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.)