Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

I'll probably post once more in the morning before boarding a plane for India, but I hope all of you have a safe night tonight.

Don't forget to take MillerCoors Free Rides on the Milwaukee County Transit System if you live in the area.

I'll be swinging by a friend's party, grabbing a cocktail at the new Iron Horse Hotel, then getting my dance on at the Get Down at Darling Hall.

HAPPY 2009!

music madness: top albums of '08

There’s no disputing that 2008 was a solid year for new music. I actually had to create a criteria spreadsheet to narrow down my finalists. My Top 10 came out of the average number of album listens since I put it on my iPod, whether I bought the physical CD or purchased online, if I saw the band in concert and if they played a show in Milwaukee.

Before I get into my Top 10, let me touch upon some of the folks that didn’t make the cut this year. I'm not typically a fan, but I do need to send a shoutout to Trent Reznor for the surprise and free Nine Inch Nails album, The Slip. The whole album is quite good, and "Discipline" was one of my major biking jams of the summer. I also need to admit that after two disappointments in a row, I'm a big fan of the new Coldplay album Viva la Vida, even if they allegedly stole half the songs. I feel it went back to the Coldplay roots more than trying to emulate a U2 album.

I also have to point out two items that you may notice that are missing from my Top 10, even from my Honorable Mention. The Hold Steady's Stay Positive felt like a shell of Boys and Girls in America, even though it did grow on me after awhile. Sad because they are one of my fave bands ever. I've never been a huge fan, but I definitely didn't buy in after My Morning Jacket's Evil Urges. I guess some of it was good, but "Highly Suspicious" may go on my most annoying song ever list.

Okay, now on to my likes. Again, the strict criteria did bump some albums out of the Top 10 and I know I'm going to get flack for my #1's technicality, but whatever. Here's the list:

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer: Only lost major points for not playing in Milwaukee to my knowledge. A great album to get your epic rock on to. Songs are so epic you don't even realize they've lasted 11 minutes.

Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love Affair: Another biking jam for me, this album makes me want to go to mid-70s New York and dance in a shower of glitter. Part dance party, part aching beauty. Antony vocals make "Blind" my single of the year, along with Pitchfork.

Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours: One final bike album, makes me want to go to mid-80s Manchester and dance with the pre-Goths. All dance party, all the time. Can't wait to see future of this band.


10. She & Him - Volume 1: Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward expand on her showing in Elf in a beautiful saccharine way. Warmed my "Sentimental Heart."

9. Okkervil River - The Stand Ins: Never got why people loved this band, but now I do. "Lost Coastlines" sounds like Jens Lekman and The Decemberists jamming for their lives.

8. TV on the Radio - Dear Science: Would have been higher up the list, but this band has never come to Milwaukee to the best of my knowledge. "Golden Age" secures my faith in the future of music.

7. Dr. Dog - Fate: Severely underrated and I can't figure out why. Part Big Star, part modern indie rock, this was a wonderful summer album. I loved every track.

6. Jamie Lidell - Jim: I swear I listened to this album almost ever day in Summer 2008. "Another Day" cheesily would kick off my mornings. And I swear even if I have to marry myself, I'm dancing to "All I Wanna Do" at my wedding one day. My favorite happy love song of the year.

5. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes: Still kicking myself for missing the concert, as this album improves with every listen. Most people drool of "White Winter Hymnal," but "He Doesn't Know Why" is hands down my favorite song off the incredibly gorgeous album.

4. Two Cow Garage - Speaking in Cursive: I have the pleasure of being friends with these guys and it's been fantastic to watch them evolve from scrappy kids who wanted to rock to excellent professional musicians. This is by far their best album and one I wish more people could hear. It's on iTunes and once you get the privilege to see these guys live you'll go out and buy right away.

3. Girl Talk - Feed the Animals: Making an exception and including an album entirely comprised of samples on my list, because damn, no one does it like Greg Gillis. How can you not dance your ass off listening to this album?

2. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend: There's a lot of backlash, but I think that's from people that don't like fun. I tried to fight it too, but I gave in and accepted this album for what it was. And wow, did I listen to it a lot.

1. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago: I'm fully aware that this was self-released in 2007 and many people have DQ'd it from their lists. Screw that. I had no way of hearing it last year, but since I discovered in early 2008 (thank you WMSE) I haven't put it down. The concert blew my mind as well. I could listen to every track and have a different emotion. I'm glad this band is Wisconsin's own.

Looking forward to the music of 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

thankful tuesdays: thanks for your patience

Thank you, loyal reader, for your patience over the holidays. Obviously this is a difficult time of year to blog, and I've successfully proved that.

I'm skimping out on blogging tonight after dinner at Triskele's and drinks (finally!) at the Bomb Shelter.

Tomorrow (I PROMISE) will be my Top 10 albums of '08. I have them prepared, but just need to flesh out my commentary.

Monday, December 29, 2008

monday munchies: 2008 in food

It seems ironic that one of my last meals of the year was at Cubanitas.

Don't get me wrong. The meal was fantastic. Our appetizer of plaintains and guacamole, my arroz con pollo and mojito -- all top quality. And I am forever grateful to my friend Larissa for the treat, since I am still walletless until tomorrow.

The irony lies in the fact that 2008 was the year I discovered the joys and the importance of eating locally.

It began back in March when my friends and I decided to experiment with Community Supported Agriculture. We went to an open house at the Urban Ecology Center and selected Rare Earth Farm to fill our fresh produce needs for the summer. Little did I know how that would set the course of my life.

Suddenly I learned to love vegetables. I learned new recipes and learned how to save what I wasn't using. I didn't do as much of this as I could have. But I was learning. I learned to freeze. I was inspired to make stocks and freeze those. I really got into it. More than my fellow sharemates. I ended up renewing with a friend with a similar passion for fresh food for next year.

Around the same time I tried my hand at balcony gardening. This was also an educational process. I succeeded until the drought hit in August. Then I got lazy with maintenance. Next year.

My kinetic interests led to self-education through reading. Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle inspired me to get serious about this stuff. Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food is slightly cracked open, but when I finish will probably shape my views going into '09. I found loads of other bloggers facing my same challenges and triumphs, especially through my participation in the Eat Local Challenge.

Yes, I began to participate both on and offline in the world of food. I joined the Southeastern Wisconsin chapter of Slow Food. I attended incredible events like the Milwaukee Public Market's Moo & Brew and the Slow Food Flooded Farms Fundraiser at La Merenda.

I regularly hit up my neighborhood farmer's market. At the end of the season I discovered the Fondy Farmers Market, where I'll definitely go next year. I also have my hopes set on returning to Growing Power.

Diets never worked for me, I never cared about the scientific impact of the food. I've lost weight however, eating healthier by caring about the cultural and economic impact of the morsels I'm consuming.

My awareness of food has changed my spheres in 2008. I'm glad people are listening to me, even if they are not changing their own habits. Talking about it definitely paid off under the Christmas tree, as I could not be more excited to receive a pressure cooker, a food mill and the world's greatest potato peeler this year.

2009 local eating, here I come!

globetrotting: tourist in my hometown - pt III

Saturday started with a last-minute coffee date.

Before my nap on Friday afternoon, I'd noticed on Facebook that my friend Carrie was in town. Carrie moved to Portland from Milwaukee last summer and became my first Milwaukee-friend in Oregon. She and her fiance live in the Mt. Tabor neighborhood of SE Portland. I met her over there at Albina Press, a clean, minimalist coffee shop with a nice low-key feel. I ordered a mocha, which may have been near perfect. Right temp, texture and even steam-art. I think I had a Malkmus-sighting while retrieving my beverage, but didn't want to embarrass self by pointing to Carrie. The place was too spartan and I feared my echo marring my cred. Also, pretty much everyone in Portland looks like Stephen Malkmus, so there's a very strong possibility it was just your average Hawthorne Hipster.

Carrie and I had a nice time catching up. I learned about her new job and her adjustment to the Pacific Northwest. We comiserated about the piss-poor snow management. She hadn't been able to get fresh produce for days -- not exactly helpful for a vegetarian. Thanks to the melt she was going to venture to shop in the 'burbs that afternoon so our visit was a short one. My next agenda item was to meet up with my brother for lunch.

Unfortunately the brother was not answering his phone, but luckily I had my laptop on hand so I did some internet errands and enjoyed a cup of Morroccan Mint tea while waiting for a call back. I finally connected and found out that he forgot about our lunch plans. I drove the short distance to his place and he'd decided we could go somewhere near his work before he had to report at 3. Starving by that point, I was happy with the plan.

The place he wanted to go was closed, so we ended up at Laurelwood Public House & Brewery in the Hollywood District. Parking was a little tricky, especially with Rudolph taking up space:

From the accidental wisconsinite

I ordered the Build Your Own Burger since I was allowed to pick a turkey burger (I wish more places in Milwaukee would warm up to this substitution), and added sharp cheddar, sauteed mushrooms, tomato, lettuce and onion. Opted for the side of fries. I washed down my meal with a seasonal Vinter Varmer. Kevin got the Chicken Caesar Wrap and a Space Stout. Everything was excellent and I'd recommend this dining option to even the most casual Portland visitor. For a hungry, rainy Saturday afternoon it hit the spot.

I dropped the bro off at work and connected with my best friend Kat, who had been snowed in for most of my visit. I finally got to give Kat the bracelet I bought her at Art Vs. Craft. Of course, it didn't hold a candle to the hand-sewn apron she made for me out of a recycled pro-choice Oregon t-shirt and plaid fabric.

We decided to swing by Mary Ann's parents' house for their holiday party, since their daughter was stuck in Canada thanks to the toxic combo of bad weather and airlines. We had a nice visit with her mom, some Christmasy snacks, and caught up with each other. We just wish Mary Ann had been there!

After the party Kat and I stopped over at my parents' house so I could pack a little for my flight the next day. Locking ourselves up in my room and giggling never gets old, even after 14 1/2 years.

Eventually it was time for the caravan to leave from the Arnold abode and head back across town to my brother's work. This time to eat and be entertained by the Tony Starlight's Christmas Show. You see, my brother works at a pretty hip joint, Tony Starlight's Supper Club & Lounge, which features live entertainment while you eat. On Saturdays that entertainment is Tony Starlight, my brother's comedian/lounge singer boss. You're guaranteed to have a great time when you go. During the rest of the week they have live jazz and big band and other hip surprises and delights.

Because I had been grazing all day, I ordered light for dinner. I got a garden salad and then the tomato soup and grilled cheese combo. Mom got the chicken pesto pasta, which she scarfed because it was so delicious. My dad got the prime rib special and Kat opted for the award-winning burger. Everything I ordered tasted great, but the soup was VERY spicy. Prepping me for India, I suppose. For dessert I chipped away at the world's largest tiramisu and sipped on a potent Starlight Coffee.

From Dining Out

We stayed for both sets of the show and were thoroughly entertained. A wonderful way to spend the last night in town with loved ones.

globetrotting: tourist in my hometown - pt II

As per holiday tradition, Friday night was my "unofficial" JHS reunion. This is a group of us Freaks & Geeks, some of whom weren't really even close in high school, but we seem to make better adults than teenagers. Thanks to the magic of social media, we've reconnected and get together when we're all home at Christmas.

Since not many of stayed in Portland (Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago seem to have been hot landing spots), we generally end up in a centralized location in Northwest or the Pearl District of Portland. The Pearl District is an interesting concept for me, as it seriously DID NOT EXIST up until a few years ago. Now it defines the sleek hipness of the city. I struggle with this. I'm sure there's Milwaukeeans who may feel the same way about the Third Ward, but that was already shifting when I moved here (although my favorite vintage store, Marlene's Touch of Class, was one of the early victims of its transformation).

This was the first year I was able to make the dinner portion of the reunion, and I'm certainly glad. We met up at 50 Plates on 13th Street in "the Pearl." Apparently the owners donate quite a bit of cash to our high school, so that's how our friend Ryan had heard of it. Since I didn't make a donation this year (save for the money spent on the Official 10-Year Reunion), I figure eating a tasty meal could count toward my support of overprivileged children (just being snarky, I really appreciate my education). Dinner ended up just being three of us, as many people were snowed in still. Luckily Ryan, Sheila and I had hung out in Chicago last month, so we skipped right past the small talk. And focused on the important things like wine and food.

They'd already ordered a bottle by the time my parents dropped me off (just like high school, well except for the wine and posh restaurant part). I believe it was a Pinot Noir, but don't quote me on that. But I'm fairly certain it was from Oswego Hills winery. I'm 100% certain it was delicious.

Similar to our meal in Chicago, this one was also communal. We started with a round of appetizers, including chicken-fried oysters and Castroville artichoke rolls. I would recommend both. Round Two was salads, accompanied by fresh bread -- choice of buttermilk biscuit or sourdough roll. I began with the biscuit, which melted on my tongue with hardly a crumble. I believe we had the R&R salad, with apples and Rogue blue cheese -- though I'm not entirely sure. We also shared a smaller one with mandarin oranges. The larger salad was a bit heavy on the dressing, but otherwise you can't go wrong with blue cheese crumbles -- even if they aren't from Wisconsin.

Selecting a sourdough roll (prefered the biscuit) accompaniment, I dove into the shared entrees -- the Mac 'N' Cheese ('N' Chicken 'N' Fennel) and some sort of scallop and clam dish that I can't find on the online menu.  The MNC was good (the chicken-fennel sausage inside the noodle was a unique touch), but honestly nothing is ever going to top The Social for me (although Triskele's comes close). However, I wish I could find the name of our seafood dish as it was DIVINE. Sea scallops surrounded by steamed clams bathed in a creamy wine sauce. The scallop was the kind you dream about making on your own. Perfectly browned, not too squishy, flavored just right. Mmmmm.

Next up dessert. We selected the Lemon Meringue Bread Pudding and some sort of Pistachio Cake. We wanted to try the S'mores Fondue, but they were out of marshmallows (a lot of restaurant deliveries were held up thanks to the snow). The bread pudding wasn't much to look at presentation wise, but tastewise I couldn't get enough. It was like a sesational custardy lemon bar. I normally don't like pistachios other than directly from the shell, but the cake convinced me otherwise. Maybe just because it was so pretty.

From Dining Out

At some point during dessert Ryan had to run off, so Sheila and I stayed until the last crumb and then walked over to the next meeting point -- Life of Riley Tavern on 10th. Our classmate Adam and his wife were already there, so our group claimed the nice couch area to set up camp for the others.

Generally the crowd is fairly large, but unfortunately due to the weather we were only about 10-15 strong this year. My dear friend Mary Ann didn't even make it out of Canada thanks to the snow, and best pal Kat didn't make it off her hill. Luckily our foursome's other partner in crime, Marley, made it with her entourage for a little while. The small number made it a really eclectic group. I got to catch up with my friend Lindsey (we have totally become best online pals in the past couple of years thanks to our common interests in cooking and biking) on cooking and biking. My friend Sam showed me the "secret" more bar-y downstairs of the joint. Our classmate Mike arrived and left without saying much. My friend John and I once again rehashed watching the same video repeatedly in Mr. Schaal's biology class. Our classmate Matt told stories about his international and local stalkers.

The biggest surprise of the night for everyone was the appearance of our classmate, and my former co-editor of The Jesuit Crusader, Tucker. I joked that he crawled out of his enigma cave and decided to don us with his presence. My friend Monica, who was snowed in, later commented on my Facebook how disappointed she was to miss the Hailey's comet of classmate appearances. I think our astonishment with this classmate is that he's been able to channel the alternativeness from teenhood into a successful creative career as an adult. My angsty creativity dissapated, but his landed a short story in Best New American Voices.

Kat said the biggest surprise for her at our "real" reunion was how nice everybody was. Since most of the individuals at our "un-real" reunion were pretty nice in high school already, everyone meshes incredibly well as adults. These are all people I'd love to actually hang out with if we lived in the same cities. For someone who considered herself an "outsider" in high school, it's nice to know that a decade later I can relate to people with whom I co-existed for four years on the same plane, but never let into my space.

I digress. The majority of my blog readers are never going to hang with the Jesuit High School Class of 1998. But they may go drinking in Portland. That said, the Life of Riley is not a place to get blitzed. In fact, stick with beer to get more bang for your buck as the alcohol pours were abysmal and the cocktail waitresses neglectful. The speciality cocktails were tasty though. I started with a Pomengranate Hot Toddy and also had a Lake Como Martini, before switching to underpoured Vodka Tonics. I ended my evening with a Fox Barrel Hard Cider. Normally all that booze-switching would make me ill, but since there wasn't much alcohol in the drinks between the beer and the wine I wound up fine the next day.

The night ended rather late and I'm sure my parents are as grateful as I am to Ryan for dropping me home on his way to do the same for Sheila, who forgot we lived so close.

...Saturday's adventures to continue in a new post...
...For Friday's Day activities, click here...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

globetrotting: props to the tsa

Need to get on the plane soon, but wanted to throw out some props to the Transportation Security Administration for making the process pretty painless for someone whose wallet fell out of her bag at dinner last night.

I'll post more later, but wanted to let you all know I'm on my way home and also ask for your collective good vibes that my family will be able to extricate said wallet from underneath the table at the restaurant and overnight it to me post haste so I'm fully equipped for India.

globetrotting: tourist in my hometown - pt I

Friday began with a quest for a famous doughnut.

Being from Portland I am constantly barraged with questions in the Midwest of "weird" Oregon stuff that's been glorified in the national media and/or cable television. It seems the Food Network and the Travel Channel have both highlighted Voodoo Doughnut in recent years. I think that's the #1 question I receive when I tell people I'm a Portland native these days: "Have you been to that Voodoo Doughnut place?" (So different from the questions I used to be asked in college...I guess I'm getting old).

No, I hadn't been. Neither had my mother. So we decided to trek downtown and see what all the fuss was about.

You see, even though I am "from" Portland (from age 11-18), I grew up in the west suburban part of the city and wasn't "allowed" downtown until maybe my senior year of high school. I moved away as soon as possible and only really explore the city in my short visits here. Thus, there are a lot of landmark Portland experiences that I've not been privy to, although I've definitely covered more insider ground than most Midwesterners.

At any rate, Dad dropped Mom and I off at the Sunset Transit Center to catch the MAX to downtown Portland. After some fun mother-daughter drama, I successfully purchased two TriMet all-day passes for us for $4.75 each (although the machine didn't allow me to select quantity on those, I had to buy one and then the other, kind of a pain in the butt). Bypassing the coffee kiosk open for thirsty commuters, we headed down the platform to wait for a train.

Admittedly, I don't take public transportation often enough when I come to Portland. The transit center is about a mile from the homestead and my friends are spread far and wide across the greater metro area. Even though the suburbs are accessible by the wonders of TriMet, my time is often stretched to get from one side of town to the other. It was wonderful to have urban center focused plans on Friday to take full advantage of Portland's top-notch system. If I lived here I would definitely not have a vehicle. My brother is 26 and like many other Portlanders has never even gotten his driver's license. I'm a tad envious of him, as when I was growing up here the westside lines to my parents' neck of the woods were still being built. I wonder what my high school life would have been like with light rail as an option.

Another thing about Portland transit is seeing people from all walks of life taking it. Case in point: walking into the transit center we were passed by a pickup with a McCain/Palin sticker and then a station wagon with an Obama '08 sticker. God bless Oregon Republicans (it may be a surprise to outsiders, but there are several). They truly have embraced public transportation. My father is a corporate conservative, and he doesn't even blink an eye when it comes to light rail, streetcars, commuter rail, etc. In fact, he gets excited about it. The economic development that has occurred here because of the transportation infrastructure is indisputable. What is going to take for Southeastern Wisconsinites to "get it"?


The ride down to the Skidmore Fountain stop was quite pleasant, especially as we were entertained by the cutest Asian kids ever across the aisle from us. How could you not smile at two brothers making themselves giggle in two different languages? Awww.

Unfortunately the trek from Skidmore to Voodoo Doughnut was not an easy one. Portland's idiotic snow management philosophy (let it warm up and melt) made the sidewalks an obstacle course, even on a 45 degree day. I'd made the mistake of not wearing my boots and quickly found my socks and shoes soaked to the core. I'm not kidding, some enterprising Wisconsinite could've made enough to retire on by slapping together a private snow removal company for the Oregonians over their freak snowy December. Honestly, I have no idea how anyone in a wheelchair could possibly get around even a week after the snow ended. Considering grocery stores and restaurants weren't even getting their deliveries until yesterday.

We located our doughnuts, but first swung into the US Bank building to hit an ATM and try and do a money exchange for my trip. I used the ATM, but we could not find the actual bank in the building. Very strange. Opting to try post-sugar, we headed to the sweet spot -- Voodoo Doughnut.

One of the "things" about Voodoo Doughnut (which I just realized is abbreviated "VD," kind of gross considering they do weddings), is their funkily named (Triple Chocolate Penetration) and quirkily combined (bacon maple bar) concoctions. I decided to go with the classic "Blood-filled Voodoo Doughnut." My mom really wanted to order the "Cock-n-Balls," but was too embarrassed to say it, so she tried for the peppermint sprinkle (a Christmas special). They were out of that so she ended up with a chocolate glazed. My little guy, impaled by a pretzel stick, adorned with a pentagram and filled with "bloody" raspberry deliciousness, was definitely worth the journey. I don't know if Mom felt the same way, but I would definitely return on a future visit downtown. The place is open 24-hours, so I could go whenever the mood strikes.

Quest completed, we tried fruitlessly to go find some rupees for my impending trip. I resolved that I will just pay the outrageous change fee at the Newark airport, and then hit up an ATM quickly in Delhi. Yes, I realized I should've addressed the money issue much sooner, but I've been spoiled by the accessibility of the euro. Although we didn't find rupees, we did find a beautiful US Bank location on 6th and Oak. I always loved being surprised by historic architecture. They just don't build 'em like they used to.

Although we really wanted to take a ride on the Portland streetcar, we couldn't figure out a place to go, so Mom and I just decided to trudge up Burnside to Powell's City of Books. I could really spend all day in Powell's, but we only stayed for about 1/2 hour as it was pretty crowded the day after Christmas. I picked up a gift for a friend who ended up being iced-in, a new neck wallet and a flexi-map of Delhi. I also bought a Powell's reusable bag. Powell's truly does have a book and section for everyone and while I perusing the women's travel section, I spotted the most amazingly titled book in the abutting gay travel section: How to Say "Fabulous!" in 8 Different Languages: A Travel Phrase Book for Gay Men. Seriously, fabulous.

Following my travels through "travel," I located Mother in the poetry area and we headed across the street to Rocco's Pizza. I remember coming here a few times a child, but Mom apparently blocked those memories. Regardless, they have huge tasty slices and I wanted one. Packed with hungry locals and tourists trying to get out the rain, Rocco's seemed a hot spot to be that day. Mother ordered a slice of cheese and I got the special, The Slick Dawg, with tomato, spinach and feta. Mine wasn't going to be up for a few minutes, but the incredibly stoned cashier promised me that when it did arrive it would be "hot AND awesome."

Hot and awesome it was, and well-fed, Mom and I walked back to Morrison to catch the MAX home. All that eating and touristing made a gal sleepy and I decided to take a nap before continuing my Portland adventures.

...To be continued, following my flight home to Milwaukee...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

light blogging today

Been spending time with friends and family. Will have some great posts about Portland adventures soon!

Friday, December 26, 2008

thank you santa!

I do appreciate that I'm very blessed when it comes to giving and receiving on Christmas. I recognize that this is a year of redepression and a lot of people did not get to celebrate Christmas with the usual commercial gusto. (Although, um, I think Jesus would be down with that, even if the retailers aren't).

That said, I'm excited to finally be able to tell you how I succeeded at keeping local for gifts this year, and how my family, after nearly 30 years, is finally figuring out appropriate presents for me.

My first Portland gift exchange was on Christmas Eve, when I headed over to my friend Lisa's that evening. Lisa and I typically are Midnight Mass buddies, but with Snowmaggedon in the Portland-area, my pops was worried about me being out after the roads had iced over. We had a nice visit earlier instead. I gave her Jeez-Its sticky notes that I found at Beans & Barley the other day. They were a big hit, as I'd suspected. Lisa learned to knit this year (what's with all these people getting married and learning to knit?) and made me a cute little scarf. She also threw in a DVD of Strange Brew, I suspect because my friends here still haven't fully comprehended that the Midwest is not Canada.

Our family Christmas Eve tradition is my dad reading A Visit from St. Nicholas (or 'Twas The Night Before Christmas as our tattered '80s illustrated version is titled), and my mom, brother and I pantomiming along taking full artistic license to bastardize Clement C. Moore's work with references to sex (breast of the new-fallen snow), drugs (pipe, snow) and '60s dance moves (turned with a jerk). We used to also open one gift, but that's been replaced my brother rushing out the door to go hang out with his friends. A new tradition that began last year (when our oven blew out) is getting dinner at Mazatlan Mexican family restaurant. Unfortunately I couldn't eat too much this year (although the tortilla soup I had was amazing) because of a late lunch at McMenamin's Oak Hills Pub earlier in the day (thank you Northwest Airlines for getting me in an hour and a half late, unfed--jerks).

At any rate, Christmas morning we now have one more gift to open. It was a great Christmas morning this year too.

First, what I gave the fam:
Now, some highlights of what I am sooo grateful that the fam gave me:
  • A BEAUTIFUL backpack (all the bells and whistles -- wheels, front straps, detachable day pack) for my impending trip.
  • IOUs for a pressure cooker (I can can!) and a food mill to be shipped to my Milwaukee pad
  • A gift card for the Pabst Theater!
  • A Ped Egg!
  • A super comfy fleece and a biking windbreaker from Columbia Sportswear
  • The most amazing potato peeler I've ever seen-- a regift from my dad's client (to whom I'm ethically opposed after reading Fast Food Nation, but damn, this potato peeler is AMAZING).
  • A nice little stipend for my travels
  • Some iTunes credits from my bro
  • A gift that could only come from my weird-sense-of-humour family: a "build your own boyfriend" magnet set from my Aunt Peggy. This is how we deal with break-ups in my clan.
After the long drive up to Washington, we do another exchange at Grandma's house. I bought her some bracelets from Vieux et Nouveau Boutique in Milwaukee that are elegant, but can be slipped on since toggles and clasps are hard for her.

Grandma got me a Target giftcard, socks (I requested those after she asked me to give her something tangible to wrap for me), and a subscription to Taste of Home magazine which mysteriously started showing up at my house last week. I love that my family is embracing my interest in cooking! My Aunt Cindy gave me lavender sheets from the Puyallup Fair, an Avon (she is an Avon lady) bath salt, and an ornament with my name on it. This was vast improvement over the XXXL Snoopy pajamas I received last year. (Un?)Fortunately the "early birthday present" Avon light-up holiday house she tried to pawn off (I mean, give) me wouldn't exactly fit in my luggage, so I think my brother got stuck with it instead. A perfect complement to the singing anamatronic penguins he ended up with in '07.

Dinner was delicious and I got to overindulge in my favorite dish -- Grandma's Raspberry Jello Pretzel Salad. While I avoided the ham, I narrowly dodged digesting bacon in the broccoli salad. The turkey, mashed potatoes, yam/sweet potatoes and stuffing/dressing were all mighty tasty though!

It was great to visit with my most wonderful Grandma on earth, and not so great to constantly tune out other people -- who despite having laryngitis still managed to attempt to dominate the conversation. It is fabulous to see the coordinated response effort from the rest of us when those folks say things like how LGBT people having kids is "disgusting." I do have to credit this ignorant individual with being the perfect antedote to keep my mother and I from fighting. It's easy to get along when you're fighting hatred and intolerance together.

Because there's nothing like bringing up hatred and intolerance at the Christmas dinner table.

Okay, soapbox done. My time with Grandma is always too short. My parents will see her in a couple of weeks when she comes down for the rescheduled Neil Diamond concert. I don't know if I will get the chance to visit until next Christmas. I'd love to come out for my cousin's high school graduation in June, but with two unscheduled out-of-town (and country) weddings on the horizon, my travel plans after India are all up in the air.

After several hugs goodbye, we were back on the road. I rolled in around 10 p.m. and woke up way too early this morning. I'm off for a little "tourist in your own town" excursion with the parentals and then I forsee a nap in my future. Perhaps I will snuggle down in my Christmas fleece jacket!

I know that the holidays are always a mix of joy and annoyance for everyone, but I really am truly grateful to have a loving family to spend time with on them. I am so thankful for all the wonderful presents I received and glad my mother encourages donating the presents I don't want to the needy instead of regifting or returning. She often just takes things directly to her school and discreetly sends home with the low-income kids.

Someone in an apartment in Cedar Mill is going to have some lovely lavender sheets come 2009!

What did you give/get this year? How do you handle those "colorful" family members?

globetrotting: two days, travel free

Coming home for the holidays is always hectic.

Not only do I get to fly 5+ hours, but I add 5+ hours of drive time immediately to that.

My parents live in Portland, but my grandmother lives between Seattle and Tacoma. That means every year I get to drive 2.5 hours up and back on Christmas day. This year I'd strongly considered flying direct into Seattle and spending extended time with Grandma. However, Midwest cut its direct flight there, friends in PDX balked, and those plans were scrapped.

Yesterday's drive was especially fun, since the Pacific Northwest is totally unequipped to deal with their version of the Snowpocalypse. I will be posting later giving recommendations to Midwestern entrepreneurs. Regardless of plowing though, they don't believe in salt here, so there's no preemptive clearing of the highways. I drove through snow, slush, snain, sleet, sun and good ol' PNW rain en route to Grandma's and back. Luckily I had my brother and his pal Vince to keep me from going insane.

And luckily-est of all, I had my Grandma and her hugs and food waiting for me on the other end.

At any rate, I am back in Portland now and get to just hang out for two days without traveling more than a few miles. I have three parties to hit up, but all within the metro area. It's like vacation! (oh, wait, it is)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to You and Yours!

Blogging may be light as I'm home in Portland with friends and family.

Very, very surreal to have a white Christmas here.

I hope the readers of this blog, wherever you may be, have a wonderful holiday today. Safe travels to those out on the roads and in the skies.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

globetrotting: (other) home, safe and sound

Made it back to Portland despite snowstorms, computer failures, deicing, white trash seatmates, eternal taxiing, and a plethora of other adventures which may be blogged out at some point.

But 'tis Christmas Eve nap time now!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the umlat


Seriously, if I could put that symbol above my name I would. It's so cool. Or wait, cöl.

thankful tuesdays: christmas eve eve edition

Just a quickie, as I have to get to bed to fight the holiday travel early in the morning. Thanks to all of my friends new and old who have been my support system in 2008. Thanks to my family for hosting me home more times than usual. Thanks to my co-workers for suffering through the snowstorms with me. Thanks to the readers of this blog for putting up with inconsequential posts as of late -- real ones are coming soon, I promise.

good travel vibes needed, local shopping complete

I know I've been pretty light on posting lately, but for those of you still checking in, please send me your positive energy, as more snow is in the forecast and I have to get home to Portland tomorrow morning.


Also, wanted to update you that I have successfully completed my pre-India Christmas shopping and I did it all with local merchants.

There were a couple of things I couldn't find, but I substituted other perfectly fine gifts. After the holiday I'll try and post where and what all I bought. I definitely want to prove to you that this IS possible so you can try it next year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

monday munchies: use it or lose it edition

As you may have gathered I'm going on two trips in two weeks. Needless to say, I have a lot of pantry-cleaning to do.

Tonight, after a meal of chicken fajitas, integrating tortillas, a potato and bell peppers that would otherwise go to waste, I hit the depths of my fridge and pantry. Awhile ago I bought some fresh cranberries that were begging to be used or tossed. They are currently baking in the oven along with the rest of my cranberry coffee cake. (Seriously I love subscribing to random food blogs, you always find the best recipes!).

I also tackled the pumpkin I bought apple picking a couple of months ago. I do love how squash lasts quite awhile, but it was time to get rid of this gorgeous gourd. I followed simple puree instructions, and while I don't have time to bake or cook any of it before I leave, I'm excited that I will have fresh puree waiting in my freezer later this winter.

Home cookin' really does help beat some of these winter blues!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

WTFisconsin: weather competition

I really feel for my friends and family on the West Coast, where I'm hopefully heading on Wednesday. It's been freakish weather there with snow and freezing rain. They aren't prepared for this sort of thing, so the cities have all been shut down for a week. My mom's school was closed all last week, meaning a three-week Christmas vacation.

Yeah, I feel for them until I have to step outside here.

The high today was like 2 degrees. I'm not joking. It's currently ZERO, with a windchill of NEGATIVE FIVE THOUSAND AND TWENTY TWO. Well actually -21, but still, that's not inhabitable. I had to leave the house today to get prescriptions, quarters, one last Christmas present and food. And for the past couple hours I have had to leave my apartment to run down the back stairs to switch out laundry.

Even though I had a super fun weekend (my girlfriends and I ended up dancing our butts off at the Lotus Land Records party at Mad Planet until bar time last night. Becky and I knew it would be a fun night when we were offered Leinie's 1888 Bock while waiting for the bus), the fact that being outdoors for more than 30 seconds is a health hazard is really bumming me out.

I love my job, I love my friends, I love Milwaukee above 30 degrees, but I am really, really tested when the weather is like this. I had a suggestion in the last post about this topic to take up winter sports, but alas it's too cold to do that right now.

I'm also really angry at my recently ended relationship, because I wonder what if I'd looked harder to find a job in warmer climes -- since I switched careers twice while we were together.

I'd cry, but my tears would freeze.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

nature, you disappoint me: happy night day!

I was so excited to do the Winter Solstice Candlelight Nature Walk at the Urban Ecology Center. Especially with our fresh foot of snow on the ground, I'm sure it will be a wintery wonderland.

One little thing -- in the next couple hours it's scheduled to drop from the current balmy 27 to a frigid 6 degrees. Accompanied by face-cutting winds and blowing snow.

Yeah, we're wimping out.

Instead we are hitting up Nessun Dorma before going over to Mad Planet for the Lotus Land Records 8th Anniversary Party.

I'll be completely honest the weather is REALLY getting me down this year. Maybe because I have to deal with it alone. Maybe because when all my friends get a snow day I get a crazy work day. Maybe because it's already been a rough winter and the actual solstice isn't until tomorrow!

I just have to remind myself that I'm going to be in warmer climes soon. In two weeks I will be in India where the average temperature is in the high 70s. Even next week I'll be in Portland. Granted the Northwest has been slammed by snow, but I'm guessing it will seem tropical compared to Milwaukee as of late.

And while yes, I am disappointed that nature is preventing me from celebrating her shortest day, I am glad that technology allowed me to locate the best (read: only) full-length sketch comedy episode about the solstice ever made.

30 by 30: yoga one-on-one - PT II

Same thing happened this week. I was the only one who braved the elements and showed up for yoga class.

The regular instructor was back though and said that the holidays have a lot to do with it. I hope so. I really love having the 9 AM Saturday class available.

And I'm totally digging yoga. I'm learning to balance! And not fall over!

Friday, December 19, 2008

weekending: post-snowpocalyptic edition

Now that I've had my the three things I needed to erase my stressful day (a drink, a nap, a hot shower), I'm ready to think about the weekend.

Headed out in a moment to meet a long-lost friend at Foundation in Riverwest. I already warmed up with a Riverwest Stein at Karma with co-workers after our long, long day.

Tomorrow I hope to once again do some yoga at the downtown WAC in the morning. I have some stuff to do around the house (holy moly is Christmas next week?) tomorrow afternoon. Saturday evening Maribeth, Becky and I are going to do the Winter Solstice Candlelight Nature Walk at the Urban Ecology Center. Following that we will head across the river to Mad Planet for the Lotus Land Records 8th Anniversary Party. Nothing like getting your groove on to some old school funk and soul to beat those winter blues.

Sunday is currently uncommitted, so hopefully I can play catch up on a lot of stuff that day. Or sleep. Sleep is good.

snowpocalypse now: it's real this time

You gotta love getting a wake up call to get out of bed and start working 15 minutes before your alarm goes off. Then looking out the window and realizing all of your friends probably do indeed have a snow day.

Off to go make a difference in the world today. Well, at least in the world of weary local travelers.

If you are a bus rider, do stay tuned to for updates.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

music madness: top eight of '08

Every year I feel like I didn't see enough shows, then I look back on my calendar and realized that I see more shows per month (at least 1-2) than some people see in a year. Even though only one "stadium" band made my list, I do appreciate that I was able to cross seeing Stevie Wonder, The Police and the tireless (3.5 hour set!!) Bruce Springsteen off my "must see before I die."

Before I get into my "Top Eight," here are a couple of honorable mentions:

Best show I was at, but had a miserable time: Girl Talk @ Lollapalooza (August) - this is on so many top lists this year, but for me it was ruined by the grossest couple in the world

Best show I missed this year: Fleet Foxes @ The Pabst Theater (October) - What was I thinking missing that? It was ten bloody dollars!

Most rockin' non-rock show: Holst's The Planets @ The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (June)- I mentioned this in a later symphony post, but really wish I'd blogged my reaction immediately following. This was the most ass-kicking classical performance I've ever attended.

And the official "TOP EIGHT OF 2008"...

8. M.I.A. @ Turner Hall Ballroom (May) - My second time seeing M.I.A. always a ridiculously fun show, even if you may get seizures from her background videos.

7. Vampire Weekend @ Turner Hall Ballroom (April) - Say what you will, but the show was fun, they interacted incredibly well with the audience (BLAAAAAKE'S GOT A NEW FACE!) and I bonded with people who became really fantastic friends this year.

6. Two Cow Garage live @ Brooke & Craig's wedding (January) - The only time I got to see one of my favorite live acts this year. After an incredibly boozy and busy day, it was great to wrap up the fun with a good ol' fashioned rock show.

5. Jamie Lidell @ Lollapalooza (August) -

Jim was one of my top albums of the spring, and Jamie Lidell was a true performer, even in the hot Chicago sun. I'd love to see him again live at a non-outdoor setting.

4. Spiritualized @ Turner Hall Ballroom (September) - Another "must-see" band for me, glad they came to Milwaukee this year.

3. Jens Lekman @ The Pabst Theater (March) - This was the most under-appreciated show of the year. Not many people went, it was only $10, but no one knows what they were missing. Lekman's song are top notch, but so is his ability as a performer. He was hilarious, engaged the audience, and solidified my opinion of him as "Morrissey on Prozac."

2. Bon Iver @ The Pabst Theater (August) - Not only was this a chance to show off a Milwaukee gem to my brother, but a chance to see Wisconsin's finest, and most relevant, musical output since the Violent Femmes in the early '80s (we were a bit overdue). I haven't finalized my albums of the year list yet, but this show helped argue the case for this band. It was truly a magical concert experience. My one regret is that we only caught the tail end of well-lauded opener A.A. Bondy.

1. Radiohead @ Lollapalooza (August) -

This concert was a redo for me, as I royally screwed up losing my Radiohead virginity at Alpine Valley in 2003. This show helped me redeem myself and proved to me that Radiohead is a band everyone should experience. The set was sublime; there were even fireworks integrated into it (may have just been coincidental, but it worked). None of the other "mainstage" acts at Lolla could top Thom Yorke and friends Friday night show. And unlike other stadium bands, I like Radiohead's new offerings just as much as my first loves off The Bends and OK Computer. This is why they are the "big show" that makes the list -- not only is it a mindblowing music experience, but their music is still relevant.

out and about: wine wednesday

Last evening I joined my friends Kim and Heidi, Heidi's husband and Kim's friend for $10 wine flights and half price appetizers at Hotel Metro. I then met my travel buddy Jason at Buckley's to discuss our impending trip over a half price bottle of wine.

Feeling good about the travels, but needless to to say I slept in this morning so this post will be light!

Are anyone else's holiday calendars filled to the brim?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

30 by 30: audio assault

Last night I pointed out that while I enjoy the idea of "nice," sometimes I'm not so pleasant myself. Few things put me in a foul mood faster than terrible music. I'm also not a morning person, so bad tunes before I'm fully awake also poison my day.

I thought I'd written before about why I attend the spin class that I do, but I guess not. It's not by accident that I go on Wednesday. Kelly isn't just a fantastic instructor, but she usually has an extremely palatable soundtrack for a 6 a.m. class. While I can handle the pop music of an aerobics class in the evening, in the morning I need something a bit more chill. She typically has an inoffensive mix of '90s folk-rock, world music and euro-remixed Madonna songs. Her tracks always flow together nicely and keep you focused on the "road."

This morning I thought she'd lost her mind.

We warmed up to some pleasant Eddie Vedder solo song, so I didn't think anything was wrong. But then came some crap-rock song as we got into our workout. Followed by my worst nightmare -- CREED -- the WORST BAND EVER. EVER. EVER TO EXIST ON THE PLANET OR IN THE UNIVERSE.  I didn't know what to do. I felt ill. And it wasn't just because of the 4-minute climb. I tried to sing another song in my head to combat it, but no Scott Stapp's awful vocals and terrible lyrics were raping my entire auditory system, I couldn't escape.

I'm not sure what followed immediately after. I mean at that point I was just glad for it to be over. We still had about 35 minutes left so I knew nothing worse could come on at this point. I was correct, but barely. We endured Big & Rich (but at least everyone knows "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" is a joke), some more crap-rock, Kelly Clarkson (okay, I'll admit, guilty pleasure on that one), Van Halen's "Right Now" (which actually did work well for spin), and that horrible "Sweet Home Alabama"/"Werewolves of London" rip off by Kid Rock or something like that. There were a couple techno-y remixes thrown in there, but in addition to being horrific, the playlist was super schizophrenic. Nothing flowed. It was like the devil took over an iPod shuffle.

Finally as we were winding down, and I was thinking about how I was going to have to find a new spin class (and it was a killer workout today too!), Kelly announced "thanks to Melissa for the guest playlist today!"

THANK GOD. My instructor has not gone insane, instead the girl I already don't like in the class just solidified her position as Public Enemy #1 (this girl REFUSES to have the fan on here when it gets warm in the room, which means if you're stuck next to her, especially when the sun starts streaming through the windows, you're liable to pass out).

Of course it took all I could to not shout out "NOOOOOO" when everyone complimented her on a "great set."

At least I have a work meeting with WMSE this morning to reassociate myself with safe and positive music. And I'm listening to TV on the Radio to clear my mind at the moment.

What is the worst "trapped" musical experience you've ever had?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

daily inspiration: Operation NICE

Those that know me personally know I can be a bit, well, biting. I have a keen sense of wit and sometimes it doesn't come out in the kindest of ways. I am not a mean person, but I don't think when folks describe me that "nice" is one of the adjectives that comes to mind.

Thus, it may come as a bit of a surprise that one of my favorite blogs of the year is called Operation NICE. I first heard of this site through Broadway Paper's blog. It truly is inspirational for even the hardest of hearts. Started by a graphic designer in Philly, the blog basically encourages people to be nice to one another. Two of its great features are nice testimonials (a lot of great random acts of kindness) and nice assignments (encouraging the readers to go out and spread the love).

This week's assignment is pretty cool and an easy way for Scrooges like me to get started on the homework. All you have to do is leave a comment on what charity the blogger, Melissa, should donate too. Easy as pie!

Beyond doing that though, I highly recommend adding Operation Nice to your RSS feed. Even on your crummiest days it can bring a smile.

rock on! eight states to go

Thanks to my mom's diligence in the 50 States Challenge as well as some kind linking by others, I landed New Hampshire (thanks Heather!), New Mexico and Oklahoma since last night.

Let's post a fun fact about each of the remaining states shall we?
  • Alaska: Their state motto is "North to the Future." Considerin' the events of this year, I think they can go ahead and change that to somethin' else, also, and whatnot, okay, also.
  • Idaho: The word "Potato" first appeared on an Idaho license plate in 1928. The now famous words "Famous Potatoes" appeared on their plates in 1957. Did you know most Idaho License Plates tell you where the driver is from? Learn Idaho's license plate designations here. I wonder what Idaho did for the International Year of the Potato? Do you think they made it the International Year of Idaho?
  • Wyoming: "Mountain men [presumably in Wyoming] used the word hole to describe valleys totally surrounded by mountains." Resisting litany of totally inappropriate jokes.
  • North Dakota: The parking meter was invented in North Dakota. Uhhhhh? Is that why everybody left?
  • South Dakota: has no designated state forests. Awww :(
  • Mississippi: "David Harrison of Columbus owns the patent on the "Soft Toilet Seat." Over one million are sold every year." Do you think he's related to the guy who invented the parking meter in North Dakota?
  • West Virginia: "West Virginia University, located in Morgantown, has had 26 students to receive Rhodes Scholarships to study at Oxford University in England." I'm curious as to what this can be compared to...
  • Delaware: "Tradition holds that the new 13-star flag, the Stars and Stripes, was first unfurled in the Battle of Cooch's Bridge, September 3, 1777. (Only Revolutionary battle fought in Delaware.) (from State of Delaware Web page, "Attractions & Historic Sites: Rural New Castle County, Delaware")" Do you think the residents of Cooch's Bridge later moved to Wyoming?

thankful tuesdays: snowy gratitude pt II

Seriously, must it snow every Tuesday?

And the thanks this week go to...
  • The mysterious forces who organize the Santa Cycle Rampage, because it may have been my most fun day of 2008. Special thanks to Monica and Joe P. for riding with me, my co-worker Dan for filling me on the details before I went, and @Teecycle_Tim's Beer Runner blog about last year's event that inspired me to both go to the ride and blog about it later.
  • The good folks over at Urban Milwaukee who featured my Santa cycle post on their blog. The kind reader who recommended said post on All the nice people who have commented on the post, especially the guy who said we made his kids' day!
  • My friends who hosted wonderful gatherings this weekend. Jane & Ralf, Liz, and Abby -- your parties were all fabulous!
  • The members of the Young Non-Profit Professionals Network (YNPN)-Milwaukee Chapter Board for allowing me the honor to join their ranks next year.
  • My mom for being my blog bellwether. I realize we have to set some Facebook ground rules, but knowing that my mom reads this blog has made me a better writer. By not including details I wouldn't want my mother to know, I've made this blog palatable to a much wider audience than my friends and I. (Also, my mother helped add Maine, Rhode Island and New Hampshire to my 50 states challenge, so I can't be mad)
  • All the generous people, including my co-worker Brittany, who donated to WMSE last week helping them surpass their goal by $2,000. They're still short though, so give online at
  • The person, who I thought never listened, who called after seeing the news last week in the paper.

30 by 30: if i can lift more than the temperature...

Although I went to bed early, I skipped the gym this morning opting for a little online bill paying instead. Why? Maybe because I checked the weather and it was TWO degrees.

New rule: If I can lift more than the temperature, I'll stay indoors until it's absolutely critical I leave the house (i.e. go to work).

It's supposed to snow this afternoon and I'm meeting a girlfriend for a drink after work, but I PROMISE I will go to the gym after that. When I'm already out and not risking hypothermia just for a couple of pounds.

I am doing spin class tomorrow though, so regardless of the weather situation I'll be there.

This is definitely the time of year I reconsider my residency.

Monday, December 15, 2008

wisconsin to-do: the essentials

After my shotski post yesterday, I began thinking about what are to-dos for every Wisconsinite, especially accidental ones like me. Here's the first 30 that I've come up with, more can be added. Red means I haven't done them yet. Please leave your suggestions in the comments.
  1. Go to a Packers game at Lambeau.
  2. Go to a Packers vs. Bears or Vikings game
  3. Go to a Badger game a Camp Randall
  4. Go to the Wisconsin vs. Michigan game
  5. Go to a Brewers game (I've been at County Stadium AND Miller Park!)
  6. Go to a Brewers vs. Cubs game
  7. Go to a Marquette basketball game
  8. Go to the Marquette vs. Wisconsin game
  9. Tailgate before any sporting event
  10. Visit Door County
  11. Stay for a weekend in Door County
  12. Visit the Wisconsin Dells
  13. Stay for a weekend in the Dells (and include some sort of indoor water park)
  14. Go camping
  15. Canoe one of the state's many rivers (the Kickapoo!)
  16. Tubing!
  17. Kayak in a Great Lake
  18. Visit Holy Hill
  19. Hike at Devil's Head
  20. Visit the House on the Rock
  21. Go to The Domes
  22. Go to the Milwaukee Art Museum
  23. Do a shotski
  24. Take the Lakefront Brewery Tour
  25. Take the Miller Tour
  26. Take the Sprecher Tour
  27. Do a triumvirate (all three Milwaukee brewery tours in one day)
  28. Eat frozen custard
  29. Halloween on State Street in Madison
  30. Polar Plunge

update: new hampshire, i'll forgive you for now

My mom led charge to complete the New England portion of my 50 States Challenge, and successfully got my Auntie Willow from Maine and my old babysitter, Shannon, from Rhode Island, to click through. She also bugged my friend in New Hampshire, but with the terrible ice storm there...well, I suppose no power for days is a good enough excuse.

Now I have 15 days to fill in the blanks of:
  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Wyoming
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Mississippi
  • West Virginia
  • Delaware
  • New Hampshire

I'm going to have to start randomly commenting on blogs from those states. Any suggestions on where I should click?

monday munchies: pre-christmas feasting

Thank goodness I've rediscovered my affinity for working out lately because the holiday season seems to be especially food-ridden this year. This week is going to be especially out of control both during and after work.

Today we had our "Second Floor Potluck" at work. Trying to stay somewhat healthy, I made hummus and served it with pita, carrots and peppers. I must say the hummus was quite delicious. I didn't get too fancy except for stirring in parsley infused olive oil, toasted pinenuts and sumac.

Although I have been eating out more than I'd like lately, last week I did play around with some chicken. I marinated it in a bunch of odds & ends (calypso spice, lemon juice, honey, garlic, etc) and baked until blackened. I made tacos out of it for a couple of nights and then made a chicken salad with the leftovers. Much of this I topped with El Rey guacamole. Delish! Here's a picture of one of the taco nights:

From Cooking with Meghan

Of course what's really been attacking my hips lately (apart from the beer from Saturday -- which I rode off anyway, right?) is all the Christmas cookies. I still have some leftover from my girl's cookie day (trust me, only a few of these pictured are left):

From Cooking with Meghan

From Cooking with Meghan

From Cooking with Meghan

Last night my pals Brooke and Craig were kind enough to drop off some more homemade treats. Luckily I can take what I don't need to eat to work and share with appreciative coworkers.

Gotta love the holiday season!

music madness: finally the faint

While I've been a fan of The Faint for years, I've never had the chance to see them live. The last time (or perhaps two) they've been in Milwaukee it's been at The Rave, where, after my horrific Shins experience a couple of years ago, I've vowed never to step foot in again unless they resurrect John Lennon and George Harrison from the dead for a Beatles reunion.

Thanks to a kindly Twitter benefactor I got free tickets for last night's show at the much more palatable Turner Hall Ballroom. Unfortunately my concert buddy and then concert buddy #2, both had stuff come up (illness, family, etc.), so I ended up flying solo. I did take the extra tickt and gave it to a random group of people trying to figure out their ticket situation. Happy holidays! This was not a show I was going to miss, but I timed heading down to miss the openers. I caught the second act's closing (I wasn't really sure what was going on there) and sipped on my cup of ice while waiting for the main attraction.

I'd heard before that The Faint put on a good show and I wasn't disappointed. I'm not a raving fan, but I did know several of the songs in the set. They opened with "Agenda Suicide" from Danse Macabre and the main set also included the recognizable "Posed to Death" and "I Disappear" (which had some funky strobe light timed so it looked like the singer actually was disappearing -- hey, it's nice to see special effects at an indie show). Although alone, I couldn't help but dance (not as much as I'd have liked, but it was a school night). The closing song of the encore was the infectious "Glass Danse" and I did let go during that one. Of course, that apparently was cue to the other solo chick (I think) near me to come over and slur "we should like get everyone around here to dance." Yeah, maybe I'd do that if I also reeked of Malibu and/or Peach Schnapps. Thank goodness for the universal sign for "WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU, THERE'S A BAND ON STAGE," to get out of that one.

All in all a solid show and it filled my concert drought as of late. Unlike Yeasayer, The Faint interacted with the audience, although not saying much they definitely danced and sang at us, instead of to each other. Tim over at Fan-Belt Milwaukee has an interesting perspective on this aspect of the show.

Being December 15th, it looks like I'm not going to make it to anymore shows this year, so watch for my "Best of 2008" list coming soon. Still working on those albums too...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

wisconsin to-do: the shotski

In my coverage of santa cycling, I left out one important note -- I checked off a "Wisconsin To-Do" Saturday. Currently the "Wisconsin To-Do" list only exists in my head, but I have a feeling it could manifest itself in this blog very soon.

At any rate, I did a "shotski" this weekend. Yes, correct, a ski with shot glasses attached. I joined two fellow Santas in shotskiing with Jager at Kochanski's.

Now that it's off the list I don't know if it will be repeated.

What are some other Wisconsin To-Dos I should add?

30 by 30: yoga one-on-one

I lucked out at yoga class yesterday morning. No one else showed up, so I got a one-on-one lesson.

This ended up being extremely helpful as the instructor was able to watch and critique what I was doing in addition to going at my pace. She adjusted my posture at times and gave me the tip that during a plank, one's inner elbows should be facing each other. I really wish I'd known that earlier, as it made the dreaded plank much, much easier.

It's also amazing how in tune with the entire body yoga instructors are. Mine noticed that my left wrist  was "off" and asked if I was okay. I am perfectly fine, but this is the wrist I badly broke several years ago and had two surgeries on.

The yoga instructor also agreed with me on my opinion of the Pilates experience from earlier in the year.

As much as I enjoyed the personal attention, I hope this was just a fluke and they continue the Saturday morning class at the downtown WAC. It's the perfect time to do yoga -- detoxify from Friday and reenergize for the rest of the weekend.

keeping my pledge

I crossed a couple of people off my Christmas list this afternoon, as I ran errands around Milwaukee. Although I had to stop at Whole Foods to grab ingredients for my work potluck tomorrow, all of the gifts I bought were purchased at local merchants.

First stop was Harry W. Schwartz Books on Downer Avenue. I found two gifts here and picked up a book for myself. I've been meaning to read Population: 485 for awhile, and grabbed it from the bargain bin for my stash. Not giving away any gifts (to any of my regular readers), but have you remembered to buy PostSecret for someone on your list this year?

Another thing I saw at Schwartz, but resisted, is a gift I've received the past couple of years: The Best of American Travel Writing. The 2008 edition is edited by Anthony Bourdain so I really hope that it ends up under my tree this year!

Next, I slid, trudged, tiptoed and sometimes walked across Milwaukee's treacherous sidewalks (rain and melting snow do not an easy path make) the several blocks to Atomic Records. It's amazing what sad news can do because the place was packed. I bought one gift here, but purchased Beck's Modern Guilt on vinyl, David Byrne and Brian Eno's Everything That Happens Will Happen Today on CD, the Flaming Lips Christmas on Mars DVD and an Atomic T-shirt for myself. Friends and family who I'll be seeing over the holiday, let me know if you'd like an Atomic t-shirt.

Realizing that I hadn't really eaten yet today, I swung by Beans & Barley for some chicken salad and a cup of Rishi Green Mint Tea. I'm glad to be able to support them when I can, because admittedly I did need to go to Whole Foods after that for ingredients for homemade hummus. Their 365 brand really does make funky ingredients a little bit cheaper.

I ended the errand-run at the ultimate non-local store, Walgreen's, to pick up a prescription. I came home just in time for my dear friends Brooke & Craig to drop by some Christmas joy.

Just finished whipping up the potluck hummus (it's going to be tasty) and am headed out in the rain to Turner Hall for The Faint concert. Hopefully will review that tomorrow!

milwaukee props: santa cycle rampage

Yesterday I had the most fun I've had in a really long time.

Because when you combine santa suits, bicycling, beer and polka, fun is pretty much inevitable.

We began the day at Fat Abbey Bier Café. I met up with my friends Monica and Joe P around 10:30 and caught up to the gang with a Bloody Mary. Unfortunately I lost my pickled bean when I turned around to meet my co-worker's family.

Shortly after 11, the orders were given to head out onto the streets. We grabbed our bikes and followed the pack of Santas.
Instead of heading directly to our next location, we had an impromptu Santa Cycle parade up Milwaukee's busiest streets. We looped around to Water Street and then headed south to Wisconsin Avenue, heading west up downtown's biggest artery. There were so many excited tourists, kids smiling and waving, homeless people shouting "Merry Christmas!" was pure holiday magic. Then we got pulled over. Yes, 150 santas pulled over on Wisconsin Avenue. We tried singing Christmas Carols to appease our captors, and perhaps it did work. The cops ordered us to ride "stop at red lights and ride two abreast." The latter order elicited a huge Santa giggle from the crowd. Seriously, who doesn't giggle at the word "abreast"?

Something to note here, on our run in with the law, is that no one is "in charge" of these indie bike rides. Obviously the liability would be ridiculous. These things just sort of "happen." There's an unwritten code to follow the group and not get out of control and the whole thing happens peacefully and without major incident. It's pretty amazing to witness and really does restore your faith in humanity.

As we rode away from our detour, I overheard one of the cops say "Wow, I really needed a laugh today so thanks for calling me out on this one." We continued down 4th Street, back to McKinley, to Water and on up to Brady. Unfortunately this meant tackling the Water to Brady Street hill. This hill is a pain in the butt when you can get up the speed to fly up it solo. Inching up it in a pack (two abreast no less--we were followed by the cops) was pretty brutal. We pulled up to The Nomad, I reunited with my gang, and Joe P bought us some Boddingtons in a can. It was warm enough (40 degrees!) to stand outside and drink with the santa pack.

This was a pretty quick oasis, so we slammed our beers and headed back with the pack on the short ride over to Lakefront Brewery. This was the off-road portion of the ride and although the Marsupial Bridge was fairly easy:

...the ride down the bike path to Commerce was more like a ski hill:

By the way, that plastic Santa attached to the back of a bike, had speakers and played Christmas music. (It also played Gary Glitter at some point too, which was a bit disturbing considering Santa's interaction with children.) There was also another guy with a "SantaCam" attached to his helmet.

The Lakefront folks were WONDERFUL to our group and gave us a free beer token when we walked in the door. They also accommodated us by taking a group photo (there was huge pile of cameras to get through). Add to their generosity the most delicious beer in Milwaukee and they top my list of favorite breweries. I enjoyed a few samples of their classic, Riverwest Stein, yesterday.


After the Lakefront stop things got a little hectic (and there is no longer photo evidence). Monica had to figure out if she was meeting up with her sister and her kids later, we were chatting with some elf, not paying attention, etc. and we realized all the Santas were gone. The next stop was four miles south, in Bay View. Monica and Joe P are way faster riders than me, so I left them and got a head start. I made it all the way to National Ave and realized how far behind I was, so I hopped a Route 15 and took my bike on the bus for the first time. Although we are not getting bike racks on our buses until next spring, if a bus isn't crowded you can ask the driver if you can bring your bike on board. I definitely was an instant celebrity on the bus, as most of the passengers, and the driver, had seen my comrades ride by about 10 minutes prior.

I hopped off at Lincoln and Kinnickinnic, to head into Café Centraal. On the way in I ran into my friend Liz, her husband, aunt and uncle, who I'd all seen the night before. They thought the whole thing was a riot. I got inside, ordered a Fat Abbey Strong Ale (Lakefront) and waited for my friends to arrive. I ended up running into another co-worker who was having lunch with his wife.

Question of the day: "Is this what you do in your spare time?"

Later I ran into my Santa co-worker and gave him the heads up to be alert. About that time, my friends walked in the door looking worse for wear. Apparently Joe P's crank fell off his pedal and they'd walked the last mile to Centraal. They just wanted to get some food and figure out how to get home, but I had my second wind and wanted to finish the ride.

When the Santa pack left, I headed out with them this time. This would be to the last stop, Kochanski's Concertina Beer Hall, where I hadn't been since it was Art's Concertina Hall. Another long ride, three miles from Centraal, I ended up meeting some of the Twitter folks that were doing the ride. That was interesting, as I'm not a huge "internet friend" person, but I do have plenty of real-life friends who are.

Kochanski's had free chili for Santas, but alas I could not enjoy the meaty treat. Instead I sat at the bar drinking a Fat Squirrel (New Glarus) watching A Christmas Story. Eventually I made some new Santa friends, did the polka, was treated to an accordion serenade and snagged a much-appreciated lift the five miles home for my bike and myself.

Needless to say I will definitely be rampaging again next year (even though my whole body aches today). I also hope to do some of the other silly bike rides before that time...if I'm cool enough to hear about them.

mcarnold's shared items