Monday, October 31, 2011

Triumphant Return

Oh where, oh where have I been?  Not publishing blog posts, that's for sure!

Notice that I said not publishing blog posts.  I have indeed been writing them, I just get to the end of them and just... sort... of... stop.  Not that there has been nothing noteworthy to write about in my life and not that I haven't had the time.  I actually had a long and scintillating essay outlining my opinion on kissing and date etiquette, but it always ended up being kind of a drag. 

To give you the concise version, I find the current trends in kissing to be a bit disturbing.  In my experience, most boys are unsure of how long to wait.  While one would assume that this would lead to a comfortable waiting period, it seems that they have all come to the conclusion that the second date is when you do it, no matter how well you know the person or how much you actually like them.

Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time a guy went in for the kiss before I was mentally ready for it...

Lest you think that this subject arose from a recent incident, be assured that it did not.  It actually came from a conversation I had with a male friend who amazingly enough admitted to me that he has never "technically" kissed a girl.  Don't ask me to explain the quoted use of the word technically.  It pretty much just means that he has never had the guts to kiss a girl.  Even though he has dated and gone out with some of the girls for as many as a dozen dates. 

Anyway, enough.  I refuse to get pulled back into that discussion again. 

So what else is new?  My semester is half over!  October is almost gone!  I am applying for more jobs!

Actually, I am not applying for tons and tons of jobs just yet.  I know that I still have a good couple of months left in my education before I can seriously entertain the thought of moving to chase a good position, but it doesn't hurt to start looking.  This is how I came across an interesting possibility. 

Although you may have forgotten, I was not always a suburban city-dweller.  Most of my formative years were spent in the semi-rural regions of Minnesota.  Willmar always gets top billing, but we did live in a few other places.  In fact, both of my brothers were born in a town other than Willmar.  OK, OK, so all three of us were born elsewhere, but my brothers were born in the same elsewhere as one another.

In the interest of protecting my potential privacy, I shall not name the town.  I don't want to jinx anything.  But let it be known that there is a library job available in this city and I have applied for it.  Honestly, I have no idea if I will be considered, but then again, I don't know what kind of competition there is for library jobs out-state. 

For a long time, I have had a great deal of stress surrounding the idea of working outside the metro area.  Mostly because of my housing situation.  Then I had an epiphany.  So maybe I just had a conversation with a knowledgeable person who helped me to land upon a very possible solution:  property managers. 

You see, my house can simply not be sold right now.  The market has sucked away every penny of equity I had and then some.  Some people might look for a way out or even just walk away from their debt responsibility.  But not me.  I will not do it.  Unfortunately, I likely cannot afford to keep paying the bills for the place if I need to be paying the bills to live elsewhere.  The thought of renting it out had strong appeal, but how to manage tenants?

Then some brilliant person (I honestly cannot remember who) suggested that I contract with a property management company.  They could not only take care of finding and screening tenants, but they could be the people to take care of any issues that may come up after the fact.  I have priced out a few places, and once I follow up a bit more, I think that I may have found my solution.  Who would have thought?

Now, don't worry.  I am not putting all my eggs in one basket.  I am still going to keep looking in the Twin Cities to see if I can't find a way to stay local.  But I cannot tell you what a freeing thought it is to realize that my stupid townhouse will not doom me to a life of second choices and lesser options in my life. 

This brings me to another interesting part of the debate over moving away, especially to a rural area.  What would I give up to do this?

1.  Convenience.  I have become so accustomed to having nearly everything I want at my fingertips.  I realize that the Internet has opened up options in this area, but I will have to re-learn the basics of life without easy access.  Things that I take for granted such as being able to take my car in for free oil changes at the dealership will be a thing of the past.

2.  Friends.  Most of my closest friends live in the Twin Cities area.  Not that some have not moved or threatened to move far away in the past, but I will need to figure out how to build a new support system in a new location.

3.  Media.  So I know that they have Internet and TV elsewhere, but will my favorite radio station play somewhere else?  Can I get access to high-speed Internet that will allow me to stream their programming?  Will my smart phone work in the new town?

4.  Lena.  I have a dog.  She needs to have space to move.  I would love to be able to live in a place with a yard, even a tiny one, but if I end up in a metropolitan area, that may not be easy.  If I live in a rural area, this could be a non-issue, but still a consideration.

5.  Housing.  I have always assumed that I would not buy another house as long as I still own my current one.  However, if the new location is somewhere without a great deal of rental options, I may have to consider other ideas.  Could I become a land baron?  Maybe!

These are just some of the many things that run through my head as I contemplate a total upheaval in my life and change in venue.  It is exciting and terrifying all at once.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

To blonde or not to blonde

So the completion of my major tasks was not quite as epic as I imagined, but it is still nice to be done.  That paper/grant proposal?  Yeah, I knocked that thing out in about three hours.  It helps when one does the research ahead of time. 

Now things are (relatively) back to normal.  I have an obscene amount of reading to do by Thursday, but it's really not a big deal.  Oh, and I am getting my hairs cut and colored on Tuesday... a MUCH bigger deal.  Not that I will be doing anything different (one inch off the bottom and highlights on the top layers), but I always imagine that someday I will go for the gusto.  In other words, I may decide to finally work with rather than against the direction my hair seems to want to go.

As you may or may not know, I have always been considered a blonde.  As is the case for many natural blondes, age has altered the intensity of my blonde-ness, leaving me with what is commonly known as a "dishwater" color.  It's not quite brown, not quite blonde.  Just dull.  My hairstylist informs me that this is due to the fact that as we age, we tend to spend more time indoors.  This keeps us away from the rays of sunshine that did such a wonderful job bleaching our hair and darkening our skin as youngsters.

Underneath it all (or so she tells me), my hair still wants to be blonde.  This is based on the fact that when she puts in the color/bleach, I do not need to sit under a hair dryer or even wait all that long before my hair "comes up."  Lucky me, right?  If only this willingness of my hair to revert to its desired shade resulted in some sort of discount.  (It does not.) 

So every time I get my hair done, I take a moment to consider what would happen if I took the opposite direction and lowlighted my hair.  As in, become the unthinkable:  a brunette.  Perhaps not truly a brown-headed person, but become less blonde.  Would it work for me?  I am not sure.  My coloring is quite fair and well suited to lighter shades.  But then again, I always have found the brown hair with blue eyes combination to be rather striking. 

This inner conversation will continue for the next couple of days until I finally sit in my stylists chair and simply nod when she asks if I want "the usual."  She knows just like I know that my blonde days are not yet over. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Be afraid

Tonight I shall take on a truly epic task.  No, I will not be running a marathon.  I will also not be scaling Mount Everest.  I will not even be baking a cake.

No, tonight I will be writing a mock grant proposal from start to finish.  As long as it takes, that is how long I will be working, for said document is due.  For class.  Tomorrow. 

I shall not be able to utilize some of my more common procrastination techniques on this one, even though class starts at noon.  This is because from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., I will be interning it up big at my internship.  Before that?  I will be doing my best to wrangle the dogs in and out of the house while also feeding them.  By myself. 

Are you scared for me?  You should be.  The next time you hear from me, it will all be done.  DONE, I tell you!!!!  HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!

Modern Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a girl.  This girl spent most of her time staying at her own humble house in the middle of nowhere and at the home of her parents, which was located in the middle of everything that was cool and happening.

Every time that the girl prepared to visit the home of her parents, she packed a suitcase.  Much thought went into the packing of this suitcase; special clothing was required for the time that the girl spent toiling to make a decent wage.  Due to lack of imagination and cooler temperatures, the girl's wardrobe mainly consisted of varied shirts paired with black or dark grey trousers. 

This meant that the greater portion of suitcase preparation went towards selection of shirts and blouses, not pants. 

One extra special evening, the girl packed her suitcase as usual, but upon lifting it noticed that it was markedly lighter than normal.

"Dear me!" exclaimed the girl, "My suitcase is light as a feather!  Oh well, it must only mean that I have become tremendously more efficient in my packing abilities."

Unperturbed, she secured her suitcase into the rear storage compartment of her car, escorted her fluffy young canine companion into the back seating area, and left her home in the middle of nowhere.

Twelve hours later, the girl was finishing her morning preparations.  As the final step of readiness, she opened her suitcase to select her clothing for the day.  After choosing the purple blouse with ruffles, she reached in to extract her trousers.  Mild inattention quickly turned to dismay when no pants were to be found.  She wildly threw aside all other items in the suitcase in hopes of unearthing the desired item, but luck was not with her that day.

In the midst of this chaos, the girl's kindly mother appeared in the doorway and inquired as to the source of such alarm.  When the girl related her dilemma, her mother offered the use of her pants.  Normally, the girl and her mother did not share the same size or style in clothing.  However, the mother had in her possession a pair of pants with an universal waist made of elastic magic. 

So this is how the girl spent the next two days wearing her mother's pants of elastic magic to work.

The End

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What is up

Third time is the charm, right?  I have been trying to put together an entry after several days off, but I just can't seem to get it going.  And if you're wondering where I have been for the past few days, don't get excited.  Nothing fabulous happened, I just haven't had creative inspiration.

Speaking of creative inspiration, I need to muster up a bit more in the next few days because I need to write up a mock grant proposal due on Saturday.  Lest you worry too much, note that I said mock.  As in, not for real.  It IS going to be graded so I would (of course) like to do well; therefore, careful preparation is needed.  However, it does not require much by the way of outside research; I must simply carefully read and address the required elements of the grant outline.  No problem, right?

Let's see, what else, what else?  Ummm... this week marks the midway point of the semester!  This means that I am a mere two months away from complete and total completeness:  graduation.  My last day of class is technically on the 15th of December, which means that class-wise, I am less than two months away.  But graduation is on the 20th, so not quite.

In other news, an interesting piece of information has come to my attention.  It seems that my collegiate alma mater is looking for a new reference and instruction librarian.  The posting is a little old, but it is listed as "open until filled," so I figure they would have taken it off their website if they were not still looking.

So, I may just apply.   But here's the thing.  My alma mater is located out of state.  True, it is still in the Midwest, but not in a neighboring state.  My driving time estimate would put it in the 8 hour range.  BUT.  It is a beautiful campus.  It is in a lovely and charming town.  And it is in relatively close proximity to Chicago.  Oh, and I still have friends and acquaintances who live in the area. 

Not that I am counting on anything, mind you.  They do want someone with a completed degree, which I technically do not have... yet.  But... it would not be the worst situation in the world.  If I had to relocate out of state, it would be nice to go to a familiar place.  I could even pretend to relive my college days.  On the other hand, it could be a little depressing to be there without all my old gang around.  I would have to make an attempt to recruit them back to the area.  Hm...

Other than this, the only other new thing to report is that I have changed up Lena's daytime television programming.  I have had her on a steady schedule of "Rocky & Bullwinkle" DVDs, but these do not automatically loop when complete.  This means hours of her listening to the main menu sound effects.  My "Friends" DVDs, on the other hand, DO automatically loop.  So... she will be listening to the sounds of my early 20's.  Complete with a laugh track.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Killing time

Hm.  Well, right now I am sitting in the library of my school, killing some time.  You see, my class does not start for another hour and a half.  One of my group members is here now, but he is downstairs in the classroom working on a different part of the presentation.  Our third member is due to arrive in about 30 minutes. 

When we are all here, I expect that we shall gather to discuss the order of presentation, what should be added and what should be deleted.  Our motto has been to "keep it simple," yet our instructor has given us a full hour for our presentation/discussion and another full hour for our in-class exercise.  I highly doubt that we will be testing the limits of this time frame, but it really would be a shame if we finished everything in under an hour.

By now, I should be far enough in the program and comfortable enough with the subject matter to not get frazzled by the thought of presenting in front of a group.  Especially as I will be up with two other people and our audience is made up of six classmates and one teacher.  But still.

The other "big" event for today was the Career Fair.  In anticipation of an afternoon potentially full of interesting and fruitful conversations with employers, I decided to take a half day at work.  I departed at noon, stopped at Office Depot for some professional-looking shiny black folders to hold my 15 resumes, and left. 

When I arrived just before 1 p.m., I was dismayed to discover that most of the parking spots on campus were already full.  This may simply have been due to the fact that it is a Thursday and the undergrads are here and in class, but the Career Fair may have added to it just a bit.  After stashing my car at the far nether regions of campus, I trekked across through the (finally) fall-like weather to the building where the event was taking place.

In the interest of stifling any negative experiences, I stopped in the campus convenience store for gum.  Waiting in line with the undergrads, I started to feel out of place.  Old.  Boring.

Gum purchased, I went up to the Fair.  I had to "sign in" which consisted merely of making a name tag, entering a raffle and getting my free pen and business card folder.  I did manage to baffle the girl behind the desk when I replied "graduate student" to her inquiry as to what "year" I was.  In the end, she decided to call me a Senior.  Nice try, girlie, but I still feel old now.  Of course, the fact that she thought I was an undergraduate and therefore ten years younger than I really am could be a compliment.  Oh well.

As for the Fair itself, there were a good number of organizations present.  Unfortunately, most of them were not looking for graduate caliber employers.  Certainly not with a library science focus.  I did manage to give out two resumes, collect information for the job posting websites of two major companies and put my name down on a list for the Children's Museum.  Apparently, they may have a need for a library person/archivist in the future. 

Essentially, what I walked away with was a sense of disappointment.  Most representatives were quick to say that even though they were not looking for anyone in my area of expertise, I should certainly check out their websites and subscribe to their postings.  As if I had not already done so.  Should I have been prepared for this lack of interest?  Maybe.  Except that in the pre-published lists of attending companies that was distributed by the school, we were also provided with the lists of majors that the companies sought applicants from.  And guess what?  Library Science was listed for quite a few.

In their defense, the graduate programs at my school are not highly publicized.  Even within the school, the undergraduates receive the most attention as evidenced by the fact that the food services and coffee shop are rarely open on the nights and weekends that most grad students are on campus. 

But whatever.  It's over, right?  Now I just have the presentation to get through and it will be Friday. 

The truly unfortunate part of this whole ordeal was that I took a half day off at work when it was not necessary.  When I found myself done with circulating the Fair by 1:30, I had to find something to do.  Luckily, my school is situated near some interesting shops.  I have always wanted to explore these shops, and today was as good a time as any to do so. 

My first stop was Starbucks, for I greatly needed nourishment.  After that, Barnes and Noble.  Two book purchases later, I traveled across the road to Patina, a local store that sells merchandise that I can only classify as "gift-y."  I fully expected to see a large Halloween display and was momentarily shocked to see that it was actually overshadowed by the display of Christmas ornaments. 

Normally, I shy away from such blatant and obnoxious early-season nonsense, but my defences were down today, folks.  I managed to score three ornaments for three dogs.  I still need to find one for my brother and Heidi's dog and new kitten, but I am on the right track.  Oh, and I also bought a pair of peacock earrings that are awesome.  And two magnets. 

Merchandise in hand, I returned to my car and drove back to campus, uttering a silent prayer that parking would be available in my normal lot.  My prayers were answered, and I returned to school.  After a brief call to my mother to inform her not to buy any ornaments for the dogs because I had them covered, I hauled my scholarly butt back inside. 

After checking my classroom and finding the door locked, I retreated to the library computer terminal center, which is where I sit right now.  My third partner is due to arrive in 15 minutes, so I think I will continue to wait.  Clearly, my other partner has found a way into the classroom and is working there.  Or he has decided that he simply does not want to hang out with me while we wait for the other girl to arrive and is using this as a way to avoid being awkward.  I can deal with it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blingy, classy, with a little trashy on the side. And I like feathers.

What words would you use to describe yourself?  Would you like to borrow the one from the title to this blog entry?  Go ahead.  It isn't mine.

How would I describe myself?  First of all, I hate questions like this.  It is the rebellious part of me that believes that I am so complex that I simply defy simple description.  At least with words.  Maybe interpretive dance would work, but no one has ever offered to try.  Go figure.

At this moment in time, my brain is not functioning normally.  I could blame the fact that we are coming off of a full moon and this does strange things to people.  Or it could be that I am pre-menstrual.  Or that I have a group presentation tomorrow night and I am not quite sure how it will turn out.  OR the fact that tomorrow I am taking an uncharacteristically unnatural proactive move and attending a CAREER FAIR.

To be clear, the only fair I have attended with any regularity is the State Fair.  I believe I did attend a college fair once in high school, but as I had already selected my top choices, it was really more to lend support to friends.

But tomorrow, the university wherein I attend graduate school is hosting a career fair.  They have been most helpful in providing advice:  plan out your outfit the night ahead of time, have someone else proofread your resume, practice the interview with our cool simulation.

True, I do know what I am wearing, but as I have worked in the semi-professional world for nearly a decade I should think that I would have acquired at least one decent work outfit for the occasion.  The resume part has given me a bit more stress.  You see, last spring I wrote up a resume that I have used in various customized forms for all the jobs I have sought up to now.

The results of this resume speak for themselves:  nothing.  Several "thank you" letters, but obviously the information contained in the carefully selected lines did not impress the judges.  My theory as to why this has happened lies in the fact that it is very difficult to list one's full adult work experience when one has worked in varying capacities for the same company for nearly ten years.

There are many who would comfort me with the fact that many employers like to see that kind of staying power.  Truthfully, it is not as though I have worked in the same position for my entire tenure; in fact, I have been a member of nearly every department.  I have assisted top management with major projects in my time.  I do a good job. 

But on paper, this is hard to convey. 

To remedy this, I have reviewed several other example resume formats and determined that I may be better suited to highlight my education, skills and other dazzling features while effectively and concisely summarizing my work experience into a smaller space.

Of course, what am I up against tomorrow?  Undergraduates, mostly.  Most of these girls will not have much of anything (aside from school, extracurricular activities and possibly internships) to show.  I know that I should not be intimidated, but there are some pretty interesting companies attending and I would like to think that it could be a very valuable experience.  At the very least, it should be good practice as I have not made it to the interview stage in any other venue thus far.

So wish me luck.  If all else fails, I will keep checking on the job postings for Grand Marais and contemplate my potential at a life "off the grid."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Today has been one of those days for which the only thing I can say is "uff da!"


I realize that I should have seen it coming; those three day weekends will always catch you off guard.  That's right, I had Columbus Day off, people.  Don't hate.


Good news:  my car is ready.  This means that tomorrow I get to use my lunch break to drive like mad to the repair shop, pay what is owed, turn in my rental (bye bye Focus!) and pick up my pretty little girl.  Apparently she has a new headlight.  Woot woot.


Tomorrow night, Lena and I will make our triumphant Corolla-sponsored return to the scene of the crime:  my parents' driveway.


Thursday night, I have class.  Oh, and a presentation.  Don't ask what it is about because the subject is technical and I would likely bore you to tears before I even finished explaining what the acronym "TEI" means.


All I can say for sure is that it will be nice to have that finished.


I decided, in a fit of creative thought yesterday, that I was going to blog about my various European travels.  I know this may come across as snobby, and if you're upset, fine.  But the hard truth is that I have been to Europe several times in my life thus far and interesting things happen every time.


As I considered my past travels and worked my way back to the first, I found that I nearly completely overlooked my premier voyage.  How can this be?  Was I too young to remember?  No.  I was 16.  Was it not a good time?  Sure it was.  But let me explain.


When I was in 10th grade, my family signed up to host an exchange student from Germany.  Actually, we would have taken a student from any country, but after our failed attempt to host a young Norwegian fellow during my 9th grade year, we weren't too picky.


Our exchange student came to us through the Rotary Club.  I have no intention of going into an explanation of Rotarians, but just know that they are a bunch of civically-minded folks and they like to sponsor youth exchange programs.


Her name was Kim.  She was older than me, but shorter by several inches.  She looked nothing like what I imagined a German to be.  She had short dark hair, wore glasses, and dressed just like everyone else in my school.  Yes, she had an accent, but she never seemed overly foreign to us.


For the most part, we got along fine.  Not best friends, but friends.  Part of the deal with Rotary exchanges is that the student stays with three different families over the course of the year.  We had Kim first.  Around the holidays, she moved on.  Later in the spring, she moved again.


Finally, in late July, she was ready to go home.  To be honest, I did not really care all that much.  Lucky for me, my mother did.


Somehow (and I really have no idea how it all happened), my mother and Kim figured out that I should accompany Kim on her return voyage and then stay on with her family for a month.  Lest I sound like a total unaware idiot, I agreed to it, but I was not greatly invested in it.


My theory as to my lack of enthusiasm is simple:  I was 16.  I received my license to drive in April, and I had my first job by May.  My friends and I were active people and liked to hang out in our summer time off of school.  The thought that I would have to give up one entire month of that time was a little difficult for me to fathom.


To add to the issue, I was entering my junior year, which meant that I was taking AP English.  Which meant that I had summer reading and journaling to do.  Reading and journaling that I left until August to complete (of course).


My final piece of resistance was the fact that I did not know German; I was a student of the French language.  I had spent the past three years learning the wonders of French culture.  German had limited appeal; it was a harsh language and the only thing I really knew about them was that they liked beer and started two World Wars.  Hm.


Regardless of my reservations, I went along for the ride with no expectations.


Let me just say, that if you are going to Europe for the first time at 16 without any family or close friends, try not to travel with someone who is returning home to see people they have not seen for a year.  It is awkward.  Everyone is so excited to see the long-lost native that they have far less attention or enthusiasm for the strange American they brought home as a souvenir.


OK, OK.  Kim's family was actually very nice.  We landed in Frankfurt and were exhausted.  They drove us home to their house near the little town of Birkenau, located outside of Weinheim.  Truly, it was lovely.


From that point on, my trip was mostly rather relaxed.  Kim and I would bike into town to visit her non-English speaking grandparents and eat her grandmother's authentic German food, ride around on her Vespa scooter to try out different ice cream vendors or take day-long train trips to the bigger cities for sightseeing and shopping.


The primary things that I learned from this time:  German banks close at odd hours, German ice cream is very good, Birkenstocks are cheaper in Germany and Fanta is wonderful.


As a side note, I should add that my second most rebellious alcohol-related moment occurred on this trip.  When Kim and I went to town to visit her friend Alex, we were offered a small bottle of plum flavored schnapps.  Seriously, it was probably about two sips.  But I drank it and I felt naughty.


Most of the time, we were at the house.  But we did make two major overnight voyages.


The longer of the two was a group bike trip.  Again, I found myself in a situation where I knew very little at the outset of what was about to happen and just had to smile and go along for the ride.


Along with Kim's mother, stepfather, brother and stepsister, we drove to Passau, on the border of Germany and Austria.  Kim's mother made sure that the border guard stamped my passport, which was a nice touch.  We arrived at a quaint little hotel with free range dogs where we were "outfitted."


I mentioned that this was a bike trip, right?  Not just any bikes, mind you.  Old-school, used European bikes, complete with bells.  Essentially, the trip followed the Danube River over the course of a week to end in Vienna.  Not a short trek, thus there were several stops along the way arranged at various hotels.


This is how I was able to truly see the countryside of Austria firsthand while getting in the best shape of my life.  We toured the glorious monastery at Melk; we toured Mauthausen, the old Nazi concentration camp; I ate schnitzel for the first time; I toured Vienna.  I had yet to see Versailles, but the Sch├Ânbrunn is a pretty decent preview.


Honestly, for all my weirdness about it, it really will always be one of the most unique experiences I have ever had.


By the end of the journey, we were tired.  People were crabby.  Naturally.


Our other major trip was a voyage to the corner of Germany that borders France and Switzerland to visit Kim's former stepfather, the American.  Have you ever heard of the Black Forest?  That's where we were.  Oh, and we got to hop over the border and grocery shop at a Carrefour in France.  Eek.


In the end, I was glad to come home.  I kept a travel journal (that I cannot find) and took many pictures.  But when I think back, an event on my last day still stands out the most.


We were pretty casual on my last day.  We visited some of Kim's friends, and as usual, I sat quietly while they conversed in their native tongue.  Kim would translate, and often her friends would address me in English.  As we were preparing to leave, someone asked Kim a question, to which she responded, "Ich habe keinen Schl├╝ssel."  Without batting an eye, I blurted out, "I know what you just said!"


To prove this, I translated, "I don't have a key."  


Kim was elated.  Through no formal training, I had finally (in five weeks) managed to absorb enough language to understand some conversation.  She was convinced that if I were to stay five more weeks, I would have been nearly fluent.


Sadly, that was not an option as my school year back in Minnesota was starting in a week, but it was an intriguing though.  


Of course, I did not return and immediately drop French for German.  Oh, the French would pay off someday, that much you will learn.  But for a brief part of one of my teenage summers, I was immersed in a real-life language program.  I saw things that I will likely never see again, tasted things that may never be tasted again and spoke a language I may never understand again.


Such was my introduction to Europe.  I knew I would be back.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

North Shore Dreaming

Pardon me, but I needed to take a few days off from blogging.  For my sanity.  Or at least to help me not feel like I was deliberately avoiding the real work at hand.

You see, this week I have a group presentation.  Yes, it is on Thursday, and yes, it is only to a group of six other students, but it is a little nerve-wracking to think about.  Of course, I am also working with two other people, which means that I must continually calm myself with the knowledge that we are all going to contribute and I do not need to do all the work.

This Thursday is important for other reasons as well.  I am attending a Career Fair.  I have never in my life attended such an event, and I am a little bit nervous.  I have been attempting to improve my resume, but the level of creativity required for such an activity only seems to come in spurts these days.  Wish me luck.

My parents have returned from their getaway up north to the fabulous out-of-the-way town of Grand Marais.  If you don't believe me, find this place on your handy MN map.  Hint:  you will need to look along the shore of Lake Superior.

They returned full of stories of the locals, the beautiful scenery and the fabulous food.  As they shared, I was again reminded of an idea that has been at the back of my mind since I was quite a bit younger.  When I was in middle school, my family made a trip up to Duluth to visit friends.  We had a wonderful time.  The most significant outcome of this was that I became enchanted with the North Shore.  Duluth is a lovely town, but driving along the coast of Lake Superior is an experience like none other.

I believe that this was around the time that my parents took me with them on a trip to Boston.  I had never spent much time in coastal towns, and something about being so close to the ocean was intriguing to me.  When I discovered Duluth, I realized that coastal living may be even closer than I had thought.  In my head, I formulated a plan to one day live along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

True, I had no idea what I would do for a job or how old I would be when I moved, but I envisioned myself being happy there.  Not only because the scenery is beautiful, but for many other supplementary reasons as well.


I really do love the fact that Lake Superior renders the need for air-conditioning useless.  If you are familiar with my lamenting the need to find a place to live that does not suffer from high heat and humidity, this may be the solution.  And it wouldn't require me to leave my home state, which is always a bonus.

I assume that the relative remote-ness of towns along the North Shore would make it easier to relax and be peaceful.  Not that my life is truly that hectic as I do not have children or a spouse to care for, but work, school and paying for the gas to transport myself between all these locations on a daily basis can be overwhelming.  I do miss the days of living in a small town and knowing that everywhere I need to be was within 15 minutes of driving time and where rush-hour was non-existent.

Clearly, I do not have a specific plan of action to remove myself to Lake Superior in the near future, but it is interesting how old dreams can resurface so easily.  Perhaps I will keep an eye out for librarian job openings up north and wait for the right opportunity.  Or maybe I will live in my town house for the rest of my life.  We shall see.




Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mini-live-blog

I am doing a bit of live-blogging from class tonight.  Not because the subject isn't interesting, but because we are going over every single piece of information that we painstakingly read this week on our own.  Assuming that everyone read the text carefully might be presumptuous, but I love to presume.

I certainly would not have to give a lecture on the container elements from a major metadata scheme all by myself, but it is very hard to focus on examples and information that I have already focused on and evaluated on my own.  Oh well.

Perspective

If you blinked, you may have missed my last entry.  It has now been moved away from visibility, but it was really more of a means for me to vent about frustrations with a school project than anything, so you're not missing much.

One of my reasons for removing this entry was that I recently finished a book about a local woman and Auschwitz/Holocaust survivor.  You can find the book details in my reader's advisory tab/page, so I won't go into too much detail.  However, I did realize after writing my frustrations out and then reading the end of this book that if this woman can be free of bitterness after her horrible and atrocious treatment at the hands of her captors, I can certainly get over my irritation with a piddly group project assignment.

Talk about a perspective shift.  Sorry if that sounds too simple, but the most obvious things usually are.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rental agreements

You may not know this, but I have a tendency to be a bit of a rule follower.  This is not to say that I never do anything wrong or have never had a traffic ticket (bike or automobile), but I am not one who willingly or purposefully "bends" the rules.  Generally.

The latest example of this paranoia comes courtesy of the fact that I am presently driving a rental car.  Not just any rental car, mind you.  It is a tricked out kick-ass Ford Focus, complete with sweet rims and leather interior.  It is by far more luxurious than anything I have ever driven or owned, but don't worry, I still prefer the simpler features of my Corolla. 

When one rents a car, one signs a contract agreeing to do or not do certain things.  I agreed to make sure that there is no damage to the car and put the gas level back to where it started when I return it.  I agreed not to smoke in the car.  I agreed to be the only driver of the vehicle.  I agreed not to have any pets in the vehicle.

Most of the rules listed above are not difficult to follow.  The last one is where I found myself in a bit of a dilemma.  You see, a year ago when I had my last Corolla in the shop, I did not have a dog.  Now I do.  According to my normal schedule, Lena and I would have gone back to my house last night in the car. 

Faced with the possibility of a $100 fine for having her in the rental car, this plan was momentarily halted.  I weighed the pros and cons, I sought the opinions of others and I tried to come up with ways to keep Lena sufficiently contained so that no hair, nail scratches or window schnozz marks would occur.  Short of wrapping her feet and fur in Saran Wrap, there was no way.

There was a suggestion of simply cleaning the car before returning it.  This would mean vacuuming seats and floor mats, cleaning windows and carefully inspecting the upholstery for scratch marks.  Given the fact that I will likely not be driving this car for very long, I did not relish the thought of such a time consuming procedure.

Of course, there was always the easiest option of just letting her ride in the car, putting down some blankets and assuming that the rental company would be none the wiser.  I admit, this outcome would have been the easiest and could have actually worked.  If only I was not so afraid. 

True, they could not drag me through the streets and give me a public flogging for my transgression, but they could force me to pay them $100.  While the monetary inducement to follow the rules was great, the greater deterrent (for me) was the fact that I would be breaking my contract.

I don't know about you, but I don't like to break anything.  Especially things that I have signed.  With my signature.  With a pen.  For a really cute guy who is apparently trying to "go off coffee."  Hm.

So in the end, I opted to take the least convenient yet most rule-abiding route.  I went home after work last night and packed up some more clothes so that Lena and I could stay a bit longer at my parents' house.  We have an upcoming episode of Auntie Megan's Doggie Weekend Camp coming up on Friday anyway.  Might as well stay for the long haul.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Friends and Foodies

It was an interesting weekend, folks.  Not only did I bake a cake with an superfluous egg (which turned out blessedly normal), but I was able to try out two new restaurants.  OK, so the restaurants are not exactly new, but they were new to me.

On Saturday, I went with my mother and our two best friends to Pizzeria Lola.  It was amazing on many levels.  First, it is very close to my parents' house, which makes the drive almost unnecessary.  Second, the pizza and food were awesome.  I had the Lady Zaza pizza, which was an Asian influenced pie that featured an ingredient that I have long been curious about:  kimchi.  This pizza has a kick, but it was sooooooo worth it. 

For an appetizer, my mother and I split an order of roasted Brussels sprouts.  That's right, you heard me.  I ate my Brussels sprouts, and I loved it. 

Aside from the food and location, the other amazing thing about this place was the amount of customers.  It is not a large restaurant, even though the use of outdoor dining space does increase the number of tables substantially in warmer MN months.  We arrived at 5 p.m., which is early for dinner by most standards, but they do not take reservations. 

When we arrived, there were already other people seated and eating.  By 5:15, the place started to fill up.  By 5:30, people were starting to be put on wait lists.  If you don't understand what I am saying, please know that 5:30 p.m. is still rather early for dinner in these parts.  To be told that you have to sit and wait for a table to open when you arrive at this time is unusual.  But people waited.  Patiently, I might add.

We kept our booth full for almost two hours before we went home to sample my extra-egg cake. 

On Sunday, I tried another restaurant, this time with my high school friends.  It was a lunch event, and there was a toddler present, so it was a different vibe altogether.  Also, this particular restaurant must not attract a lot of Sunday lunch-goers, because we pretty much had the dining room to ourselves.  The food was alright, and I would probably not fight a request to return, but my preference will always be Lola's.

Aside from all the eating I did this weekend, I was also able to come to an interesting observation.  As we sat around chatting about life on Saturday night, my friend shared a story about her husband.  Now, for starters, we all think her hubby is a fantastic guy.  Seriously.  I gave a speech at their wedding, and I believe I made it publicly very clear that there is no better man in the universe for my best friend. 

One might think that my opinion could be challenged over time, but she is continually supplying us with information that confirms that he truly is a really great person.  You may be wondering what it was that has lately led to my confirmed beliefs.  Prepare to be amazed.

My friend's husband not only cooks and cleans, he also does errands.  Apparently, in his recent run to the store, he came home with a new bottle of my friends' body wash.  Not because she put it on his list and not because she asked him to buy it.  He bought it because he noticed that she was running low.  I italicized in the previous sentence because I want to be clear that this is truly an amazing feat.

It has been my experience that most people do not pay attention to the toiletry supplies of others, especially the ones that they themselves do not use.  The fact that this person who is first of all MALE should pick up on the subtle cue that my friend's body wash may be running low due to the fact that it was turned upside down is nothing short of amazing.  At least to me it is.

This story spurred my mother to again ask whether or not my friends' husband had any single friends for me.  We laughed, but my mom was semi-serious.  It was this part of the conversation that led me to my epiphany. 

Most of my friends are married to wonderful men.  Honestly, I could not be happier with how things have worked out for them.  When most of one's friends are married, one faces the inevitable question, "Don't any of their husbands have friends for you?"

Yes, my friends' husbands do indeed have friends.  Many are already married, but there are indeed a few singles.  It is not a totally outlandish assumption to guess that since the husband is such a great guy, it follows that his friends are all considerate bodywash-noticing gentlemen as well.  But this is a dangerous presumption.

Here is why.

In the reverse of this scenario, say that a guy was to ask his married buddy to be set up with one of his wife's friends because she seemed like a terrific gal.  Heck, she made his buddy unbelievably happy, and surely her friends would have to be just as great.

And you know, her friends may be just as great.  But in a different way.  In the case of me and my best friend, while we get along like gangbusters, we are definitely different in many ways.  She finds housecleaning cathartic; I find it barbaric.  She is capable of jumping in and chatting amiably to just about anyone; I tend to hang back and observe.  I could go on, but you get the picture. 

The things that make her seem perfect to her husband's friend may not be things that translate well to me.  Would he be disappointed?  Possibly.

This analogy should demonstrate pretty clearly why I cannot expect the friends of my friend's husband to possess some of the unique qualities of the man himself.  I simply do not think that bodywash awareness translates.

Does this mean that I shouldn't consider a set up with a friend of a friend's husband?  Not really.  If there was some serious thought put into personality type, lifestyle and tastes, I would consider trying it out.  But expectations should be carefully made; no one is a carbon copy of their friends.

I hope that this epiphany does not come across as snarky or discouraging.  It was not my intention to sound this way; I simply wish to share this interesting "discovery" and offer my perspective.  If you take anything away from this entry, take my restaurant recommendation for Pizzeria Lola.  I am confident that in this discovery, I am definitely 100% correct in my opinion. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Baking under the influence of TV = not a good idea

Sorry to say this, but this will be another entry centered around cake. 

Today was my big chocolate cake baking day, and I prepared for it well.  I read the recipe ahead of time, prepared my mise en place by setting out my ingredients, preheated my oven.  Everything was SET.

The preparation/mixing stage went smoothly - I even watched Food Network while doing it.  Looking back, this may have been my downfall.

You see, I realized shortly after I placed the cake in the oven that I had used THREE eggs when I should have used TWO.  At this point, I frantically turned to the Internet in search of advice or information as to how this mishap would affect the final product.  Nothing that I found sounded too dire, so I continued. 

Then came the Seven Minute Icing.  Like a fool, I neglected the author's note that this was not the same animal as the Seven Minute Frosting, listed elsewhere in the book.  This is why it is always important to pay attention to directions, kids.

The difference between icing and frosting, as I see it, is that icing is much more liquid-like and more concentrated.  Frosting is lighter, fluffier.  More of what I am used to. 

But no matter, I made the icing as directed. 

The final problem to overcome came in the form of the layer filling.  As I had been assuming that I would be working with frosting, I had not considered this.  The icing recipe was clearly not plentiful enough to cover a double layer cake. 

At this point, I have my mother to thank for the improvisation.  We searched the cupboards for possible solutions; anything that was sweet and substantial could work.  Cool Whip, cream cheese, whipped cream, anything.  But we had none.  All that we could find was a jar of marshmallow fluff.  As I am somewhat unaccustomed to this substance, I allowed my mother to step in and experiment.

In the end, we were able to get it to a consistency that worked as a filler for the layers.  True, it is not thick, nor is it terribly fluffy (contrary to its name), but it should taste just fine. 

Then came the icing conundrum.  I could have carefully spread the icing over the exterior of the entire cake and smoothed it all out nicely.  Instead, we opted for the "sloppy" look that is achieved by pouring the entire batch of icing over the center of the cake and allowing it to flow over the sides as is its wont. 

Here is the final effect:


Please note:  I am not a food photographer.  I know that the setting/lighting is all wrong, but you get what you pay for.  Honestly, I did have to fight the temptation to take the icing spatula and smooth out the sides to an even coating.  But I have resisted.  After all, it is a cake for friends, not for show, and the taste will be the same either way.  
I can only hope that the extra egg and improvised filling will not take too much away from the final evaluation.  I will let you know how it goes.