Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ode to a Swimming Pool.

When I first moved to Rochester, Minnesota I had an email conversation with my friend Tara who lives in Chicago.  I remember telling her I was not yet in love with my new town and it certainly lacked a lot of the charm I had grown fond of in La Crosse, Wisconsin.   Tara gave me probably the best advice I could have been given at the time--to be patient--it sometimes takes awhile for the particular magic of a place to reveal itself to us.  

Peace Plaza Christmas Tree

I have been keeping that advice in mind this season as I have watched the city transform itself into its winter holiday garb.  I have been discovering little things. A Christmas tree and a stone fountain in the Peace Plaza; the easy comfort and familiarity of a public library; a favorite route to and from work with interesting architecture and recognizable town characters; brilliant sunrises and sunsets.

In the midst of change and development and the exhaustion following weeks of long days and answering many questions I have found a favorite place--the Kahler Hotel.

I believe in the power of 3.  Three, and I quote School House Rocks, is a magic number.

As of two weeks ago I had visited the Kahler Hotel three times.

Portrait of Ethan encased by stone wings. 
My inaugural visit was during the first and possibly only FablesCon--a weekend celebrating mythic fiction and my first comic convention. Friends visited from out of state and we enjoyed a weekend of great conversation and an appreciation for a certain art form.  I made new friends as well--people with whom I have had adventures and made new memories.  It was a weekend that marked what could possibly be the best ever international pool party.

My second visit to the Kahler was for very different purposes--it was where I attended along with the other co-op managers The Rising Stars Leadership Conference.  This time at the Kahler was meaningful not only because of what I was learning in the conference, but it also showed me great things can come from very small kitchens.  My deli crew catered the entire event on their own, with only a little help in the planning from me.  They executed the entire three days of breakfast and lunch,  from preparation, delivery, to set up. It made me really proud and thankful.

My third visit to the Kahler was just two weeks ago--when a good friend sent me word that she was gifting me and Ethan with an evening's stay at the Kahler.  It was just the thing we needed after a long week.  I left work and walked the few blocks over to the hotel to check in.  Although this was my third visit to the hotel, it was the first time I had stayed as a proper guest.  The hotel has an old time charm with modern conveniences.  It is located directly across from Mayo Clinic, and is both connected by skyway access and subway to other downtown businesses.  

I am a proper guest, blue overnight bag and all.


My room was small but comfortable--it was the perfect evening getaway.  Ethan met me a few hours later and we went to dinner.  I stayed at the hotel while he spent the evening at home so our animals would not be alone.   In the morning I woke up before sunrise and made my way to the top floor of the hotel to go swimming.
The whole kidney shaped pool to myself


I had the whole pool to myself--and from this floor I had a perfect view of downtown.   Above the pool is a sky-lit dome--and it was my hope to witness the sunrise from my watery vantage.

Skyway access to the other buildings always illuminated. 



In a swimming pool I am transformed. I am weightless, I am a mermaid or a deep sea diver.  This particular morning I was a ballet dancer who could stand perfectly on pointe while I hummed the theme from Swan Lake.  I was graceful, and perfectly calm and without stress.  Though this night's stay was a few weeks before Christmas--it was the best gift anyone could have given me.  A chance to be alone with my thoughts and my imagination.


The second step is the coldest. 

As I stood in the middle of the pool with my eyes wide open and ready to embrace what I hoped would be a fantastic sunrise, I realized the morning was overcast.  But I knew the sun had risen, and would again the next day.


Sunrise overlooking downtown Rochester taken from People's Food Co-op sidewalk. 








Monday, November 18, 2013

Starting Today

Lately I have been thinking a lot about writing and how it fits into my life.  As I have shared in previous posts and as most people who may read this blog know, I work full time for a Food Cooperative in Minnesota.  I manage the kitchen and bakery, preparing fresh foods for our shoppers.  Fifteen years ago if you asked me if this is what I expected to be doing with my life, I would have told you no.  I thought I would have been a school teacher--because that is what I believed people who loved reading and writing grew up to be.  

I realize that as a manager I am a teacher in many ways, and it is something in which I am finding a lot of joy.  It is strange when I talk to my friends about my job--they seem to find it interesting but for me it is just the thing I do.  Yet in the last year I have been finding a true passion for the work. 

I have been wanting to write. Since I moved from La Crosse, I haven't been doing my freelance writing  for the local women's magazine.   The extra hours I spent doing freelance work are now spent at the Co-op, which means my free time is really for me. 

Then it occurred to me that I could write about my work.  I could write about food and what I learn working for a cooperative.  It is what I do, it is what I know.  

I am so fortunate to know and call some very talented writers and artists my friends--and every writer I have ever talked with has said you have to make time to write.   

I have started stories--the problem is finishing them.  I have thoughts swirling around my head, the beginnings of characters and plot.   The problem is making the time and carving out the schedule to make this truly something. 

Two nights ago Ethan and I were driving to La Crosse to see a band play at the all ages venue, the Warehouse.  It was a full moon, and typically the drive from Rochester to La Crosse is flat and a little boring, but at night with the fields illuminated by a lunar glow it was beautiful.  I had a little bit of a cry, thinking about traveling this road back and forth to be with people I love. 

I am turning 30 in February, and cliche as it may be, I am starting to feel emotional about the change.  It isn't so much the getting older as really seeing the shifts in my life. 

I am an adult, I have what could be a very fulfilling career.  I have a partner who I have been with for nearly a decade. And I have a really sweet dog who is getting older. 

These are the things that matter in my life. These are the things I need to write about and frequently. I believe that it is within these experiences I will truly find the words for the stories I want to create. 

I start today. 

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Ego Likeness at the Warehouse, La Crosse, WI. November 16th, 2013.  Before their set my friends and I were talking with them and they thanked us for coming out to their show in the middle of nowhere.  I traveled a little over an hour to see them.  The first time they played in La Crosse I didn't even know they were appearing, so I made it point to make this show.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shaunka




I am finding inspiration. 








Monday, September 23, 2013

Pumpkins and Ocean Mist

It's been just over a month since my last blog post--and in that month much has happened.  A huge project I have been involved in for the last year and a half has finally come to fruition.  The new People's Food Co-op of Rochester, MN opened on September 3rd--and over the last weeks I have been working long days and nights helping sculpt out a balance between service and production in the kitchen and bakery.

It has been a lot of go, go, go, coming home, falling into bed and back at it early again the next day. One of my co-workers said to me "We can do anything for a little while" and it's true we can.  This last year was the first time I had to really put aside much of my personal time to make sure deadlines were being met. I could compare this experience with time spent in college--but with semester finals the only one truly affected by the outcome is the student.  When you are involved in a completely new work project, your decisions and actions ripple through everyone involved.  I never knew I could juggle so much or push my self so hard--and I can step back and say I think things are going well.

My first weekend away since the opening happened to land to on the Autumnal Equinox--and for the first time in a long time I feel balanced.  I spent the morning reading and drinking coffee, watching squirrels and cardinals dance around my back yard.  As I sat there with the cooler air swirling around me I could swear I smelled roasting pumpkin on the air that in a moment changed to the brisk clean smell of ocean mist.

It was a good day to open windows and burn sage.  I finished a knitting project by blocking out a lace shawl that I had started in May after taking a road trip with a new friend to the sheep and wool festival in Lake Elmo, MN.

In the golden hour right before dusk I tossed around a stick for my dog and took the opportunity to photograph her in the magic light of afternoon.

One of my traditions is to honor the equinox and solstice with making a soup or stew--it is way a for me to bring foods from that time of the year together.  Last night it was barley stew with carrots, apples and late summer tomatoes.

As I completed these small tasks, I realized the Fall is my time. It is my favorite season--seeing the harvest brought in, the completion of projects--which inevitably gives rise to new beginnings.

Golden Hour Shaunka






Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Void. More Like a Canyon.

It all started with my best friend. She manages a independent record store in La Crosse, WI called Deaf  Ear Records.  The first time I met Tina she working at Deaf Ear, nearly ten years ago.  I remember this very distinctly because I had just been visiting La Crosse at the time.  It was June, 2003 and in just a few months I would be making a big move from Montana to make Wisconsin my new home.  I had traveled out by Greyhound Bus and stayed for an entire week at the Guest House Inn--I was trying to get a feel for the town--I went to the Co-op and bought cheese and crackers to snack on in my hotel room.  I walked the river paths through the marsh.  I took the bus to the mall and bought a book called "Special" that I read a review for in the back of BUST Magazine.
Tina at Strange Brew


On my last day visiting La Crosse, I stopped into Deaf Ear to find some music to listen to on my discman during the very long Greyhound ride home.  I bought The Cure's  "Wish" and "Crackle: Best of Bauhaus".  Of course when I first met Tina I didn't know she was going to end up being one of the most important people in my life, and I had no idea that over the next ten years she would introduce me to many, many more bands that would be influential to me.

"We are made of starstuff" Valya draws paisley on Madeline's cheek at Strange Brew



Fast forward six years.  It's the middle of winter, 2009,  and I stop into Deaf Ear to find some music to get me through the cold February funk. Tina tells me I should check out "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" -- she knows I would appreciate the Twin Peaks reference, and she also tells me there is an accompanying photography book coming out with words by Neil Gaiman.  Tina knows photography and books are two of my passions (English Major, Photography Minor).   I buy the album from her recommendation, and look up the photography project--and this is how I find Kyle Cassidy's blog.  That October I meet Kyle and his wife Trillian--and because these two very nice and at that time perfect strangers, opened their home to me I meet Valya and Lindsay, two more people who have become very dear friends of mine.

"Singing in Public"  Sean's fear is declared. 


This is the magic of music and friendship.

After "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" I really started following Amanda's work.  One day at knitting group, Tina gifted me with the first Dresden Doll's album.  I followed along as Amanda struggled to get off her major recording label. June 2010, Tina and I, along with our two friends Janet and Matt, traveled to Minneapolis to see Amanda, Jason Webley and Sxip Shirey perform as Evelyn Evelyn at the Cedar Cultural Center.  At that Evelyn Evelyn show, somewhere behind the crowd was Madeline, another wonderful artist and future good friend.  Madeline and I now laugh at the strangeness of two people being in the same room, never knowing the other one is there, and then only a year later, they are friends sharing wine and secrets.


Later that autumn, Tina and I traveled by train to Chicago to see The Dresden Dolls at the Vic in Chicago.  Tina had a really bad cold, and our train was very late.  We got dressed in the train restroom, shakily putting on lipstick and pinstriped halter tops.  It was one of the best shows I had ever seen.  So many friends and so many connections were formed.


By this time, Amanda Palmer had been released from Roadrunner records. Here next album releases were independent efforts, "Ukulele Head" and "Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under".  It was about this time I started to get a little distracted from Amanda's work.  I was following her on Twitter, as well as regularly reading her blog, and because I had been paying attention so closely I was noticing some negativity forming around her.  I found myself defending her to myself quite a bit.  I would think things like "This is what happens when you admire an artist who doesn't have the glamour of public relation specialists working for them--this is what it is like to admire an artist who is trying to be a real person in the public eye".  Despite the uncomfortable nature of some the issues revolving around her, I still greatly admired her desire to connect with her fans.

In the late spring of 2012, Amanda launched her Kickstarter to help fund her new record "Theater is Evil".  I pledged twice to this Kickstarter campaign, once for the album, and also through another backer to help fund the Indianapolis House Party.  Despite my growing questions of how did I fit as an AFP fan,  I was so excited to back the album and jumped at the opportunity to give Tina and I the chance to attend a small gathering of other fans--the fact that Valya and Madeline were also up for the party sealed the deal.

So much changed in my life from when that kickstarter was funded and when the date of the party actually was set.  I relocated to a new city for my job--moved away from my friends in La Crosse, further away from my friends in Chicago--and when the House Party date was finally declared-I had no idea if I was going to be able to make it because of my new job responsibilities.  The fact that I was able to make the road trip was nothing short of a miracle--and I have my amazing crew and many supportive co-workers to thank for it.

In October of 2012, Tina and I saw Amanda and her band The Grand Theft Orchestra at First Avenue in Minneapolis--and it was exciting but also challenging.  It was the last show of the first part of their US tour, and the band had experienced some difficulties along the way--despite this I was excited to lend my support. There were so many great songs on the album, lots of good energy dance songs--and the mood of the venue was perfect.  A bunch of people I knew came up from La Crosse.  We had a great pocket of dancers.  There were some perfectly moving and emotional points in the evening as well.

And then things shifted-it is when the box came out, filled with pieces of paper describing the worst things that had happened to members of the audience in their bedrooms. Things got intense--and uncomfortable.  When this part of the concert ended--I was left wondering what had just happened?  I was torn between wanting to respect Amanda as an artist and her decision to move the evening in a particular direction, but also wondering why exactly the the mood needed to go into such a dark corner of people's emotions. I am supportive of a performer shifting things to a serious perspective--I know life isn't all sunshine and kittens--but with this, I didn't understand what the point was other than to give Amanda some material to loop behind her song.  Maybe this worked for some of the concerts--but the mood of our show was so celebratory. This was the last performance of the tour--many of the people in the room directly helped fund the album.  During the reading there was actual jeering from people in the audience--something I had never experienced at one of Amanda's shows before. Soon after this the concert ended--and I left feeling not elated and excited as I did leaving previous performances, but actually let down and a little sad.  After that night I didn't listen to any Amanda Palmer effort that I once turned to or the new album.  Maybe it was wrong of me to be so affected by this--but the fact that it did concerned me and I knew I needed a break.

Going into this party I knew I was a different fan than I was 4 years ago.  I didn't know what to expect--and didn't know how I would react.  I was looking forward to a weekend with many of my favorite people and knew whatever the party held, it would be an adventure shared with good friends.

Tina and I, along with our friend Mindy arrived at The Strange Brew Coffee shop in Greenwood, Indiana. Valya, Madeline and Sean met us there--and I was happy to see many familiar faces that I knew from my former Roller Derby community. Joan of Dark and Dill Hero are the owners of this perfect oasis of culture and coolness--and it was a great setting for such an intimate gathering.  There was a delicious spread of food, plenty of drink and many talented people who took turns playing the keyboard, ukulele and guitar.  

When Amanda arrived, Neil was with her--I am slowly loosing count of all the times I am in the same room with Neil Gaiman and have no idea what to say to him...I am hoping someday in the future it will have something to do with book of mine he has read.

At one point in the evening Amanda sang a song about loving difficult people--I don't remember what the name of the song was--but the line that stuck with me was something to the effect of sometimes in life you cannot love someone enough, so you have to love them dead.  It hit home, and I was happy to know that one of her songs could still bring tears to my eyes.
Valya listens as Amanda sings. 


 The evening progressed. Amanda wrote people's fears on their faces...when she asked me mine and I said I couldn't think of anything, and she said maybe it was indecision. I boldly replied, "No, I just face my fears".  Even as I write this I cannot think of a fear or phobia. She wrote "Nothing" on my cheek and a circle to represent a void.

A void.

It's more like a canyon.

On one side I stand...and on the other is the youngster I used to be. In February I will be 30 years old and I suppose if I ever had a fear it was that I would go my whole life not knowing who I am--but I look around me and see my friends, my love, my community.  I look in a mirror and I am happy with how I look, what is reflected is Me. A younger version of myself would look in the mirror and see all the people I am trying to be, the artists I wish were my friends.  Now, I am simply grateful.
Maybe it doesn't happen like this for everyone, maybe it never happens at all. Maybe you were never a person who needed to be loved or liked so desperately by those you thought were exciting and creative. Maybe you are a person who can just read a book or listen to an album without falling in love.

I am not.

I fall in love deeply and passionately with a song or story, and sometimes the person behind it...but that love has changed.  Being Amanda's fan has forced me to mature, to grow up, to really examine how I approach musicians, writers and artists I admire.  With the illusion of closeness that things like Twitter and Facebook can create, it is easy to believe you could have a real relationship with an artist like Amanda Palmer--someone who is trying to bridge that gap between artist and fan.  Whether this is a good thing or bad thing, I am not to judge.  What I have learned is that this kind of closeness is not for me.

I can still love books, songs and photography and that can be enough--I don't have to love you.  I'm on one side of the canyon, and you are on the other.  I could try and jump or climb down and pull myself to your side...but I'm older now and I know it's better just to watch from afar.

And, on this side I still have Tina, my best friend. A decade of memories--what more could I ask for except another decade more?

"..and if  you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends" --Penny Lane
Tina at Luna Music in Indianapolis, Indiana





Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chicago Trip, Revealed

My trip to Chicago last week was eventful.  It all started with my Megabus leaving from Minneapolis, breaking down 50 miles into Wisconsin--and about 100 miles outside of Madison, our first official stop.  We had to wait two hours for the next bus to come along and pick us up--but on both legs of the trip I had two seats to myself which was very pleasant


.
The view of Wisconsin from my stalled Megabus .

Madeline picked me up when I arrived in Chicago at 9:45pm. We made good time through the city from Union Station, found fantastic parking and arrived just in time to make a fashionably late entrance into the party being hosted by the lovely Lindsay.  I was met in the doorway by a group of wonderful, smiling friends with arms outstretched ready to give many hugs.  Valya and Ellen were there as well as Trillian and Kyle visiting from Philadelphia, which made the party even more fantastic.  Our favorite musical darlings Bittersweet Drive played a beautiful acoustic set while Peter Sagal looked on, nibbling chickpeas while Braden and Tia shared their dance skills.  It was a little bit surreal.

Whiskey punch was given to me in a tiny tumbler, and then champagne.   I made sure to eat some food before I moved on to red wine, my choice for the rest of the evening.  I sat in the kitchen with Madeline and Kyle and talked about art and making connections, and it was lovely to revel in knowing such amazing and creative people, while enjoying a casual party where we could all just be ourselves.

There was also plenty of talk of knitting, with my friend Shannon working on a cowl pretty much the entire night. That girl has some amazing gauge and tension--all my knitting friends will understand!   Trillian brought out a baby blanket that was almost completed, and we discussed some finishing techniques I am happy to have found  worked for her well after she returned home.

I wanted to get a chance to talk to Peter Sagal again after I met him last March at the Gene Wolfe Gala and told him I listened to his show every Sunday after I finish work.  He had asked me what work I did and I sheepishly said I was a deli cook--it doesn't sound very fancy when admitting it aloud with the likes of Gene Wolfe and Neil Gaiman standing mere feet away.   This time I wanted to tell him that I am now running a kitchen, but the opportunity did not present itself--but it would have been a neat, full circle sort of thing. In case you are reading Mr. Sagal, that is what I am doing now.

It was just a really, really good party that ended with overall silliness and love.  On the ride home Madeline and I listened to "Baby Got Back" and "Gansta's Paradise" while Valya sat quietly in the back seat with her lovely husband, contemplating the meaning of broken glass.

The next day, I spent a part of the morning drinking coffee with Valya while petting cats, until her three fantastic children returned home.  The eldest, Maya, had a Broadway Musical choral recital at her school that day, so Valya and I went--it was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.   The grades performed songs from different musicals--and Maya had "Fiddler on the Roof"--which I still haven't seen, but must now watch.   After the recital, we did a little shopping for dinner and watched most of "Singing in the Rain" until it was time for the children to go to bed. 

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Lana, Myself, Maya and Liam being silly in the kitchen! 

The next day, January 28th was the Bicentenary of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and Madeline, Valya and I would all be participating in a live reading of the book at Block 37 in downtown Chicago.
                              
                           From left to right, Valya, Viki, Myself, and Madeline. photo by Deb Miller 

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                The group of readers after us, including the talented voice of Larry Santoro, of Tales to Terrify

Four of us read for an hour, which was about three chapters. My group covered the scenes of the ball at Netherfield Hall to the proposal of marriage to Elizabeth Bennet by Mr. Collins.  We had assigned sections, and I read the lines of Elizabeth--which was exciting, but also taxing. Valya had Mrs. Bennett--which she did fantsastically--it was a fun thing to do in honor of one of my favorite books, and I would like to investigate the Jane Austen Society of North America more and see if there is a chapter near Minneapolis.
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                                                                                          A view of Block 37.  


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                                                            Deb Miller organized the reading.

After the reading, Valya and I said our goodbyes--but always there are adventures brewing in the future.  With a few hours to spare, Madeline, Ellen and I took a walk downtown to visit Loopy Yarns, where I found some deliciously squishy Madelinetosh fingering weight yarn. It will become a thing of beauty I am sure--and it was the perfect way to end the weekend.  My Megabus ride home was uneventful--again having both seats to myself I was able to read further into Stephen King's "The Stand".  I treasure my travels to Chicago and the time spent with these friends who help me feel a little more like myself.  It really does help remind me why.

I leave you with food and yarn porn, and a "Duet" by Bittersweet Drive. Enjoy!
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