O, What a Luxury

We all know that I have a terrible inferiority complex when it comes to meeting celebrities (even local ones).  “Will they like me?” I think.  “Can I trust myself to say something witty and endearing?” I think, sweating profusely.  “What if I’m not dressed nicely enough to impress them?” I think, from a dead faint on the floor.

It’s silly, and it doesn’t make much sense.  We’re all people, after all.  We’re all plodding through this wonderful, cruel maze that is The Human Condition.  Celebrities just happen to have a marketable talent.  Or are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.  Or are really, really ridiculously good-looking.  Or are hard workers.  Or some combination of all four.

The fact is, I can’t seem to remember any of this wisdom when faced with a real, live celebrity.  And thus I’m always surprised when they turn out to be nice, regular people.  (Of course, some celebrities are as appraising and arrogant as I fear, and those I choose to smirk about later: “It goes to their heads. It always, always goes to their heads. Heh heh heh.  I was right all along.”  But then again, plenty of people who don’t have their own TV shows are appraising and arrogant.)

So when Wednesday night found me sitting in the sixth row at a Garrison Keillor poetry reading, I knew I was in for it.  Here was a man whose voice I had literally been hearing through the radio for my entire life.  My parents own a boat on Lake Superior, and some of my earliest memories are of hurtling through the northern woods on Sunday afternoons, listening to Guy Noir or News From Lake Wobegon and laughing whenever my parents laughed.  Sometimes, uncomfortably full with the Happy Meals we had begged for for miles and miles (and which were somehow disappointing once actually opened and consumed), my sister and I would fall asleep in the backseat of the minivan to the sound of Mr. Keillor’s voice, and wake up at home.

Garrison Keillor is perhaps the most important public figure of all, in the Minnesotan mind.  He brought us–our church basement suppers, our bars and hot dishes, our passive aggression, our experience of being up at the lake or down on the farm or “in town,” our grandparents and parents and cousins–to the world.  And sure, we’re not always so neurotic as A Prairie Home Companion portrays us to be.  Nor always so poignant nor so musical.  But the spirit of the show is right.

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All of the sudden the poetry reading was over.  The wide sheets of paper Mr. Keillor had read from were scattered on the floor.  And Mr. Keillor himself was strolling down the stage steps, down the aisle, and out into the lobby, where, as he said, he would be happy to sign copies of O, What a Luxury and to chat.  Mom and I joined the growing line, squashed in between an older woman who exclaimed that she was “just wild for E.E. Cummings” and a young couple tossing computer jargon–discs and codes and bytes–back and forth like a softball.

Then we were at the front, and I silently handed my book to Mr. Keillor, deciding in a split second that perhaps I should just be quietly friendly and not attempt any conversation.  He looked up, though, and jokingly commented on my mom’s hair, and then turned to me with an “what do you have to say for yourself, young lady?” expression.

So I told him that I’m a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota.

“And what did they do for you there?”

“They gave me an English degree, but I’m still figuring out how to use it.  I’m trying to get a job writing or editing.”

“Are you a good writer and editor?”

“Yes.”  (Then, because that seemed too vain) “I mean, I like to think I am.”

“Send your resume to Prairie Home Companion, then.”

I’m going to end the conversation here, but note that there was some additional stuttering on my part before the exchange was over.  Perhaps also some gushing to my patient mother during the drive home: “I can’t believe Garrison Keillor told me to send in my resume!  I mean, it wasn’t exactly a promise of a job, but still.  I’m going to have to write a cover letter right away.  I think I’ll say something about listening to APHC as a kid, but I don’t want to ramble, you know, so I’ll have to be concise…”  You get the idea.

To conclude this saga, I think there’s a lesson to be learned: if we ever happen to develop a marketable talent; or are in the right place at the right time; or become really, really ridiculously good-looking; or increase our work ethic…in other words, if we become celebrities, let’s remember to be kind to stuttering recent graduates who ask for our autographs.  Because it will mean a lot to them.

Out East Road Trip Day 1: Minnesota to Ohio

Good morning from scenic Dayton, Ohio.  We got in late last night, so I can’t speak to much of why it’s so “scenic,” but from what I saw of the bluffs and the trees, it is.  I love a city with bluffs and trees.  Probably because I’m partial to my native St. Paul, which has both.  Which leads me (I kid you not) to my next point: isn’t it funny how when we travel (or at least, when I travel) we admire or gape at or disparage sights based on where we’re from?  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “This or that looks like Minnesota,” often with an air of disappointment, because for heaven sakes I’m driving cross-country!  I want vast scenic differences!  It’s not your fault, Ohio.

This post, by the way, will cover what happened yesterday.  I meant to write it last night, but you know how comfy hotel beds are, and how tempting they are after thirteen hours on the road.

The drive yesterday from Minnesota to Ohio was punctuated by two primary events: 1. I ate a McDonald’s egg McMuffin for breakfast that made me feel, for the next eight hours, like I had a softball-sized ball of grease roiling in my stomach.  It was awful, and the likes of Tums, Coke, and pretzels (to soak up the grease) were of no avail.  I really should know by now that McDonald’s never ceases to have dastardly effects on my innards.  No worries that I’ll forget again: I think yesterday served to build up a strong aversion.  2. The van began to act up whilst we were on the seven-lane freeway in the traffic-y Chicago area.  I pointed out to my Mom that our family, not unlike the Griswolds, never ceases to have car trouble on road trips.  She didn’t think it was very funny.  Anyway, luckily there’s a Chrysler dealer in Dayton that was willing to have a look.  It was a loose battery cable, apparently, which would explain the flickering of gauges and the random bursts of hot air from the vents.

Today, after I shower and clean up the contents of my suitcase–which always seem to end up strewn about the room–we’re heading over to see the Wright Brother’s flying field.  Then it’s off to Virginia, which I feel certain will not “look like Minnesota.”

P.S. I know I’ve neglected to talk about the Killers concert.  I’ll write about that soon.  Right now, I’m under the pressure of a looming check-out time.

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.

Summer Enjoyment

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of moping around the house.  A fair amount of job hunting.  A decent amount of neatening the large amount of stuff which is the culmination of 22 years of residing in the same room in the same house.  A satisfying amount of going out to enjoy summer.

Since I don’t really want to talk about the moping (more of a private journal topic), and I shouldn’t talk about the job hunting (in case potential employers find me here and wonder why I’m bragging about my prospects online), and I would be wise to leave the home organization talk to those who know what they’re doing (the fine folks on HGTV and TLC), I’m going to talk summer enjoyment.  Enjoy:

An oriental poppy from my mother's garden.  I like to claim that these flowers grew from seeds I planted years ago, but it's much more likely that they were bought, fully grown, from the Home Depot garden center.

An oriental poppy from my mother’s garden. I like to claim that these flowers grew from seeds I planted years ago, but it’s much more likely that they were bought, fully grown, from the Home Depot garden center.

Is anyone else more than a little disturbed by the Old Navy mannequins that "greet" you as you enter?  Luckily, two sisters wearing matching (I was dressed first, I swear) denim outfits were there to complete the group.

Is anyone else more than a little disturbed by the Old Navy mannequins that “greet” you as you enter? Luckily, two sisters wearing matching (I was dressed first, I swear) denim outfits were there to complete the group.

Como Zoo afternoon.  I can never decide which animal I like best.  Not the zebras (I just couldn't resist posting a zebra butt photo).  Probably the orangutans.  My anthropology professor used to tell fantastic stories about orangutans who learned to do laundry with village women in Borneo, and would go out every morning with the women to scrub and wring.  I suppose it's a little sad to think of a wild animal doing human laundry, but I can imagine how lively the event would be: women chatting, laughing, splashing, orangutan right in the midst of it all, washing a pair of pants.

Como Zoo afternoon. I can never decide which animal I like best. Not the zebras (I just couldn’t resist posting a zebra butt photo). Probably the orangutans. My anthropology professor used to tell fantastic stories about orangutans who learned to do laundry with village women in Borneo, and would go out every morning with the women to scrub and wring. I suppose it’s a little sad to think of a wild animal doing human laundry, but I can imagine how lively the event would be: women chatting, laughing, splashing, orangutan right in the midst of it all, washing a pair of pants.  Sorry for the long saga on the zebra butts photo caption.  

My endlessly athletic mother completed the High Cliff Triathlon last weekend.  We had to leave the house at 6 p.m., but even at that hour, I could appreciate Lake Winnebago.  And the comfort of my lawn chair and sweatshirt in comparison to the athletes' hard bike seats and wetsuits.

My endlessly athletic mother completed the High Cliff Triathlon last weekend. We had to leave the house at 6 p.m., but even at that hour I could appreciate Lake Winnebago. And the comfort of my lawn chair and sweatshirt in comparison to the athletes’ hard bike seats and wetsuits.

Hiking by the St. Croix river.  The Gentleman Caller and I did some illegal climbing so that we could sit on mossy boulders and dangle our feet in the water.  Well, I dangled my feet in.  Truthfully, I think the G.C. was more concerned about the spiders that were flying through the air, trailing gossamer strands of web behind them.  I will say no more.

Hiking by the St. Croix river. The Gentleman Caller and I did some illegal climbing so that we could sit on mossy boulders and dangle our feet in the water. Well, I dangled my feet in. Truthfully, I think the G.C. was more concerned about the spiders that were flying through the air, trailing gossamer strands of web behind them. I will say no more.

Commencement of Commencement

Want to watch me give the student commencement address/graduate from college?  Likely not (that’s okay), but just in case, the url for the live stream is here:

http://www.morris.umn.edu/events/commencement/

The ceremony is tomorrow (Saturday), and starts at 1:30 p.m. Minnesota time.  I should be giving my speech about 10 minutes in, give or take.

Christmas Eve

For almost as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve written a Christmas Eve post every year.

2009

2010

2011

This Christmas Eve, I’m once again sitting on the couch gazing at the tree, feeling steeped in family and ham with cheesy potatoes.

We’ve had the traditional Christmas activities:

Cookie Baking

Extended Family Christmas Eve Party

Last Minute Shopping/Wrapping

Mexican Train

Christmas Jigsaw Puzzle (which Amy takes over.  I have not the patience for such things.)

Christmas Movies (The Santa Clause is my favorite)

Christmas Eve Mass (and the resulting pew dozing, which is simultaneously irreverent and inevitable)

It’s funny to be twenty-two, and to remember past Christmases when I could hardly sleep for excitement, and to look forward to future Christmases which may not be spent in Minnesota or with family.  It’s funny to feel that I just want to soak up more togetherness, and that I don’t really need a thing under the tree.  It’s funny to be mature and blase and (slightly) boring.  It’s funny to be too old to run around with the kids at Christmas parties, and to instead sit up straight with the adults (and be offered alcoholic drinks).

This is getting to be a nostalgic post, and while I do think that Christmas is the perfect time for nostalgia, and for rewatching those Christmas home videos in which you are quite blatantly opening your little sister’s presents “for her” and coveting them shamelessly, I also believe in merry Christmases and bright futures.  May you have both.

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Minnesota Nice

Only in Minnesota does the first week of December usher in a winter storm on Saturday evening (we got about 8 inches of snow), followed by a blizzard on Sunday evening (gusts of 40 miles per hour, windchill at -30 degrees).

I stayed at a friend’s house last night, as we had a gas leak yesterday (to make a long story short: carbon monoxide is scary, CO sensors are necessary, and we’re all very lucky to be alive). Although the energy company declared us in the clear, I was still feeling nervous about sleeping at Bag End.  Someone from my high school died of CO poisoning when I was in 10th grade or so, and I’ve been extremely wary of it ever since.

Anyway, when I set out this morning, the first step was digging my truck out of the snow.  The second step was driving at a crawl until I reached the turn for my alley.  I thought it would be smart to park there (in our small driveway) instead of on the street, given snowplows would likely be making several passes before Monday.  The snow was deep in the alley, but I didn’t let that stop me: I have a truck!  I am invincible!

I promptly got stuck.  No amount of maneuvering or gas application was helping, so I got out to dig.  Then I walked the two minutes to Bag End to get a shovel so I could dig some more.  Then I slumped against the bed in despair, certain I was meant to die a cold death in the snow, wearing bright blue Boise State sweatpants.  Suddenly, another truck drove down the alley toward me.  The woman in the passenger seat grinned, and the man in the driver’s seat jumped out, grabbed a tow strap from his bed, and hitched me up in the cheeriest and most efficient manner possible.  A few good tugs and I was off the ice my tires had apparently been spinning against for the past half hour and on my way home.

This is why I live in Minnesota, folks.  Because while I was being helped by a stranger, I noticed that a few blocks down, a van had gotten stuck near Casey’s.  Several people had abandoned their pre-blizzard gas pumping in order to push the van out.

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This has nothing to do with the above-described blizzard: it’s just a snowy picture of my Dad and Ruby that I happen to love.