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?

happy (mid) november! *

// Friday, November 21, 2014

October ended quietly: my roommate and I spent Halloween in, eating delicious pumpkin oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies and watching America’s Next Top Model with our downstairs neighbors. The last week of October was a whirlwind of activity (helping my boyfriend move, hosting dinner for my mom and grandma – I made lamb chops with pears and balsamic sauce and they were delightful (which was a pleasant surprise because I’d never cooked lamb chops before), seeing Rodrigo y Gabriela in Boston at the Orpheum Theatre, failed dinner plans that turned into an errand night), so it was nice to have a low key night in with good people.

On that note, a few words about the last week of October, which was filled with family and more good people. It marked the first half-month of being 25 (that’s a thing people count, right?) and it couldn’t have been better spent. I hadn’t seen my grandma since last October when she sold her house up in MA and moved completely down to Florida (she’d been dividing time between the two for some time), and I was able to show her my apartment for the first time. The kitchen alone (we’ve since unfolded that table and the space looks even bigger) demonstrates everything I love about the apartment I share with my roommate, and also is precisely why my grandma loved it. It reminds me a lot of her old house at the Cape, actually, so I loved the symmetry of being able to show it to her for the first time on the same visit she was going back to the Cape** for the first time in over a year. It’s funny how things work out. The night my grandma flew back to Florida was the night T and I went to see Rodrigo y Gabriela, which also happened to be the (sold-out) last night of their tour. It was wonderful, and I’ve been lucky enough to go to more opening/closing nights of tours than seems statistically feasible given that I don’t plan it that way, and the energy is always elevated in a way that’s hard to tangibly describe. It’s phenomenal how talented they both are.

Cape Cod in October is the best.

Calamari + Pizza (though I’d never had the two combined before…) + Rodrigo y Gabriela = happy!Melissa


November got off to a strange start: the first weekend was rainy(/snowy on Sunday) and cold, but it was somehow also cozy and very November-in-New-England-y. It poured all day Saturday – with crazy wind – so it was a good day for errands and coffee out and sprinting between the car and store entrances trying to keep dry, and it was also a perfect night for hot chocolate curled up on the couch watching Parks and Rec. That first November weekend was also the weekend T and I went to the aquarium (library passes: the best), which was super super fun. (these guys – little blue penguins – are my favorites).

seriously, though, how cute are these guys?

Stepping back in time slightly, on Halloween, I decided – in earnest – that I’m going to attempt NaNoWriMo this year; I’ve tried twice before but never with much success. It’s been slow going so far because I forgot that I needed to account for falling back into the writing headspace, but at least I’m writing. And now it’s three weeks later and I’m still writing, though this post has been unfinished for a week and a half and words have stagnated. It’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll hit my word goal (or anything even close to it) nine days from now, but if nothing else, nano got me writing again after a long time away from it, and that has been wonderful. I’ve missed words. I need to work on making writing more of a routine again, because I wrote best when it was habit and necessity and comfort, and I’m trying to get back to that place without the negative connotations it had, off and on, for a while.

This past weekend was a much needed break from everything: from work, from struggle!writing, from stress in general. It was time spent equally between old friends and baking and new friends. Sunday marked the first Friendsgiving I’ve been to, but I just had to think about that for a moment because I was peripherally involved in a few in college. It was lovely and filled with good food and an embarrassingly wonderful amount of discussions about America’s Next Top Model. (Sidenote: I stopped watching YEARS ago, but my roommate watches regularly and this season – cycle – we’ve been watching together, and I still haven’t wrapped my head around the fact that there are guys, too, now, and all the drama that entails, and I’m sad the guy with the beard weave (!) is gone, because seriously what even, and I miss Nigel, and it’s fun and terrible and great all at once.)

This weekend might bring a day trip to Portsmouth and a low key diner with T’s downstairs neighbors, but mostly it’s going to be a weekend of low key, cozy productivity, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

*This post was originally titled endings and beginnings because it very early November when I started drafting it. And then life happened, and time got away from me, so. Now it’s just a happy November post and all that entails. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving.

**I still am planning on a Cape Cod picture post, but, well, I am all sorts of behind with regards to pictures (all of the pictures in this post are largely unedited cell phone pictures, though those two Cape Cod ones were run through Afterlight). But it hasn’t been a month yet! So it’s fine. Probably maybe kind of sort of. I’m going to try and sort through pictures this weekend, so hopefully I’ll have a (wonderfully picturesque?) Cape Cod post for you guys soon. Life, though. How does time move so fast? I can’t believe that Thanksgiving is less than a week away.

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 wednesday week in review posts (or: sometimes weeks are months)

// Wednesday, April 30, 2014

This has been sitting as a draft for a while, because sometimes I am the worst at figuring out what I want to say. Therefore, this particular Wednesday has become a month in review post instead of a week in review post, but my goal is to start actual week in review posts next week.

I know Friday is often the day people choose for week in review posts, but I’ve decided to be more realistic about when I’m most likely to want to sit and think back on the previous seven days. On Fridays, I’m tired. I’ve had a full work week, typically with many (non-work) evening activities, and when I get out of work I don’t want to sit down in front of a computer again. I’m ready for a screen break. I’ve noticed over the past several months that Friday nights and Saturdays tend to be my digital detox days – for the most part, I tend to stay off the computer, tablet, and phone (save making plans). Wednesdays, though, are just a typical day/night, and for me, they tend to be relatively low-key, so it makes sense for me to do something that’s not only productive but also in keeping with the low-key theme. (tl;dr – Wednesday are now going to be week in review days.)

Anyways, for the most part, this has been a relatively low-key month. I’ve done a bunch of new things, though, and I’ve been pretty close to fully successful at completing my buy nothing month plan. Overall, I’d say it’s been a pretty good month for me, and I’m hoping to continue that into May. There’s been some chaos in limited aspects of my personal life, but I’ve largely gotten better at focusing on the positive and allowing the negatives to be experiences from which I learn instead of experiences that drag me down more than I want them to. I have never been one of those people who advocates the whole “You Choose To Be Happy Regardless of How Terrible Things Are or Seem” thing, but I do think that I can have some control over my degree of unhappiness, which is to say, really, control over how much I let one area of unhappiness affect the happiness in/with other areas of my life, if that makes sense. I’ve been working on that more, and it’s going relatively well.

To continue with focusing on the good, some of the fun and/or new things I’ve done this month:

  • Dinner at the Russell House Tavern (I’d never been), which I very much enjoyed. The group was fun – six people including me, two of whom I’d never met and one with whom I’d only spent limited time, varying in age from 24 to ~late thirties. But it worked well, and even though I was exhausted, conversation flowed wonderfully. Food wise,  I got the char, which I’d never had but is very much like salmon (see also: yum!).
  • Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra. First time I’d seen them and first time they’d performed “on the road”, so to speak, because we saw them at Berwick Academy in Maine, which is decidedly not Portsmouth, NH. It was an all Mozart program, and it was absolutely lovely.
  • My first ever Red Sox game. I’d acquired tickets through work, and I really enjoyed myself, even though I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a baseball fan. I was also rather entertained that they were playing the Orioles, as the one and only baseball cap I’ve ever owned was an Orioles cap (it’s a long story, but it mostly boils down to six-year-old me really liking the colors black and orange.) We lost, but whatever. It was a good night with good people and free food/beer. And getting home on public transportation wasn’t nearly as horrible as I thought it would be.
  • Spending the day up in Portsmouth, which consisted of lunch at  Lexie’s Joint (fun fact: their cucumber mint lemonade is the actual very best thing. and their burgers and milkshakes ain’t half bad, either) and then walking around downtown for about four hours. We lucked out, because the weather was gorgeous.
  • Easter. Easter’s never been that big of a deal in my family. (Sidenote: I’m Unitarian Universalist, so while I often “celebrate” the major religious holidays, it’s definitely more of a secular thing in my family, meaning that it’s more of an excuse to have a nice dinner with the good china than anything else.) That said, there was a 10 lb ham for dinner with yams and asparagus, and there’s something nice about going home (/bringing T) and having a meal + wine with family. And there’s also the added bonus that I now have (well, had) a lot of leftovers to bring to work with me for lunches. There’s still a part of me that wishes I received an Easter basket, though, so I don’t really know what that says about me. But I did get to share an Easter basket/bag given to someone else, so I’m counting that as a win (Reese’s eggs! Lindt bunnies! plastic grass! Also, yes, I am six years old.)
  • Boston Symphony Orchestra thanks to their $20 under 40 special offer. We saw “Charles Dutoit conducts Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky featuring pianist Behzod Abduraimov” and it was a wonderful night. The pianist was AMAZING. Caps are seriously not even remotely enough to covey how good he was. Also, he’s only a year younger than I am, and I am now seriously questioning my accomplishments in life…). Also, had dinner at Helmand in Cambridge, and I highly recommend the Qabelee.

Like I said, overall it’s been a very good month. Here’s to hoping May is equally as good and fun and filled with good people/events.

*This post was also going to contain an update/reflection on my Buy Nothing month, but it’s gotten fairly long as is, so look for that post tomorrow.