Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Collect All Five!

I made a point to take a portrait of everyone this weekend in Minneapolis.

Emily, in her nifty $1 jacket she bought at a garage sale across the street from Courtney's apartment.

Brett, by a
graffiti-ed wall he admired.

Courtney, in a rare quiet moment.

Dan, excited to be with Mary Tyler Moore.

Babs, the adorable source of my allergies.
The other cat, Gracie, was in the closet most of the weekend, so no picture for her. I'll get you next time!

Mini Stock

We can't call our weekend in Minneapolis an official 'Stock because we were minus the Reids (we missed you guys!), but the three days spent in the City of Lakes with Courtney, Brett and Emily were a total blast. We didn't do much sight-seeing, instead filling every minute of the trip with good conversation, laughs, FUN (and lots of food). Some highlights:

Dan and I get our own "Camp Jackson" pjs, handcrafted by Emily. (The other "Stockers" got theirs in a LA Mini-Stock we missed out on). In matching pjs, we all watched a scary Doctor Who episode that instructed that we "don't blink!" We didn't.

We attempted bike riding for about two seconds. Faulty public bikes and a tornado warning/rain storm kept us safe and sound in a bar instead.

Courtney hosted Scholasticus Intoxicus trivia.

Our team, the Raging Bonerzzz!!!!, came in third place. (Yes, we're really classy!).
Picture from Scholasticus Intoxicus.

There was lots of record shopping. Well, one person shopped, four kept company.

Courtney found her way in a dunk cage!

She was an extremely good heckler. We spent all of our cash trying to get her wet. Only Dan was successful!

Reenacting the moment (and Emily's cool yellow watch that I am obsessed with.)

This weekend was marked by abundant cheese consumption including fried cheese curds, Doritos, and cheese brats.

Last morning in downtown Minneapolis.

We miss you guys already! I wish we could have a 'Stock every weekend.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

An Update from the Batting Cages

We told you that we were staying in a "family resort" hotel one night, right? With a full-on water park, MULTIPLE go-kart tracks, mini golf, and batting cages? No? Then I can only surmise that I was too full of anticipation to be able to blog coherently about it.

It's been many years since I swung a bat, so I wasted no time in getting into the cages, and selecting the fastest speed pitch they had, 70 mph. If that's really only 70, I can't imagine what 90 looks like. Needless to say, I was a little slow, a little rusty -- and I simply cannot hit the high heat. But after making a few Kevin Long-style adjustments to my swing and concentrating on keeping my eye on the ball (it sounds so simple!) I made more and more good contact with each round of balls. My hands, which are now pretty well torn up, are testament to my dedication in the cages. I could do this every day.

What else happened in Eau Claire? Ah, yes, for the first time in many months, I walked out of a record store with a veritable arm load of vinyl. Cool shop, just opened. Really cool owner. Hope he makes it. His place is everything an independent record store should be! Probably nothing too noteworthy in my purchases, except to say that I picked up Lulu's first record (she of "To Sir With Love" fame). I looked hard for it 8 or 9 years ago, then moved on to other obsessions and basically forgot about it. So when I found it at Revival Records, it felt like a discovery -- but I also wasn't sure I still cared. Billy the owner and I started talking about it; he brought up some online listings showing that it's a sought-after collector item that usually sells for a lot more than he was asking -- but he hates selling online. Now, it's always nice to buy a collector's item, but the music's still gotta deliver. So I had Billy put it on for me and was blown away by the amount of soul in the first song, and the purchase was made.

And finally, at the recommendation of my friend Andrew, who spent a good portion of 2004 working in northwest Wisconsin, we bellied up to the bar at this place called The Joynt. When Andrew was there, beers were 35 cents. Times are tough now, though, so they're all the way up to 75 cents (!!!). From the formica bar top to the posters on the wall and the prices of drinks, this place was basically frozen in time -- and it was awesome.

This is what the heartland is all about!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Wisconsin Tour Continues

Madison, WI:

Madison was love at first sight. It's just the perfect, livable city. This little town is nestled between two lakes and is filled with charming little homes, cool restaurants and shops (yes, including record stores) and a major university. Nearly everyone was either biking or running somewhere. Our b&b offered free bikes, so we dropped our bags and rode to the beautiful capitol building.

This is basically the only picture we took in Madison -- but Dan loved the message on the sidewalk, from when "good union people" were "taking to the streets!"

State Street, the most famous road in town, was kinda disappointing -- it seemed like a burn-out magnet more than anything else -- even with all the pro-union t-shirts and signs all around. Still, we LOVED tooling around town on two wheels and fantasized over the idea of living somewhere we could do that on a daily basis. (Dan says: if you've been to Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue, that tells you just about all you need to know about State Street.)

Spring Green, WI:
The next day in pouring rain, we ventured an hour west to Spring Green where we ditched the high-brow Frank Lloyd Wright house tour to visit the low-brow, kitschy House on the Rock, said to be Wisconsin's biggest tourist attraction. This place is insane. Basically this rich dude decided to build a house on top of / into a big rock, constructing the house around the natural environment. Trees sprout up in the middle of the room. Walls are made from ancient rock. And yet it's a totally cozy, Asian-decorated party pad. (Dan says: It's actually pretty righteous.) After building his home, this dude decided to accumulate all kinds of stuff, so we walked through his enormous collections of dollhouses, organs, guns and circus toy models -- which required warehouse-sized buildings to display. Oh yeah, there's also an actual, full-sized submarine engine, and a working, triple-decker carousel 18 feet wide for dolls. The whole thing is both astounding and a little creepy. A real American original.

The infinity room in The House on the Rock. It keeps going and going and going.

My favorite part was seeing the biggest indoor carousel in the world, which the dude commissioned to be made. It has hundreds of freaky animals on it but not a single horse. My head hurt from seeing so many things, and we didn’t even complete the entire tour! Pictures don't do it justice...you just have to see it to believe it.

The carousel.

Green County, WI:
When it comes to cheese, this county in Southwest Wisconsin, is the real deal. Smack in the middle of nowhere, we visited Decatur Dairy where we spent $2 a piece for a guided tour to find out how cheese is made. It was a very impressive, albeit confusing, operation but our tour guide had a lot of character and was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about cheese. This farm made cheese for Boar’s Head, so we picked up some muenster cheese, which is the farm’s specialty. SUPER good. The main impression I walked away with was that these farmers work very hard and all through the night! I have to say, the next time I pick up some cheese at the grocery store, I won't look at it the same way again.

We saw lots of farms and long winding roads from the car.

We stopped on the side of the road to take pictures and a friendly farmer let me on his property to take some close-up cow shots. People are so nice here!

Dan and our tour guide at the cheese farm. Nice look!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Milwaukee's Best

We had high hopes for Milwaukee -- but on a scale of 1 to 10, I can only give it a 6.8.

On the plus side:

1. It has a Bronze Fonz! Waaay cooler than a statue of Ralph Kramden at the bus station.

2. Lots of cool old-school architecture. This is their City Hall!

3. Beer. I really don't drink that much of it, but it's a cultural -- almost religious -- experience here in the brewing capital of America. As far as brewery tours go, Lakefront, a local microbrew, is the best. The tour guide is hilarious, they actually tell you how beer is made, and for $7, you get four tokens for 6 oz. beers + a free pint at participating restaurants + a souvenir pint glass. So, between the two of us, Yvonne and I had eight tokens, of which we used three (Yvonne had three sips total). We made some college kids very happy when I gave them our leftovers.

4. Milwaukee has an honest-to-goodness beach. Volleyball and everything. Who knew?

5. The Brewers. Miller Park is one of the very best, and when the Nationals are visiting on a Monday night, you can get sweet seats for about 60% less than face value. Yvonne made a friend -- that's the Polish Sausage from the famous 6th inning sausage races. Yes, he's coming home with us. (Also, Brewers RF Corey Hart hit three home runs.)

6. There's no picture for this, but the people in Milwaukee are sooo nice. I feel like I say this about all the places we go -- maybe it's just that New Yorkers suck. But, really, these down-to-earth Midwesterners are just the best. In Milwaukee, they're even courteous drivers -- everyone obeys the speed limit! And speaking of driving, the roads are never busy! Driving through Chicago, we hit traffic at 2 p.m. on a Sunday. In Milwaukee, we had no traffic even on Monday at "rush" hour. Hell, it took literally one minute to get out of the stadium parking lot. Amazing.

7. The Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. One of the two best pieces of architecture I've ever seen firsthand. This building moves (the wings open and close) and it's moving. As I read in a book about it in the gift shop, it's impossible to feel pessimistic when you're in this building -- and that's me saying that. (More great photos of the museum to come on Yvonne's flickr.)

So by now you may be asking, why only a 6.8? Well, it's pretty dead here. Like D-E-D, dead. Nobody on the streets. We were the only people Milwauking around. Yes, there's the Historic Third Ward that's poking up its head as a chic little shopping district, and there seem to be a lot of restaurants along the water -- but when everything closes at 9 p.m., and the restaurants are deserted even during lunchtime, that's dead. And it's an unfortunate knock on a big city.

Like I said, we wanted to love Milwaukee. But instead, we'll just like it -- from afar.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Greetings from Michigan, in Pictures

Meagan and me at her childhood home, in Haslett, MI -- just outside of East Lansing, which is the home of...

...Michigan State and Magic Johnson.  (Sorry to any Larry Bird fans.)

Welcome drinks for Julie and Simon's wedding weekend in Saugatuck, MI. (Photo by Kathy)

The lovely wedding took place at the Belvedere Inn in Saugatuck. Here, the newlyweds during the first dance.

Kissing in the photo booth... 

...which hit another level when Meagan discovered the props.  This is Kathy, Pam, Meagan and me mugging with Leo (yes, that's a life size cutout of Simon and Julie's dog!) 

Pam, Meagan and Dan

The next day, Dan on the shores of Lake Michigan, at Dune State Park.

View of Saugatuck from Mt Baldhead, a 200-foot dune.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Get with the flow

Dan and I are getting ready to celebrate our anniversary with a 10-day vacation in the Midwest (we’re so excited!), but I wanted to pop in before we left to say, why hello there!

I have been feeling out of sorts and directionless since my 365 project is over. Then last week, I was unexpectedly let go from my main freelance gig because of budget cuts. My co-workers showed much sympathy and outrage that I would be forced to find a new job, but for me, the biggest shock is that I have let an entire year go by without moving my career in any meaningful direction.  Shame on me.

I spent most of the weekend watching this amazing food photography class online taught by Penny de los Santos via CreativeLive. She photographs for Saveur and National Geographic, and I learned so much in the few hours I watched and it was free! In the course, she suggested that everyone should have personal creative projects. You may never land your dream assignment, she said, but you can create it for yourself.

I also have been reading this book called Flow which argues that the key to happiness is being fully immersed in an activity—whether it is writing or running or gardening—with intense concentration and focus that you get into a “zone” state. I have to say that I agree with the concept because the times of my life I have felt most at peace are when I am so immersed with something that time just passes by and the feeling of accomplishment that comes afterwards.

I am kind of sick of being so passive in my life and "waiting" for something to happen. I am looking forward to the mental break of vacation and then coming back to spend the summer energized, inspired and ready to work. Maybe this was the wake-up call I needed.

My friend Chris came to visit me this weekend and we had a nice evening walk on The High Line. These pictures come from there.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Green Thumb

One of the presents that Santa brought Yvonne for Christmas was the Desert Hothouse cactus growing kit. My wife from suburban New Jersey has this bizarre love of cacti, and she has long wanted to grow something on the windowsill. So, in the middle of winter, she started trying to grow some succulents and Saguaros and 20 other kinds of desert greenery. I know, probably not the best time to start, but who can wait with something exciting as watching grass grow?!

After a verrrry slow start, we've got something poking out through the rocks and plastic lizards. With any luck, by summertime, we'll have to transplant our cactus into a bigger pot. But for now, we're happy just to see signs of spring.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

History: The Return

Quick update: The first set of flashcards went well. My tutoree (?) actually studied them and began to make some progress. She now wisely credits FDR with everything good in America! I was encouraged, and encouraged her -- and gave her a new, much smaller set covering the lead-up and aftermath of the Civil War.

Next week: industrialization, urbanization and the rise of the progressive movement -- basically the key concepts that fill the space between 1865 and 1929 -- the most key concept being the exploitation of workers. Man, if she knows that AND Franklin D., then I'm raising a damn good American.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Don't Know Much About History

I was touring a not-so-great high school recently with a colleague (who used teach middle school) and a couple of privileged parents. Peeking through the classroom window, one of the moms said, "Look, that kid's asleep!" To which my friend the ex-teacher said, "Depending on the kid, that may not be such a bad thing."

Now, maybe that makes my friend a lousy teacher. Or maybe that's just the reality of things. My brother and his wife are both teachers -- David has lunatic middle-schoolers -- and I don't quite know how they handle it. I say this because I've been tutoring this high schooler for a several weeks, and a.) she's got some pretty gaping holes in her knowledge [when I say, "Tell me in one word why they fought the Civil War," she looks at me like she forgot her own name -- though oddly, she's solid on pre-colonial stuff...yeah, I know] and b.) it's hard enough to get through to just one kid at a time let alone 30 or more of these Ritalin-babies.

A little background: I'm tutoring this girl in US History, so that she can pass the exam she needs to graduate. I dominated US History in high school, and could dominate the test again right now if asked to. My student, on the other hand, has already failed the test once.

I could probably be content to teach to the test just to get this poor girl her diploma -- do we really need any more high school dropouts? -- but if I can get her to pass the test AND actually learn something about history, well then...

And this is how I came to spend the weekend making flash cards on FDR, the Great Depression and WWII. Since there's no way I can teach her everything she needs to know in just an hour a week, I've decided the best approach is to try to give her mastery of just a couple main areas of history -- my weekend set of flash-cards being one. Having looked at the past few years' of tests, I'm confident that if she knows her FDR, she can handle any essay question they throw at her. If she should also happen to learn an important life lesson -- that pretty much everything good that we have in this country today was a result of FDR -- then I've done my job.

Next up, the Civil War.

(The correct answer is "SLAVERY.")