Miami – finally

Since I am on my way home from a trip to Indy, I thought I should probably get around to blogging about Miami – which happened last month. I’m not sure what my problem with the blog is these days. I think that it’s the fact that if I’m not at a hospital for clinical, I want to be sleeping. Not blogging. Back to Miami. Joe and I planned a trip down there during the dead of winter, and let me tell you, it could not have come at a better time.

Miami, and all the rest of Florida, have a special charm about them. Most of the rules of food, fashion, service, etc. don’t apply. Everything happens at it’s own pace, and it often seems to be happening in 1987. Seriously, there are still guys walking around with boom boxes on their shoulder. Other than that, I was a really charming trip. We got to spend much awaited time eating and drinking outside – one of my favorite things to do.

Our hotel was right on the A1A (beach front avenue!), and only a block from the famous Ocean Drive. We spent hours walking up and down it, trying to decide on our next stop. I have to say, the constant harassment from restaurant hostesses trying to convince you to come inside their restaurant did get a little annoying. That is one of those things that I am used to NOT happening in most of America. For a couple that usually has a hard time deciding on which restaurant would be the perfect one for our next meal, this did not help. But alas, we were always able to decide.

I want to get into the habit of photographing more of my food. I know it sounds strange and pointless, but it is often so beautiful. I love to be able to look back at the great plates and hopefully be able to replicate them at home. Needless to say, we ate a lot of seafood. We were hoping for the great local fresh stuff, but this was surprisingly hard to come by on South Beach. My theory is that they stick to the cheap imported stuff because they know they can get it past most tourists. Not me man, I know my seafood. We ventured downtown Miami one day, and were thankfully able to escape the tourist traps. We some of the best food of the trip there. Here is a photo of my delicious cioppino from The River Oyster Bar.

After 5 days of sun, sand and patios we came home to Minnesota to find….. more sun! It was amazing, like we left town so winter decided to do the same. It was actually the first time it didn’t snow in Minneapolis (or Rochester) in March in 100 years. Pretty awesome, let’s hope for more of the same in April.

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Coincidences

A few years ago my Aunt died. She is my mom’s oldest sister, and for my large family, there will forever be a missing piece.

Part of the Triangle is driving from Minneapolis to Rochester. I always take the same route from my parents house, because I’ve tried them all and this one is the fastest. I head toward 55, over the river and on to 52 heading southeast. I feel like I’ve done this drive a million times.

Last Wednesday, March 3rd I did this drive again. This time I noticed something different. I crossed over the bridge and felt a different kind of familiarity. I glanced over the edge of the bridge and remembered that I was right by Fort Snelling, a historic fort we used to tour every few years in school. Then I remembered this beautiful park I biked and hiked through a few times a couple of summers ago. Next I remembered that you could see the cemetery where Linda was buried from that park. All the pieces came together. The airport, the park and that cold spring morning our huge motorcade crossed that bridge and wound up the hill to the cemetery.

I quickly took the next exit, and without thinking drove toward where the cemetery rested on the hill overlooking the airport. It’s a huge place, but I had no trouble picking which path led to Linda’s site. I parked the car and got out, but the place was covered in about 3 feet of snow. The Christmas wreaths still floated about the snow pack, and there were a few remnants of people who had visited their friends or family – a half melted snowman with a child’s scarf, a tiny Christmas tree.

I stood for a minute, remembering the day my family came here with Linda, and the days and years she fought cancer, until it finally won. I thought about my huge family, and how much I love them. I got back in my car, telling myself I’d be back when the snow melts.

As I continued the drive to Rochester, I thought about how strange it was that I have traveled this path so many times and never realized the cemetery was there. I thought about how sometimes things just come to us. I thought more about those days in March of 2007 and had an odd feeling. What day in March was it that she died? I feel like it was early March, like today, the 3rd. I went home to dig up her funeral booklet out of the place where I keep things like that, and double checked the dates. She died on March 3rd, 2007, exactly 3 years prior to my rediscovery of the cemetery.

I can’t explain it and I don’t know what it means, but there is something really special about this.

Linda and I with my new cousin Brady.

Geocaching: A Lovely Way to Spend a Sunday

Joe and I discovered geocaching from an episode of the How Stuff Works podcasts. I sounded cool, and we really wanted to try. Well, about 6 months later we finally got around to it.

Geocaching is a sort of treasure hunt for grown-ups with fancy phones. What you do is go to the geocaching website, or use the smart phone app, to find geocaches in your area. A cache is a small package of sorts. Some are tiny, smaller than a thimble, and some are larger. There size determines what you will find inside, the smallest contain only a log on which to write your name and date of discovery.

This is a shot of the first cache we successfully found. It is right across the street from our house in Rochester. Geocaching uses GPS to point you toward the cache. It’s a little like the orienteering we were forced to do at many a summer camps growing up, but without all the math and compasses. The first cache we attempted to find was last week in Miami Beach. It had a high difficulty rating, but we thought we’d give it a shot. I was in the beautiful and hidden Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, but unfortunately we didn’t find it.

 
Alas, our second trip out was much more successful. This morning we got up early, or what we thought was early, daylight savings time was a surprise. We ventured out and found 6 caches! We didn’t get more than a mile from home!

The caches were in parks, along trails, under bridges and hanging from trees. They were magnetic key holders, mint tins, peanut butter jars wrapped in camo tape and old Vietnam war ammo cases. The biggest one contained stuff you can exchange. We left behind a Joe’s original mixed CD, and took a DVD about preventing falls in the eldery. I just wrote a paper on this topic for my gerontology class, so I thought I’d try to bring it in for a little extra credit.

Geocaching has its own little culture. There are certain rules to follow in order to protect the purity of the sport. You must be careful to not do anything that would ruin geocaching for others. If you take something you must leave something. If there are muggles (non-geocaching pedestrians) in the area, you must be careful to not draw attention to yourself. You also must never move a cache from its found location.

We found 6, but didn’t scratch the surface of what is around in Rochester. It’s amazing, these things are right under our noses, but we don’t even notice them. The only thing that brought us in from the great weather was the dead iphone battery. The weather is amazing, maybe we will be out again tomorrow!

Hometown Tourism

Well, now that the Olympics are over, it’s time for spring! It is a little warmer here these days. So, the snow is melting off the roofs into charming little ice hills that are sure to stick around to June. I’m really starting to think about fun little adventures that will happen when the weather is warmer. I can’t wait to find more hidden gems like Minneopa Falls.

 
I love to travel, I love to see new things, and I love to get lost. Unfortunately, I can’t travel every weekend of my life like I would want to. Instead, when I was in high school, I developed something I like to call hometown tourism. I used to do it mostly by myself on that odd quiet Sunday. I still do, but it’s also nice to have someone to accompany me on these adventures, and I’m pretty sure he enjoys it as much as I do. 
This shot is from last fall when we ventured out of Mankato (where I briefly lived for 3 months), to the lovely town of New Ulm, Minnesota. As you might be able to tell by the name, the town is traditionally German. It is also the home of Schell’s Brewery, and awesome old school German restaurants. This one was a good adventure, I hope to head back there this summer and check out more of the town. 
 
This last shot is of one of my favorite hometown destinations, Minnehaha Falls. This beautiful park is a quite nature oasis right in the middle of the city. It’s often packed with day trippers, but if you descend toward the falls, a labyrinth of lightly traveled trails await the curious. 
One of the first Rochester adventures Joe and I went on was up the hill to see the Assisi Heights Convent of the Sisters of St. Francis. This place was such a welcome surprise in Rochester. It sits atop a large hill, and is modeled after the Church of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. Its surrounded by lovely walking parks and grass perfect for staring up at the sky on a warm Saturday afternoon.  It reminds me of my time in Italy on study abroad, and the small adventures we had everyday.
 
Well, in these last days of winter, when the Olympics are sadly over and the cabin fever is at its pitch, I’m prepping for my hometown adventures. I’m hoping some of these adventures will give me inspiration for the blog, along with some great photo ops. In the mean time, we’re heading to Miami next weekend for some out of town adventures!
 

The Unblog blog

This is not so much a blog post, and it is an apology for not posting. I just can’t really think of anything to write about right now. This is getting me kinda down. I feel like I should blame this all on winter. Oh, and nursing school. I promised myself that I would not write about school on this blog, as it is here to remind me of how well rounded my life is. But, right now I don’t feel very well rounded. All I have on the brain is diabetes and tardive dyskinesia.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, because I am very inspired by nursing right now. Since starting my clinicals on a med/surg floor at Abbott, I really feel good about this career choice. I’ve realized that I can do anything.

Remember that song from high school that was all about lessons you need to know before you leave high school? Something about a letter to the class of 1999 – that I think they redo each year for that class. One of the things he says in it is to do one thing everyday that scares you. I’ve really been following that advice recently. I’ve done some scary shit the last few weeks. Things that I will do all the time as a nurse, but there is something about the first time that is terrifying.

Despite the terror, each time I do one of these things I get a little bit stronger, and a little bit more excited about nursing. So, bring on the wound vacs and NG tubes, I can handle it.

 Also, can I get some suggestions about other stuff to blog about? Just throw some topics at me, and I promise I will be inspired!

I’m Not Going to Cook it, but I’ll Order it from ZANZIBAR!

Right now I really need some of this….

By “this,” I mean really warm weather. This is the part of the Minnesota Winter that I find totally unbearable. The anticipation of a white Christmas is long since past, and the glories of Spring are devastatingly far away. Seriously far away, like still 2 or 3 months away. Oh well, I will always have Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is one of those places that I spent most of my life believing was fictional, much like Katmandu, Bohemia, and Transylvania. These places surfaced in the stories of my childhood, and like Tikitikitembo and Babar, they remained there. Unlike Tiki and Babar, these places were desinted to emerge as real at some party in college when I tripped over my over-confident, tipsy words and pronounced, “whatever, Bohemia is for hippies and it is totally imaginary!” We have all had those moments.

Well I confirmed Zanzibar’s reality last Winter, when I traveled there during my trip to Africa. I have to say, as far as imaginary places go, Z-bar really lives up. This magical little island off the coast of Tanzania is nothing like I have ever seen. The city of Stone Town is a twisted, salt scarred, fully inhabited relic of colonized Africa. The door are still pegged with brass barbs meant to injure charging elephants.

The beaches are beautiful, and the shopping is one of a kind. The food is interesting, and cheap. We follow the Anthony Bourdain philosophy of eating while abroad – the street food is the best food. Never mind the reheated, indecipherable fish, or the crab meat stuffed into the same “display” shell over and over again (probably for years), you can’t beat this experience. We did end up getting sick, but the causal dinner was more likely the fancy, touristy Italian place we ate a few nights later.

Z-bar is a special place, only grazed by the hand of time. It’s a place where the bottle water brand is “drop,” and their plastic bottles inexplicably break if you lose hold and they drop to the ground. It is a place where the daily Muslim call to prayer echoes loudly off the tightly packed buildings and sounds like it’s being broadcast from a children’s tape recorder in 1985. It’s the place where my feet touched the Indian Ocean for the very first time. Finally, it’s a place where Obama was president long before election day.

If you ever find yourself there, be sure to ask for the Zanzibar Pizza.

Great Grandma’s Banana Bread

So, I actually made this bread last week, it took me this long to get this post up. Needless to say, since school started again I have less time to blog. If I could somehow blog safely from the car, I’d write much more. In fact, it would be blog city considering how much time I spend in the car. The Southern Minnesota Triangle is well traveled these days.

 Though I am only a novice baker, and my cooking skills really work better on improvisation, I chose this family recipe for my first cooking blog. Its really easy and fast. It is also a great solution for those brown bananas you don’t get around to eating during the 20 minutes when they aren’t too green and not yet mushy. When I see a brown banana in the fruit basket I toss it in the freezer and it is good until the day I get around to baking.

This family recipe is from my Great Grandmother Julia via my Mom. It’s a classic, and hands down the best banana bread out there.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2-3 mashed brown bananas
2 well beaten eggs
1/2 cup skim milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup nuts
1/2 – 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

The original recipe calls for shortening instead of butter. Since vegetable shortening is nearly 100% hydrogenated oils (trans fat), I will not touch the stuff. In fact, it should be illegal. Butter, though it is saturated fat, is much healthier than trans fat. It also tastes better.

In a large mixing bowl cream together the sugar and room temperature butter as much as possible. Add your bananas and mash them into the mixture. Use 2-3 depending on their size. There is no need to get it exactly right, Martha. Next, make a well in the mixture and crack your eggs into it. This way you can beat the eggs before you add them totally to the mixture without having to use another bowl. Add the vanilla and milk to the eggs, and incorporate everything together well.

In a separate bowl combine your dry ingredients (flour, salt, soda, nuts). Mix well to spread the salt and soda evenly throughout the flour.

 
Now, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and gently mix them together just until all the flour is incorporated. Don’t over mix, or your bread will be tough. Now comes my second change to the recipe. The chocolate chips! Everything is better with chocolate chips right? Just mix them around evenly in the dough. 
  
For the baking, I’m going to give really vague instructions and trust you to figure it out. Sorry, this is why I am not an awesome baker. Set the oven to 350 degrees. This is when I will go all Martha, and urge you to make sure you have an oven thermometer. It is amazing how far off oven temps can be. It can make a big difference in the consistency of your bread, cookies or whatever if the temp it off. You can either make one large loaf, or two smaller loafs from the dough. I usually make two, it seems to last longer that way. Make sure to grease the pans with butter or non-stick spray. The baking time will be anywhere from 20-40 minutes depending on the size of your loaf pans and how much dough is in them. Just keep and eye on it. When the top of the loaf is golden and starting to crack a little, it is probably done. Stick a tooth pick in the center If it comes out clean, the bread is done. Remember, the bread will continue to cook a little even after it comes out of the oven, especially if you leave it in the pan. 
Once you have had your fill of the warm, crunchy and gooey bread, refrigerate the remaining. I’ll often freeze a loaf in hopes of giving it away, or saving it for a rainy day. It’s usually gone in a matter of days. 
Enjoy! 

I Love Trains (actually about trains)

Ok, second try at the “I love trains” blog. As I was saying, I love trains. I love their reliability, their speed, and the track they take. A little while ago Joe and I took the new Northstar Commuter train from Fridley, MN to Big Lake, MN. Now knowing that we live in Rochester, which is nowhere near either, you might ask, why those destinations? Well truthfully, it was an entirely gratuitous train ride. We were planning on heading to our friends Hayley and Matt’s place in Big Lake for the weekend. They are super fun, and Hayley makes the best Scotcharoos in the world! We drove from Rochester to Fridley, and then instead of driving the next hour to Big Lake, we took the train.

These trains are glorious! I know that I am a little over-excited, but let me explain why. Nearly the entirety of my experience with trains happened during my various travels to Europe, and it’s been way too long since I’ve been on said travels. Taking this train transports me to a journey through the hills of the Rhein River Valley, or the coast of southern Spain. It allows me a moment in time when I can really imagine myself being there. I can really see this is as my daily commute from my home in the Tuscan hills, to my job in central Florence. For others it might be from Fridley to Big Lake, but for me, it is a glimpse of my past and future adventures.

Trains and Bridges and The System

I love trains. I love any kind of train. I find security and assurance in the fact that they must travel along a track. Also, only one train can travel along a section of track at one time. I think think means that to have all the trains on any one track at any one time arrive at their destination safely, they must be on a strict and reliable schedule. Trains also feel safe, I imagine this intricate system of checks and balances based on the tested systems of engineers (both train and mechanical). This all of course works in collaboration  with the state and federal government who constantly make sure all the systems are working. Of course we are safe, this is America. Right? Until a few years ago, I would have not questioned this notion. Not until this happened….

This is not the best picture, but it was hard to get a good vantage point of the collapsed 35W bridge. This bridge in Minneapolis, about a mile from my house, fell down in August 2007. It just fell. During rush hour, packed with cars, it just fell. There are many tragic and heroic stories that go along with this bridge falling down, none of them happened to me. Something far less dramatic happened to me. Whatever faith I had left in “the system” totally disappeared.

Our American infrastructure was supposed to be the best in the world. I don’t think anyone told me this, I just think we all assumed it. Right? We have inspectors, and regulators that check in on these things, right? Wrong. This bridge was on a very very long list of bridges to be eventually replaced in Minnesota. It didn’t look like this one would get on the schedule for at least 10 years. What? So, where are the bridges that were in line ahead of the bridge that fell down?
 
The impact this tragedy had on me crept up slowly. At first I was just glad I didn’t go to my parent’s house to do laundry like I had originally planned. This was a trip that would have put me on the bridge that evening. Next, I noticed myself looking closely at the cracks and rust that are apparent on many bridges. They probably don’t mean anything, but you never know. Then I started to drive just a little quicker under and over bridges in Minneapolis. A few months later, I was rolling down my windows whenever I drove over the river. Finally, two or three times, I actually unbuckled my seatbelt while driving over the river with my window down.

They built this new bridge in less than a year. At night it glows in different colors, you can’t miss it. That is unless you are on it. Most people would not know they were crossing a bridge if they didn’t know that the previous one fell down. Or, if they were my friend Chris with Down’s Syndrome. I think he cries every time he crosses it. Which at first seemed a strange overreaction, now I think he is probably not the only one.

What was left of this tragedy, besides broken hearts and a lingering distrust in America, lies just down the river. I call it the bridge graveyard. The pieces of twisted steel, that were quickly salvaged from the  floor of the Mississippi, are located just down river from where it fell down in a, now fenced off, park called Bohemian Flats. It is really creepy, you can drive right by it, and see it from many other bridges crossing the river. Apparently, they have to keep it until all the pending lawsuits are resolved. This could be many many years. I heard they are building a huge warehouse out of town where the bridge parts will eventually go to live. Until then, it makes quite a memorial.

Oh, and yes, this post was originally supposed to be about trains. Tomorrow I guess.

The Power of Nice

Do you believe in the law of attraction? It’s the idea that you attract to yourself everything you have by your thoughts and actions. I do. Recently I’ve seen evidence of this law as manifested by niceness.

Last Monday, and today – not days chosen for any reason, just days I remembered to think about it – I made a serious effort to be nice. Now, I don’t mean just be cordial, or don’t be rude. I mean actually real, got-out-of your-way nice. Things like sending a nice letter to someone letting you know that you appreciate them, or telling people that you really care about them. Also, I made sure to compliment people, even when it felt a little weird and uncalled for.

Now I went through my days, doing a few of these things now and then when I remembered to do them. I didn’t think much of it, and I didn’t expect any immediate results. But, tonight I had the greatest revelation. Both Monday and tonight, I got far more calls and text messages from friends than normal. It was all kinds of stuff, from texts that just said hi or a funny story, to friends I rarely hear from calling for advice. It also was not the people I was going out of my way to be nice to, it was totally different people!

I have to say, I feel really loved. Sometimes, living down here in Rochester, I feel a little isolated from my friends. All these notes and messages really reminded me that they are still out there, and care about me.

Now, let me put it out there that I was not being nice to people with the sole hope that people would be nice to back to me. I think the kindness needs to be genuine for the power of attraction to work. The universe knows when you are lying.