Category Archives: Photos

Minnesota Minute: A Day on the Town

Today I decided to go for a little adventure through Minneapolis. I don’t have much commentary, except what I will provide for each picture. I can say that today was really fun, and I look forward to exploring the Cities on my days off.

My first stop of the day was at Blick’s Art Supplies where I bought some stuff to start printmaking. I bought linoleum, ink, a roller, some paper, and some other more generalized art supplies. I used my birthday money for this, instead of for interview clothes.

Dick Blick

My second stop, which was a pleasant surprise, was at the Basilica of Saint Mary, the first basilica built in the United States. It is the co-cathedral for the Cities with St. Paul Cathedral, the more famous one. Here are several pictures I took while I was there. Forgive me for the bad quality of the photos; I took them with my phone.

After spending a good bit of time in contemplation in the basilica, I went to my next stop. Birchbark Books is famously supported by Louise Erdrich and houses a huge variety of texts by American Indian writers. The people who work there are very helpful and kind, and the store itself is exactly as quaint and amazing as one might imagine. My favorite part was the confessional that had a sign saying, “Do not enter. We are not responsible for damnation.” Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the confessional, nor did I get a very good picture of the outside. No worries. I will be going back soon.

photo 13

From Birchbark Books, I decided to head for lunch. If you know me at all, you know what I went for. Wings. With a simple google search, I found a place called Runyon’s, which is in the Warehouse District. Since I am new here, I had no idea what that meant. Well, as near as I can tell, the Warehouse District is a mix of businesses, restaurants, and strip clubs. This is what I saw as I neared my destination. You can’t really see the signs as well as I wish you could, but one says Augie’s Topless Bar and the other one is a giant rainbow circle that says Gay 90s. These are clear signs that good wings are nearby.

photo 14

I had to drive around a bit to find somewhere to park, and, once I did, I walked to Runyon’s along 2nd Avenue. I passed this:

photo 20

And then arrived here:

photo 15

The wings and (I cheated) the Deschutes Obsidian Stout were delicious. I kept thinking that it was really too bad that this bar is so far away from my house, because it felt a bit like Savage’s and the wings were just as good. The bartender, Nick, was pretty awesome and is himself a transplant from New York, so I felt pretty at home in his care. Their blue cheese dip was really good, too, so that’s a total plus. No shoddy, half-cracked blue cheese here. And my wings were crispy, just like I ordered them. Total win for lunch.

photo 17

After lunch,I decided to stop into this ecclectic little place I passed on my way to Runyon’s. One on One is the type of place that I’d love to hang out and just people watch. While I was in there I had some strange encounters just off the bat.

An older man said, about my t-shirt, to the woman who was chopping onions for what looked like salsa, “You know why she’s wearing tie-dye, right?”

The onion chopper said, “Why?”

Old guy, who had an opinion on everything that was going on, said, “She wanted to remind me of the good old times, the 60s, when acid was still legal in California.”

I turned to him and said, “You are absolutely right, man. I wore it just for you. I’m glad I could make your day.” And we both laughed.

Anyway, here are some photos from that place with the yummy dirty chai. First the front of the building:

photo 19

Next the inside, where the bicycles reside.

photo 18

My last task was to go to IKEA. I think I may be the only person I know who doesn’t enjoy this place one little bit. There is too much to look at, and the floor plan is structured like a maze. There is no getting in and getting out at IKEA. However, I did love the variety of cool options of everything they have in their little showrooms. I now know where I will go to buy all of my furniture should I ever live in a tiny house, a shipping container, or a tree house. The magic of IKEA is that it’s like a grown-up’s fairy castle where everything is a just a little surreal. I loved that aspect of it.

photo21

I hope you enjoyed that little tour. Haha.

 

Winter Break Retreat and Dissertation Work

I’m spending my winter break at home by myself. Well, more accurately I am spending it at home with five cats, three dogs, a fish, and some outside birds. More importantly, however, I am spending it in a quiet house. I decided to use the time I’d be home alone to give myself a spiritual retreat of meditation/prayer, silence, and reading/writing. Of course, this retreat isn’t as focused on spiritual matters as I would like it to be, because it has to be equally focused on school matters as I work to finish this dissertation re-proposal. I’m enjoying the fact that my typical day is looking somewhat contemplative at least.

For the past several days, since the day after Christmas (so when my mini-retreat concludes with Bec’s return on Sunday evening it will be a five day fast from normality) my day has looked like this:

  • Instead of using the alarm clock, I’ve been getting up whenever I feel like waking up. Most mornings it’s been between seven and eight in the morning.
  • After getting dressed, the first thing I do is put a pot of water to boil on the stove, set on low, so I can make a French press of coffee when I get back from walking the dogs.
  • I take a nice, slow walk with my dogs and give them lots of extra love once we return home. I take care of the cats, feed the birds and the fish.
  • I make coffee, eat breakfast, and have a bit of prayer/contemplation time with the help from Common Prayer and some fragrant incense. I light my St. Jude candle and pray for assistance with this dissertation, because it seems like something I should ask for help from the patron saint of the impossible.
  • Once I’m finished with morning prayer time, I read whatever text it is for the day for my dissertation and I take notes on the text.
  • I stop to make lunch/dinner, and I spend time doing some physical activity (riding my bike trainer, walking, shoveling snow) to make my thoughts congeal. Then I write a bit about the text I read that day.
  • Finally, I have allowed myself only an hour and a half to use Facebook, talk on the phone, text, email, or meet with friends. The rest of my day, from whenever I wake up until 9PM is spent in contemplative silence. At 9PM, I watch a bit of TV while trying to fall asleep.

I’ve noticed that during this week my thoughts have become clearer, my energy has gone back up, my spiritual life has turned for the better, and I don’t really miss talking or watching TV. I’d love to take a week long silent retreat at a convent or monastery some time, where I can’t even have a computer and can only use the land line telephone to make calls.

I’ve made some interesting discoveries about myself this week, too. The first is that I need an intense amount of what my friend Amy calls “self-care.” Here is what I wrote to another friend of mine about the dark night I went through this November; it was the worst one I’ve experienced to date. “I’m also not being preachy (okay just a little bit) when I say that even Jesus had to take a time out once in a while to feed his soul. Families complicate that, and so do friends sometimes, and it’s hard to strike a healthy balance between the two. I find that sometime the ‘should’ rules bind me in to the point where I can’t have fun or enjoy life even when I don’t have something I ‘should’ be doing. That’s the point I was at in November (the very bottom of the barrel), and, yes, I’ve always (since I can remember) struggled not with the notion of killing myself, but of sometimes feeling that I’d be better off in another place or that my life is too overwhelming to keep living. I have only been in a really bad spot like that a couple of times in my life and I had a really hard time getting out of it this time. It made me realize that sometimes for me the ‘should’ is taking care of myself, even if it means doing things at the expense of spending time with others. You know I love a good conversation and some good quality time, but I had to take a weekend to ‘go to a conference’ to get my perspective back. Thank God for my friend Amy, who is a hospice chaplain. She didn’t realize that she was going to have work in her off hours. Since then, I’ve tried really hard to make at least half an hour for myself before anyone else is up. I get up at 4AM most mornings to get time to run, pray, worship, and feed my soul. I am super tired sometimes because I am so not a morning person, but I find the trade-off to be worth it.” I owe my sanity to my friends Sarah and Daniel as well. I am not sure any of them really knew how fragile I was that weekend, but I had a hard time even enjoying anything, let alone learning anything at that conference.

Sometimes—I’ve learned about myself—I am really high maintenance in the emotional department. I can be dark and brooding, and I am sure it is difficult to be my friend. However, I am so thankful for those people who stick by me and who keep me laughing (or at least smiling) when I really question why I am here at all. I’m not saying this to be melodramatic or to draw attention to myself, but I am saying it because I know there are others out there who feel the same way. I wonder probably too frequently what is the point of my existence, and before you think it, yes, I do love the existentialist writers, particularly Dostoevsky. I do know, somewhere deep down inside of me at all times: there is hope, there is help, and there is healing. I’ve experienced it again and again through my friends and through my faith. There is a purpose to all of this, but for me it’s difficult to understand.

I’ve learned that when my faith suffers, I suffer. When I get in a place like I was in November, that dark and scary place, I can’t feel God or connect with God in any meaningful way. Do I keep searching? Yes, but it feels as if I just keep finding nothing at the bottom of dark, dark hole. There aren’t many people who I know in my life who would admit to this feeling, but I am sure we all have it at least fleetingly. I think too much, I rationalize too much, and I don’t just “let go and let God,” as the cheesy saying goes. Well, I can’t do that. And I do think it’s cheesy. I prefer my theology with a dose of reason and my faith with a dose of doubt. Though I am in a much better place now than I was in November, I still wouldn’t say I’m a bucket of sunshine and rainbows. Full of hope, but realistic about it.

One of the books I read over break, which had nothing to do with my dissertation, but which helped me to think about my faith in new ways was An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson. The book is basically about her long struggle as she lived as a Missionary of Charity for twenty years of her life. Many of her theological struggles are mine, many of her relational struggles are mine, and many of her solutions are mine as well. The place where the book challenged me the most was near the end. Johnson leaves the Church: “I don’t tell Father Bob about the still, small voice I heard within. Look inside yourself, the voice said. God is like the best parts of you. From there it was a short step to God is the best parts of you. [. . .] I tell him that the freer I become, the more beautiful I grow” (522). I am not sure that I can follow her to the point of leaving the Church, but I can certainly respect her ideas and would love to bring them into the Church. From her story, I can only imagine her being able to relate to God in such a manner (one without the presence of hierarchical church structure). In many respects the Church has made God out to be the best parts of it, so why as individuals can’t we believe that God is the best parts of us? The peaceful, loving, grace-filled, compassionate parts of us. Near the end of the book Johnson writes about the way most people remember Mother Teresa as being filled with joy, almost nonhuman in her joyfulness: “I feel odd to prefer the human to the perfect; maybe that’s why I don’t fit anymore. I want earth, not heaven” (523). I think I must be super selfish, because I want both.

I find that when I keep a balanced perspective about theology, when I realize that some of my understanding of heaven comes from Scripture, and that much more comes from experiencing God’s love (and human maliciousness) here on earth, I can relate to God much more clearly. Just this morning, after four days of “retreat,” I was finally able to pray again (it’s been a long time coming), to feel as if God heard my thoughts, heard my prayers. I felt as if I was literally in the presence of God. As I prayed for others, I felt their names, their faces, their difficulties come rushing forward to meet my lips. This experience wasn’t from me, but was it from God? Do I owe this to some divine breakthrough or is it more the fact that I am just relaxed? Have I just given myself enough self-care to be open enough to be in the presence of God? Have I tricked myself with contemplation and incense? Have I tried harder this week and somehow tricked myself into feeling God’s presence? Is it the beauty of the snow? Is it having time? Is it the lack of stress? Is it an emotional spoke in my menstrual cycle? These are the questions I ask myself when I start to feel to deeply and can no longer rationally explain my theological ecstasy. I want both the rational and the completely irrational, the earth and the heavens, the justice and the grace. I want to enjoy the mystery. God, I want.

 

 

New Beginning(s): “This is the first day of the rest of your life . . . “

I feel like I am constantly starting over. Personally, starting over feels good to me, and I wake up nearly every day with the bridge of one of my favorite songs stuck in my head: “This is the first day of the rest of your life.” Sometimes, though, I think this might get draining for my friends. I think they sit around thinking, What is she going to try to do this time, and how long will it last? You know, I think the same thing. But instead of feeling like a flake or feeling defeated by my inability to “stick to it,” I feel invigorated by it. This may be wishful thinking, but I think starting new again and again and looking at every day as the first day of the rest of my life is actually a very healthy place for me to be in. I never get stuck in a rut, unless it is a rut of starting over. This constant change of focus, however, might mean that I never really finish what I start, which is a signal or indicator of failure in American culture that places so much emphasis on the completion of tasks, even at the face of incredible boredom or monotony. I, however, vow that each day is the first day of the rest of my life, and I retain the right to change my mind and to act out those changes in my little corner of the world.

How will this work out, you ask, in the facets of my life I hold most dear? Well, Friend, here’s today’s new and improved me (with a smattering of the old me for good measure, and a touch of the same old topics being knocked around again).

Anyone who’s read this blog before knows that one of my largest areas of struggle is spirituality. I reason with my analytical self and contemplate inside my mystic self, I wrestle with the (many understandings of) the Judeo-Christian God and, lately, I’ve been conversing with Buddhism. I’m also looking for ways intentionally fit in some meditation and prayer throughout my day. Providentially, I happened upon the Daily Examen, which is an Ignatian practice. I think this short simple prayer exercise will complement the other meditation I have started, “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment,” which I read about in Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay, as his students call him, seems to be onto something that resonates inside of me when he compares mindfulness and meditation to the presence of the Holy Spirit and prayer. Never does he claim that they are one and the same, but he carefully describes the ways in which they can exist side-by-side to bring a further understanding of ourselves in line with a further understanding of the world and its spiritual realm. His writing is so beautiful and his spirit so kind and peaceful, it makes me want to visit Plum Village. I’m thinking about going there next summer if I can find the funding. I need a bit of renewed-ness in my life. Summer seems pretty far away, but I know it will be here before I know it.

Looking toward summer probably isn’t what a teacher should be doing while she sits at her desk spending time on personal writing before beginning to plan two first, six-week units for classes, but it’s what I am doing, and it’s necessary and good work, and looking toward summer is natural for me. However, the school year is here and brings with it many, many changes to our school. Most important to me is the change that enabled me to move to the high school. I am very sad to leave my middle school students and some of my middle school colleagues, but I am excited to embark on a new journey, “This is the first day . . ..” This year I am teaching two sections of British literature, which is new for me. I never imagined I’d teach British literature. I never thought I’d want to, but it’s part of the bargain of moving up to high school. I’m finding that I really enjoy planning for the class and thinking about something new and different to me. I’m also enjoying three sections of American literature, which is, of course, why I made the decision to move to high school. I love American literature. I love everything about it, and now I can restructure the course into thematic units and teach it in a more holistic, well-rounded way, giving more voice to those groups which are currently under-represented. At Burris, we’ve always taught it chronologically by literary movements, which is entirely the easiest way to teach it when two teachers are sharing the classes. However, it’s my own gig now, and I plan to switch things up for next year. This year, because I only have two preps and because we’ve been released from many of our committee requirements, I feel like I can squeeze in a few things that I thought might get squeezed out of my life.

One of the things I’m putting back into my life is my dissertation. This, I think, might be the thing that makes me seem the most flakey. To most, it likely seems that I don’t know what I am doing and I’m flighty and not very serious about this piece of my education, but I am. Very. Serious. I want to finish my PhD, but I don’t want my ideas, my paper, my writing to suck. I don’t want to be subpar, and that’s where I was headed. I’ve taken an entire summer off, rested, and refocused, and I am ready now to a superstar! (That was a little too much, eh?) At any rate, I have a plan this time, and it might actually work. I plan to get up and get to school by 5:30 every morning, giving myself two hours to work on my dissertation every day before school starts. My mind is the freshest at this time of day, and theoretical concepts make the most sense before I’ve intermingled with my students. I’m not a morning person in the way of being with people that early, but I can surely write and read before the chaos of the day clutters my brain. I have two hours of prep time to get things ready for classes throughout the day, and our lesson plans are due on Monday by 4PM anyway. I am really excited about this prospect, and now I can’t, simply can’t, fall on my face, or I will look like a real tool.

I’m also going to start taking piano lessons every other Friday, and, as of now, I’m a little nervous about that bit of exploration and learning!

What does this do for my swimming and running, my athletic endeavors, you might wonder. I’m canceling the rest of the races I had planned for this year, in favor of being a bit more low-key and doing some 5Ks as they come up. I’ve decided to put a hold on my morning swims. It’s going to be two school years of sacrifice, and then I can swim again. I doubt I’ll forget in that time. As far as biking goes, the season is almost over for it, and I don’t plan to bike on my trainer until spring. Until it is over, though, I plan to go on long rides on Saturday with Bec, and I ride my bike to school every day anyway. In order to sort of rein in my extra energy and balance my moods, I plan to combine the prayer and mediation I mentioned above with an evening run to wind down from and reconsider my day. It’s my goal, Monday through Thursday, to walk over to the lookout by Minnetrista and do the smiling and mindful meditation, then run two miles. When I return to the overlook, I will then complete the daily examen and walk home. There is no reason that I can’t have an hour to myself to be contemplative before going home to cook.

I plan to continue to cook delicious—I’d even say gourmet (sometimes)—paleo meals. We feel better and look better in just the nine months we’ve been eating grain-free. I hope to keep it that way. Also, my brother and I want to eventually open a paleo gastro pub with our own home-brewed hard ciders. We’re going to start brewing the ciders this fall, I think, and we’re hoping to make some pear cider next fall. One thing we both love is trying new foods and drinks, so I think it’s a bonus that we found paleo eating when did!

Cheers! (Raising a hard cider): here’s to starting over. Here’s to rethinking. Here’s to new beginnings. Here’s to exploration, and growth. Here’s to future hopes, past failures and success, and present moments to savor. Here’s to “the first day of the rest of your life. Even in the darkness you can still see the light.”

Food, Glorious Food. And Sports.

Food 

What’s the next thing I’ll eat? I ask myself this question as I sit here—frustrated because I’d love to put my grades into Power School, but Power School is “either too busy or the site is down for maintenance”—in my comfy, slightly strange chair, which is next to my stack of “currently reading” books. Among comic books (like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and The Breathers), at least one fictional text (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), and several other random nonfiction books dealing with gender and theology (Nobody Passes: Rejecting Rules of Gender and Conformity and John Wesley’s Sermons) are many nonfiction texts about food. From cookbooks or food magazines to theoretical texts, my book collection has recently gained quite a few texts dealing with how food is used and interpreted in culture. These books were part of my dissertation preparation and background knowledge, but now they are just books for pleasure. For fun (mind you), I am currently reading books like Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture and The Anthropology of Food and the Body: Gender, Meaning, and Power, and Eating Culture. I will admit it: I think about food almost constantly. I know it’s a semi-charmed kind of first world life I lead when I can sit around, pouting about not being able to enter my grades on the computer,  thinking about what I might whip up for a snack while I work.

Dining Al Fresco Paleo

Last night I made glorious bison burgers for dinner, because I’m doing the Whole 30 to try to jumpstart my metabolism again and to get rid of the foods that I think are causing me the most pain. The picture doesn’t do justice to the amazingness of these burgers and their artistic presentation. They were half-pound charcoal-grilled bison burgers with spring greens, avocados, onions, tomatoes, and bacon. I drizzled mine with a bit of balsamic vinegar just to set off the taste of the onions. I had a banana for desert. We ate outside on the porch at our new slate table. The weather was perfect. The food was delicious. The evening was wonderful.

The only thing that made the day more wonderful was I got up this morning and was tempted to weigh myself. I’ve lost five pounds in two days by cutting out sugar and dairy. I can’t say I could live this strictly forever, but it feels pretty good to cleanse my body and to lose a bit of weight. I told my brother, last night, that I am trying to focus more on how I feel, how fit I can get, and how my clothes wear than I am trying to focus on weight, but I couldn’t resist just seeing if there was any difference. Now I know, so now I won’t weigh myself again until June 17, just before I leave to go to Florida.

Sports

I am “training” for a half marathon in July, but I haven’t done much running lately. I’ve done more walking and biking than anything, so I need to make sure to pick up the running, making sure to do a good portion of it barefoot. I just sent out a check to Tuhey Pool, to join their outdoor pool lap-swim program for the summer, because I also want to do a triathlon at some point before I turn 39. I’m hoping to do this triathlon in September of 2013. It only cost $75 for the whole summer and I can go for lap swim and for the regular swimming time later in the day after I’ve done the other work I need to do. I never feel like the summer is long enough, and I always feel like I have so much to do. This summer is no exception, but I do know I want to get in lots of exercise and lots of clean, healthy eating. I want to look hot when school starts (I mean not that I’m not super cute already). We’ll see where this goes.

Dissertation. Paleo & Exercise.

As much as I’d love to go around telling each person who has meant anything to me in the process of trying to earn my PhD the following information, I can’t. There are too many of you, so I am writing it here hoping some people actually read these things  and hoping you will not feel betrayed that I am not telling you to your face.

I have made the decision to quit and not finish my dissertation. I am not going to complete my PhD. I am totally and completely okay with my decision. I have not fallen off the academic wagon, and I still feel like I can be a valuable part of the academic community. I am simply choosing to focus on teaching my beloved middle school and high school students, instead of splitting myself between my two loves. I still plan to write and research, but my interest will likely switch from literature and literary theory to literature and teaching literature. Of course, theory will still be a part of that process, but so will pedagogy, methodology, pragmatics, and all of those educational tidbits I’ve been ignoring in my research.

*

I realize I’ve changed my life by eating paleo, and I feel like shit when I eat wheat and corn, so I wonder to myself, “Why is it that you still insist on eating things that make you feel like shit?” There are two pretty obvious reasons: they taste good, and that’s what’s available. I am sure there are other not so obvious reasons, too. On Thursday, at Thirsty Thursday, I decided I had a hankering for a corn dog. Savage’s has corn dogs, so I ate one, and when I woke up the next morning, my belly was bloated, my tongue was swollen and my mouth was on fire. Think there might be an allergy there? I felt horrible, so I decided then and there that non-paleo (or primal if I’m feeling more lax) foods will not be going into my body anymore, no matter how appealing they sound, nor how readily available they are.

In addition to just (sort of) eating whatever I want, I haven’t been exercising the way I want to (or need to). I’ve been sleeping in, instead of going swimming and running. I’ve been couching, instead of going for bike rides or walking the dogs. I’ve been doing pretty much everything to avoid the exercise schedule I’ve created for myself. Because of this neglect, I’ve had to drop out of the Flying Pig half-marathon that’s happening in two weeks. I still have my entry, so I suppose if I feel like it that day, I could head over and make the attempt. I’m pretty sure I could do 16-minute miles for 13.1 miles. Maybe not. Anyway, I haven’t been where I need to be, and as per usual, I decided to “exercise punish” myself. I made up a circuit last night. Four reps with a 3 minute vacuuming break (I was doing housework, too. What can I say?):

  1. 10 air squats with the kettlebell
  2. 25 kb swings
  3. 15 bent rows per side with kb
  4. 15 lat rows per side with kb
  5. 15 overhead arm extensions with kb
  6. 15 tricep extensions with medicine ball
  7. 15 per side side to side crunches with mb
  8. 15 heel-tapping oblique crunches
  9. 15 diamond-bent leg crunches with hands overhead
  10. throw the medicine ball up in the air 15 times
  11. slam the medicine ball to the ground from overhead 15

For dinner last night, I made lamb chops marinated in Bell’s Porter (which is technically not paleo, but I didn’t drink it), broccoli, and sweet potatoes.

Yummy.

I slept so well, like a little baby. When my alarm went off at six this morning, I got up and ran 2 miles to Ball Pool, swam 1.5 miles, and then ran the two miles home. I ate eggs, bacon, a banana, and some tea for breakfast, then walked down to the park to take tickets for the ball game. It was freezing, so I came home and took a really hot shower before I ate squash, uncured hot dogs, and tea for lunch. Basically, it’s been a beautiful couple of days. My body is sore, but my spirits are reeling. I am so excited for summer and for what my future holds. I’m Pollyanna-ing all the way.