Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy feet.

I am having really good shoe juju this week. First I got these for $25:They're usually about $100.

Then today I stumbled upon these, at a boutique store that has insane end of season clearance prices:

They were $33, down from $110. I have been needing earth-toned shoes that treat my feet right and look good with basically everything. Both pairs fit the bill. I'm just letting you know that I am the champion. Put in your requests and I will keep my eyes open.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ladies, don't go home and get pregnant tonight.

So said Etta James this evening, just before she launched into "At Last." That was good, but "Sugar on the Floor" was even better. That woman still has pipes, I tell you what. Plus, she can shake her booty and her stage banter was topical: she referred to "that senator from Idaho" more than once. The first time, she said he just wanted to get some ta-ta. Which is true. Then she sang a song about ta-ta.

What I really want to tell you about, though, is how the Reverend Al Green is a radiant light. If he's ever in your hood, just go see him, because unless you are the world's most hardened, bitter, cynical asshole, you will leave the concert feeling really good about everything in the universe. He likes to fling roses, whip off his tux jacket, respond to audience applause by saying "I love you" sincerely, put his tux jacket back on, dance down into the crowd and shake hands, and basically break everything down. At one point he was about 15 feet away from us and I am smiling just thinking about the joy that dude exudes. He is an exuding dude. And seriously, his tour budget for long-stemmed red roses must be huge.

I don't go see a lot of live music, which is maybe both weird and stupid considering I am both a musician and a music lover. And really, when I think about the times I have felt the most uncomplicated, visceral joy (that didn't involve wonderful critters like nephews), live shows are at the top-tippity of my list, probably right after long hikes up medium-sized mountains on beautiful days. I am not even talking about the shows by the musicians I am most likely to listen to, either. I had, for example, 45 minutes of face-breaking grins at the Pet Shop Boys show last year.

I think maybe the shows I end up seeing accidentally are the most joyful ones. I got an email from the Brit this morning saying "we have the hookup for Al Green tonight if you want." Voila, the evening's plan was set, which was unexpected and great. And when the performance is exhilaratingly good, it's like getting a gift for no reason other than someone thinks you're wonderful. And I think concerts generally bring out everything that is best about people, and that makes me feel good too.

I can hear the fireworks from the fairgrounds now, which means that B.B. King is done playing. I know, what kind of a jerk bails before B.B. King? But I'm not really a big blues fan, and moreover I wanted nothing to dampen my post-Al Green joy. The only thing that could properly follow Al Green was mini-donuts. So I ate some. Now I feel bloated, but not in a way that interferes with love OR happiness.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

And that's the way I like it.

You are so savvy that you already know this, but you can text-message Google for information on the fly. My friend Laura told me about this awhile back, and only lately have I truly embraced the fact that if I am driving aimlessly in a suburb where I know there is a Unique Thrift store that I can't find, I can text "Unique Thrift Crystal MN" to 466453 (that's "google") and I will get results in seconds (FYI: it's in New Hope, not Crystal). Living in the future is so wonderful.

Speaking of the future: the Brit and I heard a barfy song in the car today that started out "this is the first day of the future" and just got worse the longer it went on, as though the singer had kept hitting "refresh" on a cliche generator until he had a long enough string of them for a song. I have since found out that this song is a Ben Lee song, and I am sorry if you enjoy the work of Ben Lee. "Love Me Like the World is Ending" (the song's title) is not a bad sentiment, and I sort of liked that song "Catch My Disease," though I see from the lyrics that it is truly nonsensical and not really in an appealing way.

I'm not really here to hate on Claire Danes's ex-boyfriend, however. It's true that in Minneapolis alone there are probably 500 people in coffeehouses with guitars who are singing original songs better than "Love Me Like the World is Ending," but what I really want to talk about is how you should be able to register your displeasure at a DJ's choices by turning off the radio. The Brit and I have been talking about this recently, about how DJs should be able to get real-time feedback about a song by tracking the number of radios that are turned off when the song is played. I mean if you really want to register your foul displeasure personally it is now completely possible to do so, at least at The Current, where DJs like to broadcast their email addresses for requests and the like. So if you want to be douchey and just say "this song suxxx," you certainly can, or you could be a big self-important music snob and try to start a serious debate about it via email. But I like the idea of plain old anonymous numbers telling the story: thousands of radios all over the metro, clicking off at the sound of Ben Lee's (or whoever's) voice.

I have about three other blog posts cooking. One of them is really just about the aftermath of all my UTI/kidney infection trauma, and how I apparently now need to retrain my paranoid bladder so that I'm not getting up twice a night for to piss. If this is a preview of old age, I am seriously not impressed. I guess that doesn't merit its own post, especially since I could just stop hydrating at about 9 PM and solve my own problems.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The picture in question.

Shenanigans.

Reeling.

One of my best friends has been diagnosed with aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. While it's not exactly a first for one of my good friends to also be a cancer patient, this is the first time it's been one of my contemporaries, someone whose presence defined my 20s, someone with whom I have spent ridiculous countless hours chilling, partying, performing, and car-dancing. Spare a good thought for my homeboy Dom. We have more car-dancing to do.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Can you stand the rain?

I've been using the free service Auctiva to list and manage my ebay auctions for awhile. It's not without its total pains in the arse--namely, the speed of photo uploads and the overall interface--but ebay can be such a nightmare that I prefer this for now. Also, image hosting is free and you get these cool scrolling galleries.

Well, because I am sometimes stupid for a smart person, I failed to notice that Auctiva also gives you a free storefront. It's basically just a shell for your ebay auctions, but still, it looks decent, and you can buy whatever domain name you want for $6.95 a year. So behold: mavenvintage.com is live, and I even made a tiny banner to de-genericize the template. I will now feel more pressure to make sure I have stuff listed for sale every week. Lord knows I have enough crap stockpiled. I don't mean "crap," of course, I mean "lovely treasures I've just unearthed" and "justification for daily Goodwill scans."

Speaking of which, I am starting to notice other resellers in town when I'm scouting around for ebay stuff. One woman who owns a fabulous vintage dress shop in St Paul is always at Goodwill right when it opens on $1.50 tag sale Tuesdays, and though I love her work I can't help thinking "nuh-UH baaaatch" and quickening my pace when I see her heading for the dresses. An old guy beat me to a small rolling wood and metal cart and an HOUR later I saw it sitting out in front of an antique furniture shop in my hood. There's a scary blond lady who paws Goodwill by the pound bins in gloves and snatches up cartloads of everything. Another by the pound regular pointed out to me the dude who hoards all of the pretty vintage boots and sells them on ebay. Stand warned, you people. I'm onto you.

In other news, Jude and my dad both have birthdays today. There was a wild toddler fest of a party at my sister's house yesterday, which Henry capped by firing up the "High School Musical 2" CD he gave his brother as a gift and engaging in some frenetic breakdancing. He mostly does crazylegs but there is some proto-worming too, and he does it all with a deadly serious face. You'd best not step to him.

This weather is bullshit, by the way. Too cold, too rainy, too gray, too washing away bridges and drowning houses and people in SE MN. I am grateful, as ever, for what I have, for what never even touches me. I am also grateful that the family's convening about a mile away for birthday party leftovers, and I am grateful that I will be joining the Brit afterwards to watch more Simon Schama's A History of Britain. Dudes, you must get into the Schama. Because of last night's installment, I've been thinking about Thomas Becket all day.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Four on the floor.

It's gray, rainy, cold, melancholic. I woke up tired and therefore crabby. I am just now having coffee. In a half hour I have to go celebrate Jude's 3rd birthday. I look rough, even though last night's bachelorette party was reshaped (by the weather) into a movie/cake/wine/couch thing instead of a bar crawl.

This is ganked from Tina and seen everywhere.

Four jobs I've had:
1. Secretary.
2. Phone customer service.
3. Singer.
4. Teacher.

Four movies I watch over and over:
1. Cold Comfort Farm.
2. Raising Arizona.
3. The Big Lebowski.
4. Amelie.

Four places I have lived:
1. South Dakota (don't remember this).
2. Saint Paul.
3. Minneapolis.
4. Wisco.

Huh. This all looks a little sad, but I've never really strongly wanted to move anywhere else. I've also lived temporarily in Michigan, Omaha, Colorado, and Fargo, thanks to music gigs.

Four favorite TV shows:
1. PBS Saturday morning lineup.
2. Project Runway.
3. Buffy (all-time).
4. Veronica Mars.

I feel compelled to point out that I don't actually follow any TV shows right now--I'm more likely to get them on Netflix and binge through a whole season. Also, there's no TV in my apartment and I really, really like it this way.

Four places I've been on vacation:
1. England.
2. Montana.
3. New York, a lot.
4. Kentucky Bourbon country (maybe a little less fun than it sounds).

Four favorite foods:
I don't think I can do this. I just really love food. Four foods I'm digging right now?
1. Caprese salads.
2. Cashew butter.
3. This coffee I'm drinking.
4. Tofu, always.

Four places I'd rather like to be:
1. Lake Superior, always. Even if the weather looked like this.
2. Mountains.
3. In a hammock on a sunny day (napping, obvs).
4. Onstage.

Four sites I check daily:
1. My kinja digest, where all the blogs I read are aggregated. This spares me the bookmarking and the obsessive checking, though kinja doesn't seem to be able to crawl all my blogs.
2. Wardrobe Remix on flickr, and just flickr in general.
3. My ebay auctions, and another site that tracks my ebay hits and watches.
4. Lately, the Live Lightly Tour. It's a blog about a family living in an RV that runs on waste vegetable oil and touring the country to raise environmental awareness (among other things). The whole process fascinates me. I sometimes fantasize about going off the grid, but it's obviously not a viable option at the moment.

Meme away, people.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Nugget.

When my sister Em was in junior high and wailing to our mom about how she couldn't handle pre-algebra, would never learn math, didn't want to go back for even one more day, and hated her teacher, Mom's response was "We have to pray for our enemies."

And this is good advice, about having compassion for the people who make your life difficult, but it makes me laugh every time I think about my mom saying it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Oh England, my Lionheart.

I wish I had just found a way to blog while I was still on my trip. You know how you go on a trip and it's very vivid and exciting, and you imagine that the trip momentum is going to propel you right into genius blog entries, but then you get back and your usual routine so totally removes that sweet traveling momentum? That's what has happened to me. I'm shocked that we've only been home for a week.

Since then, my friends' wedding shenanigans have begun in earnest, so that the next many weekends will be occupied by showers and picnics and nuptials and such. Anna's shower/bachelorette party was this past weekend, and we went to Nye's Polonaise Room (warning! horrible website!) and sang "Chapel of Love" in obnoxious three part harmony at the piano bar. That's what happens when a bunch of opera singers go to Nye's. I was also hit on by a douchey douche who said he'd been voted "Girlwatcher" in high school. I was like, "dude I'm not sure I'd brag about that. It's only a few steps below 'stalker.'" Plus I think once you're in your 40s it's high, high time you stopped referring to your high school glory days.

So you can see that it might be a little difficult to recapture precisely the sweet feeling of accomplishment I had about 10 days ago, when the Brit and I were in the Lake District and we climbed a mountain called Causey Pike and then just decided to keep climbing over a few more until we hit Eel Crag. These are not stupendously high mountains, but you do start from sea level, more or less, so that the ascent is about 2750 feet. Your muscles feel it, I promise you, though there are scary-fit people called "fell-runners" who just jog up these things and merely knowing about these people makes you feel like a fat sack of fat. Fortunately we didn't run into any such people on our climb (although there were some Fit People with beautiful gear and a pair of beautiful sheepdogs who threw down their bags and enjoyed a snack and the vista on Causey Pike while we were up there. They had the look of people living a Good Life. I was relieved they weren't continuing on in the same direction we were.)

So climbing. I love climbing. As far as I am concerned, it is the perfect exercise. There is the uphill, the varied terrain, the rocks, the scrambling, the running if you just feel like going apeshit for a few minutes, and the payoff at the summit. (I don't love the descent, but what can you do about it apart from paraglide off the mountain? I've never tried that.) Resting and snacking are completely necessary and legitimate while hiking up a mountain, and I love that aspect as well. Where else can eating a candy bar make you feel so good?

You may have heard that it is rainy in England, and you have not been misinformed. Our first day in the Lake District was, as I mentioned, rainy, and so was our last day. Even with proper raingear the fells are tough going unless you love slippery rocks, so if you're heading north to hike you pray for a break in the clouds. You pray that if you splay your unlaced wet hiking boots across the floor of the rental car they will dry overnight. Ditto for your socks. (They won't. You will have to drive with the heat blowing into the boots in order for them to dry.)

Fortunately, Day Two was magical once my boots dried. The entire day was a break in the clouds. We did the hike we planned to do: it was nice, it felt good, it was panoramic. But then we saw this:
Day 2: the endless ridge.
It is a ridge trail. It seemed to lead endlessly on, wrapping at last around a mountain and leading down into a valley where there was a played out cobalt mine. It looked enticing and we had enough water and snacks and didn't feel done yet, so we just kept walking. Val-de-ri, val-de-ra.

On the way to Eel Crag, there was lots of this:
Day 2.
Incredibly green hills and valleys, constantly shifting light, bizarrely clear skies. The beauty of the day unfurled as our hike did: a bit uncharted, definitely unexpected, delightful at every turn. At the top of Eel Crag, we could see all the way to the Irish Sea and the Isle of Man. This, apparently, almost never happens because things in England tend to be shrouded in mist.

We chose a different path down the mountain, one that was fairly easy on the joints, took a sort of detour that left our shirts stained with heather, and stepped off the mountain directly in front of our rental car. Like I said: magic. And then directly to the pub for fish and chips.

(I know I've used this heading before, probably the last time I went to England and did a bloggy trip redux, but it's a pretty good one, right?)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Oh by the way.

I am going to be futzing with my template until I find something I like. Since the move from diaryland, I've been dissatisfied with the look of the blog but couldn't be bothered to sit and figure out something better. The end product will probably look like this but with a different header, and probably different colors. Just FYI.

Here's a picture of me on a mountain in William Wordsworth/Beatrix Potter country, to tide you over:

Day 2: Ahhhhh.

Friday, August 10, 2007

More linky.

I rarely watch the tube and had never seen this blog before today (again with the serendipitous clickage during work breaks), but Jacob Clifton's Emmy roundup contained the following awesome treatise on why Steve Carell needs to win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series:
Carell seems to have made it his life's work to describe, in word and motion, exactly what's going on with American men that makes them so fucking hard to deal with -- and makes things so hard for them to deal with. His depiction of the male interior as a physical place -- constantly assailed by fears, attacks imagined and real, and overall desperate confusion -- around which his persona and machismo are stretched, light and thin as paper, is never harder to watch than when it's got a mirror pointed at it. There's a commonality and transcendent humanity in his work, and a devilish humor, that accomplishes his intention -- to indict and comfort with the same awkward hand -- brilliantly, and has inspired the next generation of truth-seeking satirists. I've had a huge crush on this man since the early days of the Daily Show, but I had no idea how far he was going to take it. His performances are like My So-Called Life II: The Secret So-Called Life Of Boys.
PS: Updated to add the linky part. Duh.

Really turning my crank.

Through the magic of internet linkage that I will not detail here, I have discovered a new tiny thing to covet: a pressure handwasher that does wee loads of laundry by harnessing 1) pressure and 2) the power of your own arm. Science and muscle! What's not to like?

I've seen two of these in my surfing, though I am sure there are more: first, the Wonder Clean, available at the very rad Lehman's, an Ohio company founded to serve the Amish and others living without electricity; and second, the Wonder Wash, available from The Laundry Alternative.

Both products run about $45 and operate on the same principle: when you put warm or hot water into the drum and seal the lid, the heat pressurizes the air inside the drum and forces detergent through your clothes very quickly. A load takes about 2 minutes to wash, and you crank it by hand. You can either rinse in the drum with fresh water, or in your sink. Either way, this device uses far less water than a conventional machine and (duh) no electricity. Not practical for big families, in my opinion, but very very good for lots of other folks.

The next England post is coming, I promise.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Living in America.

This is not the England part 2 post, though it is not totally unrelated to England, given that people there generally live in much smaller spaces than we do in America (though that is a matter of necessity and not choice, which might make all the difference).

Scaling down seems to be a big theme these days. As you might already know, the new issue of ReadyMade is out and its theme is small space living. And earlier this week I read a post about tiny houses over at Shelterrific, and it got me surfing around and winding up at the website of Alchemy Architects, which is practically in my backyard, and which designs the weeHouse.


I'd read about the similar Tumbleweed Tiny House (pictured) before and was totally intrigued: they are seriously tiny, but you can build them yourself for about 12 grand (or have them built and delivered for 25K more) and then keep your impact on the environment seriously tiny as well. But I think I like Alchemy's weeHouses even better (all the more because they are a local product).

A few weeHouses were profiled in this New York Times article about living very small--including the house of a violinist I worked with several years ago. (Incidentally, there's an ad for 1.5 million dollar hotel condos on the same NYT page. Ha ha.) More photos of her weeHouse are here.



Overwhelmingly these tiny houses seem to be built in locations where the natural world takes center stage and provides the feeling of vast space--that elbow room that Americans like so much. You have to wonder how these structures would do in more urban locations: imagine a 240 square foot house on a city lot with neighbors very nearby. I don't know that tiny houses are the solution to urban housing shortages, but I do love the idea that a customized home designed by an architect for maximum beauty and efficiency can be well within reach for someone who isn't loaded. And I also love the idea that a dream house doesn't have to be a 4000 square foot castle that consumes a ton of resources, has to be filled with a ton of stuff, and costs a ton of money.

I ain't no minimalist--I do love my stuff--but I am kind of obsessed with these sleek little dwellings.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Heathcliff, it's me, your Cathy, I've come home.

I had the song "Wuthering Heights" in my head for the majority of the UK trip, before I even knew we were going to stop off at Haworth to see the parsonage where Emily, Charlotte, and Anne wrote their books (and Branwell led a dissolute life). It's probably a natural progression from "Oh England, My Lionheart," another Kate Bush song that invariably queues up on my mental jukebox when I start thinking about England.

The other song I had in my head the most while we were traveling was "English Country Garden," at first because we saw a lot of flowers and then because the Brit shared some juvenile alternate lyrics with me: "What do you do when you've got to take a poo / in an English Country Garden?" Then there's something about pull down your pants and scare away the ants, I don't remember it exactly, but it obviously captured my imagination. Practically every time we saw any dell that was even remotely dingly, I started to whistle the song (which, by the way, I knew from elementary piano books I whipped through when I was little).

The Brits aren't messing around when it comes to their gardens. They say "garden" where we would say "yard," and this is not just a cute cultural word difference. Even the most asphalt-crusty yard has a garden in it with roses as big as your head and watercolored hydrangeas and cascading, burgeoning greenery.

The price exacted for all of this efflorescence is, obviously, relentless rain. It's been a crap few months in the British Isles. Magically enough, though, we had mostly stellar weather, at least one perfect day everywhere we went. My spirits were so ludicrously lifted every time the sun was out: yet more evidence of how poorly I would function in a gray climate. My emotions are way too tied to the weather, apparently.

I would've ordered at least one more day of good weather, though. Trying to climb mountains in heavy mist (that may or may not turn into, like, shards of rain) is a totally losing proposition that forces you to turn back while also driving home to you the inadequacy of your gear. Here's a tip: don't try to camp in England with inadequate gear.

A few more tips:

1. It's true what they say about the roads and traffic in England: they suck. I mean people tell you to take provisions because you might be sitting there on the motorway for hours, long enough to be hungry and dehydrated. Taking a road trip is not quite the relaxing and invigorating experience it is in the States. We were actually lucky to hit only about a half hour's worth of traffic jams, but then there was the harrowing experience of driving on two-way roads that are about 6 feet wide, and meanwhile because of some cock-up in the Chunnel there were people sitting on southern roads for 5 hours or more. So I guess my tip is: if you're trying to get somewhere in England by car, be ready for anything.

2. Also: with the current exchange rate, which is shite, gassing up your toy rental car will cost about $80, you won't be able to pay at the pump because it hasn't been discovered yet in England, and you won't be able to find a gas station when you need one. This will renew the mock hate-on for England that is your major comic trope while you're there.

3. It is also true what they say about the airports: they are migraine-inducing monuments to inefficiency. I was very zen about the huge lines for our return flight, but unfortunately we were posted next to this spazzy dork who wouldn't stop fidgeting and standing on his tippy toes and checking his watch and asking everyone about how long things were going to take and would he make his flight and like that. It would've been more hilarious if it didn't threaten to harsh my mellow so bad. We made our flight, but I didn't have any time to buy delicious airport chocolate and so I still have pound coins jingling around in my wallet. Boo.

4. Almost all pain au chocolat I encountered on this trip was well worth eating, and that includes convenience store pain au chocolat, which I bought in Haworth and munched as we whipped across the moors on our way to the mountains. Not bad. Even in the rain.

Next time: the good, the very good, the transcendent.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

When I was in Englandtown.

It's profoundly weird to hear international news about Minneapolis on BBC radio when you're driving through the rain-soaked English Lake District in a tiny rented Ford Fiesta. Once we got back to our home base, we watched the horrible footage just like all of the rest of you, except on English television. We haven't rubbernecked our way over to the site yet, but we've only been back a few hours. Suffice it to say that I've been over that bridge (and probably many other structurally deficient bridges) thousands of times.

Thanks, friends, for checking in even though you knew I was out of the country.

I have lots to report, of course, but probably the most important and self-evident is that I didn't look at the internets for 10 days. I will therefore be playing catch-up--on the blog as in life.

This world is so crazy, isn't it? That we could be tootling along in the Fiesta a few days ago, taking off from London this morning, and then gunning it to a big American grocery store in a big American Mustang this evening seems nothing short of miraculous.

My yawning threatens to break my face.