Happy Mindy-Day!

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite friends, Mindy.

I’m celebrating her by posting one of my favorite photos:
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And my re-posting these two links.
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Both should give you a great picture of how fantastic this friend of mine is.
Happiest of days to you, Mindy-girl. Love you so much!

Summer is Here!

If you haven’t been paying attention, or are fortunate enough to live somewhere that is NOT here, you may be unaware of the intense crappiness that was our spring/summer. It snowed into May, then rained the rest of the month and the first two weeks of June. It was mid-June before our highs started hitting the 70s. Essentially, super-awful weather. Finally, finally it started warming up and though it still rains most days, it has stopped raining all day, every day.

It hasn’t felt even remotely like summer. I have hardly been able to read outside and the pool? Forget it.

Yesterday, Mindy called and asked if she could bring the boys swimming. I wasn’t remotely in the mood. It didn’t feel like summer and I didn’t think I was up for it. However, I haven’t seen Mindy and the boys in ages, and they are some of my favorite people in the world. So, I ignored my impulse, shut down the negative part of my brain and simply said yes.

I am so glad that I did!

It was a wonderful afternoon and evening. It was simply the perfect way to kick off the summer and now I truly feel like summer is here and I can enjoy it. And, for those of you keeping score at home, the pool is officially open!!!
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Me and Clay, I was teaching him to dive. I LOVE to dive and it’s a tough skill to learn. I showed him and he’s a natural! He was diving like he’d been doing it for years.
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Sweet little Lewie. He was catching butterflies. About the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. And then he got in the pool, which has never been his favorite thing to do. However, what a difference a year makes! He was tentative at first, just hanging in the shallow end. Then, suddenly he realized how much fun this was and BAM! he’s swimming the length of the pool. Jumping in off the edge. Jumping into the deep end, by himself, and swimming to the ladder to do it again. It was amazing. He played in the pool for 3.5 HOURS and only got out because it was time to go home. Next time, I’m teaching HIM to dive, too!
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Because it is still not as warm as I’d love it to be, we headed into the sauna to warm up. It took a while to figure out how it worked, but Clay and I put our heads together and….mmm, a nice warm sauna.
Then, as always, before they left I asked for a nice photo of the boys.
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 Those are a couple of handsome boys! I loved my evening with them and with their mother. It was a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon. And for future reference, bringing a pizza to the pool might just be a genius plan!
Thanks for being the perfect way to kick off the summer and open up the pool for days and days of fun to come!

Lent Letter #27

Dear Mindy,

I’ve told this story about a thousand times, I think. When you and I met, we both thought we had met before. We had not. I truly believe that we recognized each other because we were meant to be friends. We could have been friends in a past life and our souls recognized that friendship. Regardless, there is no doubt that we were supposed to be friends.

Sometimes when I think about it, it doesn’t seem that long that we’ve known each other. 13 years. It’s not that crazy. Especially when you think that I’ve known Elena for 19 years and Kelly for 24. But when you think about what time period that encompassed, we’ve known each other a lifetime.

We were young and single and crazy and drank every single day when we met. Now, your baby is about to be NINE years old. (I don’t know why I am struggling with that so much, but this year has hit me hard).

Still, through all the changes, we’re closer than ever before.

You are, without question, the most insightful person I know. When I struggle with a problem, it’s you I turn to for advice. You have this knack for looking at a situation from a perspective that no one else shares. My dad gives me practical advice. My mom gives me emotional advice. You, somehow, give me a different view. You change the way I look at the problem until it is easier for me to figure out.

I don’t know if you know that, or if you know how much I value that. You should. It’s an amazing gift. I am not sure it works as well on your own problems as it does on mine, but I hope so. Every time we talk something through, I feel better, stronger, more confident. I’m able to make better decisions because you’ve helped me understand the true problem. That’s your gift to the world. I am so lucky that I get to be one of the people you share it with.

Two people could not really be more different than you and me. It’s never mattered, though, not to our friendship. I think the fact that we are so different is what bonds us together. We share bits from our lives and are both better for it. We are stronger people because we are friends. We are better friends because we are friends. I don’t know who decides these things. Maybe fate? Whomever aligns souls for friendship, well, I don’t think they’ve ever done a better job than you and me.

Thank you for being part of my life,

Livi

 

(to see why I am doing this, read here)

Chicago 2011: Take 2

Well, because I clearly didn’t have enough fun the first time around, I decided to take a second trip to Chicago, only three months later. This time, I went AGAIN for a concert, or three, and traveled with different friends, Tom and Mindy. Oh, and I mean different as in, not Kelly, not different as in, unusual or strange.

Also different, this time we road tripped. I think gas was fairly reasonable way back then (only six months ago, now!) and we borrowed my mom’s car. Yes, three adults who own 3-4 cars between them borrowed a car from my mommy. It’s odd, get over it.

There’s something bizarrely enticing about a road trip, even just a straight highway shot to Chicago. When I picked up my travel companions that first morning, Mindy said to me “would you mind if Tom drove?” I was so relieved. I thought that because it was “my” car, they’d expect me to drive. I couldn’t have wanted to drive any less. Tom was happy to drive and off we went.
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Not only was he happy to drive, he actually drove the whole way, there and back. It was awesome. For most of the ride, Mindy and I cuddled up in the backseat, laughing and talking, while Tom had sole control of the radio. It was perfection for us all. We actually got a later start than anticipated, and we stopped for lunch at Applebee’s in Wisconsin Dells. Mindy and I had a beer, while our chauffeur had coffee. Life’s unfair sometimes.

On our way out of the Dells, we did stop once to take this photo.
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It was just so over-the-top that we couldn’t help ourselves, plus, who doesn’t want to stop at a place called the “Goody Goody Gum Drop”?

We drove on, laughing and talking, when suddenly, in the middle of Nowheresville, WI, we were hit with a beautiful weather phenomenon.
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If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know how much I enjoy rainbows. I take pictures of them every time I see them, even if I’m driving a car. This one was especially vivid on that gray day, but then, we went around the curve and found:
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Yikes, right?!? You can actually see every single color. (note the green trees)

But, as we kept driving:
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BAM! We could suddenly see the whole thing. It was so beautiful. Boded well for our trip, I think.

Planning on our part wasn’t so stellar, because the concerts we were attending were both on Friday night and we were still driving. Then, of course, we rolled into the outer limits of Chicago just in time for rush hour.
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Yes, I know that pic is terrible, but we could finally see the skyline and it seemed so close. I think it was about an hour later we actually hit the city limit. Chicago’s big, y’all.

By the time we found the hotel, got checked in, it was time to go. I dropped my things, slapped on some deodorant, changed my shirt, plopped the cowboy hat (that I had bought three months earlier, the first time I was in Chicago)
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on my head and ran out the door. I was a bit behind schedule. Seems to be a Chicago thing. I was attending a Christian Kane show and Tom and Mindy were headed to the Avett Brothers. My concert started first and it was only an opening, but it was at a bar, so I was hanging there until they showed up, after their show. I took a cab ride to the venue, my first ever cab ride by myself. Crap! That’s not true. I took a cab in Prague from the airport to the hotel. Never mind. However, I was plenty nervous, and it didn’t help that my cab driver didn’t speak English and seemed confused by my requesting to go to this bar. We started to drive and the neighborhood got worse and worse and worse and I started to think I was going to become a headline on the Chicago morning news.

I distracted myself, thusly:
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and, again, I know that photo sucks, but there was no light in the cab or on the streets of the rundown, shoddy neighborhoods we were driving through.

At this point, I’m going to jump ahead in time, the concert itself will be a separate post that I will later link back to, here.

Once Tom and Mindy met up with me, HOURS later, I was pretty, um, happy? Many beers had gone into making me this way and the three of us chatted, talking about our respective shows. It was wonderful (and a long, long, long time since this has happened) that they didn’t have to get up to kids and the three of us could be out on the town.

We left Joe’s Bar and headed back into town, finally stumbling into this Irish pub. It was packed in there, but we squeezed into a spot by the bar. I asked if I could buy the round, to thank them for traveling with me and Tom for driving. No problem. They said I didn’t have to, but I wanted to. *Note to self: If you’re going to generously buy drinks, don’t offer in the heart of Chicago* We each got a beer and a shot. Three beers, three shots, total. Price? $55. When the girl said the price, I said, “what?” thinking I hadn’t heard right, because it was loud in there. Oh no, I heard right. Honestly, if each item were $8 a piece, which is very high, that would only be $48, so…wow. Just wow.

We had our drinks and took our shot (it’s tradition) and then we were all starving. The bartender gave us directions to the only place left in all of Chicago that was still serving food. (It was maybe 1:00am at this point). We walked and walked and thought we got lost, but suddenly, there it was. An all-night diner. There are few things in this world more delicious than drunk eggs and hash browns, I promise you. After breakfast/midnight snack, we were suddenly exhausted. Of course, it was almost 3 am! We headed back to the hotel to crash.

We stayed at a lovely hotel, the Allerton, right on Michigan Ave. In fact, this hotel:
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is directly across the street from this building:
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which I had learned, the first time I was in Chicago, is the only store along the Magnificent Mile that actually turns a profit. The rents are so high on that street that all the other businesses are just for show or just used as advertising, the companies lose money on them. But, Apple, makes money. Shocker. I shared my knowledge with my travel companions, who wanted to know how I knew so much about Chi-town, I explained the beauty that is the trolley to them. The morning after the concerts, they were up with the sun. Seriously, I got up at 10am and they were up, dressed and had been out for coffee already. They wanted to tour, but I didn’t want them to wait for me, so I sent them off to buy trolley tickets while I got ready. We agreed to meet up for lunch.

Lunch. You wouldn’t think this would be the highlight of the trip, but it’s damn close. I am going to call upon all of my expertise in prose to give this the credit it is due. We were talking about where to go for lunch. Before leaving for this trip, Tom’s cousin, Rocco, had made him a list of places to eat in Chicago. Apparently, Rocco visits regularly and was full of tips. Tom read us some options from the list and Mindy and I both agreed that a hot beef sandwich sounded good. Tom looked up the recommended place and said we could walk.

We should have taken a cab.

It was very, very far, but we still walked and walked. We were headed to a hole-in-the-wall called Al’s. Now, I happen to be the progeny of a lifelong hole-in-the-waller (thanks, Dad!), so this does not surprise me. In fact, I’m acquainted with the loosely held secret that dives often have the best food, and they are not expensive. We finally arrived at Al’s and it was tiny. Miniscule. So small I couldn’t believe it was actually the place. We went in and read the short menu. Our options were limited. I went first and ordered a traditional hot beef sandwich. Dude behind the counter said, “you want peppers?” I, of course, had no idea, so I asked what was usual. He nodded and said, “yep.” And that’s how I got a typical hot beef sandwich. Tom and Mindy ordered the same. I don’t remember if we got sides or not. Literally cannot remember. Granted, it was a while ago, but mostly it was because this sandwich eclipsed memories of all other food.

Here’s the skinny. They take a hoagie roll. They dip the roll itself in hot au jus. They pile on beef that has been soaking in au jus. They smother it in peppers and more peppers and then they give it to you. It comes out in a wrapper, hot and steaming, but a soggy, drippy, soaky mess. Sounds appealing, right? No, of course not. It sounds, and frankly, looks, disgusting. I distinctly remember saying, “I don’t know how to eat this.” The bread gets so soggy from the au jus that the meat is falling out and it’s so hot it is steaming and I picked mine up and it started to fall apart. Wonderful.

Then, before we could take a bite, Tom wanted proof we’d taken one of Rocco’s recommendations, which is how we got this:
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And that is one of maybe three tables in this giant restaurant. No bites had been had yet, we’re just holding our sandwiches and it was burning my fingers it was so hot. Finally, I just took a huge bite.

Never had I had a sandwich like this. It was…delicious is too tame. Magnificent? Superb? Incredible? Delectable? Mouthwatering? Scrumptious? Yes, that’s it. The sandwich was scrumptious. All the individual parts combined to make a sandwich bursting with flavor, the peppers made it hot, but not too hot to eat, they actually added flavor. It was so good, I wanted another, even though it is a TON of meat and I was full. It was so good that, all these months later, I’d drive back to Chicago just to get one. I rarely make sweeping statements like this, but it was truly one of the best things I have ever eaten.

You can ask Elena, later that day, I talked to her on the phone and treated her to a detailed description of how perfect this sandwich was. I think my parents also got the full version. If you ask me about this particular trip, that’s the first thing I’ll tell you about. In fact, I’ve elevated this sandwich to such proportions that it’s become synonymous with Chicago in my mind. I love Al’s hot beef! (That was ridiculous, right? Who waxes on about a sandwich? Trust me, it was that good. If you’ve eaten there and had one, I want to hear from you!)

After that, we decided to cruise the city, doing the tourist bit. Unfortunately, Tom and Mindy had bought passes for the trolley, so they were excited to use them. I planned on about 2 more hours in the city before leaving for my next concert, so I wasn’t wasting my money on that, but we wanted to hang together. So, after much discussion, we decided to sneak me on to a trolley. No kidding, we had an actual conversation about how it would work best. It ended up going like this. We step on in a line, Mindy in front, me in the middle, Tom in the rear. Mindy flashes her pass, I am studiously looking in my bag, like I’m searching for mine, and Tom stays close and then flashes his pass. The hope was that if we kept moving, the driver won’t notice us and just catch the passes flashed his way. We tried…and it worked! I got on for free.

We rode inside, because it was full, but eventually made it up top. Here’s a bit of a tip: weather in Chicago is vastly different between June and October (it was actually October 1st that day) and it was FREEZING up top. But you can’t really see anything from inside, you can only hear. We huddled up top, like it was the dead of winter, it was that cold. Walking around on the ground, it was jeans/sweatshirt weather, but atop a moving bus? Damn cold.

We visited the start of Route 66, and got our pictures taken. Somehow, we got a lovely photo of:

Tom and Liv Route 66

That’s right, Tommy and me. I’m not sure how, but there is no picture of Tom and Mindy at this site. It’s strange and one of only three pictures (that I know of!) in existence that contain only the two of us. Maybe we’ll add to our collection at my party this weekend! BTW, I really love this picture, in case that wasn’t clear.

We stopped at the architechtural museum and I showed them the scale model of Chicago. Like the first time, I still thought this was pretty cool. Then, we walked over to the Bean. I kept telling them how cool it was. Of course, you can’t really understand it until you’ve seen it. No amount of describing or pictures make it as cool as it actually is.
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Directly underneath the Bean.
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Underneath with zoom.
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Underneath, but looking at the sides, not straight up.
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A shot of the three of us.
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My favorite Bean shot, because it *almost* looks like a real photo and not a reflection.
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Cool angle from the end, with the buildings in the background.

Okay, maybe this is my favorite Bean photo…
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With the exception of the statue glinting off Tom’s head, that’s pretty perfect!

When we were walking through the gardens, on our way back from the Bean, Mindy mentioned she wanted a nice picture of her and Tom, obviously. Now, Tom is fairly notorious (according to Mindy) for not smiling in pictures. I never seem to have that problem with him. (see: all the pictures of him in this post). So, I positioned them in a lovely garden and told Tommy, “smile”:

Tom and Mindy Chicago

Isn’t that fantastic? Mindy said it is one of her favorite pictures of the two of them. It even made their Christmas card this year. I am so honored.

After that, I mentioned I should be heading back. I said I was going to take a cab. Tom said “let’s just walk” and I said it was a long walk back to the hotel. They said they were ready to go back. Mindy suggested taking the trolley back, because there were things they hadn’t seen. I was hesitant, but it was an hour before I thought I needed to leave, so I hopped on that transporfuckingtation one more time. You’d really think I had learned something the first time as it took over two hours to get back to the hotel. WTF?

On the way, though, I did get a clear shot of Buckingham Fountain, which I missed the first time around. For those who don’t know, this is the exact fountain filmed at the start of the credits for “Married…With Children”. Remember it now?
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We were riding up top of the coldest bus on earth (why not go inside? because you can’t see, damn it, and we’re Minnesotans) and I was getting increasingly more agitated. Not only was I on a time schedule, but I had a 3.5 hour drive before getting to my concert and I didn’t know where I was going. If I got lost…I’d miss the show. Can you imagine going all that way and missing the show?

However, when we finally got to our stop, there was a bit of a surprise.
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A giant statue of Marilyn Monroe. Now, you can see from the people how big that thing is. It was not there the first time I passed through, three months earlier. Weird? Yes. The driver was actually telling us why it’s there, but I was so focused on getting back to my hotel I didn’t hear a word.

When I got in the door, I grabbed my stuff, threw it in bags and was running out the door. It was about 4:30pm. The concert started at 8pm, 3.5 hours away. You do the math.

Then, they had to bring my car from valet. It took almost 15 minutes. Then, the valet guy wants me to pay for it, right then. I refused. I tried explaining that I wasn’t leaving permanently, just for the night and my party was staying at the hotel. He wasn’t buying it. Then he called my room to verify and there was no one there! Turns out, after I left, Tom and Mindy switched rooms to a king sized bed, rather than two queens, so it looked like we checked out and were scamming them. Of course, I was about to lose it and I practically yelled at this poor guy and then got in my car and drove away. Why bother me? Our room was booked with a credit card, it isn’t like they can’t just charge that if I never come back?

I was on my way…it was 5:00. Then I missed my exit to get to the freeway. I had to double back and try again but through Chicago traffic. Then I was finally on the interstate and missed my exit to change freeways and be in the right direction – as it was, I was headed to Nashville, completely opposite of where I was going (Illiopolis, IL). I turned around again and got it straightened out. Once I was on the road, officially, it was 5:30pm.
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It was a beautiful night for a drive, I can’t really argue with that. This was 5:30 pm.

Three hours and 15 minutes, according to the GPS, provided I didn’t get lost or miss any more exits. And only 2.5 hours until the show. NOT GOOD. I started driving like a bat out of hell. No kidding, I was driving 95 mph for most of the drive. Not even being dramatic. I figured I’d rather get a $300 speeding ticket than miss this show (I know, nice logic). I was shaking and tried hard to calm myself down. I talked to Elena on the phone (yep, while speeding down an unfamiliar highway at tragically high speeds) and she calmed me a bit.
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6:30 pm.
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7:30 pm.

You’ll notice that at 30 minutes before the show, I was in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, the show was in the middle of nowhere, so it seemed like I was on track. I will be detailing the rest of the drive and concert in another post, here.

Let’s just say, that it was a good concert. I spent the night in a conference center in Decatur, IL. When I got back to my hotel it was 2am. I hadn’t eaten since the hot beef sandwich at 12:30, 13.5 hours earlier. There was certainly no time to stop on the hectic drive and the only “food” at the venue was dude out behind the barn, with grill, pulling meat out of coolers. Nope, you cannot make this up.

When I checked into the hotel I said to the girl, “is there ANY chance, that there is a place that serves food nearby? I will even settle for a 24-hour gas station, if they have snacks.” She said that it was a “college town” and that the local pizza joint delivered until 3am. Hallelujah! I found a movie on tv and ordered pizza. They delivered my pizza about 2:45 am. I had to walk through the whole conference center to the lobby to get it. This place was huge. No exaggerating, from the room, down the elevator, to the lobby, took me five solid minutes of walking. This place was HUGE.

The next morning, I was up at 7:45am to be on the road by 8:30. I didn’t want to drive so crazy on the way back and I needed to stop for gas and breakfast. It ended up that I got back to the Allerton just before noon to pick up Tom and Mindy. Tom agreed to drive (luckily, I was all “drive”-d out) and we started our six hour drive home. 2.5 days of travel and I spent about 20 of those hours in the car, driving. I’m such a trooper.

On the way home (and, dear GOD, if you’ve stuck it out this long, I’m impressed) we stopped for lunch at the MouseHouse Cheese House. Nope, didn’t make that up. It’s a real place in Wisconsin. Windsor, WI to be specific. It was one of the best parts of the journey. They had beer and wine for sale, souvenirs, both tacky and nice, and food. Lots of food. They had a full scale deli. They made their own cheese, dozens of flavors of cheese and they would let you sample anything you wanted. They made their own cheese curds, free samples. They made their own fudge, free samples. We spent a ton of time just sampling food. I was practically full just from the samples, and I still got a fresh deli sandwich, roast beef and onion with homemade horseradish mustard. It was wonderful. Not an Al’s hot beef, but still, the sandwiches on this trip really rocked my world. It was also good for souvenirs. I brought my folks different flavors of fudge and different flavored cheese curds as a thank you for letting me use their car.

Before we left, I had to get a shot of this place, because you’d never believe it otherwise.

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It was cheesy (pun intended) but one of the more entertaining parts of the trip. A classic example of why you should travel by car whenever possible. You’ll notice the things they are most proud of: Cheese Beer Gifts Fudge. Pretty much sums it up.

The rest of the drive home, the three of us just chatted in the car. We ended up talking about how Tom and Mindy’s relationship started. I met them just a couple months after they started dating, but they kept it a secret because they worked together. I knew the basics of the story, but this time around, I got to hear all the details. Mindy did most of the telling, but I kept interrupting to ask Tom questions. He was answering me monosyllabically and I finally said to him, “you don’t want to be having this conversation, do you?” And he replied, “do I have a choice?” Ah, it’s good to have smart friends. He did not, and after eleven and a half years of friendship (then – we’ll hit twelve in April!!!), I think it was high time I heard the nitty gritty details. It’s nice to learn new things.

Somehow, in the two days since we left, the trees had really turned (reference rainbow pictures above), which is how our drive home ended up looking more like this:
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and this:
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and it was scenically beautiful.

The friends, the conversation, the experience, and the fun were nonstop entertainment and I have so many terrific memories from this trip. I feel lucky to have friends like these two and that I am able to share these memories with them.

Headphontastrophe

When I got my iPhone…two years ago? Three? Whatever. It came with headphones, as they always do. I generally find that I am far more productive with music playing than otherwise. I play music in the morning to get up and to get me through the shower. I play music when I cook. I play music at work when I’m doing dreary tasks. (I also, like now, play music when I’m blogging)

With music on, things flow more smoothly for me and I accomplish more. I’m also far less likely to get distracted, perhaps because I’ve already split my focus between the task and my music.

When at work, I can’t just play music all day, but I can listen to it on headphones. Typically, I only put one of the earphones in, which allows me to hear what people are saying to me and still gives me the music I crave. No one seems to mind that I do this, so I keep on doing it.

Now, I don’t know if the standard iPhone earbuds are just cheaply made or if it is because I use them so frequently, but mine are toast. TOAST. (We’ll get to that in a second). I haven’t even been using them the whole time, because I started out using the pair that came with my iPod, until those were trashed, and then I dug these out of the box and began using them. I’d say a year, give or take.

It certainly seems to me that earbuds should last longer than one year.

Just so we’re clear…

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…that is what an earbud looks like.
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This is what my right earbud currently looks like, and it no longer works. No sound will come out.
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This is the left. The covering doesn’t stay on, but if I hold it against the earbud and slip it in my ear, it lodges in place. When I remove it, the covering stays in my ear until I dig it out, but I get sound, so I work with it.

This is pretty trashed, wouldn’t you agree?

I’m not particularly hard on them, I keep them in a drawer at work, they don’t travel with me unless I am going out of town (they did go to Chicago twice last year, maybe that was it…) I just use them daily.

Okay, so aside from the fact that these are junk, there is the crystal clear fact that I have to replace them. Do you know how much a new pair goes for? The exact same ones I have are $29 at the Apple store. TWENTY-NINE DOLLARS. How ridiculous is that?

Obviously I am not paying that kind of money for them. So, I turned to my friends at Amazon. I finally found a deal for 3 pairs of knockoffs for under $4. Less than FOUR DOLLARS. That’s a bit over a buck a pair and totally worth it to me. Plus, they were on free Super Saver shipping, and I had a couple other things to buy.

Well, I put the order in back in January. When they submitted the order it said, “estimated delivery date, March 1- March 8. That seemed crazy to me. Did they need time to knock over an Apple supply truck in order to give me such a good price?

Finally, after some sleuthing I realized I bought some generic knockoffs from a sweatshop in Hong Kong. It’s a proud day. Had I known, I would have asked Mindy to pick some up next time she was there (I still might…) and saved me some time.

The long and the short of the story is, the sound has starting cutting in and out of the sole, remaining, working earbud. I’m nervous that the new ones won’t arrive and I will be music-less for a few days. I won’t be able to handle it, I might even break down.

Cross your fingers that my earbuds cling to life for a few more days. And someone please explain to me why it takes six weeks for something to get from Hong Kong to the US? I feel like I could paddle a canoe there in that amount of time. (I actually made myself laugh out loud while typing that last line. Like I could paddle a canoe across my pool, much less the entire ocean. I’m a dork.)

At any rate, we’re down to the wire. I need those earbuds to come through. The upshot is, I am excited to go home and check my mail tonight.

Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire

How’s this for a weird story? (Though I’m guessing you expected something a little odd after that title–though, who knows? I do odd titles often).

Last Friday night. Hold on, it might have been Saturday.

Okay, I just checked my email. It was Saturday. Yikes. Saturday night, I picked up Mindy at her house and we went to Elena’s for dinner.

(P.S. I’m just throwing this out there–if you got a text party invitation from me for March 3–that party is postponed, we ran into some technical troubles, it’s still happening, just not in March)

At any rate, the three of us had a great deal of fun and a great deal of wine and a great dinner. Elena made truffle mac-n-cheese and it was delicious. I had it for lunch the next day as well.

But, the point of the story is this. I drove Mindy home, it was after 2am. I dropped her off at her house and then drove to the end of her street and turned onto Burns. I drove about a block when I started seeing flashing lights. Instinctively, I slowed down, thinking police. In the back of my brain, I knew it didn’t resemble police lights, it was closer to strobe lights, but it stopped before I could think more about it.

I kept driving, maybe a half a block, when suddenly there was a fireball in the sky.

It was so bright I had to close my eyes, it actually lit up the street like it was daytime, and I was over a block away from the source.

I had no idea what was happening. I immediately pulled over onto the side of the road. I figured if something exploded, I do not want to get any closer, and I was headed right toward it. I sat there for maybe five seconds, when, another fireball lit up the sky.

Somehow, this one was even brighter than the first, bigger too, or maybe it just seemed that way, because when it ended, the whole city went dark. Not a light for as far as I could see. It went from “city dark” to “country dark with no stars” in a matter of a blink.

I picked up my phone and text Mindy, “did your whole house just go dark?” She confirmed that it did. She thought I just saw the lights go out in the neighborhood–she had no idea I actually saw what happened.

After the text, I sat for another few seconds. It was so dark, whatever had happened seemed to be over. Or so I thought. I started creeping forward, going very slowly and staying on the shoulder, just in case. There’s a slight hill in the road, once you crest it, you can see Obbs. That is the point I was at. As I crested the hill, I immediately figured out what had happened. Before me, was a large SUV–like a Ford Expedition or something…very big.

It was, I assume trying to turn right onto the street that runs next to Obbs (I think it is Clarence) and either through stupidity, drunkenness, or both, it overshot the turn and careened into the power line pole. I was too far away to see what had happened, but those poles are thick in circumference. In order to take one out, even with a car, you’d have to hit it very hard…or going very fast.

The initial sparks I saw were probably from him hitting it. The fireballs are likely from it falling. I’d guess that was the lines lighting up as they were ripped free from where they were attached. When I was close enough to see, the SUV was still there. His front end was wedged under the fallen pole, his front wheels were up in what passes for a snowbank these days. But, his reverse lights were on and he was trying, madly to free himself. (Or herself, I couldn’t see the driver).

I pulled over, again, just to stay out of the way. I had to pass behind him to get home–no way I was driving anywhere near this guy. He was reversing so hard his tires were smoking on the street. Suddenly, as I watched, his car jerked free and he fishtailed wildly across the street, in reverse. He jerked to a stop, slammed the car in drive and drove down Clarence and out of my sight.

I sat there for a second or two, then pulled out and drove home. I literally live like 6 minutes from Tom and Mindy–it amazes me that my short drive home could have been this eventful.

When I told my parents and my brother this story the next day, they all said, “did you call the police?” I did not. Should I have? I don’t know. I didn’t see anything. I never saw the accident. For all I know, another car could have driven the SUV off the road into the pole and then drove away. I don’t know what happened. I know it was a large, dark, SUV. Gee, that narrows it down. I don’t know what kind. Could have been a Ford Expedition, but that’s just what I thought of. I don’t actually know what kind of SUV it was. It was dark colored. That’s it. Dark brown. Navy Blue. Black. No idea. I didn’t see a license, I was at the wrong angle. I couldn’t even see if it was MN plates.

So, I should have called the police, waited at the scene for them to arrive and given my statement of, “I didn’t see it happen and I saw a large, dark SUV drive off that way”. Maybe I should have, who knows? But I did not. I just drove home and thought…that was pretty cool. We’ve all felt the effects of power lines going down, but how many of us have actually seen it happen? It was incredible. The sheer brightness of all that energy was mind-boggling.

And that, friends, is my 2am story. Strange things happen in the middle of the night.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is always a conundrum. For my entire life (up until about 3 years ago) we spent Christmas Eve with my mom’s family. Appetizers and presents. That was tradition. Somehow, things got all mixed up and we stopped doing this. We now see those relatives after Christmas, which works out just fine.

However, this left a gaping hole on Christmas Eve. My sister sees her in-laws that night, as did Zack, before he and Kim broke up. So, this left my parents and me on our own. Well, that’s not entirely true. You see, many moons ago (about 7 years) I popped in to Tom and Mindy’s apartment on Christmas eve, during Clay’s first Christmas, to drop off a gift for him. Mindy was sick and Clay was sleeping and Tom…was working? It was odd. But, it started a tradition with them that lasts to this day. Before my plan, I always stop off at Tom and Mindy’s to give gifts to the boys.

Last year, they did a family trip to San Diego for Christmas and my mom commented that I seemed bereft. In the midst of my bereftness (that’s definitely not a word), I started a new tradition. Mom, Dad, and I would go to a movie. Then drinks and apps somewhere, then we’d call it a night. Last year, it was an amazing night. This year? We’ll get to that in a minute.

Mindy invited me to join them for Christmas dinner, which was very kind of her. The family Christmas Eve is with Tom’s mom and it is also when they do their family gifts. I feel honored that I’m allowed to take part in these special family traditions. I got to their house and the boys were bouncing off the walls. They had already opened a present (each) because they were driving their parents nuts and they figured it would give them something to do. Thus, upon my arrival, I got bombarded with the story of the brand new Lego semi-truck. It has a bed and a tv in the cab!

We played for a bit and then did presents. I got spoiled this year, with new fuzzy socks in purple, Christmas ornaments that hold the boys school pictures, AND a kickass bookend that you simply must see. I love it! It is exactly the kind of quirky thing that I love in the stores but rarely buy. Mindy said she was done for me, but when she saw it, she said, “that belongs to Olivia” and bought it. She was right, it does belong to me.

Clay got his annual snowglobe, which he liked. He still tells me he’d prefer toys, but then his mom tells me that when it gets time to decorate, he cannot WAIT to get out his snowglobes and wind them up. So, it’s the small victories.

Lew got his annual M & M ornament, which was thoroughly unimpressive to a 4 year old, but he’ll like them someday. He also got a box of Sugar Babies, because I love giving that boy candy and his mother wishes I wouldn’t, which makes it fun. Then, I got the boys a game to share. Operation. They already have the game operation, but this is special. This is Star Wars Operation and you operate on the little robot. Dang it. Hang on while I look up his name. R2D2. Got it. They were very excited and played it almost immediately.

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They were going crazy. Mindy and I ended up talking about how much we liked Operation when we were kids. Once the boys abandoned the game, about five minutes after they started it, she and I played a game. We let Clay join us, because he saw what we were doing, and it was fun.For the family gift, I gave them something very special. This fall, I took a class in stained glass. I cut and designed an abstract piece for them and gave it to them with a display stand. I wish you could see it. I wish I had been smart enough to take a picture of it. It was beautiful. I liked it more than the piece I made for myself. Mindy loved it. She was astonished that I made it. Tom didn’t seem surprised at all.After Tom’s mom arrived, we had a wonderful dinner of roast beef and cheesy potatoes. After dinner, it was time for presents again. Normally, this was when I would leave, but my parents had decided against a movie. So, I stayed and hung out some more. Before more presents, we decided to make them work a bit. The boys were directed to plan a Christmas performance (this was my suggestion, to keep them busy so we could finish dinner in peace). Below, you will see the video of their performance. It was pretty adorable for a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old who threw it together in about 2.5 minutes


MOV06937 a video by okmoris on Flickr.

Earlier in the evening, I mentioned something about the NORAD Santa tracker. This was not something they knew about. I was surprised I hadn’t mentioned it before, we’ve been tracking Santa at our house for years. I showed them the website and the boys were enraptured. They couldn’t believe the could watch Santa delivering presents. We watched videos of other cultures and got to talk about how different things are in other countries. Clay wondered why he went to the countries he did and we got to talk about time zones. Lew enjoyed this, but 7 is perfect, I am thinking because Clay was obsessed. He stared at that all night and kept coming up to me and asking where a certain country was. I have a World Map app on my phone, so I kept pulling it up and we’d search for whatever country. The only one we struggled with was the South Sandwich Islands. (Off the southern tip of South America, near Antarctica, if you’re curious).

Later that night, as I was watching Santa head toward St. Paul, I text Mindy to see if he was still awake and to let her know that Santa was spotted nearby. I got a text back that said, “he fell asleep in front of the computer, tracking Santa”. Adorable!

After entertaining us, they were made to change into nicer clothes for pictures. One nice one with Grandma:
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And Mindy said, “I know you want to open presents, but I will make you do this over and over until you don’t have goofy faces or cheesy smiles, so smile nice the first time and we’ll be done faster.” It made me laugh because she was so serious. The boys took it to heart, though, and we got nice pictures.

Next, we did pictures with me.

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I have no idea why Lewie felt it was necessary to drape himself across me, but he did. And Clay is clearly not looking. So Mindy made them do it again.
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Now Clay isn’t smiling. I’d have been happy with either of these, I don’t have too many pictures of me with both boys. But, Mindy made them do it again. I was actually laughing at this point.
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And how perfect is that! I simply love it. As soon I can, I will print that and it will be framed in my house. I’m so glad she was being a stickler, totally worth it!

Then, just to torture the kids some more, we did a family picture.

I said, “just so you know, I will stand here and do this all night, until every one of you is smiling. And that includes your dad!” That cracked everyone up. Tom is notorious for never smiling in pictures. I took a picture of him smiling this summer in Chicago and Mindy loves it so much she included it in their Christmas card–but that’s a story for another blog. Of course, my humor got even Tom to smile.
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This was my first attempt, but Lewie was testing me to see if I was as tough as his mom (usually I am not), but I stood my ground and made them do it again.
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Now, Lewie looks a bit cheesy, but I think it is cute. And I love Clay’s hands clasped under his face–and Tom, look at that handsome smile. Worth it. I said this could be their Christmas card for next year!

Then, more and more presents awaited.
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Things not even fully unwrapped before they move on. Lucky kids.
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I love how serious he is. I think he gets nervous about whether he’s going to like it. At 7, he’s a lot more conscious of things like that.
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More and more and more!

Next up is one of my favorite Christmas pictures of the year. Lewie, who is the sweetest boy, will always stop to smile if you point a camera at him. I love that about him. But, he decided to organize all his new presents by carrying them across the room–all at once.
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It was funny to watch, he’d taken approximately one step when I stopped him for the picture. He took one more and the pile collapsed. He stooped down and restacked everything and started again. Three tries before his mom just took half the pile and helped him out.

Clay and Tom headed downstairs to set up some new toys and I never went to look, so I have no photos of that, but Lew and Mindy were putting Legos together in the dining room.

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Legos are a LOT of work. Wowza.

I was teasing Lew about the names of his new Legos and he was laughing at me, he looked so cute I picked up my camera and said, “look at me, Lew”:
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Every time! I love that kid.

I left about 8:30 to head to my parents. Things were very low-key there. They were just hanging out. Then when my brother arrived, the four of us played music trivia until the wee hours of the morning. I really mean wee. I didn’t leave there until 4:00am. Then, I still had some presents to wrap when I got home. That was one long night!

But, it was a relaxed, calm and fun Christmas eve, full of family and friends. I sure couldn’t ask for more!