the list is customer service, and it's pretty much the make-or-break of how I spend my money. And I'm not shy about talking about it.

What about you? What are your top (or worst) experiences?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

No More "Burns Wood or Coal"



Well, the time finally came — to get a new furnace.

This was not your run-of-the-mill home improvement. The furnace in our house was original to it (b. 1886). The house was literally raised around it, with the bottom part of the furnace actually sunk into a pit of firebrick in the basement floor.



And really, it was not half bad. The pilot light did tend to go out, especially in the shoulder seasons of fall and spring, resulting in a little manueveur to relight that entailed turning the knob and stepping on it, reaching in, lighting, holding, etc. But it was gravity heat, and there is not much to go wrong with the idea of hot air rising. No moving parts, no filters, etc.

But it was time, it really had to go. It was no longer efficient, or really all that safe. It took a team a full day to remove the asbestos wrapped ducts:



and then we had to fill in the hole in the basement floor:



and then a full week to replace it and put in the new ducts and such.



The new furnace simply doesn't have the aplomb that the old one did. But I am sure it is better, once I get used to it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More Great Nights of Various Kinds

We are in the midst of "two weeks without daycare" (Beatrix's care provider is in Great Britain for a wedding), but we did squeeze in a date night the other night — it was the perfect way to get out to some of our favorite places. We had a groupon-like offer for Cafe Maude which we love but never can get to; we still have traumatic memories of going on our anniversary and baby Beatrix fussing the whole time while we took turns walking around carrying her. Last night, with small plates and lovely cocktails, was far nicer. We then headed over to King's Wine Bar for dessert, making it a near-perfect night out.

We've had some other good evenings, too. Last week I had a group of lovely ladies over for drinks and chatting. I had forgotten how much I enjoy that. Also discovered thusly that Big House Red is now available in a box and that Big Top Liquors gives out candy (Beatrix now calls it "the sucker store" and asks to go there. Chuck and Solo Vino, take note). And last night was the kick-off of the SARPA Lecture Series, which went really well. Ted Lentz was the perfect speaker; he'll be a hard act to follow, but the October and November lectures will be great!

As for upcoming nights, we were just given some hen-of-the-woods mushrooms by the lovely Lauren, so I'm looking forward to an excellent dinner. Play By Play Books opens tomorrow night. I'm also debating going to my 25th high school reunion this weekend — no babysitter leads and unwilling to face it alone. We'll see...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shop Local

It's been a wonderful day of sneaking in local shopping experiences like little easter eggs into my day. Each place has had something remarkable...

We were a few minutes early heading to Beatrix's daycare this morning, so we stopped at Bars Bakery, which just opened at Selby and Dale. They were incredibly nice to the twirling toddler, so I decided to send her to daycare with some caramel and cinnamon rolls and take some home for Patrick and me. These rolls are incredible — moist, flavorful, and well worth the price — and it will be all I can do to keep from going there every day.

Then my lovely coworkers Afton, Lauren and I stopped at Sweets for their mini-cupcake giveaway this afternoon (something with Bravo's dessert show tonight). The grapefruit and black-and-white cupcakes were little pieces of heaven, as were the Fall Spice and salted caramel French macaroons that Lauren got us.

This afternoon, Patrick and I snuck out on a date. Primp is not officially open until tomorrow, but they let us sneak in and look anyway and I fell in love with pretty much everything in the store. It's all cute and extremely distinctive, but eminently wearable. They do themselves no favors, however, by saying "everything under $100" because most things are in the $20-$30 range, meaning you can go in and buy a lot!

We then stopped in BlackBlue to do some shopping for Patrick. I love the vibe of that store, and their distinctive mens clothing.

Finally, we went to Karma, who is participating in Boutique Week. Patrick went nuts over how I looked in a little gray sweaterdress, so I had to buy it, especially since I had a 40% off coupon. Again, they have such great, distinctive options that keep you like looking like everyone else. They also had Sweets cupcakes, so Patrick got to try one, and fell equally in love!

There's a place for the J Crew/J. Jill/Banana Republic/Old Navy/Ann Taylor/etceteras of the world. But really, after shopping today I was reminded of how much really lovely stuff is available in my neighborhood that looks great, has a real sense of style, and supports local businesses that help our economy thrive.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cubicle

I've recently joined the board of Skewed Visions, and could not be more thrilled to be associated with an amazing group of artists who start with the idea of site-specific performance and go beyond to basically create art events that fundamentally change your life.

SV has recently wrapped the first year of CUBICLE, site-specific work that you can see on your computer (thus eliminating the need for babysitters, parking, or even clothing). Please come to an event celebrating this first season:

Meet artists! Eat best food! Drink fine wine!

All episodes will be available on laptop as well as shown projected on the studio wall for Super Sad True Love Cubicle Effect!

Friday, September 17
8:00pm until we’re done
Skewed Visions Studio
Casket Arts Building
Studio 209
681 17th Ave NE
Minneapolis 55413

It's free, and there will be refreshments, so you really should not miss it.

If you decide to just watch all the episodes at home alone, embracing your inner "I," that's ok too, but then you should make a big donation via check or Paypal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Punch

Ok, yes, I know, I write a lot about food. Going out to eat, with or without Beatrix, is one of our remaining pastimes from the halcyon pre-baby/toddler days, and it's an important part of our lives.

And speaking of kids, I don't know how I would exist in our current lifestyle without Punch Pizza. The pizza is cheap but incredibly flavorful, and feels like you are eating something special. We can get lightning fast takeaway, or eat there with Beatrix. They have a sense of humor, and wonderful specials. Tonight they tweeted about a free salad with pizza order, so we bought 2 pizzas, got 2 free salads, and they tossed in some rosemary foccacia.

Yum!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

It's always the everyday things. My friend Meghan says one of her most commented FB statuses was about the annoying "headband headache." For me, I brag about how much I did last night, but all anyone wants to know is "Tell me about the cupcakes!"

So without further ado...

My friend Rebecca, who clears the path for me in culinary exploration, had mentioned chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes and I was curious. She made them gluten-free, with vanilla bean batter and icing, but I decided that was too much work and stuck more closely to the original recipe.

Make a batch of cupcakes from yellow cake mix. Follow the recipe on the box, but also add 1/2 cup applesauce (sugar-free if possible). Next time I do this, I'm going to use the regular yellow cake mix — for this I used the "butter recipe" and it was a little too buttery.

Mix in 1/2 cup chocolate chips. For me, these all sank to the bottom as they were baked. Not a tragedy, but a little annoying. I might futz more and do a marble batter next time.

Bake as directed.

I then used a metal teaspoon to cut out a scoop from the top of each cupcake, and filled with the cookie dough filling, which I had made while the cupcakes were baking and cooling, and chilled in the fridge for about an hour until it was pretty stiff:

Filling:
4 Tbsp softened butter
6 Tbsp brown sugar
1 cup + 2 Tbsp flour
7 oz (half a can) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

All creamed together and chilled as above.

I filled the hole with the cookie dough filling (in a pinch, if you were keeping these in the freezer, you could probably just fill with cookie dough ice cream). Then, Beatrix and I ate all the cake bits I had scooped out of the cupcakes.

I then frosted the cupcakes (with plain old canned white buttercream frosting) and topped each cupcake with some little rolled balls of the filling (there was a lot left over) and a sprinkling of mini chocolate chips.

Yum! They are very sweet, and not as good as the $5 cupcakes at fancy bakeshops, but also not $5 each, so I win.

I am now dreaming about the root beer float cupcakes Rebecca made from the Smitten Kitchen recipe, which are truly amazing. But then you would know how much time I waste on food blogs, decorating sites (I'm looking at YOU, Young House Love!), and various cute craft sites that tempt me to make adorable things for Beatrix if I could only suss the time.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Faces Hits It Out of the Park

See, I'm not so hard to please, give me a good restaurant experience and I'm over the moon!

For my birthday last night we went to Faces (formerly LoTo) on Mears Park. David Fhima has purchased and re-opened his former restaurant, and though it does not *look* much different than LoTo, it really shines.

The menu is simple and locally sourced. We each ordered, of all things, sandwiches, a chicken Monte Cristo for me and a Croque Madame for Patrick. Both were huge, came with excellent sea salt fries, and were delicious. We also had a lovely flourless chocolate cake (on the house since it was my birthday!)

Though the food was delicious, it was the wonderful service that really set it apart. Our server was friendly, knowledgeable, and treated us like royalty. The host checked in on us. Fhima himself was working the room, and though I've only met him a few times before, he was wonderfully gracious and claimed to remember me, "it's nice to see a friendly, familiar face."

One incident is particularly enlightening — the restaurant was busy, and our waitress was handling several tables in our area, all seated at almost the same time. She overlooked our complimentary gourgere cheese puff appetizers, and when she realized this, insisted on sending us home with a box of the lovely delights, which are awaiting our late night snack pleasure. I've so often had something like that handled badly or with indifference, but she was brilliant. When we mentioned that to the host on the way out, he was pleased to hear it, remarking that in this economy, you have to work hard for repeat customers, and he wanted every experience there to be special.

It certainly was. We'll be back as soon as we can get a babysitter!

---

After dinner, we headed over to Bin Wine Bar, another of my personal favorites. We were extremely full form dinner, and rather tired, but wanted our evening to last a little longer. I had forgotten that they also serve cheap "tastes" of wine, so for just a few dollars we had lovely, generously poured small glasses and the perfect way to end our evening.

Faces and Bin. Go now.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Doing It Right

Well, Al Vento was a lovely Restaurant Week meal. Fresh caprese salad, gnocchi, olive oil cake — very flavorful, nice service, very pleased!

Then I went with two friends to the patio at Salut. We shared a bottle of Viognier, and J accidentally knocked over her glass of wine while reaching for the bread (and yummy salty butter). The waitress insisted on immediately bringing over a replacement glass, though it was in no way the restaurant's fault — very nice!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Restaurant Week

I'm hoping to break the restaurant curse by going to Al Vento next week.

Where are you going for Restaurant Week?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Asian Food

The other night, we ate at Pei Wei, which I tend to like (for a chain). It was their 10-year anniversary, and everyone there had the same thing we did — a coupon for 2 entrees for $10.

They were moving people through pretty fast, and then we did the restaurant equivalent of crashing their server. All of a sudden, things just stopped, and the people before us, us, and the 5 parties after us all had to wait over an hour for our food. Nothing was coming out of the kitchen; they stopped the line of people waiting to order; time just stopped. Then suddenly we all got served and things picked back up.

I don't fault them for being overwhelmed, but along the lines of my previous post, it would have been a much more enjoyable experience if they had done something about it. Come around to talk to us and update us. Offered coupons or free apps. Given Beatrix (who was a trooper, but starting to freak out) a tour of the kitchen. Anything.

So another opportunity missed. Pei Wei, if you're reading — well, it will be awhile before I'm back there too.

HOWEVER, if you want Asian food, head immediately for Tanpopo in downtown Saint Paul. Light rail construction has really hurt their business, and they've been forced to cease lunch service already. This wonderful noodle shop is a true Twin Cities gem, and we can't afford to lose it. Plus, parking is really not as bad as it looks; there's free parking on Kellogg, the lots is only $2 ($1 evenings), and I know one un-named person who has been parking for months in the Farmer's Market lot without having to pay. Go!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Unsolicited Restaurant Advice

Don't get me wrong; I love eating out. I bear a deep respect for the food industry, which is a hard, hard business. But really, folks, there are a lot of restaurants out there and the economy is The Suck right now — in general, you just have to try a little harder. Some case in point from my last few days:

Sunday night (before Swell Season, which was awesome!), we went out to the Uptown Cafeteria. I had heard mixed things, but was very happy with our meal. Though our reservation put us at an interior booth (and I really wanted a window), our cocktails were lovely, our food rich but good, and our waiter excellent. Score one for the home team!

Our server gave us each a stamped "Parasole Passport," explaining that if we ate at the Cafeteria, Il Gatto, and Chino Latino we would each get a stamp at each and then we would get a free cocktail. We were still a little snacky, so decided to get dessert at Il Gatto, where the host and hostess were very friendly and encouraged us to try the desserts. Hmm, maybe not so much.

We asked to be seated outside, only to find that the table we had eyed on the way in was gone; the people at one of the other tables had decided to move to it. That put us directly on the line of their cigarette smoke, but again, tolerable. The fact that we had to wait about 10 minutes for the waitress to notice we were there and take our order (perhaps we should have tried smoke signals), not so great. The wait for 40 minutes to get one dessert — kind of ridiculous. By the time it arrived we had finished our cocktails (and never been offered water), the ice cream part of the dessert had completely melted, and we were hot and late and just wanted to get out of there. Though of course it took forever to get the check, and then the waitress said she would only stamp one of our little passports.

See, that's the problem. We had commented throughout how savvy Parasole was with social media, we liked the passport idea, there were a lot of good promotional ideas that made me excited to go there. But what do I remember? The bad service and the crappy dessert, plus the lack of a stamp on the passport promotion. Am I likely to go again, or to recommend Il Gatto to others? Certainly not. Despite all the social media and promotions in the world, they blew it with bad service.

---

On another note, I had happy hour at La Grolla today with two lovely friends. It's been too long since I've been there; I used to go often. We chose it because my friends had never been there and wanted to see the patio, so even though it was 95 degrees with a head index of unbearable we wanted to sit outside. Only to be told that the happy hour was only in the bar.

See, this is what I don't understand. You have 3 people likely to order a few appetizers and drinks and talk about your place. the restaurant is empty — we were the ONLY ones there. There were 2 people staffing the empty patio. Would it have killed them to let us have happy hour on the patio, especially since we were long gone before the restaurant got at all busy? We very nearly left for somewhere else (in no short supply on Selby), and again, I have a nice memory of today, but it's colored by the restaurant's recalcitrance to allow me to enjoy myself. I don't know when I'll next be back.

---

So here's the advice. I don't have to go to your restaurant. But if I like it, and feel welcome, I'm going to go a lot. I'm going to talk it up and send others. If you piss me off, I'm not. You'd like to stay open; what do you want to do?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dream Car



For years now, my dream car has been the A4 wagon. I loved the functionality of my Impreza, and drove it into the ground. I have loved the power and handling of my mom's A6 that I inherited, but I'm just not a big fan of sedans (or "cars with butts" as I call them). My A6 is still in great shape, and I love that it reminds me of my mom and all the Florida drives we did in it, but it's just never seemed right.

This last weekend I found the dream car — a dolphin gray A4 wagon, beautifully maintained, and very similar to my A6. I jumped on it — isn't it great?

I'm naming it "Mary Lou"...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Milly and Tillie


FREE kids show
FREE ice cream

(do I have your attention yet?)

MILLY AND TILLIE opens at Open Eye Figure Theatre this Thursday 7/15, running Th-Sat nights at 7 through August 8. Half an hour long, designed especially for pre-school and under kids, and with free ice cream to follow — how can you go wrong?

We'll be there on Thursday, and if I know Beatrix, we'll go back again at least one other time. See you there?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lazy Summer

Uh, well you've already noticed I haven't been posting much...

Most of my time lately has been spent in looking for balance. Work, family, volunteer commitments, the house, personal life, professional development, friends — it's tough to put everything together!

The summer has really been spending time doing things with Beatrix. Some highlights:

- The farmer's market. Rather than splurging on a CSA, we've been trying to hit the farmer's market every week. We get some vegetables and maybe some plants, and wander around people watching. Extra points if we do something like breakfast and the Neighborhood Cafe or Swede Hollow Cafe as well, but have to admit I am severely underwhelmed by Pizza Luce brunches (sorry, Erica!)
- Playgrounds. Beatrix's big thing. She would be happy if we walked down to he playground at Webster School at the end of our block every day, but truth be told it's a little scungy — a lot of the equipment is too big for her, and there are a lot of older kids hanging around kind of looking for trouble. The Holly Tot Lot remains unimproved. So the other day we headed to Mattocks park, which is so clean, neat and friendly — I think it's going to become a favorite.
- The pool. Beatrix is a little wary of that this year. Must work on that.
- Friends. Beatrix loves going to parties of all kinds, especially if they have cake or music. Lately we have danced to a DJ at Terri and John's, had anniversary cake with grandpa at Arlys and Terry's 50th, hung out at the pool with the extended Chank network, bounced in a bouncy castle with Geek Girl families, enjoyed the sprinkler at Ella's first birthday and the posh refreshments at Maude's first, sang with the kids at the Songs of Hope annual 4th of July BBQ, played with Sadie at lauren and Jimmy's, and more. She has a social life just like her mommy.
- Gardening. Beatrix likes to hang out in the garden and was a big help with finishing up the back patio. Today we planted a new butterfly delphinium and a pepper she picked out at the farmer's market. Yesterday we went on the Lex-Ham Garden Stroll and she loved seeing everything, and wants a fairy garden of her own.
- Sleep. She is a great napper, and has occasionally been sleeping through the night lately. I still fantasize about a vacation with a few nights of sleep in a row, though.
- Growing. Taller if not wider, outgrowing all her clothes!
- eating (see "Growing" above). Beatrix will try just about one bite of anything we make (the pumpkin sage flans were a recent winner), but generally prefers the toddler menu of hot dogs and mac and cheese. However, anything sweet is a huge favorite, especially (chocolate) cake and (chocolate) ice cream. Obviously this is genetic. She loves Cakeeater Bakery, but at $3 per cupcake we don't end up there much.
- Walks — well, we'd like to go on more walks but we always just end up pushing the baby doll down to the playground in the stroller (do you sense a trend here?)

So that's Beatrix so far this summer, I'll try to get some posts in about the other activities!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Along the Lines of Unhappy Hipsters...

Reminds me to take the whole home decor thing a little less seriously.

Catalog LIving

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Family Means Someone to Buy You Ice Cream

I had a board meeting tonight, and Patrick and Beatrix headed out to Microcenter. On the way back, Beatrix, being a true Minnesotan, persuaded Patrick to stop at DQ. She wanted ice cream for herself, and for daddy, and insistently for "mommy at home," pointing to the sign with three blizzards on it and saying "Daddy, Mommy, Beatrix!"

So I got to come home to a Reeses blizzard. Excellent!

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Space That Started It All - The Pantry

So, the one part of our house that began this organizational streak was our pantry. It drove me nuts, not only because it was messy and overwhelming, but because we were constantly losing food, which is a huge waste of time, money, and emotional energy. Even before I started the Cure, it was top on my list of things that simply had to be put in order.

It's also the room that took the longest. I started this over two months ago — Patrick and I devoted a full night to it, and didn't get through it, and then finally finished the rest in a grueling effort last night. So this shot is especially gratifying because it shows a pantry in use, not just-finished and all clean and shiny. The paint could use some touch-up, and there are some holes in the wallboard (and I have to either fish or cut bait on the corkboard), but in general I am thrilled.



I also got the spice drawers cleaned out while I was at it, thanks to Lauren's prodding:



Friday, May 21, 2010

The Cure Part 2 - Beatrix's Room, Living Room

Neither of these rooms were on my original Cure plans, but after seeing what people were doing, I got inspired.

I've always wanted some fun Etsy prints for Beatrix's room, but I get overwhelmed, and truth be told we know so many artists that I could not justify buying anything over the internet. But then someone told me about Feed Your Soul, which publishes free downloadable art every week. I got some cheap frames from Ikea, and hung these above Beatrix's crib, with the idea that I could swap them out on a regular basis. She loves them!



That also inspired Patrick to hang her lamp, which we had tried to hang before but needed a stronger ceiling hook.






In the living room, I was inspired by finding this great platform rocker up for grabs outside the Northern Warehouse. We spent a long time gluing the joints and cleaning it up. Truth be told, it's still not as comfortable as I would like, but it's better than the ratty chair that was there, and I love the color.



We also got some storage boxes from the Liberty line at Target to store Beatrix's toys in in our new console table. They are a great size, very sturdy, and add a nice bit of funkiness to the space (pardon the dark photos).



Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Open Eye Figure Theater - June 1


It's almost time for Open Eye Figure Theatre's Driveway Tour again! We'll be hosting the FIRST performance this year of The Adventures of Katie Tomatie, a great puppet show for families. The show is completely free of charge (though we'll be passing the hat afterwards.) It lasts about 30 minutes, and we'll provide refreshments afterwards. Won't you join us?

Tuesday, June 1
6:30pm
in our back yard (627 Ashland)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Food and Wine (not the magazine)

In the middle of this domestic binge is a lot of good food!

I'm testing recipes for a friends cookbook, and this chapter is "Big Batches." So yesterday I made a sweet potato-hominy chili, and vegetarian tamale pie, both in big freezable batches. While not exactly gourmet, they are both good dishes that I am pretty happy with.

Then tonight I made a batch of lilac cocktail syrup, basically simple syrup infused with fresh lilac blooms. It's part of my quest for the perfect summer cocktail, and I hope it tastes as good as it looks!

If not though, I've found the perfect summer cocktail: lemonade, vodka, and elderflower liquer. It's a drink invented at my friend Rebecca's on Saturday night, at a cheese tasting, tres leches cake eating, fire gazing cocktail party that was a truly wonderful evening. The best? A coffee-lavender hard cheese. Mmmmmm.

Last night, we had dinner at Heidi/Chank/Max's place. The reason Heidi is the most boss caterer ever is because she creates these simple but perfect meals; I still remember years ago when she soothed my broken heart with make your own tostadas and some kind of mojito drink with fresh sugar cane. last night was a bunch of great couples, a houseful of kids, and make-you-own-pizza on premade crusts from Holy Land. There's probably a medically-approved law against pizza with both bacon and brie (ok, mine didn't have bacon), but OMG they were good.

Nothing makes me feel more comfortable at home and with friends than good food.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Home and GARDEN

We gardened the h*ll out of the weekend.

Friday was a beautiful day, and my mind was full of numbers by mid afternoon, so I just started in on a little weeding in the pretty overgrown front yard. Well, it became one of those things that you just can't stop, and by the end of the weekend we had weeded through the entire front yard, including two badly overgrown beds that I had not really touched since Beatrix was born.

It was a lot of work, but totally worth it. Beatrix loved being outside with us and carrying the weeds back and forth from pile to pile. She also loves to water the plants; I'll have to look into getting her her own watering can, because our usual one is as big as she is!

As might be expected, I have lost some plants I know were there at one point, including (sadly enough) some beautiful mums planted years ago by my friend Scott.

The great thing, though, is that with all the beds cleared out, I can add new plants! I would really like to get some divisions from friends, both to save money and because I would really love to look over a lush, vibrant garden and be able to think of the special people in my life. I have some things to share, too — mainly oregano, mint and coneflower.

Our back yard is a peaceful respite (though there is still one bed that needs to be done), and now our front yard is on the way too!


Friday, May 14, 2010

Home Improvements - The Cure, Part 1

So even though I pretty much failed the Apartment Therapy Cure, I still got several things done that I am proud of.

Our den was in pretty good shape, but a little messy. A few organizational items, like another baskets for Beatrix's books, helped a lot. I also switched out some picture frames, which likewise helped.

Before:


After:


One of the projects in the Cure was to establish "landing strips" so that things did not just get dumped by the door. I was pretty dubious, because I know how we operate, and we tend to do things like read our mail at the dining room table.

However, straightening things up by the back door, including a basket for shoes, helped a lot:


In the front hall, we wanted to make it seem more like a room and less of a dumping ground (it's also a prime play area). I set up an old table and glued the joints of an antique, handmade chair I had gotten off of CraigsList (both had been relegated to the garage):




When we redid the window, we lost the (rather rudimentary) stained glass window on the stair landing. Over the weekend, our wonderful friend Krista offered us some glass panels from an installation she had done. It fits the space perfectly!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tomorrow, Tomorrow...

You know what? Today sucked.

I had a long, emotional phone call. I have an unidentified issue with my new computer that may not be warranty covered. I need about a billion dollars of work done on the Summit house. I'm incredibly behind on work (see above note re: computer). The house is a mess. It was blustery and cold. I didn't get a chance to call someone back that I needed to. I have officially failed the Apartment Therapy Cure. I accrued a library fine on a design book. Beatrix has been restless and neither of us have slept at night in days. I'm sick as a dog.

Tomorrow has GOT to be better, right?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Going Places, Doing Things

Though we have dragged Beatrix everywhere since she was a baby, one of the big delights of her current age is that she is actually participating in the things we do.

This weekend, for example, we went to the Circus Juventas performances on Saturday night. Though up past her bedtime and tired, Beatrix loved watching the kids perform (especially since the show starts with the toddlers and her friend Max was one of them.) She clapped a lot, and also loved climbing up on her chair and sliding off.

Sunday we went to Heart of the Beast's annual May Day parade and festival. Well, actually naptime precluded the parade, but we made it to the crowded hill to watch must of the pageant. Again, Beatrix was all about the experience, especially people-watching and dog-counting.

This week's activities will be more mundane, but she'll get to see lots of people she likes and she got Dairy Queen last night, so I think she'll be ok.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Two That Almost Made It

So, despite my "Great Nights Out," not every place we go turns out to be absolutely perfect. I mention these two places below exactly because of that — they were perfectly good places, that were enjoyable enough, but did not *quite* live up to my expectations. I would encourage people to go to them (or places like them, places that are ok but could do better) in order to support local businesses and help them grow. I know in both these cases I'll definitely go back.

On Thursday, Patrick and I were invited to a free lunch for the opening of the Twisted Fork, in what had been Green Mill's takeout spot on Grand and Hamline (don't worry, you can still get pizza to go!) Since it was the pre-opening, they were trying a lot of things out, and I give them an "A" for trying. they were really interested in our opinions, and I like the idea of a sustainable, casual dining place in the neighborhood. I think they have a lot of opening day jitters, because they are not quite there yet — the space just a little too loud and brassy, the sandwiches we had good but not incredible, and the prices a little high for an everyday lunch. Still, we'll go back, and I would encourage you to.

It also seems to be the death knoll for Green Mill's onsite brewed beer. Oh well, another Surly please!

This morning, I tempted Beatrix out of the house with a cupcake from Saint Paul Classic Cookie. Once we got there and found parking (no quick spots in front, but meters around the corner), we were sort of disappointed to find a rather slim selection — a few cookies and some muffins, but no cupcakes or anything really exciting. I tried a raspberry muffin (good, but strange that day-old things are full price), while Beatrix eschewed her blueberry muffin in favor of a rather grimy Fisher-Price garage toy (sans cars). Again, an ok experience, but nothing great, and I wanted more from it.

Also no FourSquare check-in, and I was too bust keeping Beatrix from rubbing muffin all over the garage to add it. So if you go, add it so I can check in when I go back.

Still, 68¢ of every dollar stays local when shopping at local businesses (as opposed to 43¢ for local chains, and of course sadly, 0¢ of internet sales). Get out and support a local neighbor today! We're out to buy some lawn items once Beatrix wakes up...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Great Nights Out in 2010 - Post #5

The other night we had a really special night; Patrick's mother was in town and agreed to babysit. We are insanely jealous of those who get their parents to babysit, and Beatrix loves spending time with her grandmother, so it was a huge win for everyone.

Our first stop was Bar La Grassa, which was actually far different than I had expected. The space feels very different from its predecessor (Babalu), and was packed with an interesting crowd of hipsters and retirement-aged folks. Nothing against either group, but not sure of the connection.

We started with the "soft eggs and lobster" bruschetta, which really was All That. We followed it with small plates of pasta (the incredible gnocchi for me, fusilli for Patrick, and a third plate of torchio with artichokes and mint, which we shared. Incredible food, great people watching, decent wine, and a reasonably priced bill — no wonder people are talking about the place.

From there we went to the Bradstreet Crafthouse for cocktails — again, amazing. Innovative drinks and perfect service that allowed us to talk and sip and truly enjoy being out for cocktails. I want to try everything on the menu!

We tried to go to King's Wine bar for the Jeremy Messersmith Listening Party and some dessert, but there was no room at the inn. Nothing else struck quite the same dessert chord (and it was getting late), so we headed home.

I think the night could truly have been described as "dreamy."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More Home Improvements - The Yard




More on home improvements that I didn't get to earlier today!

We're also working on the yard. The above pics are from our extensive patio work last year. We were wise enough to plant a ton of bulbs, and they really provided great spring color. Now we need to fill out the beds with some perennials. We also need to (finally) put in the horse trough pond, probably with some sort of raised bed from the retaining wall blocks our friends Julio and Jeaneth gave us.

The side yards got completely trashed from the roof work, and I'm trying not to mourn too hard the azaleas, rhodedendrons, and hydrangeas that got trampled (I have perhaps misplaced faith that the raspberries will return). And the front yard — well, let's just say that it definitely shows the fact that I've neglected it since Beatrix was born, and it's time to get it back into shape.

Anyone dividing or relocating any perennials they want to share? We're already on our way with a rhubarb plant from our friends Kristen and Charlie (though probably not big enough for rhubarbaritas this year). We'll have some to share as well...

New Roof

There's been a lot of construction craziness around here, including a new roof! I'm not used to laying out that much money in one fell swoop (yikes!), but it turned out looking great.

Currently trying to decide how much fuss I should raise over it having no "drip edge," though. Thoughts?


Saturday, April 24, 2010

More SARPA Posts!

Check them out here.

Then think about joining the organization!

Monday, April 12, 2010

More on Theatre and Life

So tonight, as I sat in Rough Cuts missing Beatrix's bedtime for the umpteenth time and listening to Matt Gould and Carson Kreitzer's beautiful song entitled "Miles," I couldn't help but think of the paradox of theatre and motherhood (well, likely all art and motherhood, but hey, theatre is what I know.)

"Work-life-balance" is a mythical beast in the best of worlds, and there is not a parent I know who feels like they have it pegged. The general conscensus is that if you are keeping your head above water and kind of sucking equally at each, you're doing pretty well. Everyone struggles with this, in different ways depending on what they do.

But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that theatre is especially paradoxical. To make great theatre you have to throw yourself completely into it, in strange and varied hours, and take all the passion that's in you and put it out there on stage. Yet at the same time there's that little person who inherently owns that love and commitment, that can stop you in your tracks, overwhelmed by how much you love them. (and, if you're as lucky as I am there's the father of that child as well, but I digress).

And at the same time you feel that passion divided, you know you are creating the work that you are for that person, to use art to make the world just a little bit better and more meaningful, precisely because that little person is here on the earth.

I still don't know the answer for the missed bedtimes. It breaks my heart when I am not there for her — but I want the work I do to be there for her too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lost Theatre

The last two nights have reminded me both how much I love the theatre community here, and how much is missing.

Last night I went to the memorial service for Camille D'Ambrose, held at the Illusion Theatre. The event was really lovely, with family speaking during the first pat, then a sharing of memories. Lou Salerni stunned people by getting up on stage and sharing his memories — there was an audible gasp when he said who he was, and close to a standing ovation when he finished. Shirley Venard gave the last remarks, as beautiful and feisty as ever. And yet there was a sense of sadness, of what we have lost in Camille but also in a theatre community. To some extent we just don't have that anymore, that group of Equity stages doing a mix of old and new work, all playing off of each other, with a group of established actors working between them. And, to be true, by focusing on Jeune Lune for 12 years I absenced myself from that.

Jeune Lune. I still have dreams about that place on a weekly basis. Tonight we saw Brief Encounter by Kneehigh Theatre at the Guthrie, and it was all I was told it was — clever, well-acted, brilliantly staged, tying in music and projection and physical theatre. But it was so Jeune Lune — I could imagine company members in each of those parts, the physical theatre language was a heartbreaking part of me that I knew so well — that in some ways it was painful to watch. Because even though it was a great night of stirring theatre, I used to have that several times a year. And now I don't.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Preservation Blogging

As one of my duties as a SARPA (Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association) board member, I have agreed to begin contributing to their blog. My first post is here, commemorating the new state preservation tax credit signed into law today. Congratulations to all the preservationists and community organizers that have worked so hard to put this legislation into place!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Yet Another Healthcare Rant

People keep on asking me if I am glad and relieved about healthcare reform, and if this means that everything is now fine with Beatrix.

The truth is, yes and no. The bill is not perfect, though it's a start. Most importantly, though, after delays in government and then insurance companies, it would not affect us for about a year. So I am in the middle of filling out new applications to 2 major insurance companies, asking them to reconsider accepting us as a family (Beatrix's rates will go up another $40 a month next month on her plan).

To do so, I have spent close to two hours just filling out forms. Along with that, I have spent another 2-3 hours total I have had to get the dates and medical record information from all doctor's visits within the last 2 years, which has taken multiple calls to clinics, and calls back, and waits. I have had to look up address information for all the other healthcare services we have had in the last five years. I have had to call (again multiple times) to get letters from Beatrix's doctor and cardiologist. I *think* I finally have all that submitted and can courier it in tomorrow.

So if you are one of the people I know who can't understand why I am so rabid on this subject and who disagree with healthcare reform, please tell me — how long did you spend this year filling out insurance applications? What records did you need to provide? How long will you need to wait to know if your family can be covered together?

And if you haven't faced those issues, or not had a family member covered, or not lost a family member due to poor insurance, or don't pay close to 30% of your income in health care costs, then I would ask you to think long and hard about those issues before you argue with me about them.