Friday, August 31, 2012

Road to Saint Paul (via Chicago and Madison): All the Rest

Columbus, OH
Downtown Columbus, Ohio

Searching for something different takes effort. We're hardwired to take the path of least resistance. Navigation tools and apps default to routes along the biggest, fastest highways that bypass towns, and rest stops are identical, appearing to have rolled off an assembly line and playing into our quest for the familiar.

The vanilla* sameness of it all bums me out. I live in the suburbs of DC and am constantly struggling to find the beauty in my beige surroundings. I harbor fantasies of living someplace where I won't be able to tell you how to get to the 4 Wal-Marts, 3 Targets, 10 Starbucks and 11 McDonalds that all reside within 5 miles of my apartment. Google it. It's real.

Dirty Frank's View from my hotel room in Chicago
 Dogs from Dirty Frank's in Columbus, Chicago River as seen from my hotel room  

It's why I get a bit obsessive when planning to visit somewhere new. I'm the girl sitting on her couch at 10:30 at night googling "Chicago adaptive reuse hotel" and "Chicago historic hotel". I'll pour through Small Demons for ideas referenced in books and stalk local bloggers (thanks for being an inspiration, Allison!) for recommendations off the beaten path.

I do believe Chicago was flirting with me.
Palace Theater at St Paul architectural detail in St Paul
Downtown Chicago (top), Saint Paul

It paid off. I had a great time, got some fun snapshots and ate well (mostly). I didn't hit everything on my list because there actually was a lot of work accomplished, but I made the bits in between count. I also passed by SO much I need to go back and explore. Chicago, Madison, Saint Paul and Minneapolis each left me wanting more.

The Bachelor Farmer
 The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, MN. Good food, great atmosphere and cute, friendly guys. No cell phones allowed. ;-)

Eating/Drinking Highlights Places to Sleep
Dirty Frank's
Sweeney's Saloon
Mickies Dairy Bar
The Bachelor Farmer
Dunn Bros Coffee
Ruam Mit Thai
Club Quarters (reasonable!)
Hotel Ruby Marie

*I feel bad for using a lovely word like vanilla in this way. I love vanilla smells, vanilla flavor...all the vanilla!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Road to Saint Paul: Ice Cream

I never set out to sample so much ice cream while on the road, but after stopping at Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream in Columbus, it was a delicious, slippery slope.

Half scoops of roasted strawberry and buttermilk, juniper and lemon curd, and whiskey and pecan.
like a carnival outside Jeni's

Jeni's absolutely did not disappoint. My only complaint about Jeni's is that choosing among all of the amazing flavor combinations is nearly impossible. This is going to make avoiding this really expensive section of Whole Foods very difficult. Thanks for being delicious, Jeni.

You might decide to judge me less were my ice cream recommendations to end there; however, my road to St. Paul was littered with dairy. The appearance of Culver's on billboards and highway signs intrigued me. A timely tweet from @pinkisneat commanding me to try them out coincided with a sign proclaiming their flavor of the day as double salted caramel/pecan. Suddenly, I was executing driving moves that would make 007 jealous. No photos of this experience exist given that this was strictly a drive-in experience that required my only remaining hand. This custard was definitely tasty, but if you must limit your dairy consumption, my vote goes to Jeni's.

A couple of days later Sara took us to The Pearl in La Crosse, WI for an afternoon cone following lunch in a park along the Mississippi.

old fashioned 2
The Pearl maple pecan cone at The Pearl
Maple pecan cone at The Pearl.

The final stop in this ice cream journey is Monty's Blue Plate Diner in Madison, WI. "On your way out of town, you must stop at Monty's and get a milkshake for the road." When a coworker takes time out of a conference call to deliver this directive (and when said coworker is known for her milkshake hunting skills), you look up Monty's and you go. The shake below is the Fat Elvis and was the recommendation of the adorable server who took my order.

The Fat Elvis milkshake from Monty's Blue Plate Diner

So good but also a bit over the top (kind of like Elvis). My preservation mode was finally kicking in by this point in the trip, and I finally embraced eating/trying just enough and walking away.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Revamped living room!

I've got a couple of posts coming about my trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin, but currently, I'm still in recovery mode :-) In the meantime, I get to show you how I revamped my living room right before I left.

My old couch was a small Ikea number that, while a great size for a small apartment, wasn't conducive to multiple guests or afternoon naps. It also never really belonged in the home of a clumsy girl. It was more than 6 years old, and the stains it held were a virtual map of my life.

I've been on a casual hunt for a new couch for the last couple of years and in earnest for the last six months, and it's slim pickings out there, you guys. I think there are only 10-20 different couch styles in the entire world, and they seem to either be too ugly or too expensive. Anyway, I found myself in a bit of a fog from a cold and somehow wound up on Craigslist. I'd never considered a sectional sofa before, but something about this one tugged at me. Cut to a few emails and a couch visit* later and the couch was officially "on hold" for me. We picked it up on the 15th, and I can already tell it was the right choice. It's already had its first house guest sleep on it and has proven itself useful for supporting several lounging people and a few hours of conversation.

 new couch!

The same night I found the couch I also stumbled across an entertainment center in the freebie section. After emails and texts with a couple of people, I decided to pick it up. It didn't match my current furniture, but all it took was a few coats of paint to make it mine!

new entertainment center

So there you have revamped living room (and another excuse to reconfigure my art)!

*I was very skeptical of buying a used fabric couch. I sort of felt like I was also buying that person's history. Luckily, the couch is in great shape, and the family selling it had a clean house that didn't gross me out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Road to Saint Paul, List #4: Photos I'd Like to Take


- fields of gold and green against a cloud-filled sky
- the inspirational church sign always m ssing a few let ers
- downtown main street
- the mighty Mississippi, the Chicago and other rivers
- the perfect antique mall along the side of the road with obscenely cheap prices
- a sick cup of coffee, gigantic ice cream cone and the perfect breakfast taco
- local street art, a charming backdrop and a sublime sunset

Road to Saint Paul, List #3: Sleeping Quarters

I think I'm dragging my feet the most on where to stay. I've got a couple of places nailed down, but the rest is still up in the air*. I'm always on the hunt for thrifty and unique, but that's not always easy. Here are a few places I've considered along the way.


I spent quite a bit of time looking for adapted reuse hotels in and around the Chicago area but didn't have any luck finding anything. It looks like I'll have to settle for the Gilded Age, if I want an historic hotel in Chicago.

*As of August 12.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Road to Saint Paul, List #2: Ear Candy


I'm torn between music, audiobook and podcasts. Tell no one I'm considering Taylor Swift.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Road to Saint Paul, List #1: Road Food

wide open americana

I'm back on the road this Friday and have spent stolen moments over the past week making lists and plotting routes on maps. I thought it would be fun to share some of my lists here this week. Let's get on to it!

When I was growing up, we took many a road trip, and it was all about the road food. It should come as no surprise then that one of the first lists I started plotting was local food along my route*. Well known watering holes, local food traditions, places recommended by local bloggers**. My research was unfettered by anything as traditional as Zagat. There are no guarantees I'll get to all of the places below, but I'm going to try to make a go of it.

Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace (Columbus, OH), I love a fancy hot dog (see earlier visits to Frank and Polock Johnny's). Heard of this potential gem via Allie Lehman's twitter stream.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream (Dublin, OH)
Frontera/XOCO (Chicago, IL), I love Mexican food. I heard Rick Bayless is the bomb. The end.
Edward's Drive-in (Indianapolis, IN), Breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches are supposedly an Indiana thing. Who knew?!
The Bachelor Farmer (Minneapolis, MN), Farm-to-table, modern Nordic cooking. I've already got a reservation for Saturday night ;-)

I'm in need of good coffee shop locations. Hint, hint.

*We'll get to that list later this week. I've done quite a bit of hemming and hawing over potential routes. 
**Stalker much?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

When you're too busy for a summer manifesto

blackberry + coffee ice cream
Thank you, Scarlet, for living by Moo Thru and telling me about its existence. Yum!

As May wound down, I started thinking about writing a summer manifesto like I saw popping up all over the web.The idea of putting a little thought into how I wanted to spend the summer appealed to my love of lists and desire to enjoy the season.

Unfortunately, my summers tend to be chaotic affairs driven by crazy work deadlines, and this summer has been no different. Already I've spoken at a conference, held innumerable "urgent" meetings, released a 40-page report, blah, blah, blah. Remember the leisurely drive I was going to take up to Amherst for a conference at the beginning of June? Leisurely turned into "just get there as fast as you can" because of meetings and obligations that piled up on either side. I haven't gone swimming or popped over to the beach (even for just a day). I've missed two concerts whose tickets I've had for months. Needless to say, I never got around to penning that summer manifesto.

Who cares?! Despite some added stress, summer moments are meant to be stolen, and I've become a champion at savoring those little pockets of time. Enjoying the perfect summer cone. Stealing away to a matinee with a friend when a meeting ends just early enough. The summer buzz of a birthday celebration. Small town charm and the summer outdoor concert.

I'm also going to give the leisurely road trip another shot in a couple of weeks. I've got another conference (this one in Saint Paul, MN) coming up and am planning some fun stops along the way. Ohio, I'm looking to you to serve me up an antique mall or two. I'm also digging around online to find a watering hole in Minnesota to escape to for a couple of hours. I want to be realistic about places to stop (I do need to get there) but still want all the suggestions you can throw at me.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Thoughts on fanfic, part I (aka Meanwhile, a review)

Part I: Given the ongoing debates I've had on this topic with friends and the fact that my opinions are starting to change ever so slightly, it makes more sense to break this topic up a bit.

Mission District street art trees

If you know me at all, you know that I'm a fan of the low brow when it comes to movies but can get downright snooty about books. This doesn't mean I won't pick up an easy* read, but I am so much tougher when it comes to recommending a book and in discerning what I like and value. I'm not using this to explain away my thoughts on fanfic, but it does say a little bit about why I would be so obstinate on the topic. That said, I'm always open to being schooled (and that's pretty much what I got). Grab your book light and settle in for this back to school special.

I'm going to sound like a jerk, but I need to first tell you quickly why I've been so dismissive of fanfic. Honestly, I question the quality of anything self published. I've purchased a few self-pubbed titles over the last few years and have been burned. I know I shouldn't judge everything by the titles I've purchased, but it's left me with little more than respect for editors and a healthy dose of skepticism about the new self publishing craze**. I'm working on getting over it, but it's slow going.

My other issue with fanfic is the co-opting of characters that someone else has gone to the trouble to create. If I put the emotional and creative energy into breathing life into people/creatures/worlds, it makes me very uncomfortable angry that other people feel so entitled to take steal them for their own use. Trust me, I understand being cocky enough to think you can do it better. I'm just not sure I agree that you should***.

This does not keep my friend Ravena from trying to get me to see the light. She'll wax poetic about this author or that. We'll debate. It's a cycle. A couple of months ago I agreed to read a piece of fanfic if she'd agree to watch Outbreak (only one of my favorite movies and a genre she's generally resistant to). Not one to back out of an agreement, I managed to hold off on buying any new titles, instead opting to click the link to what felt like a back alley market for verboten publishing.

That back alley led to a site called Eric Iz Mine (yes, the iz is correct. sigh) and the world of True Blood fanfic. I took the plunge with Bored to Death, and I fought the story almost every step of the way. Most of you have never seen me read, but I'm not above rolling my eyes at the screen and snorting with derision. I wanted to hate this story and spent the first 16 chapters searching for things to get annoyed by (he uses the word brat too much...Eric would never say anything an unmanly as brat) and denying that I was entertained. Do you know what denying yourself looks like? It's that corner of your mouth that creeps upwards into a grin until you immediately force it back into the studied scowl. I finally said screw it halfway through chapter 17 and admitted to myself and the world that I was hooked. I was on the treadmill at the gym and refused to get off so that I could move on to weights because I needed to finish that chapter. I fucking hate the treadmill and am always looking for an excuse to stop, so you know this was serious.

Maybe I'm more forgiving because I never read any of the books by Charlaine Harris. I really don't think that it's though. I was more than entertained. The writing was solid and the story was tight. Yes, I found things to be annoyed by, but I can do that with anything. More than that, the author behind Eric Iz Mine is creative. She took the story of Eric and Sookie to a place I never would have dreamed and spun the story off in a such a unique way that I was forced to follow. I couldn't leave the world created in Bored to Death without following it through to Meanwhile. Your eyes do not deceive you. I was in deep enough to read a second story.

While I still hold on to a healthy amount of my skepticism, I'll admit to being wrong on certain accounts. Now I will never be able to say that I haven't enjoyed a bit of fan fiction.

*Let's agree that we'll each define easy in our own way. 
**Fifteen pages do not a book make. Let's all just agree that you've written a brochure or pamphlet and move on. 
***I'm happy to continue arguing these points in the comments but know that I've debated these out with friends. I've get where the other side is coming from.