The Killers and Preparing for Departure

Here’s the thing.  Tomorrow evening I shall be attending one Killers concert in Minneapolis.  I’ve talked about going to see the Killers for years: it was this band, you see, that plucked me out of my oldies reverie and forced me to take interest in–heaven forbid–music that people my own age were listening to.  Of course, I still like oldies, but “Change Your Mind” saved me in those days.  It was what I listened to on the bus during my nightmarish first year of high school, when the lime green iPod Mini I clutched was still considered a novelty (I actually remember kids asking if they could just hold it).

Some time has passed since then; now I’m twenty-two-nearly-twenty-three and adult enough to go see my saviors live without a parent.  Imagine that.

Here’s the other thing.  Following the concert, I will be setting off on a road trip of presidential proportions.  Which is my way of saying that I will be visiting Jefferson’s Monticello, Washington’s Mount Vernon, and Washington D.C., among other eastern United States destinations.  There is quite possibly no one on Earth (except perhaps Mr. McCullough) who would enjoy such a trip as much as I will; it’s as if all of my history buff dreams are coming true at once.  I feel undeservingly lucky, but plan to take you along via this blog, if you’d like to come.

We saw the West last summer:

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My word, my hair was short.

My word, my hair was short. (Badlands)

Salt Lake City LDS Temple

Salt Lake City LDS Temple

Let’s go East this summer.

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Inaugural Friday Favorites

When I’m not writing blog posts–that is, when I’m not slaving away in a garret with only a stubby candle to light my laptop and a small mouse for company (A Little Princess style)–I am often reading other blogs.  And what I have noticed over the past few months is that many “other blogs” have a feature called “Friday Favorites.”  Friday Favorites is typically a pictorial-with-captions list of some of the blogger’s favorite products, techniques, memes, recipes, etc. from the week.

I’ve explained before how much I love information in blurb form when it comes to the internet and magazines (funnily enough, since I am a rather long-winded blogger myself), so needless to say, I am a fan of Friday Favorites.  I am also a fan of having a weekly tradition.

Therefore, I have decided to start a kind of Friday Favorites of my own.  I can’t promise anything cute or crafty or delicious, but I can promise you a pictorial representation of my week.

Here goes:

This book

Unknown

I’ve been eyeing The Pillars of the Earth for years.  Every time I passed it on the shelf in library or bookstore, I would pause briefly, sometimes pick it up, but always eventually put it back.  For some reason, it never seemed the right time to dive into such a massive volume.  But last week I was finally finally in the mood for a real story.  A story that wouldn’t be over quickly.  Now I’m almost 300 pages in and entirely hooked.  I plan to write a real review once I’ve finished the thing, but if you’re another TPOTE (pronounced tee-p-oh-t) stalker, I advise you to give it a chance now.

This song

Can I like Taylor Swift now?  Now that she’s pop and punk and all grown up?  Because I’ve been listening to this song all week.  What can I say?  I swoon for acoustic duets.

Writing at a desk

Hemingway_at_his_writing_desk.

Yeah yeah, it’s a little presumptuous to choose a picture of That Crazy Genius Bastard Hemingway* to accompany this post.  But to get back to my point, I have only recently begun to write at a desk.  Before, I was in the camp that believes that in order to truly focus on creating, one can’t be distracted with the discomfort a desk chair often provides.  Now, I’m in the camp that believes that in order to truly focus on creating, one needs to get their rear out of bed and into the kind of chair that screams NOW WE’RE GOING TO WORK.  And you know what?  I’ve never been so productive.

This Brand

imagesLike most high quality outdoor outfitting brands, Patagonia is ridiculously expensive.  But they also make the kind of comfy, fleecy, that-girl-could-climb-a-mountain gear that I could quite easily live in.  In fact, Patagonia fits perfectly into this daydream I have about living in the North Woods of Wisconsin and rolling out of bed each morning for flannel, coffee, and writing.

This child

1374688572_kate-middleton-prince-william-prince-george-lg

There were some fiery Facebook posts this week concerning young George Alexander Louis.  Apparently, it’s a terrible sin for people to stop and pay attention to the birth of a baby when there are so many “more important”–and much more sober–things happening in the world.  I say, the world would be a terrible, terrible place if we couldn’t take a break from tracking violence and death and injustice to celebrate something joyful.  I certainly admit that I will likely never actually meet George.  Nor do I live in the country which he will someday preside over as king.  But I think it’s silly to pretend that the small family in the country above doesn’t impact the world at all, or to pretend that the way they live and dress and speak to the public doesn’t say a great deal about the modern times and the modern monarchy.  This is culture happening, and I think it is deserving of our attention.

Road trip planning

National-Lampoons-Vacation-e1362095010677

I will not at this time disclose the destination of the road trip, nor the date of departure.  But you’d better believe I’ll document every sweaty, touristy, awe-inspiring bit of it.  For if any family can match the Griswolds, it is surely mine.

*A literature professor called Hemingway this when I was a sophomore.  Since then, I haven’t been able to shake it.

An Interview With a Real, Live Tough Mudder

Yesterday my sister and three of her friends from elementary school did the Tough Mudder Minnesota (located in Somerset, Wisconsin, funnily enough).  In an exclusive, no-holds-barred interview, I managed to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to anticipate a Mudder, to participate in a Mudder, and to look back on it a day later.

Here’s the blurb from the Tough Mudder website, in case you’re not sure what it is:

“Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. With the most innovative courses, 1,000,000 inspiring participants worldwide to date, and more than $5 million raised for the Wounded Warrior Project, Tough Mudder is the premier adventure challenge series in the world.”

It’s also called “the toughest event on the planet.”

Here’s what Amy had to say about it:

In your own words, what is a Tough Mudder?

It is a ten-mile run with really hard obstacles, a lot of mud, and a lot of teamwork and camaraderie.  It’s so fun, but it’s really a challenge.  It challenges you, your friendships, your partnerships.

 Why did you decide to do a Tough Mudder?

I don’t know. I knew someone who did it, and I thought it would be cool to say I did it.  I thought it would be an interesting challenge.

 What worried you about it?

I knew it was going to be really, really hard, and I knew I wasn’t prepared: because of work, I ran out of time to train, and I came up with excuses, like oh, I have plenty of time before the end of July.  So I didn’t end up training at all.

 Were there any obstacles you were worried about in particular?

I didn’t look up the obstacles ahead of time.  I didn’t want to see what they were.  I wanted to be surprised so I didn’t overthink it.

I give you the Arctic Enema obstacle.  A dumpster filled with ice water that runners must jump into and swim across.  Plus, a board across the middle means that runners have to GO UNDER WATER to avoid it.  Understandably, there was a lot of profanity.

I give you the Arctic Enema obstacle. A dumpster filled with ice water that runners must jump into and swim across. Plus, a board across the middle means that runners have to GO UNDER WATER to avoid it. Understandably, there was a lot of profanity involved.

 How you did you feel on the morning of the Mudder?

I was tired.  I was excited, too

 What did you eat before the Mudder?

I had pasta with chicken the night before, and then ice cream for dessert.  In the morning I had Rice Chex with blueberries and milk.  Overall the food was fine.  The one thing I was lacking was energy, so it was nice that they had stations set up with shotblocks and bananas and water.

Actual photograph of Amy's actual pre-Mudder bowl of ice cream.

Actual photograph of Amy’s actual pre-Mudder bowl of ice cream.

 Next year, would you eat something different?

It didn’t make me feel good about myself that I ate ice cream for the Tough Mudder.  I don’t know if I actually felt physical effects, but I felt less confident and worried that it would affect me negatively during the run.

 Were you worried when you saw the other participants? Interviewer’s note: most of them appeared to be tall, burly men between the ages of 20 and 30.

When I saw who was in my wave, I was really intimidated.  But online I had seen lots of photos of different-sized people, and even people in wheelchairs doing the run.  I knew I was in the first wave, so I couldn’t come in last.  So that was good.

 What was your favorite obstacle and why?

My favorites were the Mud Mile and the Boa Constrictor.  The Mud Mile was this wide running path with mounds of hard mud that you had to climb over, and mud pits filled with water you had to jump into.  You never knew how deep the pits were, because they changed it up.  The Boa Constrictor was made of big black sewer pipes with water in them.  You had to crawl through, and every so often the pipe opened up into a mud pit with barbed wire to crawl under.

[Below: The Electric Eel, your interviewer’s personal favorite obstacle.  Mudders had to crawl through the water (it was a lot deeper for the MN Mudder: maybe five inches or so) amidst hundreds of hanging, fully charged, electric wires.  Whenever someone brushed a wire, they would be shocked.  In some ways, it was hard to watch because it looked like it really, really hurt.  In other ways, it was hilarious to see grown men and women screaming like children and swearing up a storm as they went through.]

 How did you and your friends motivate each other during the run?

When running, we would sometimes all slow down to a walk and chat to take our minds off things.  Having to boost each other over walls and cheer each other on was great.

 What were some moments you witnessed of strangers helping each other?

That was the entire thing.  If  you were on one side waiting to climb up a wall [and all your teammates had already climbed over], another group would come and boost you over.  When we couldn’t get Cady [one of Amy’s teammates] up the ramp, a guy came over and hauled her up.  Lots of cheering and high fives.  It wasn’t a competition; no one took it too seriously.

How did you feel crossing the finish line?

I was tired.  I was pooped.  But it was a big feeling of accomplishment.  And relief that there were no more hills to run up.

Across the finish line.

Across the finish line.

Would you do the Mudder again, and why?

Yes.  We plan on doing it again next year as a kind of friend reunion.  We want to see how well we do time-wise and skill-wise if we all actually train.

Do you plan on training harder next year?  What kind of training do you think would have been useful?

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Running hills.  Finding the steepest hills and running up and down like a hundred times.  Because the running part [of the Mudder] was all about running up and down hills that were muddy and slippery.  Pull ups would also be helpful for getting yourself up over walls.

 What did you wear to the Mudder this year?  Would you wear something different next year?

This year I wore running compression shorts, an UnderArmour t-shirt, old tennis shoes, and socks.  Next time I would wear shoes with more support.  I think I would want to train in a pair of shoes and then wear the same pair on the run.  We want to wear costumes, too: to make it more fun.

 How do you feel today (the day after the Mudder)?

I’m pretty sore.  Very sore.  Definitely taking Advil.  You feel a sense of accomplishment, though, and it’s a cool thing to tell people.

 Any advice you would give those planning to do a Mudder themselves?

Pick your teammates wisely.  We should have had a guy, because sometimes you need that extra strength to help you over the walls.  I did it with friends I had a close relationship with.  We kept each other motivated, and if someone wanted to stop and walk, we were all okay with that.  We were all constantly checking up on the others.  If I did it with people I didn’t know as well, I might feel like I couldn’t walk.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Bears

It is 9:18 a.m. and I am awake.

This is practically a record, for the summer at least: summer nights are for staying up into the wee hours, and summer days are for sleeping until noon and then deciding upon awakening whether to eat breakfast or lunch.

What happened was that I fell asleep at midnight, and then woke up at 9:18 from a nightmare about a grizzly bear massacring people first in a city, and then a team of scientists in a high school gym.  Just as I was running from it, trying to get to the roof of the school, because somehow that was the only safe place, I woke up.  Or rather, I became aware that I was dreaming, and that if I wanted to wake up, I could.  And believe it or not, I considered staying in the nightmare.  Because I wanted to see how the story ended.

Do you ever feel like that about nightmares?  That while they’re terrifying and often torturous, they’re also fascinating?  It’s amazing what our brains can come up with as we sleep.

The other point I want to make is that I dream about bloodthirsty bears an awful lot.  Or rather, I don’t have nightmares an awful lot, but when I do, they’re often about bloodthirsty bears.  Even when I was little.  For whatever deeply buried, subconscious reason, bears are my bogeyman.

the-sleep-of-reason-produces-monsters-1799.jpg!Blog

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, by Francisco Goya

When I woke up from this lapse of reason, my nightstand lamp was on.  I distinctly remember turning if off before I fell asleep, so I like to think that when things got particularly grim in the nightmare, I half woke up and turned it on.  Just for the comfort that a bit of light provides.  Either that, or some passing ghost took pity on me.

For Writers

This is my 365th post.  If you’ll remember, a few years ago I made a pact to post on this blog every day for a year.  If I had kept that pact, I would have reached my 365th post long before now.  But I’m still here, and I’m proud as anything of that.  In honor of this special occasion, I thought I’d let someone else talk about writing and its strife.  Although I admit I haven’t experienced a number of the extremes he mentions, I’m glad to think that if I work harder–if I truly work to hone my craft–I can join the ranks of him, and of all the other talented names on my bookshelf.  If not their ranks, then hopefully I can at least share in some of their noble sufferings.

“Damn the Writers”

By Owen Egerton

Dear God,

Spare a blessing for the writers.

We have traded in the bars and bullfights for university jobs and Netflix. We sink into credit card debt awaiting publication, then find the advance won’t cover the monthly interest. Oh Lord, the books that took us years and blood have the shelf life of warm goat milk. In desperation, we write zombie erotica ebooks under false names, outselling our life’s work 10 to 1. Our friends and family flip through our drafts, shake their heads, and return to their game of Candy Crush Saga.

In the midst of all this, may we be writers.

May we grieve and sin and celebrate all in the same swallow.

May we seize morning light and squeeze it into ink and toner.

Grant us coffee and honesty and laptops that do not connect to the internet.

Teach us to be chefs, plucking herbs from sidewalk cracks and mushrooms from basement floors. And if we fail to provide nourishment for the hungry, may we at least offer the aroma of cooking.

We are starving, God. Every last one of us.

May we persevere remembering Emily Dickinson, John Kennedy Toole, and Henry David Thoreau. That said, God, we’d like the timing to be a little kinder in our case.

Deliver us, oh Lord, from the temptation to once again check our Amazon ranking or Google our own name.

May we write books worthy of being banned, outrageous enough to be burned.

May we offend.

May we be open to the wisdom of our colleagues and not a give a fuck if the workshop likes it.

May we visit the hearts of pedophiles and tour bus conductors and volunteers working suicide hotlines.

May we sneak into the funerals of strangers.

May we run mad so we may write for the mad. May we face brokenness so we can give voice to the broken.

A little happiness would be nice as well.

May we remember that how we live is essential to how we write. And refuse to live small.

Stoned or sober, may we piss in the pools of wealthy neighbors, eat in bars with health code violations, and steal bibles from homeless shelters.

May we make love loudly, even when alone.

May we embarrass, embarrass, embarrass ourselves.

May we be lost. May we pen maps so others might become lost as well.

May our greatest risk not be our words but our lives. And may our lives spill words like molten rock.

Damn the writers, God. Then bless us with the words to describe it.

If I sound ridiculous it is because I am ridiculous. This is my religion. This is my faith.

God, cast your gaze upon us. See us in the kitchens, closets, coffee houses. Sitting and scribbling, typing, staring off between words. We raise our souls like a sloshing glass of grain alcohol. We toast one another. We smash the glass and light a match.

Forgive our clichés. Heal our poor grammar. And thank you, dear God, for Spell Check.

Oh Lord, hear our prayer.

Amen.

I Made a Pie

I made a pie today.  I woke up late, glazed-eyed, and briefly considered staying in bed and watching Downton Abbey at least until the last episode of the second season, when Matthew and Mary kiss and smile and look to be together forever.  And then I thought that perhaps it might be better to get up and contribute to the world.  So, I made a pie.

Bright blue sweatpants drawstringed securely around waist, sleeves rolled up, hair braided back but still flopping forward in the bangs department, I made a pie.  The cherries for it were picked by my mom and my dad and sometimes my sister.  Even the dog snapped cherries off the ground and off lower branches, crushing them between her teeth and eventually looking like a killer with bloodstained muzzle.  I helped pick until the mosquitos discovered me and tucked in for a feast.

I’ve always been intimidated by pie making.  The forming of the crust seemed a particular challenge.  So much can go wrong: dough too sticky from excess liquid, dough too rubbery from excess flour, dough too thin from over-zealous rolling, dough too thick from hesitant rolling.  In the end, I took a few deep breaths, fumbled with floury fingers to the “pie” section of The Joy of Cooking, and just did what the dear authors told me to do.

I poured the fresh-picked cherries into the bottom crust.  I briefly considered making a lattice top, and then determined a lattice top to be a bit out of my league.  I put on the top crust, trimmed the excess skirt of dough, and used two fingers and a thumb to crimp the edges together.  Then I carefully made tents of tinfoil so the crimps wouldn’t burn.  I pushed the pie into the oven.  I waited for almost an hour.  And there was a pie.

IMG_1174

And I felt, as I was making it, a little like this:

As if all could be right, all was right, as long as I was quietly turning fruit and flour into pastry.  And as long as I had my bird friends to help me with aesthetics.

Is There a Former Nazi Collaborator in Minneapolis?

Here’s the question:

“Is [Michael Karkoc] the devoted family man, lifelong carpenter and pillar of the local Ukrainian community who built a new life in the United States after fleeing his homeland and the Communists in the chaos following World War II? Or is he more than that, a former leader in a Ukrainian military unit linked to the Nazi SS and wartime atrocities?”

Here’s the Star Tribune article detailing the case:

http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/215403371.html

What do you think?