Sunday, September 30, 2012

The end of summer, and finally autumn.

Can you sense the excitement?
The leaves are changing colors, the air is crisp and cool, and most wonderfully I've landed in my favorite time of year ... just a bit early. September 22nd was the first day of autumn - and also the first of many morning patchy-frosts to come. While I'm ridiculously excited for the perfect-tea-and-sweater-weather, the bittersweet edge is that all the tomatoes and frost-sensitive crops aren't producing anymore. However, I did my canning, I've frozen my other goods, and I make peace with the end of the summer.

To start the season off, I had the most perfect Autumn Equinox day. I made an all-day-simmering sauce for lasagna with fresh tomatoes, applesauce from Seed Savers Exchange apples (picked from the historic apple orchard), and roasted apple spice cake. In the late afternoon, I headed to my friend John's farm where we took the remainder of the apples and ran them through his father's fancy apple press for fresh cider. It tasted amazing. And with a potluck and a movie night amongst wonderful company, I was brimming over with warm-fuzzy happiness.

September has been pretty good.

Birthday dinosaur learning. Notice flip flops.
The month (well, the prelude to the month), started off with a Dinosaur Party for Kate's birthday on John's Farm. I'm using this as an excuse to explain to you how awesome my friends are, and how fantastic this farm is. John's mother is a market gardener, and they have chickens, goats, sheep, geese, guinea fowl, cats, and dogs that literally roam the farm free (well, not the goats and sheep I guess). Chickens roost in trees and old school buses, geese lay their eggs wherever they please, and the guinea fowl leave pretty feathers in their wake - wild animals not to be tamed. Surrounded by grassland and trees, this farm is absolutely beautiful. John set up a bunch of brush for a bonfire and taught birthday-girl-Kate how to drive a tractor. When it got dark, we lit the fire, danced around in dinosaur costumes, drank beer, and took part in the St. Olaf tradition of 'Shirts-Off-O'Clock. It was fantastic.

I don't like posing, so here's ... 'dancing'.
Two weekends ago, I headed up to Minneapolis with Laura and Tor. We first watched Sleepwalk With Me, with a Q&A after starring Mike Birbiglia. Later, we saw David Byrne and St. Vincent in concert at the State Theater ... which was awesome. During the day, we enjoyed delicious food - such as a somali meal made special order for us, famous carmel-vanilla malts, and pizza. And after the shows we walked the city that night - for maybe three hours - enjoying the views, the noise, everything. I loved it. Walking Minneapolis at night has inspired evening walks with Bailey to enjoy deserted downtown Decorah.

This weekend, I shared a poem at the Decorah Poetry Slam. I'm no poet. I've never quite liked poetry. But I've tried it out recently, as you know, to explore a way to express and work with my emotions. After struggling with a depressive funk for a few weeks (which also explains the lack of recent blog posts), I wrote a poem about what all those emotions felt like. Some part of me thought it'd be a good idea to share the poem in front of a large group of people (and I won't say strangers here because in a small town no one is a stranger). In a way, it forces me to not give a shit what these people think about the poem and my emotions because it really doesn't matter. And reading the poem aloud challenges me to be more open about my emotions and the darker side of myself. Of course, it also challenges me to do something I find uncomfortable and different for the sheer benefit of growth. So I did it, and with the support of my friends it wasn't too bad at all.

Over the month, I've conqured much in the kitchen: canned whole tomatoes, heirloom salsa, sweet pepper jam. I made chili rellenos, lasagna, and roasted spice apple cake. And I'm excited for the return of baking season. Cooler weather also brings a feverish desire to knit warm things (which my new roommate cultivates as well). Could I get any more domestic sans producing small people? Yes. I'll save these domestic pursuits for another post.

Fall. I love Fall. And this fall, I get to pleasure of the beauty of changing leaves in ways that are much better than California. Pictures can do no justice, so I don't think I'm even going to try.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


My favorite park in Minneapolis so far.
Minneapolis is a three-hour drive away. With practically no traffic on the same highway most of the way, it seems shorter than it is. So two weekends ago, I headed up to The Cities with Lauren, Jess, and Laura for a girl-weekend adventure.

Lauren's favorite band, Murder by Death, was playing at a club in Minneapolis, so we got a hotel for the night and went to the show. The music was fantastic, the club crowded, and the experience not what I expected. The lead singer voiced my thoughts by explaining that the city is full of Norwegians, and because of this everyone was so quiet and attentive between songs and throughout the set. Everyone just watched the band in a stoic appreciation for the music. I couldn't help but dance around, and swoon at the percussionist (who I'd marry in a heartbeat). It was great.

Laura and I walked from the hotel to the show and back, and I really liked experiencing Minneapolis in that way. Lightening threatened in the background of skyscrapers, the winds were powerful and cool, and the city was a city - something to experience differently than rural Decorah.

The next morning Laura and I went to the Aveda Institute to get our hair cuts by students. A cheap haircut by a fairly talented, passionate and young persons gave me the bangs I've been missing and the haircut Laura can't find in Decorah. So with that we found lunch with our ladies, and headed to the big adventure of the day - getting tattoos.

Now it's apparently rude to ask what a tattoo means to a person, but I'll explain it here so you don't have to worry about asking. My leaf can mean many things, and the idea first came when I was in graduate school. The last year of my Masters was really quite awful, and I struggled with academic and personal life things. I felt I needed something to commemorate finishing, and to always remind myself that I have a Masters, and it does mean something and I should be proud of it. At the time, I wasn't that good at actually feeling that I was worth it or that it was meaningful. However, when I graduated I didn't have money or a job, so I sort of forgot about it for a while.

Well, Lauren wanted to get another tattoo, and the idea was for us all to go to Minneapolis post-Yawping and get tattoos. Lauren draws up an artistic impression of the elm leaf I was thinking of, and it's prettier than I imagined it could be. So I pay my deposit to Saint Sabrinas a week before, and soon enough find myself there. Getting a tattoo.

It didn't hurt all that much, and I absolutely love it. Yes, the placement is weird - but I didn't want anything on my legs or back. I want to see it so that I can actively remember what it means to me. And I don't wear a whole lot of sleeveless things so it's mostly hidden - which I like. And now that I have it, it serves to be a mark of what I went through, how I grew from the experience, and how that melds into where I am now and what I'm doing. A leaf comes with the changing of the seasons, always growing new each season - always dealing with change. This one will stay with me, marking changes in my life, reminding me that some things with always be with me and that I'm still me through all of the changes, but that change will be inevitable and I can weather future changes too.

Sometimes it makes me feel pretty badass too.

Laura got two tattoos that look spectacular. Her placements were harder, so after finishing we distracted her with embarrassing and hilarious stories. Now happily tattooed, we wandered toward ice cream and stopped at The Lowery instead to enjoy oysters and beer ... they had Deschutes and Lagunitas, which I haven't had since California.

With that, Laura and I came back to town freshly tatted, drank whiskey until late with Tor, and I began my weekend on a happily upbeat note.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Nothing Compares.

As you've probably come to learn, Tor-planned adventures make up a great deal of the ridiculously awesome things I do around Iowa and Minnesota. So when it came to going to the Iowa State Fair, Tor was charged with making it a great adventure for myself, Tor, Laura, and Steffen. And of course, he delivered.

We headed out of Decorah on Friday after work. Des Moines, where the State Fair is held, is about four hours away, and we were planning on camping at a lake about thirty minutes Northeast from Des Moines. Along the way we drove through Toledo, home to little Tor memories and the 'Butter Cow Lady'. Tor toured us around, showing us his old house and various other parts of town while sharing stories. While in town, we stopped to enjoy ice cream at the Butter Cow (a shop that took over the much-disliked DQ of Tor's childhood that put a better, local ice cream shop out of business). Since we were getting hungry and Tor's birthday was coming up (along with both Tor and Steffen getting promotions at work), we felt red meat was warrented and stopped at Rube's Steakhouse for dinner. This 'Grill-Your-Own' Steakhouse is exactly what it sounds like - you purchase a cut of meat and you grill it on a massive grill with friends. While waiting for the meat to cook, we made copious amounts of Wonderbread-delicious Texas Toast. They make extra thick slices just for Texas Toast. Potatoes came with the purchase of steak, and dinner ended up being delicious. Having little time after steak to actually make it to Des Moines, we stopped in Grinnell and camped at this gorgeous little lake outside of town. Making it just before sunset, we scrounged for firewood from neighbor campers and drank whiskey while attempting to wait for the meteor shower that we all ended up sleeping through.

The next morning we headed to Des Moines for the State Fair. We found parking in some guy's backyard for $5, which was quite awesome given his backyard ends at the fairgrounds. A quick walk to the gates and we were there - The Iowa State Fair, where "Nothing Compares".
An incredibly bizarre looking chicken.
Fastest sheep shearer!
First we saw various animals - chickens and various poultry. We said hello to dairy cows, and visited hogs. We saw some sheep, and watched a really awesome sheep shearing contest. We spent a lot of time with baby animals, and watched a baby goat being born. We toured the grounds, which are actually quite nice (and historic). We went into various Industry buildings, and saw the life-size butter cow and various agricultural pursuits. We saw the arts and handicrafts, and everyone much obliged to accompany me to the knits and amazing quilts. We rode Ye Old Mill, which turned out to be fantastic and completely worth $3. And best of all, we ate a lot of food. Afterall, a Christy blogpost wouldn't be complete without food, right?

We tried all the various fried items - deep fried oreoes, cupcake, and twinke. We shared Laura's delicious turkey leg. We had bacon dipped in chocolate. We ate various lamb items for lunch. We had ribbon-tates for dinner, and overall - ate fair food in delicious excess.

For our evening entertainment, we watched a horse pull. What is a horse pull, you ask? Well, funny enough - I didn't even know what a horse pull was before going either. A horse pulls is a contest in which a team of horses pull an increasingly heavier sled of blocks until one horse team rules them all in strength and ability. It was pretty entertaining and impressive, especially with our arbitrary picks for who would win.

The best part of the evening came after dark. Laura had wanted to win a fair fish. Earlier in the day we had found the carnival game where you could win fish accessories and purchase a fish for $1. So we played the game, got ourselves some points, and decided to come back later for the fish. Given the guy running the stand was young and entertaining, we played some more, got him to give us a deal, and put all of our points together to get a pretty sweet tank with glowing rocks with accessories and five fair fish. Laura was estatic, and two of the fish have survived to now live in a fancy filtered aquarium in her house. We walked away pretty stoaked that we had out-carnied a carnie.

We headed back to our campsite, and woke up the next morning ready to explore Grinnell. To our luck, some art students were giving away free bagels if you contributed to a painting, so I drew a mouse-looking unicorn with an accidentally-painted flesh-colored horn. After hob-nobbing with an old professor, Tor lead us around his campus. It was really pretty, with goregous old brick buildings and trees. We stopped at some swings that were located next to a perfectly climbable tree outside of the main student gathering place, and I realized that if there were accessible swings at UC Davis I would have never made it to class.

After Grinnell we headed back home. Of course, hunger hit, so we decided to try our luck in Waterloo. Our limited Sunday options were Chinese, Mexican, and Pizza ... since the Mexican place was a hole-in-the-wall next to a little grocery store, we thought it would be our best bet towards something authentic. A menu entirely in spanish got our hopes up, so I ordered myself an al pastor burrito.

This burrito was the best burrito I've had since leaving California. It tasted legit. I was full of all kinds of happy after realizing that there was a place, in Iowa, which could make delicious, legit, burritos. Suffice to say, I have no problems driving to Waterloo just for one of these burritos in the future. That's how much I miss Mexican food.

And that was the Iowa State Fair. Way better than the California State Fair. Truly, Nothing Compares.