Travel Thursday: Minnesota via Instagram

// Thursday, April 9, 2015

Every Thursday, I’ll be posting about travel. More often than not, it will be a look back at recent trips I’ve taken, such as the British Virgin Islands, which I wrote about two weeks ago, but sometimes it will be a place I’m itching to go to, or a place a friend has visited and I can’t stop thinking about. This is a new series, and one that’s likely to evolve over time.

Last week, when I talked about the roadtrip to Minnesota I took with my boyfriend, I was really just writing the first half of the story: because once the roadtrip ended, I spent four days both playing tourist and hanging out with my boyfriend’s family (and their adorable puppy – this picture is from July, but how cute is she??). It was a wonderful, wonderful trip, so here’s a look back at playing tourist in Minnesota via Instagram.

tt2-09-nacho-mamasWe wandered around Stillwater on Friday, Nacho Mama’s in Stillwater for lunch – super cute interior, but neither one of us were particularly impressed with the food. He’s been there before and really enjoyed it, but this time around not so much.I had the El Cabo Wabo Sandwich, and everything was drowning in ranch sauce, and in spite of the assurances I received beforehand, there was so way to avoid the excessive jalapeños both on and in the bread.

tt2-10-book-teaHOWEVER: after lunch, we went into a few of the local used/rare bookstores in the downtown, and things picked up considerably. I know this sort of display isn’t unique to Stillwater, MN, but it made me smile all the same.

tt2-11-nancy-drewAND THEN THERE WAS THIS. My one regret from this trip is that I didn’t purchase this book. I couldn’t quite justify the cost at the time (wasn’t terrible, definitely – very reasonable, considering, but more than I was willing to pay for a book at that moment), but this was a first edition of the original 1930 version of The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene. I was obsessed with Nancy Drew growing up: on one trip to Florida, I brought five books with me and read more than one complete book on the plane ride there from Boston. And I still have all of the (modern) versions of the (original) series: needless to say, I probably maybe almost definitely should have bought it? But oh well. If it’s there the next time I’m in MN, I might.

tt2-12-babar-portrait BABAR. (See also: used/rare books bookstores are the best. Also, so much childhood nostalgia – though the one thing I ended up buying was a used Kurt Vonnegut hardcover, which I’ve yet to actually crack open. I showed some restraint, at least, re: wanting all of the childhood things. At least in terms of purchasing them, anyways. I liked this poster (piece of art?) a lot.)

tt2-13-stone-tap-portraitWe met T’s cousin for dinner and drinks at the Stone Tap Brewery in Hudson, WI. I was super impressed with the beer flight I had. I learned I liked saisons! I loved three of the four of them! I do not remember what all of them were/all of their names. Beer names and types: not something that sticks in my brain. That said: the Left Bridge Farm Girl was my favorite.

tt2-14-five-wattFive Watt Coffee. This is their menu: enough said. We both had the orange blossom special, and yum does not even come close to describing it.

tt2-16-mall-of-americaGratuitous picture of the roller coaster in the center of the Mall of America, because I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this a thing that exists. Also, I knew going in that the mall was gigantic, but I definitely didn’t have a good grasp of what that actually meant. There are duplicates of stores. And a roller coaster. And a ferris wheel. America is a very strange place, sometimes.

tt2-19-indeedSaturday night at Indeed Brewing Company It’s a wonderful spot – great beer, great atmosphere, great food trucks according to others (we didn’t have dinner there), great gift shop. (I may or may not have a shirt or two and some pint glasses. Like I said: great place.)

tt2-21-chimborazoAfter we had post-family-Chistmas-party beer at Indeed, we headed over to Chimborazo in Minneapolis, a delightfully wonderful Ecuadorian restaurant. Everything we had was absolutely phenomenal. If you ever find yourself in Minneapolis, I seriously cannot recommend them highly enough. Great space, great staff and service, great food.

I’m not sure when the next time I’ll be back in Minnesota is, but it’s nice to know that I’ve got a ready list of places to which I want to return when we’re back in the area. Also, I’ve started following on Instagram both Five Watt Coffee (link) and Indeed Brewing (link) on Instagram, and it makes me want all of the things. Mostly coffee. And sometimes good beer.

Have you ever been to Minnesota? Any recommendations for the next time I’m there?

introspection and dinner parties (or: apparently dinner parties inspire me to write a lot of words)

// Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A disclaimer: the impetus for this post came from a dinner party that I went to a few weeks ago, where I was reminded of the importance of living in the moment, of how certain experiences cannot be had without spontaneity, of how the real human connection that comes from being in the physical presence of others cannot ever be replaced completely by moments happening through and amongst the internet. And it prompted me to think a lot, and to therefore write a lot of words.

A not-at-all-shocking confession: I spend too much time in front of screens. Some of it is necessary; some of it is for fun, personal growth things (hi, blog! also learning to code more); some of it is just wasting time; and some of it is connection masquerading as wasting time (see: maybe 1/3 of time spent the internet; if I were pressed, I’d say 1/3 learning/growing/reading, 1/3 connection-maintaining, 1/3 idly spending time). The more I’m trying to prioritize what I’m interested in and the more I’m trying to connect and disconnect and write, the more I’m realizing that finding a balance isn’t a simple, one-step process. There’s a lot of trial and error, as well as a surprising amount of anxiety around self-applied pressure to figure it out correctly the first time, to suddenly be able to do All Of The Things while also having free time (and also trying to find time to Visit All Of The Friends without all of the failing; haven’t had success with that yet).

So I’m cutting myself some slack. I’ve been holding myself to impossible standards, and because of that, I haven’t been able to fully appreciate what it is that I’m actually accomplishing. And I’m accomplishing a lot. I’ve made time, tangibly if only occasionally, to write (see above image, which was taken while I was spending my lunch hour writing and drinking coffee at the North End location of The Thinking Cup, which I should do a post about one of these days, because it is lovely), and I’m keeping up with my Q&A a Day: 5-Year-Journal. I’ve been (with only a few exceptions) much better about getting enough sleep, and on work nights I’m (almost, but not always) in bed by 11:30. I built a website as a gift, largely because I thought it would be a great gift but also in part to see if I could. (Realization: as much as I’m ehhhh on fully mobile responsive, mobile-first websites (I’m a dinosaur, I know), Bootstrap is great.) And I’ve been going climbing on a fairly regular basis and getting better about my nightly routine (morning is okay, working on making it better). Basically, what this translates to is that for the first time I can think of recently, maybe ever, it’s three months into the 2015 and the resolutions I made are being put into practice constantly. But it’s still hard not to lose perspective, to feel like I could constantly do more, do better. So I’m reminding myself, here, publicly, that I am Doing Things, and doing them well, even if there is – and always will be – room for improvement. Because that’s what life is: constantly, continuously, improving and growing.

I have noticed, however, that I’ve been stretching myself a little thin, so I’m working on that. Because I’m busy in general and I’m trying to form new habits and routines (writing more, creating more, etc.) and I’m also working on Doing Things More, which is good (wonderful, even!), but I’m finding it hard to let myself schedule down time: time where I can write if and only if that’s what I feel like doing, or read, or maybe just be, focusing on life out the window or thoughts via my ceiling (to be honest, whenever I think that I cannot help but feel of I’m trying to be a variation of Stephanie Plum, who frequently describes her thinking position as laying down on her bed with her eyes closed). Sidenote: if you’re ever looking for a fun beach/summer read, I highly recommended – with caveats – the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. The first twelve books (One for the Money through Twelve Sharp) are great. Beyond that, they…are less great, so I am not wholeheartedly recommending those, but they’re still fun to read (well, kind of) if you been into the series from the beginning. ALSO: one of my most entertaining book reading memories, in hindsight, is reading Hot Six in study period in middle school, and having the boy next to me loudly – and indignantly – ask what I was reading because he, ahem, misread the title, and the teacher, from whom I was sitting about a foot away, do a hilarious double-take. That was in eighth grade, so while it was super awkward at the time, now just makes me laugh. Probably shouldn’t have been reading that book in eighth grade, though, because while I was able to very convincingly say that the title was “SIX, like the NUMBER”, the play on words was not unintentional, title-wise. But I digress.

My digression, though, is also my point: I haven’t had made enough time to just let my thoughts wander and see where they go. Granted, in this case, those thoughts are tending towards beach reads and the thought of future warmth (17 days until spring!), but there’s nothing wrong with that. My lack of making time is on me, and I’m going to work on it. I just need to focus on finding a balance.

That’s where the dinner party – which happened a few weeks ago now – comes in: the mother of some friends was throwing a dinner party, and my boyfriend and I were lucky enough to receive a spur of the moment invitation. The guests came from different age groups, different life experiences, different cultures; and we all just clicked. Given how varied and diverse the group was, the night really got me thinking about the importance of finding middle, common ground; how that applies to life in general just as much as it does to relationships or opinions or politics or what have you.

The night started with conversations and drinks; conversations spilled into (absolutely delicious) dinner, accompanied by wine and candlelight. And then! And then there were performances: spontaneous piano and guitar playing by hosts and guests alike; singing opera and pop songs spanning decades; poetry reading. I hadn’t realized dinner parties like that – nights like that – existed outside of the 1950s-ish. I come from a small family with limited social circles (this generation, anyways: apparently my grandma could throw quite the dinner party, but those years were long gone by the time I entered the picture). It was a wonderful, wonderful night. At face value, it was just a night of conversation, food, wine, and music, but it all blended into something bigger than the sum of the parts. And it got me out of my head and into the bigger picture. I was inspired by so many of the people there on so many different levels.

I recently came across an old article in The New York Times about how dinner parties are “endangered”, about how they’re no longer the dinner parties of bygone eras. The article is from 2012, but it’s more relevant than ever, discussing how we’re too busy and overscheduled to possibly find the time. But what the article touches on, but doesn’t really delve into, is that what is under threat are the formal dinner parties, the ones with rules and assigned place-settings, because the social dynamics and norms are shifting. At its heart, though, the article is optimistic, implying that dinner parties – in some form, at least – will never go away, because they evolves as we evolve; because there is middle ground:

There is no leveler quite like a dinner table, said Mr. Hitz, a longtime bicoastal whose dinners at his California digs, an aerie perched high above Sunset Boulevard, tend to be populated by Hollywood types from across the demographic spectrum. “The 20-year-olds enjoy the 90-year-olds,” he said. “And I can assure you the 90-year-olds enjoy the 20-year-olds. …. “If anyone tells me, ‘I’m freaking out, I have six people coming to dinner, what do I do?’ ” Mr. Hitz said, “I say serve chicken potpie and a salad, make sure there’s plenty of wine and keep the lights low. How can it go wrong?”

And that’s precisely what I’ve experienced: dinner was simple, yet excellent, and we enjoyed spending time in each other’s company, holding conversations that sparked other conversations, and, later, a long train of thought that led to this post.

dinner party wine & candlelight

So this is my reminder – to myself, to anyone who reads this – to find inspiration from those close to you, from the events you happen to attend at the last minute (upcoming post, by the way: the performance of Cassie & Maggie we attended last weekend at Club Passim because those same friends had two extra tickets), from what you’ve accomplished so far. Because there are so many things by which to be inspired, and mostly it comes down to letting yourself appreciate what’s in front of you.

Have you been to a dinner party, in whatever form? What has recently inspired you?

on gratitude.

// Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thanksgiving was nearly two weeks ago. I meant to write a post then, but instead I focused on time with family and friends and friends that are family. I was able to see so many people in such a short period of time; it was the most lovely. Two wonderful, wonderful friends were up visiting family for the weekend, and my time over the quote unquote holiday break was filled with good coffee and even better company, with laughter and wandering and some aimless leisurely shopping.

Work has been crazy busy lately, so I appreciated the four day weekend – and luckily, since my family is local, it wasn’t a problem for me that I was working regular hours on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. (And truthfully, I didn’t even really notice, because even in college when I worked at the library, I almost always worked the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, because the library was open even though no classes were held.)

This year, I’m grateful for so many things: my boyfriend, my friends, my family, the relative health of my family. The fact that I have a job that enables me to do many of the things I’d like to do – to travel and go on vacation within reason, to rent an apartment that I love, to save money while still going out occasionally. I have so many wonderful people in my life that I love, and this holiday – this season, really, between Thanksgiving and [UU, so more or less non-denominational, for me] Christmas – makes me more aware of that than anything. Not everything in my life is great, but even with all of the not so great things, and the complicated, worrisome things that sometimes keep me up at night, I’m okay. I’m more than okay; more than just surviving: by and large, I am wonderfully happy. And even on bad days, I try not to lose sight of the fact that I have an amazing support system, something for which I am incredibly grateful.

(If you are wondering, this post: all of the adverbs. I can’t avoid them, because, well, filled with gratitude. I’m like that emoji with heart eyes. But I think there are worse things to be, so I’m just going with it for now.)

I’ve been thinking lately – both independently and inspired by articles like this one in The Boston Globe about forgetting to say thank you – about how so much time is spent wishing for something better, or wanting, or just not seeing what’s in front of you and appreciating all of the good things. And I have a skewed perspective compared to some: since sixth grade, I’ve lost two close (adult) family friends – one suddenly and unexpectedly and one after months’ long battle with cancer, a high school teacher (who was only 32), and both of my paternal grandparents, both of whom had relatively long and emotionally trying battles. My dad had a brief but terrifying cancer scare and complications, which involved a decent amount of hospital time. My mom has/has had a number of health issues. Some people very close to me have/make barely enough money to survive. My point in listing this is not to wallow or present a ~woe is me~ picture; instead, I view it the opposite way: I have so much for which to be grateful. I learned early on the downsides of too many things, and gratitude is important. Appreciation for life is important, for the simple things such as laughing with friends over coffee and wasting time until you can have delightful cupcakes at 11 AM on Black Friday. For baking pie with T and attempting a new recipe on the night before Thanksgiving at 11 PM. For a cat that is family, a confidant and peer and child, who is getting on in age with a few issues but still happy, even though all of us – him included – know that eventually, we have to start thinking about what happens next.

This season – maybe more than I have in past years – the good is what I’m focused on: the happiness I have that stems from the wonderful people around me. The fact that I am able to and do get out of bed every day and almost always leave my apartment at least once. Because, perspective. Because so much is fleeting and complicated, but so much too is permanent in its own way and easy and simple, and not only simple but beautiful in its simplicity.

This season is hard for me. It always is. But this year I’m focusing on the good. I’m seeing Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker tonight with my oldest best friend, for a hilarious reason I’ll document later, but I’m seeing it tonight for the first time in at least fifteen years I think, and I am the most excited to be seeing it with her and to be seeing it again in general. So, yeah. Focusing on the good.

Just. I am grateful for so many things. Happy (first official post of the) holiday season.

on (mostly) buying nothing for a month

// Thursday, May 1, 2014

My buy nothing month (inspired by this post, among others,  over at Our Little Apartment) has gone quite well for me. I made two non-food related purchases, excluding the plane tickets I had to buy recently for a summer trip (the costs kept going up, and it didn’t make sense to wait; I’m stupidly excited for July): pens at the very beginning of the month when I hadn’t really accepted I was going to succeed yet and the iTunes version of the MTV Presents Unplugged 2012: Florence + the Machine album. I shouldn’t have done the iTunes purchase, probably, but (1) one slip up won’t kill me and (2) it (I’m rationalizing, I know) made sense because I had a deal through my AmEx card that if I spent $5 on iTunes I would get a $5 statement credit, so I bought the entire album for essentially $5, and I’ve been wanting it for a while. A fifty percent savings seemed too good to pass up, rightly or wrongly. But overall, I’m quite pleased with how well I did, though I think I might have spent more on food than normal? But I’m okay with that right now.

It also made notice some things about my other spending habits. I’m going to keep along a similar vein for May, but instead of Buy Nothing, it’s going to be a “Buy Only Necessary Things and Don’t Buy Non-Social Coffee” (I need a new pair of sneakers, a lightweight jacket I can run in, and maybe but not definitely a new pair of sandals). I’m also going to do my damnedest to limit myself to purchasing coffee only as a social thing (when I’ve made a coffee date, etc.) – that is, no treats because I know it will be a long work day, or because I’m extra tired, or because I don’t feel well. I have perfectly delicious coffee at home (truth: Tonx is the best), and spending $4 a cup for no particular reason is both absurd and a habit I need to break. I’m also going to cut down on how much I eat out. I by no means eat out excessively or expensively, but it is definitely something on which I need to work.

I’m not sure whether there’s a correlation between buying less and doing more enriching things, but this past month I’ve liked myself more. I’ve spent more time outside; I’ve started running again; I’ve finished one book and started two more; I’ve made progress on knitting (did I mention I’m learning to knit?! I’m learning to knit. I’m making a scarf, currently, which I realize is the most seasonally appropriate thing I could make, I know, but it’s helping me get used to the motions of knitting); I’ve been better about writing posts, even if I haven’t been better about posting them. I think the last month has just made me more aware of how I spend my time; when wandering around the target or the mall isn’t something I want to do, I have to tangibly come up with things, versus passively fall back on shopping for lack of anything better to do. I think it’s been healthy for me. I didn’t shop often anyways, but it definitely became a habit; I’d be bored and not want to clean or sort paperwork, so I’d go to Target instead. I feel like I’m much less inclined to do that now, and I’m pleased. So, yes. Continuing the spirit of Buy Nothing Month for May, though I’m definitely tweaking it a little this month. I’m enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would, honestly. It’s nice.

Anyone else want to do a Buy Nothing month with me in the future? Alternatively, if you’ve done one in the past, did you have trouble? What, if anything, was your biggest problem area?

on notebooks and pens (but mostly notebooks)

// Monday, January 20, 2014

In keeping with my 2014 resolutions, I’ve started documenting my life more, keeping what amounts to a belated daily journal (inspired by a friend’s notion of daily logging – her version is more detailed and dedicated than I can see myself truly able to maintain, but it’s more or less what I aspire to do). I purchased an extra large Moleskine notebook (the yellow-orange color of this one, but in the 7.5×10 hardcover version) for it; it’s lovely and really kind of oddly calming to write in a large notebook, because usually I end up using the 5×8 Moleskines and then end up feeling like I’ve written a lot when really I haven’t written any words at all, relatively speaking. When I’m away from my room, though, I write in a grey 5×8 volant journal because it’s easy to carry in my purse, write, and then transfer said writing to the larger one. It’s a process, and I haven’t gotten fully into the habit yet, but I’m working on it. I’m only a couple days behind at the moment.

Anyways, so now that I’ve taken to writing in this nice, pretty, well-crafted journal with nice pens (through work, I’ve rekindled my love affair with Vision Elite microball pens? The ones I really want to find that my roommate has, I can’t, which is a bummer. I know they exist? They’re the cloudy micropoint uniball ones, and they’re perfect. But the ones I have will do, so whatever), I started thinking about how different paper/pens really can make a difference in how I perceive the quality of what I’m writing and also in whether or not I’m motivated to write (which is why I splurged on the Moleskine in the first place). That thought process, in turn, made me remember one of the quotes I latched onto in the novel One Day by David Nicholls, and how fitting it is:

“She drinks pints of coffee and writes little observations and ideas for stories with her best fountain pen on the linen-white pages of expensive notebooks. Sometimes, when it’s going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationary. The true writer, the born writer, will scribble words on scraps of litter, the back of bus tickets, on the wall of a cell …. But other times she finds herself writing happily for hours, as if the words had been there all along, content and alone in her one-bedroom flat…” (114)

Because for me, both of those are true. When I worked at Borders (I miss Borders more than I should, maybe) before and during college (likely would’ve been after, too, if they hadn’t gone under before I graduated), I wrote on the backs of receipts and blank receipt paper all of the time. But now that I don’t have prolonged periods of idle, wandering thoughts while standing at a cash register, I find that if I’m not writing on the computer, I’ll only really write if I’m writing in a good quality notebook or on good quality paper. Sometimes that worries me. That’s something I’m going to work on getting better about as well. Writing more is writing more is writing more, regardless of what kind of paper is used. But regardless, more writing: a thing I am going to do.

In keeping with that mentality, this past weekend (of the 10th, not this most recent one), the goal was to be productive at least part of the time, so T. and I went to D2 Java in Exeter, NH for coffee, followed by lunch at Me & Ollie’s Bakery and Cafe, which then turned into a writing and working afternoon, and it was the most wonderful. D2 Java, by the way, is one of my absolute favorite places for coffee; a post about afternoons in Exeter is forthcoming very soon, because it merits more than a few sentences. For now, though, I’ll leave you with a picture from Saturday. Coziest of cozy.

coffee and productivity, january 2014

coffee and productivity, january 2014