And then we watched lanterns float over Lake Superior

December 31, 2011

(I know, it sounds like a Death Cab For Cutie song.)

Just before I turned 16, my family moved from London, Ohio to Marquette, Michigan.  We had vacationed in Marquette, and we fell in love.  So, my parents decided we should move there.  It is a pretty incredible place.  It gets tons of snow!  We used to have to shovel our roof off each winter to keep it from caving in.  And, living on Lake Superior?  Well, it's fantastic.

One of the best parts of moving to Marquette was meeting my friend April in high school Junior year.  She is my oldest friend, and she is magical.  In high school, she was the kind of person who was nice to (and liked by) everyone, especially new kids like me.   She's a lover and a dreamer.  April likes to fantasize about Paris, while I fantasize about...ways of organizing my life.  My pragmatic self appreciates her romanticism.

So, while in Marquette this week, Ben and I went to see April and meet her partner, Jeff.  That was a little nerve-wracking, because, well, what if I didn't like him?  You never know.

But, Jeff is fantastic, and I could instantly see that he is the perfect partner for April, and it was a great night!  You talk to some people, and your heart feels gigantic, and you miss them before you even leave.  Just as we were about to part ways, April and Jeff remembered that they'd brought Sky Lanterns with them.

I had no idea what they were talking about, and assumed we were going to light some lanterns and hold them next to the water at the harbor.  But, we lit little tiny parachutes that floated over Lake Superior.  I felt like a little kid- it was such a joyful moment, watching them all float up.  I have plans to buy a bunch of these.  Maybe you want to, too?

I wish you a bright new year.

Brand New

December 26, 2011

We spent Christmas with Ben's family making fires, indulgent food, and experimental cocktails in a house overlooking a frozen lake.  It was hard to pry myself out of my new flannel pajama pants today.

Tomorrow we fly to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where my family moved when I was sixteen.  Now it's home to just my Mom and her husband.  Returning to Marquette, I often imagine it as it was when I left to go to college at 17-- a hippie haven surrounded by the stunning Lake Superior; a place that's full of many family memories.  Now it's just a part of my family picture.  And maybe, as we all grow older, the holidays become this for us- an opportunity to examine the similarities and differences between how we imagine family and childhood, and it's actualities--and even possibilites.  I think of this now that I have my own family and home here in Minneapolis.  It's been 2 1/2 years since I was in Michigan, and I wonder what it will look like when I return.  I feel like it's an important place to visit as I end 2011.

My dear friend Betsy and her wonderful sister Molly have a tradition for New Years of deciding on three words that best describe the year past, and three for the year ahead.  I love this, and eagerly await deciding on my words.  It's pretty magnificent to think of a new year with a clean slate, especially as I look back on the jam-packed, epic year that was 2011-- not bad or good, but a series of ebb and flow, frustration and giganticness.  I can't wait to see what 2012 will hold.

So, what would your 3 words be?

Alan Berks: Stop Talking + Make The Work

December 22, 2011

Alan Berks is a local playwright and director, and creator of Alan Berks & Company.  He also co-founded Minnesota Playlist- an online resource for local theatre artists- with his wife, Leah Cooper.   It's worth noting that Alan makes a mean experimental cocktail.  Here he talks about making Playlist, the challenges of being an artist, and ways of making it easier for yourself.

Alan & cast rehearsing How To Cheat {Photo by Aaron Fenster}

L: How long have you lived in the Twin Cities?

A: Since July 2003.

L: What brought you here?

A:  I got a fellowship at the Playwright’s Center, actually- one of those Jerome Fellowships, where you have to live here for a full year.  And, once a month, for a weekend, I would drive back to Chicago.  But my car broke down in late November or early december, so I was carless and stuck in Minneapolis.  So, I couldn’t get back to Chicago...and I had started dating Leah [Cooper].  It’s a great place to live, too.

L:  Why did you stay?

A:  I liked Minnesota as soon as i got here.  I had moved around a lot, and I was tired of it.   Someone was giving me money to be a playwright, and in certain circles having a Jerome Fellowship was very impressive.  So it was great.  People were giving me money, and I got to do what I wanted to do.  It was a really nice combination of things.  And then the Jerome Fellowship ended.  I got a job as an Assistant Professor at St. Cloud State.  I had been doing a lot of freelance teaching for years- adjunct stuff where you piece 3 or 4 classes together and you make 20,000 a year.  And it just happened that I was someone who could teach business writing and playwriting, which not a lot of people could do.  And I remember saying, “I’m not going to do this for less than 30,000 a year.”   That’s how naive i was.  And the starting salary was 45,000.  I was shocked that people were going to pay me that much to teach classes that I already knew how to teach.  So that was perfect for a while.  But I got sick of the drive to St. Cloud, and I didn’t want to be a professor.  Afterwards, I freelanced for a while, and Leah and I traveled, and then I freelanced some more and made Minnesota Playlist.  Then I took my current job as Communications Director at Pillsbury House.

L:  Why Minnesota Playlist?  What made you want to make it?

A:  Leah and I like having ideas.  And a lot of time we sit around thinking “what if.”   Leah doesn’t like to sit around and talk too much without just deciding to do something.  We both thought it would be cool, because it didn’t exist.  And we also thought it would be financially viable, because somebody had to play for classifieds on the site.  And we thought that money could justify the amount of time that we put into it, and that maybe it would be a good part time gig that would help us then do the art that we wanted to do.  Which all happened to be true...we just needed to be making more money with it than we were.  It was much harder to make Playlist for Leah, because she had to do computer programming, which she had done before, and she underestimated how much she despised it.  It was much more work than she anticipated.

 L:  Playlist cultivates a community of artists, and published performer profiles and classifieds for local theaters.  There’s a lot of conversation and writing about topics relevant to artists.  Can you talk about creating the community aspect?

A:  With Playlist, I thought we’d talk about topics relevant to artists and making work, and then change would happen.  And I still think it’s valuable to talk, and that it’s had a pretty positive effect on people- to be exposed to different ideas.  But, I think it depends where you are in your journey.  I’ve realized that some people really want to listen to other people, and a certain number of people are constantly going to say shit all the time.  And there are a good amount of people in the arts community, and maybe all communities, who are like that.  And I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like- WOW!  You really actually love to complain, you’re not about the solution.  And that’s just a fact.  And, the general sense of community doesn’t move the ball very much.  At some point, you just have to stop talking and do the work.  That’s where I’m at right now.  I’m at a point right now where I say let’s not talk about the work, at least when it comes to generally speaking about art.  You get to a place where you either do it, or you don’t.

L:  Something I’ve struggled with is trying to find stability as an artist-- a balance while juggling life and money-making and projects.  How do you do this?

A:  If you want a stable life, don’t be an artist.  The moment you say you care about something, and that you want to actually  do it well and you want to devote yourself to doing it well whatever it is, whether it’s starting a website or being good in your marriage or’s hard fucking work.   You can achieve a certain stability.  For instance, I can find places to produce my work relatively easily because people will not ask me for rent, they’ll just split a ticket price with me.  And I can get grants.  In this town, grants are like rain, you just have to know how to fill out the thing.  And I’ve developed a group of people that I collaborate with, and know how to set clear boundaries with them.  I’m pretty sure that none of this would have ever happened if I hadn’t spent the last 8 years in one place doing stuff.  Making something sustainable and’s just hard.  It doesn’t feel like that’s what you’re doing while you’re doing it.  When we built Minnesota Playlist, the first year and a half was so rough, that we doubted that it would work.  And, it wasn’t making enough money- and we weren’t sure if it was eventually going to.  Should I be a choreographer, or should I be a yoga instructor?  Every single one of these things, in order to be any good at it, if you have any standards whatsoever, is absurdly difficult at the beginning.  You’re just going to work your ass off in order to get it right- in order to create the potential to have a stable life.  You can’t know what’s going to work out.  People make lives in the arts here.  So, if you really want to be an artist, you might as well do that.  And if you don’t, you should do something else.  Because no matter what you do, it’s hard as fuck.

 [At which point, Ben joins the conversation.]

B:  Sticking around [the Twin Cities] seems to be a really great way to excel.

A:  Yes.  Because other people quit.  At a certain point, you’re the only one left.  But still, you’re still doing it because you’re good at it, and because you get some joy from it.

L:  You said to do the work.  Can you talk about that?  What’s challenging about that for you?

A:  I’m not good enough.  That’s what’s hard about it.  The work's not good enough.  And I don’t have enough time to make it better.  That’s the crime.  It would be better if I had more time.  So I used to get angry with trust fund kids, or people will connections to money or fame, which really helps.  And it’s not that these people aren’t talented- they are.  But, having the time that money buys you is really important.  I work a job right now, and apparently I’m good at it, but it takes every moment.  I’ve never worked so hard in my life.  So, I wish I had the time to dig into artistic things.  The more time you spend doing it, the better you get at it.

Candy Simmons and Randy Reyes in How To Cheat {photo by Aaron Fenster}

L: Why did you start Alan Berks & Company?

A:  I like to do certain things in a certain way.  I think you might as well put your name on it, and put it out there, and let people smack you around, because they’re going to smack you around regardless.  It’s possible that I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve gained some kind of credibility with the people who come to see my work.  So, saying Alan Berks & Company makes sense, without seeming too arrogant.  I just want to do some work that is mine, that I think is good, and I want to make it clear that it’s about company, whether that means it’s ensemble based, or work for actors, or collaborating with another designer.  Collaboration is my thing.  It’s a branding things, too- showing people where they can see my work.

L:  What do you want to do next?

A:  The particular experience of doing How To Cheat [recently produced at the Gremlin Theatre] and the response that it’s gotten as been really positive.  We’re selling tickets, people like it, and I love the collaborations I’ve established.  I’m definitely going to do something next year under this name, because I want to continue to build something over time.  I was listening to an interview with Doomtree, and they were talking about how they’ve been making music and collaborating for 10 years, and for the first while there were just 5 people at the show...then 10...and now they sell out shows at First Ave.  So, I’m working on that idea.  I want to do Six Characters In Search of An Author. Set in a reality tv show.

Weekend Acrobatics

December 13, 2011

I like performances that allow me to step into a fantasy world for a little while-- maybe a few minutes, or maybe for an evening.

Maybe this fantasy world involves pizza, a ukelele, unitards, a cardboard cloud formation, Joni Mitchell, and superhero poses. MAYBE.

Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

This past weekend I had a great time having a small role in my friend Eli's dance piece for the Zenon Dance Zone winter performance.  The Dance Zone is Zenon Dance School's performance group, which I participated for several years after college.  More recently, I was a visiting choreographer for the program.  Through the program you can take classes, dance in the work of local choreographers, make your own work-in-progress pieces, and then showcase it all at the end of the term!  The performance consisted of work from brand new choreographers, and also from very established ones.  Like Laurie Van Wieren.

Her piece "I Am Not Comfortable With The Acrobatics", performed by  Stephanie Stoumbelis, Eli Ebbenga, and Missa Kes, stole my heart.  It had me tearing up one moment and then laughing rather obnoxiously the next.   And, yes, Missa played These Boots Were Made For Walkin' on her ukelele while in tree pose.  And I wanted so badly to leave my seat and join their unitard-wearing clan, especially so I could share in their monologue on ass-less chaps.

What makes a good performance?  Attention to detail?  Sincerity?  A sense of humor?  {I think I like not knowing.}

The War of Art

December 10, 2011

I’m working on a grant application.  It doesn’t matter what it’s for, the process is the same: I agonize over work samples with a critical eye, and I battle insecurity as I attempt to articulate what I make and why.

Yesterday I was looking through video footage of my performance piece I Like You, which was produced last June.  Re-watching the work brought me right back to the stress of making it-- the stress of working with crunched time, of coordinating rehearsal schedules and space, of trying to think creatively, but being so anxiety-ridden that it felt almost impossible.  In fact, making that piece completely burned me out.  It was after this burn out that I started this blog to remember what I enjoyed doing outside of art-making, because it appeared that I didn’t know how to make performance in a way that wasn’t completely self-defeating.  You know, without becoming a total anxiety-ridden insomniac that’s battling a constant fear of failure while working on a piece, and without the steep and depressing crash that comes at the end of it all when I realize that hardly anyone saw it, that I’m- once again- in debt over it, and that now...despite the stress...I miss it.

I mean, doesn’t that sound like FUN?!?!  Doesn’t that sound sustainable?  Not really.

I know I’m not the only one who exists artistically in these ups and downs, because I’ve talked to dozens of others.  They are actors, musicians, writers, directors, and choreographers.  They are artists who get trapped in the world of comparison, who get bitter about casting and reviews.  Like me, they get worked up over audience sizes, the money they don’t get paid and the grants the missed out on, and the jobs they hold to support their artistic habit.

A lot of people tell me that these feelings and thoughts are just what go along with being an artist.  I hear the word “passionate” a lot, and words about artists being more prone to drastic emotional ups and downs, and lots of insistence that this is what makes artists good at making art.  And I want to call bullshit on this.  Because, I don’t think that this should be part of what it takes to make good art.  I don’t think that artists are doing anyone a favor by cultivating a style of living that leaves them bitter, jealous, depressed, and anxious.  It feels unnecessary; it feels a bit bipolar.  It eventually leaves us looking at our art like an abusive significant other, when we really have no one to blame but ourselves.

Last week Jen Scott told me about Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, and it’s follow-up book, Do The Work.  I just finished The War of Art, and I have to admit that it pretty much blew my mind and perfectly articulated why I have been unable to make artistic work in a sustainable manner.  And everyone should read it: it’s short, sweet, and applicable to any and all artistic pursuits and entrepreneurial ventures.  And, yes, it does look (and sound) a little self-help-y.  And, he might reference angels at a couple of points.  But, fuck it- maybe we could use some help.

Pressfield offers up a new framework for working as a creative person.  And, he starts with the thing that prevents us from making art in the first place: resistance.  The book starts with saying that to accomplish anything, we must fight resistance.  He most clearly defines resistance as self-sabotage; it is the part of ourselves that gets in our own way, seeks to rationalize our actions, and allows us to over-think our decisions.  Resistance prevents us all from doing the work that we want to do.

So, how do we combat resistance and do the work?

Pressfield writes about combating resistance by thinking like a professional.  He points out that we all know how to think like professionals, because we hold/have held jobs.  He says that a professional...

:: shows up everyday.

:: stays on the job all day.

:: works for money, not for fun.

:: doesn’t over-identify with their work.

:: is prepared to receive praise or blame at work.

What The War of Art then insists goes against what I’ve been taught about being an artist; he says that too much love [for your art] is a bad thing.  He advocates for adopting the attitude of a person who works for money.  And, I think this is pretty brilliant.  I think that when our art is the thing that we love the most and over-identify with, that we can’t find any perspective outside of it.  Suddenly, if the artistic career is going really well, WE are doing really well.  And, if it’s not, suddenly we’re suffering.  That’s a really scary thing considering that a great deal of the artists success is completely out of his or her hands.  All the artist can do is show up and do the work-- every single day.

The goal that The War of Art encourages us to work towards is not some kind of victory.  It isn’t a grant, a producer, a book deal, or a role at the Guthrie, although those things might happen along the way.  The goal is to handle yourself to the best of your abilities- to keep working regardless of fear, without over-thinking and with or without praise.  The goal is to stop thinking hierarchically- to stop thinking in terms of comparing ourselves to the artists around us, and to just do our own work for the work’s sake, rather than attempting to validate ourselves and our artistic calling.  And, that is really, really hard.  In fact, it feels almost impossible.

But I like it.  Because, it means committing myself to finding a sense of identity outside of being an artist, while I continue to make the work that I think is important.  And, it sets up a system of thinking that encourages me to support the work of others without being threatened and resentful of it.  It provides room for creative anxiety and pressure to dissipate, because I know that despite the fact that I will inevitably make shitty work alongside the good work, that I will keep making work regardless.

Obviously, it's really hard to perfect a mindset like this.  And, I think that it’s worth noting that looking at my work samples still made my hyperventilate with insecurity, even after reading the book.  Because, it's hard to get out of my own way.

What do you think?  Are you an artist who has found a sustainable way of working?  Do you think this book is full of shit?  Discuss.

Soup Season

December 7, 2011

I'm fairly good at budgeting lots of thing, but I struggle with the food end.  Food snobbery is dangerous, and so is the endless supply of new restaurants in town.  But, it's the holidays and I'm losing my job for the month of January (fun!), so I'm in budget lock-down mode.  That means we might be eating a lot of this soup, which would be ok by me.  We make a pot at the beginning of the week and eat it for days in a row.  You can serve it over rice.  Or make it with just beans.  Or garnish it with tortilla chips and sour cream.  Or you could probably add whatever odd pantry items you have around.  The spices can be adjusted, depending on what you have, but the clove and cumin are really delicious.

Southwestern Chili

Makes 10-12 servings.  (It's very easy to freeze, or you can halve the recipe)

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 chili- serrano or jalapeno (optional), finely chopped

1 1/2-2 sliced onions

2 15 oz cans of beans (or more if you aren't using some other kind of protein-- I use kidney, pinto, or black beans...or a mix)

2 15 oz cans of corn

8-10 cups of water, veg stock, or chicken stock

1 pound  ground turkey, TVP, or diced chicken in small pieces

1 28oz can of diced tomatoes

1 t. cumin

3/4 t. clove (start with less if you're not sure how much you like)

3/4 t. paprika

3/4 t. smoked chili powder

salt & pepper to taste

1.  In a large soup pot over medium heat, saute together the garlic, onion, and pepper in some olive oil.  Wait until the onion is getting a tiny bit of brown (5-6 minutes).

3.  Add the ground turkey (or TVP or chicken), if you choose to (you can also nix the meat/TVP in favor of extra beans).  Sautee until the pink is out of the turkey (5-6 minutes).

4.  Add the tomatoes.  Stir.

5.  Add the first 6 cups of the water or stock.   You can always add more later.  Add the corn and beans.  Stir.

6.  Add more water or stock if you choose.

7.  Bring to a boil, and then let simmer for 20 minutes over low heat.  Add the seasonings to taste.

Jen Scott: a gold star and a cookie

November 30, 2011

I am unapologetically curious and fascinated by people.  I always like to hear about how people decided what they wanted to be when they grew up (whether making this decision at 10 or 60), and how they made that happen.  Or didn't.  So, I decided to start asking people questions.  And, I started with local actor and comedy aficionado Jen Scott, because I knew she would be nice to me.  (Seriously- people can make me really anxious and uncomfortable.)

And, Jen is a gem.  She is my friend, but everyone I mention her name to agrees-- you leave a conversation with her and just feel a bit lighter.  She is exactly the kind of person I would want to collaborate with artistically , because she's generous.  And positive.  It makes sense that she does comedy improv, because the rule of improv is "yes, AND."  You have to be a yay-sayer.

I realized that, despite having known Jen casually for several years, I actually knew very little about her.  Which was kindof perfect.

So, we talked about unexpected paths, and about how to get out of your own way.  We talked about ambition and risk-taking and how so much of  "making it" (whatever that means) is about persistance and knowing generous people.

L: How long have you lived in the Twin Cities?

J:  It will be 12 years December 1!

L:  What did you move here for?  From Iowa, right?

J:  Yes.  Iowa.  I moved here because I didn’t know what else to do.  I didn’t know what to do in college.  I got a degree in a totally unmarketable Music and a minor in Art and Design and a minor in German- I’m a bass player.  I wasn’t a good music major.  I mean, I got good grades.  If I was really serious about it, I would have gone to another school, though.  So I followed my friends Dave and Becky here.

L:  What did you do when you came first came to Minneapolis?

J:  I worked as Steve Antenucci’s Admin Assistant at Theatre in the Round.  So I was the Assistant Director of Theater, which cracked me up- I had a plaque.  Steve was an angel.  He said, “Do your parents know how much your making working here?  And do you still want to work here?”  He taught me so much.  I also needed a couple part time jobs to stay afloat, so I started box office working at Brave New Workshop.  I ran the box office for Brave New Workshop’s Flannigan’s Wake.

L:  Had you done any improv at this point?

J:  No.  And they offered free classes, and I said "I don’t know what this is.  Sure I’ll take your free class."  I’m very lucky.  I really had no idea what I was doing for at least a good 2 years.  Some people know what they’re doing or know that they can do things- I really had no clue that anyone could be a funny person.  Not that I am a funny person-- I try to be.  But, that you can actually pursue [making a career out of] things like that...I didn’t know that.

L:  How have you transitioned since?  You fully support yourself as an actor and a teacher.  How did this happen?

J:  Out of pure stubbornness.  I started because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for a living, even thought I was taking improv classes...I loved improv.  I took a year of advertising school and thought that might be a career for me.  It got to a point where I had to choose between ad school or improv, because they started backing up against one another.  I could have been more stubborn with ad school- I don’t know if it would have gotten me anything.   But I really enjoyed the connection and the brainstorming support with improv more than all of the guys I was in ad school with.  I didn’t feel the connection.  I couldn’t be myself with them.  So I chose improv.  And then I was lucky enough to have a couple of people say “Jen, you should try this” or “Jen, I think you’d be a good fit for this.”  The teaching was someone saying “Jen, I think you’d be a good fit for the teens”.  So, I was lucky.  And the acting part was similar: a lot of “Oh Jen you should try this” and also a lot of sneaking my way in to shows by playing piano.  People learned I played piano through my accompanying improv, and they would say “Jen, can you do The Minnesota Show?”  “Sure, I’ll do The Minnesota show.  Can I [also] understudy?”  “Ok, I guess.”

And then Flannigan’s Wake was the same way.  “Jen you play piano!” “Can I understudy?”  “Sure.”  And then Mystery Cafe, I’ve been working for them for a number of years, and that started out with piano.  [I told them] I’m a terrible piano player, and that I’d be more comfortable being an actor.  And, luckily they were cool about transitioning me.  And that’s what I do for them now.   So...a whole bunch of different ways of people just giving me a chance.  “Oh, you do improv.  And you’re around, and you’re a nice person.  Do you want to be a nun who cleans plates?  You’re an understudy."

L:  What’s been hard as you’ve transitioned into being a full-time artist?

J:   Juggling.  I’ve always kept myself very busy, and I was going through tax stuff for ’06 or ’08 and, oh my god!  I don’t know how I did all of that.  I was crazy.  It became second nature- I didn’t know anything different.  So...balance has been the biggest.  Along with money stuff.

And, fearlessness.  I have certainly found myself making excuses when I couldn’t [be fearless], and then getting bitter at people who are, and that’s been a good challenge.  And trying to learn how to celebrate the successes [of other actors] and work on my own.  They can do it, I can do it.  There’s room for all of us.  So, trying to get that into practice.

Also, working against [self sabotage].  There are certain things I should be doing to take myself where I want to go, but [then I start asking], do I want to go there?

Have you read The War of Art?  You would love it.  And there’s also a book called Do The Work by the same guy.  They totally express that artistic dilemma.  He calls it resistance.  It’s not just for artists.  Say you want to start a non-profit...anything that will bring you to your dreams, you have to work against is always there, and it’s resistance.  And it’s working against you.  And once you recognize what IT [the resistance] is....then you can figure out how to get past it.

L:  What are your continuing goals?

J: My next goal is working on writing things down to say in front of people, and that feels riskier to me [than improvisation] for some reason...adding “this is a work by” after something.

L: Saying “I thought that this was worth presenting.”

J:  Exactly. That’s a challenge.  I think I need to put that writing in an experimental [mindset] or something that makes it feel ok.  I wrote a bunch of sketches for my sketch group, and it’s all in these early phases, but I’m having a hard time presenting these sketches to my fellow friends...because I’m like, what if they’re bad?  I’m old!  All of my sketches are about making babies now.  But I just have to do it!

L:  So, you said a lot of people have been helpful on your journey.  And you talked about those books.  Is there anything else you think of as ‘god, i’m really glad I found that.’

J:  I love taking workshops.  I’ve taken a lot of workshops that are kinda out of my comfort level, but those have always been weirdly useful to me.  Like I took a Margolis Brown workshop...I gained a lot from just knowing that my body can move that way.

And also, talking to people who have come before me.  I love talking to a number of old school Brave New Workshop-style comedians who still have theatre as a part of their life who I kind of hold as heros.  It’s awesome to meet those people and see where their lives have gone.

Also, having a hubby who tells me to just stand up straight, even thought I hate it when he says that, and who asks “why do you put yourself down when you talk?”  So, i’ve been working on that- on trying to get better about speaking positively about what I’m doing to people, even though I feel like a douche.

“I’m teaching at children’s theatre.”

I always feel like saying it comes off as being better than people, so it’s hard.  Because we’ve all met those people who wear their resumes on their sleeve.

I wonder if maybe when I find myself in conversation, if I need to take a moment and...breathe or ground down or something, and remind myself  “Just be honest.  And be excited for it.”

My friend Ian does it well.  He’s a go-getter, and he's from New York City, and I don’t know how he does it, but for some reason he’s able to talk about things that excite him, and say they’re awesome, and not come across like a douche.  I think that if Ian can do it...can sell himself so well...that we can.   I want to pick up on that.  Maybe we need to practice on eachother.  I’ll tell you what I’m doing, and you tell me, and we’ll celebrate it.
 L:  As you continue to make an artistic life here in Minneapolis, what kinds of things are you working towards? 

J:  I would like to do more stage work.  It felt really good to [perform in] the Red Eye show, so I’d love to continue to try a little more of that.  It would be nice to say “hey, I did that, and I was really proud of that piece.”  I do other things, like Mystery Cafe, which I’m really proud of, but I’m dressed like an old lady, and it’s really fun and stupid and great.  But you know, of course my friends don’t have to come see me in Mystery Cafe at the Ramada Inn at the Mall of America.

I’d love to take more risks,  and try and push myself to get things out...even something stupid like a web video.  So, scripted work and writing web videos and getting stuff out there.  The commedians and actors that I like...they push stuff out there, they get stuff out there and it’s really risky, but they just do it.  And they’re just people.

L:  How did you come up with Camilla Parker Bowls?  And when did you start it?

J:  Oh!  The first one was last January.   I didn’t realize that I stole the idea of improvising from an interview from [Las Vegas improvisor] Matt Donnelly.   I told my friends Jim and Dennis about it.  Jim came up with the name Camilla Parker Bowls, and Dennis added “at the Bryant Lake Bowl”, which we thought was hilarious.  I don’t play a character.  I play a hyped-up version of myself.  I could be this British drag queen, but it’s just me interviewing, and then I turn it over to these three improvisors.  It’s really nice to have a group of engaged funny people talking to someone of interest.  And, everyone’s of interest.  I kinda love that I get to show these 3 improvisors that I love off.  So, most of it is just producing the show.  I like it, it’s easy.  I like doing it.  I like talking to strangers and I like asking questions.  It’s become a very fun and easy thing to do.

In the improv community we all are so bubbled...there are very few who crossover  from acting to improv or improv to acting- there are a couple, but we are so much in a  bubble.  All improvisors are puppies anyway, “can we say yes, and?!”  There aren’t many jerk improvisors because it doesn’t survive well.  No one wants to play with you.

L:  I've noticed that artists have a hard time combining art-making and money-making.  How do you make your art your business?

J:  I decided to start thinking about acting and teaching as “work”.  So, I have 2 jobs today- I work at the science museum as a performer, and I’ve got a show tonight.  And I’ll say “I’m going to first work, and then second work.”  It helps to keep it in that mindset...part of why we work is for money.  There are three reasons to do something: You like it, it makes you money, or it gets you where you want to go.  I try to remember this.

I guess the bottom line is, as artists,  we just have to keep doing it.  And then telling our friends about it.  And strangers.  And then we have to remember to stand up straight.

L: It’s all really hard.

J:  It’s all really hard.

L: We need a gold star.

J:  And a cookie.

L: I can’t wait to see Camilla Parker Bowls.

J:  I hope you like it.  It’s super silly.

If you live in the Twin Cities, you, too, can see Camilla Parker Bowls at the BLB, tomorrow (Thursday) night at 10:00pm.

Liking: Caitlin Moran

November 28, 2011

Personally, I like the fact that we're all going to die.  There's nothing more exhilarating than waking up every morning and going 'WOW!  THIS IS IT!  THIS IS REALLY IT!'  It focuses the mind wonderfully.  It makes you love vividly, work intensely, and realize that, in the scheme of things, you really don't have time to sit on the sofa in your pants watching Homes Under the Hammer. 
--Caitlin Moran--

Just finished How To Be A Woman, and loved Caitlin Moran's sense of humor. And Brit-isms.  I especially appreciated her messages of assurance to those of us who aren't sure we want to procreate.

In other news, I'm back to regularly buying myself flowers.  I highly recommend it.

Grateful For The Surprise

November 26, 2011

I dearly love a good list.  I make them for all occasions, and lately have been writing them on stacks of post-its on my desk at the beginning of each week.

Good at: lists

In case that's not enough, my phone and computer contain a scary number of organizational applications: 2Do, Teux Deux, Springpad, Notes, Reminders.  There are the lists of life plans, of bills and household business, of artistic projects, and of people I want to remember to get in touch with.  It's not obligation that drives me, but a fear that I somehow won't remember to take advantage of the hours in each day; a fear that I will somehow get to the end of my life and realize that I didn't accomplish a lot of the things that I intended to.  Naturally, these lists are also the driving force behind a lot of anxiety and muscle tension.
my youngest brother-in-law.

Thanksgiving marks the anniversary of getting hired at the Birchwood Cafe, the restaurant where I met Ben and a lot of people who have forever changed my life.  In fact, the three years that I worked at the Birchwood were a catalyst for lots of my just-out-of-college growth.  This week I was musing on this time marker and realized how many monumental events have occurred in my life without knowingly or intentionally making them happen.  In fact, I got hired at the Birchwood because a lovely person liked me when I asked for an application, and she wrote a note to the manager suggesting that he hire me.  In many ways, that event was totally out of my control, or at least somewhat unplanned.

Thanksgiving day brunch.

So were others: getting hired to nanny in Wales by two amazing (then) strangers, who have since made me godmother to their kids; choosing to attend college in Minnesota, a state I barely realized existed; taking a class in college that led to a professor giving me my first teaching job, 10 years ago.

My pie.

Other, less magical things have been out of my control, too: the time I was drugged by a stranger in London; a mysterious childhood illness that led to nine blood transfusion; a mugging while I walked home on a Monday night; a series of events from the past year that all seemed to hit when I was too exhausted and anxious to handle them.  At the time a lot of these things, understandably, made me feel powerless because I couldn't plan for them.  But, I look back at them now and realize that they aren't that different from the ones that I can instantly put a positive spin on: events in life that got me here.  And, events that got me here without me muscling too hard to check them off of a to-do list.

Calm woods.

This Thanksgiving we went to Ben's family cabin.  I heard about this cabin often in the two years Ben and I worked together before dating.  As many times as I've been there before, this Thanksgiving I was especially struck by the surprise of this new extension of family- something I never expected or planned for.  It's so nice to remember that there are things in life that we don't have to struggle or push for or insist on-- that some of the greatest things just happen by being present in the right place at the right time and following your gut instinct to the next bridge- the next question.  This makes my little compulsive self breathe a deep sigh of relief. It means that I might get where I need to go (in part) by showing up and living these life questions, and that I can even shove my list to the side sometimes.  It also gives me further incentive to attempt living in the moment, because I've never been able to predict what's going to come next, try as I might.
for family luck.

So, I'm still uncertain as to what life will offer up next.  But, I  have a lot of confidence that it will get me where I need to go.

fall feet.

And, the secret ingredients are....

November 21, 2011

I love food.

I love food so much, and I adore food surprises-- discovering new things to eat, and new ways of cooking them.

This is why I keep watching Chopped.  Yes, Food Network (also available on Hulu for folks like me that don't have cable).  They give the contestants four ingredients for each course, and they get to be creative food geniuses!  Yes, there is drama, and yes, there are sarcastic judges.  But, the food!  I love it!

So, of course, after talking about the awesomeness of Chopped, we got together with buddies and decided to have a little Chopped fun of our own.   And it was great!  Paul and Nicole brought us four secret ingredients, and we gave them three.

Paul and Nicole had to cook with....Pheasant, Oyster Mushrooms, and Bosque Pears.

Yes, pheasant.  I don't think it would ever occur to me to make them cook with Pheasant (I certainly don't know how to cook it, or even where to buy it), but my father-in-law recently went Pheasant hunting, and put five frozen bags of pheasant in our freezer.  Five.  With feathers on.  Hm....

Ben and I had to cook with (cue dramatic drumroll please)....Pomegranate, a hard sheep-milk cheese that I can't remember the name of, Cranberries, and Lamb (cut up as stew meat).

After we revealed the secret ingredients to one another, we drank a bottle of champagne and walked to the grocery store (grocery stores are way more fun after champagne). We got whatever we (secretly) thought we'd need to cook, and came home to get started.

The Final Result:

Paul and Nicole made ginger-marmalade Pheasant with butter sauteed Oyster mushrooms, brown sugar & walnut yams, and wine poached pears with Vanilla spiced ice cream.  (Yes- ice cream!)

Ben & I made a somewhat less sophisticated meal: Lamb Curry with basmati rice, a pomegranate & sheep's milk arugula salad, and cranberry chutney.

Holy awesome in my mouth, that I otherwise wouldn't really think of making.

This made for a really fun way of cooking with friends.  What secret ingredients would you bring to the table?

It Chooses You

November 15, 2011

I spent two years making performances pieces that were inspired by Miranda July's participatory blog Learning To Love You More, and the book by the same title.  Basically, I'm smitten by people: what they do, what worries them, what they aspire to.  I think Miranda July is, too.

Tomorrow is the official release of Miranda July's new book It Chooses You.  It is the real-life account of the people July met through the Penny Saver ads, while writing the script for her movie The Future.  There have been sneak peaks of the book in the New Yorker- beautiful stories of ordinary people.  Naturally, these people are pretty extraordinary, too.  They are like many people that I know and love.

I'm pretty damn excited that my copy of the book arrived in the mail today.

Loving Makes Love

November 14, 2011

I struggled a lot with what to say today—mostly because love is such a force, such a holy mystery– and every person’s experience of loving another is so singular and unique..."

So said our dear friend Betsy, exactly 6 months ago today at our wedding.  Our wedding!  Our wedding, where Ben and I promised to continue choosing one another.

Every day, I become a bit more in awe of that holy mystery; I am amazed at how my heart continues to grow, at how exciting it is to make plans next to and with another person, at the way we take turns buoying the other.

The act of loving is always a risk, and so it seems to make us braver as we continue to do it.  Over and over, the act of loving makes me love more.

Tom Robbins puts it well:

The bottom line is that (a) people are never perfect, but love can be, (b) that is the one and only way that the mediocre and the vile can be transformed, and (c) doing that makes it that.  Loving makes love.  Loving makes itself.  Why waste time looking for the perfect lover instead of creating the perfect love.  Wouldn’t that be the way to make love stay?

Indeed, only love has that kind of power and potential.  You can see it here in this gorgeous video made of friends of friends of ours.  And you can see it here in pictures of our friend Jesse and her wife, Heather.   And today, I celebrate that potential.

Last week I read this on Liz Fabry's blog, which I think perfectly explains the journey I've been on lately:

 [I] thought good and long about what I want from my life. What I want to have. What I want to do. And who I want to be. Then I wrote it all down like I was already living it. It sounds very new age-y, but it was amazingly invigorating.  I don't have it all worked out. I hope I never will. But I can kind of see the woman I want to become. So I'm going to start running towards her with everything I've got right now.

It's exciting running towards the woman I want to become.  And, it's exciting running towards her with the bravery that loving has given me.


November 8, 2011

I have a friend Peter, who is pretty much awesome in more ways that I can write.  He has been kind enough to perform in several pieces that I've make, and he spun records at our wedding.  His DJ name is DJ Tell It To My Heart.  Enough said, right?

When Peter and I were working on the piece I made in June, I was fairly anxiety-ridden.  Actually, I was a mess, because the pressure of making a wedding and a life and an evening-length performance piece at the same time was way too high.  Peter was full of pep talks, though.  Peter had a theory, and I told him that I was going to help him publish a series of books to promote it.  Basically, Peter insisted that if your life seemed like a total wreck, it could probably be fixed- or at least improved- very simply.  For example, when everything seems like a giant crisis, you might really just need to eat.  Or, you might need a glass of water.  Or, you might need to get some more sleep. Basic point: big issues can be corrected with small solutions.

This proved to be the case last week, when an average, albeit grey-weathered, Tuesday appeared to be threatening my new, no-longer-depressed disposition.  I couldn't figure it out.  Nothing particularly bad had happened.  And yet, I was so tired, and inefficient, and unmotivated.  I scuffled to the grocery store, and thought judgemental thoughts about most of the people on the street, and cursed the cars standing still in a long line of traffic, and bemoaned my fate as I experienced the first-world woe of standing in line at the organic grocery store with my cilantro and grass-fed beef.

I also bought some cheese, because at some point I realized I was wondering the grocery store in the groggy-headed way I only do when I'm hungry.

I ate the cheese as I walked home.  And then, it happened quite suddenly:  I started to personify a wilted flower coming to life.  Life seemed suddenly full of possibility, and the overcast day appeared enchanting.  I smiled compassionately at the people waiting at the bus stop.  "I JUST NEEDED TO EAT, people!!!!", I wanted to cry out.  "I had low blood suger!"

It really was a relief.

The next day I wrote on Peter's facebook wall:

Was thinking yesterday that we need to get a jump on publishing your series of Simple Things To Do When Life is Sucking. Yesterday, the two pieces of string cheese I ate turned my life around. 

His response: I hope you are also remembering to get some f*$king sleep and take a f*$king shit! 

I love this guy.

So, if life seems impossible, and it seems difficult to fight for joy, I urge you to consider the following:

*Have you eater recently?

*Are you dehydrated?

*Could you use a walk?

*How is your sleeping these days?

Sometimes, it really is the small things.

Fight for joy!

November 3, 2011

About a month ago Ben and I did an early morning run to the grocery store for coffee beans, so naturally I was bra-less, with a hat covering my dirty hair.  And, of course, we ran into a lighting designer that Ben sometimes works with who wanted to meet me.  (So much for my hat disguise-- small city.)  The guy- Dave- asked what I was working on, and I lowered my eyes and muttered something about a highschool production of Guys & Dolls while shrugging off my words, when he interrupted me.

"Noooo!  I keep telling myself that I have to find something fun in every project.  It's like a game, you see.  I was talking to my Mom on the phone, and she said 'David!  You have to fight for joy!'."

At the time, I just wanted a shower and my bra back.  But, now, I'm thinking a lot about Dave's Mom, and her words.  It's probably because the weather changed.  The endless stream of warm, sunny fall days appear to be coming to an end, and the grey is already messing with my head.  I have to fight for joy, man!!!!!  I have to fight for joy, even when I'm down because my winter coat is pretty much the ugliest thing ever (fondly known in our home as my sausage Mom coat).

So, I made soup.  Because soup is basically joy, and spicy soup is even better.  I like to eat spicy soup with a paper towel next to me reserved only for snotty spice-induced nose blowing.  That's why I like eating soup in the privacy of my home.

My Vietnamese sister-in-law might consider this recipe to be bastardized Pho, conceived by a Minnesotan chef.  But, it tasted like the real thing to me.

Pho (Vietnamese Rice Noodle Soup) the Fast Way from The Splendid Table's How To Eat Supper

I get a regular Pho craving, so I was pretty thrilled to learn to make my own.  I usually eat it with chicken or tofu, but this recipe calls for beef.  You can easily substitute one of the former (as well as veggie stock instead of the chicken stock).  Your first batch might be a little pricy(ish), if you don't keep items like fish sauce and hoisin sauce on hand.  The next batch will be cheap!

For The Broth:

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

One 2-3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

6 whole cloves

1 whole star anise (or 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds)

about 2 teaspoons ground pepper

about 8 cups chicken broth (or veggie broth)

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons fish sauce

For the Soup:

6-8 oz. linguine-style rice noodles

6-8 oz. top round steak sliced extremely thin (you can substitute tofu or chicken)


Cilantro, Thai basil, thinly sliced jalapeno, bean sprouts, lime wedges

1.  Line a cookie sheet with a piece of foil, and scatter the sliced onion, garlic, ginger, cloves, anise, and paper on the foil (note: I ground up the cloves, anise, and pepper with a pestle and mortar).  Toast these under the broiler for 5-8 minutes, turning the onion once as it cooks.

2.  Scrape all of the toasted business in a large stock pot.  Add the broth, sugar, and fish sauce, and bring to a bubble. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

3.  While it cooks, put the rice noodles in a large bowl and cover with hot water for 10-15 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water when they are a little harder than you want them (the broth will continue to cook them).

4.  Divide the noodles between two bowls.  Divide the meat between the bowls (yes- raw!  The broth cooks the beef.)  Top with the broth & toppings of your choice (hot sauce and hoisin sauce, too!).

Happy thursday.  Fight for joy.

Dance for everybody: 9 x 22 at the Bryant Lake Bowl

November 1, 2011

Almost monthly, I make my way to the Bryant Lake Bowl-- a Minneapolis restaurant that has a bowling alley.  It also has a small, cabaret-style theatre, where you can see local dance, theatre, and comedy.  Tickets are cheap ($6-15, depending on the event, with good portion going directly to the performers), and you can sit and drink a beer or eat a grass-fed burger and watch the entertainment taking place on the small stage.  9 feet by 22 feet, to be exact.  From the front row of the audience, you can touch the stage.  I like this intimacy: being a little too close to the person sitting next to me, and reacting together over the performance.

Once a month, local choreographer Laurie Van Weiren hosts a choreographer's laboratory on this stage, aptly called 9 x 22.  She chooses three choreographers to show work, and the choreographers usually span from emerging to established artists.  This month it included Elsie Martin- a first-time presenter-, local favorite Justin Jones, and Angharad Davies, who moved to the Twin Cities two years ago (and is quickly becoming established).

I could write about the pieces shown, but that's almost beside the point:  regardless of the presenters, the night has the same charm.  This month, the performance sold out, and the audience was crammed together (mostly familiar faces, plus the couple of handfuls of people who had come to 9 x 22 for the first time to see a specific performer) and full of babies.  Yes, babies.  Small children, too.  The dance community is procreating these days, and they bring their kids to shows, and I love it.  I love that the kids are taught to view dance, I love that there's the occasional squawk or inappropriate laughter (I do that, too, sometimes).  After each performance, the choreographer comes out onstage with their performers and answers audience questions: Why did you make this piece?  How did you make this piece?  And then the audience is questioned: Did you stay engaged?  What did you see?  What did you care about?

I love this event, because it is teaching us how to view dance, and it is reminding choreographers to consider an audience.  It develops a relationship between performer and viewer.  And, every viewer's opinion matters, not just the people who have been watching dance for years.  I love this event, because each piece is just 10 minutes, and if I find limited interest in it, I can enjoy my beer and the experience of viewing a work up close and personal, and appreciate the artist's intentions.

There is a time and place for seeing art in a big theatre space, paying $30 a ticket, and sitting straight in your chair, kids left at home.  But, I find that there are few times I get back from one of those performances and want to call up my friends (the ones who don't frequently see performance) and beg them to spend the money for a night like this.  I'd rather convince these buddies to spend $6 to see work from three different choreographers we known little about.  It's certainly not just about the performance, but much more about the community created around figuring out how to view it.

(9 x 22 is at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis on the 4th Wednesday of every month at 8:00pm.  Tickets are sliding scale $6-12.  More information can be found here.)

Slow Cooker Sundays

October 26, 2011

Once upon a time, I spent sundays waiting tables.  I used to call it my sunday brunch act.  I calmed strangers who got worked up over waiting until 10 am for their bloody mary or mimosa (Minnesota sunday law), or over their imperfectly poached Eggs Benedict.  Truth: sometimes I feigned empathy.  Usually, I returned home to sore feet- eyes on a beer and a nap.  Monday was known as my sunday brunch hangover, and I showed up to work those days slightly shell-shocked.  It was probably caused by people like Sunday Splenda Woman, whose voice rose into hysterics over the absence of her favorite sweetener at our restaurant-- on her birthday.

Now my Sundays are usually free.  Sundays are really quiet around Minneapolis.  These days, I always feel like the world is granting permission for me to either patter about my house lazily, or stare at the sky from a patio chair at some neighborhood restaurant.  An earlier version of myself would have felt guilty, certain that I should be rehearsing or planning for something.  Now I'm struck by the awesome of sunday.  Sometimes this sunday wonder even means productivity.  This weekend, for instance, we did laundry, grocery shopped, meal planned, brewed beer, slow-cooked, and retired with hulu episodes of Chopped.  Somehow all of those events managed to feel soothing- putting life in order to support the week's events.  My favorite part was the unexpected bike trip back to the co-op for curry powder.  Life seemed all so beautiful, with the colorful, sparse leaves on the trees lining the street that I traveled.  So this was what I was missing when running around reciting the daily omelette?

We made chicken korma in the slow cooker.  Probably the magic of the slow cooker is that you can put a bunch of things in it and dream about the smell for six to eight hours while folding laundry or brewing beer.  The recipe was adapted from 365 days of slow cooking.

Chicken Korma

2 chicken breasts

1/2 C. red cooking wine (optional)

1 large potato

1 large onion

1 can diced tomatoes (it calls for a 14 oz one-- whatever)

3-4 diced cloves of garlic

1/2 t. garam masala

1 t. curry powder

1 t. salt

1/2 t. ground pepper

1 t. chili powder

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 C. Greek yogurt

I used frozen chicken breasts.  If your chicken is thawed, cook it for less time.  Put the chicken on the bottom of the slow cooker.  Top with the garlic, onion, potato, and wine (if using).  Cover it all with the tomatoes and spices.  Cook for 6-8 hrs. on low.

When everything is cooked, stir in the yogurt.  Serve over rice.  Garnish with cilantro, if you like that kind of thing.

The beer kit we bought is from Midwest Brewing.  The process of brewing our beer batch took about 3 hours and filled the house with the smell of malt and hops.  Brilliant.

Sunday seemed to revolve around making a home.  And, lately, I just can't get enough of that.  It is about comfort, and making a place where you can return, even when life gets messy.

To celebrate: transitions, people, Tom

October 21, 2011

Once upon a time it was July.

It was then that I started this blog to rant about art-making and job loss and transitions- to help me remember what was most exciting to me about life.

It has been a gigantic few months.  A lot of it has been really hard, quite frankly.  I have a shit-ton (yes, that much) of empathy for my friends who deal with chronic depression.  Because, even circumstantial depression has been intense.  However, I'm quite excited to report that a lot of my happy is back.  Life is feeling less overwhelming and more exciting pretty much daily.  Which is amazing.  Because now?  Well, I can get excited again about future projects, adventures, and collaborations.  And, being happy makes loving more fun.  And, loving?  Well, that's pretty much the best.

I feel that I owe a lot of my 'happy'- my excitement about life- to the people around me.  There is so much talk these days about shitty people, but I want to write about the fantastic people; The people who are creating, risk-taking, and loving better; The people who are building new businesses, formulating plans, and doing things that sometimes don't make sense; The people who are going back to school, finding solutions, and insisting on making a living doing what they love; The people who are writing down their stories; The people who are honestly admitting that they have no idea what is next in life for them.  I am so damn inspired by the people around me.

Last weekend B & I had a party.  I got to hear the lovely people that we know here talk about life and plans.  I get so excited by their plans!  And, I also got so excited reading about thoughts from people making and living life elsewhere.  It is giving me the courage to put my own ideas into make big plans.

Here are some of the lovely things I read and saw and did this week:

:: Kate Fridkis writing about why she loves being married (my favorite reason being 'freedom'- which she beautifully explains).

:: Emma Freeman's beautiful head shots of my dear friend, Anna.  (Both such talented, gorgeous women!)

:: Molly Wizenberg's pictures from her European trip.

:: Meg Keene's writing about the teamwork of marriage.

:: This print from I Like You, which makes me miss living in Marquette.

:: A surprise breakfast-in-bed.

:: Shooting a film with Ben for our Patrick's Cabaret piece.

:: This writing on arts and capitalism from Minnesota Playlist.

Last, and probably most importantly, I want to mention that yesterday was Tom Poole's birthday.  Tom was a writer, talent agent, director, and all-around funny and amazing man.  He died- far too early- in July.  I last saw him after our production of I Like You at the Red Eye Theater, where he had come to champion our new work.  He was hit by a headlight-less car that night, after getting off of the bus.  He died a week later.  Monday will be the official community memorial service for Tom.

Tom's death was a reminder to many of us that life is short and truly magnificent in all of its imperfection and mystery.  I hate that I need those reminders.  I hate that Tom died, because it seems like such a waste.  He was the kind of person that we would all be good to surround ourselves with; we would be good to armor ourselves with wise and irreverent people like Tom, and also to use them as guides.  I think everyone should read (and re-read) this remembrance of Tom, especially the first part shared by Mo Perry.  Tom's wisdom shines through his thoughts on life, and we're so lucky to have his words.  Twin Cities folk, the memorial service is Monday at 7:00pm, at the History Theatre in St. Paul.  I have a feeling that there will be as much laughter as there will be tears.  Because, well, Tom was a funny man.

People are amazing.  So, go squeeze one.  Happy weekend.

Dude Duckface

October 20, 2011

Ben was in New York last weekend.  It was quiet around here.  I've been single for more of my life than coupled & have lived in two apartments by myself, but I'd forgotten how quiet it can be.

So...I made this cake.

And I found myself square dancing on an uptown street with an awkward 19-year-old boy for my cousin's wedding celebration.

And I visited the cutest store in Minneapolis, where I may or may not have bought us a new print.

And, naturally, I took myself to dinner.

But, I still vote that Ben and his buddies had way more fun.  The proof is in the Dude Duck Face. You see, they made a participatory blog during the one day they were together.  You know what a duck face is, right?  Well, I didn't.  So, maybe you should check out their new blog. Bottom line? That guy I married is fun.

Waldorf Salad, My Way

October 2, 2011

Ben and I are control freaks, even when we cook.  We've minimized kitchen bickering by deciding who's going to be 'captain' for the particular project.  Sounds ridiculous, but it's helpful.  The kitchen captain gets to decide on last minute spice additions, and the overall approach to a cooking project.

I was captain of this waldorf project.  I adapted it from Jamie's America, by Jamie Oliver.  I took his recipe and added chicken, substituted almonds for walnuts, belgian endive for celery, and slightly sweetened the dressing with some honey.  The results were delicious.  Also, it's a nice excuse to use the newly in-season Honeycrisp apples (yum!).  In short- a perfect fall recipe.

(Serves 2)

1/2-3/4 of a pound of sliced chicken breast (sometimes it comes already sliced for fajitas, which is nice)

2-3 large handfuls of different salad greens (butter lettuce or romaine tend to work well, or some frisee...they hold up better to the creamy dressing)

a large handfull of halved seedless grapes (green or red- the sweeter the better)

2 sliced belgian endives

a large handful of sliced almonds

1/2 an apple (Honeycrisp!)

crumbled blue cheese to taste

for the dressing...

1/2 t. dijon mustard

1 T. white wine vinegar

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 T. plain yogurt (Greek yogurt is nice!)

A squirt of honey (to taste)

salt & pepper to taste


Slice your chicken and saute in some olive oil until cooked through.  Place in a bowl, and chill in the freezer or fridge.

In a medium sized salad bowl, mix together the greens, sliced endive, halved grapes, and almonds.

Chop the apple into matchstick-sized pieces.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the dressing, adding olive oil, honey, and yogurt until you like the taste.  My first go was really dijon-heavy, so I continued to add a good bit of additional olive oil until the dressing was really creamy.

Toss the salad in the dressing.

Take the chicken out of the freezer or fridge, and dice into small pieces.

Top the salad with the apple, blue cheese, and chicken, and toss again.


September 22, 2011

Today Kathleen (of Jeremy and Kathleen- a great design blog) posted about things she's working toward: goals, intentions, long-term plans.  I love thinking about these kinds of things, especially since a lot of what I want is still in the process of being created.  I like planting seeds for the future.  I'm awful at having faith in these plans.

I do believe that the process of forming intentions is beneficial in and of itself.  A year and a half ago I started the Day Zero Project, which helps you make a list of 100 things you hope to accomplish in 30 days.  I've already made 50 of these things happen (with a little over a year to go), and I think that a lot of it fell into place by knowing what I wanted.

It's hard to trust process.

Yesterday, over Mamacha at Namaste Cafe I started reading Creative, Inc: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business.  Emma of Emma Freeman Photography  (our wedding photographer extraordinaire) recommended it to Ben & I, and it's really fantastic.  It's nice to dream about putting together a business.  It's nice to make plans. (And, meanwhile I can be inspired by my partner- who recently started a partnership with the Southern Theater!)

And, when I get sick of the business book, I turn to Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life.  It's fantastic- the perfect pairing of recipes with stories (even better the third time around), written by the blogger of Orangette fame.  And, if you look through her book or read through her blog, it becomes obvious that Molly had a lot of plans- and the confidence to make them happen.  I aspire.  (You really should read the book.)

In other news, I made some spicy pulled chicken with pinto beans, the first slow-cooker project.  Delicious.

Tomato Basil Balsamic

September 20, 2011

The new blender is magic & makes for fantastic salad dressing experimentation.

Have I mentioned how much I like salad?  It is my favorite food.  And, yes, I know how lame that makes me sound.  But I don't just like ANY salad-- I like an adventurous salad.  And this is the perfect dressing for such a salad:

2 T. Balsamic

2 T. Olive oil

1/2 a medium-sized ripe tomato

1 clove garlic

3-4 leaves fresh basil

A squirt of honey (1-2 t.)

salt & pepper to taste

Mix it all up and the blender.  If you want something REALLY delicious, add a few bleu cheese crumbles.

Now maybe Ben will share his recipe for the PERFECT burger, which I enjoyed on an english muffin, next to roasted potatoes and some mixed greens?

A wedding-- the way you want it.

September 17, 2011

Two of my best lady friends are getting married in the coming year, and I'm completely thrilled to get to celebrate their weddings with them!

The search for a wedding that felt, um, comfortable was at times really challenging for Ben & I.  The wedding world is a strange one, with a lot of pressure, a lot of magazines, and a lot of blogs picturing cosmetically perfect events that looked very foreign to me.  Sure- you love cake?  Have a great cake.  You and your partner like birds?  Well, have a bird-themed wedding!  We wanted to make a really great party- the kind we like...with karaoke.  And writing a ceremony that felt like us was really, really important.

Luckily, I discovered a community of people that reaffirmed my belief that you can have any kind of wedding you want.  You can, in fact, take and leave traditions as you choose without the wedding police coming out to get you.  You can also re-create traditions and make them your own.  This whole process (regardless of the general chaos) can be a really lovely time to decide what's important to you and your partner- to share a creative collaboration and learn compromise (since Ben and I both like to be in charge).  So, I put together a list of books and websites for Shelley and Mary- things I wish we'd found right away when Ben and I decided to have a wedding.  I think it would have made a lot of things simpler...


A Practical Wedding: Written by NYU theatre graduate Meg Keene (I'm partial to the artists),  A Practical Wedding believes in minimizing wedding bullsh*t.  They advocate for every kind of wedding, and spend more time emphasizing what comes afterwards.  You know, the marriage.  Some of my favorite posts:

:: On reclaiming the word 'wife'.

:: Good advice from East Side Bride.

:: On the self-full wife.

:: Sanity on wedding details.

:: Meg's advice, based on her own wedding.

Offbeat Bride: Exactly what is suggests, Offbeat Bride will support your Starwars-themed wedding.  There are also lots of good resources listed for everything from ceremony readings to venue possibilities based on your location.  I especially liked this post about planning a budget wedding.

You'll soon discover that everyone and their mother made a blog about planning their wedding.  It's nice to have community, but looking at too many possibilities can be totally overwhelming and unhelpful.


Ariel, who started the Offbeat Bride website wrote a book, and it's great.  Check it out: Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides.

Meg, of A Practical Wedding has also written a book, which is coming out in January.  A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration.  

Um...the idea of 'marriage' felt really loaded to me.  Maybe it's because I have divorced parents?  Maybe it's the whole institution?  I don't know-- but I read a lot of feminist literature.  Maybe this is your thing, and maybe it's not.  I read about transitions...

Some books on this stuff:

The Conscious Bride, by Sheryl Paul.

The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-First Century, by Anne Kingston.

The Bitch In the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood and Marriage, by Cathi Hanuer.

Ok- so those are my suggestions.  Here's wishing you a smooth launch into marriage!  {Photos by Emma Freeman}

How post-modern dance is made

September 6, 2011

"We need to decide on a publicity image.  And on a title.  In the next hour."

"You need to stop stressing out about this.  This is supposed to be fun.  We don't need to do anything.  What did you say you wanted to call it?"

"It was a stupid name.  We shouldn't use it.  Prize Pumpkin."

"Let's do it.  Let's make a dance about a f*cking pumpkin.  It's being performed in October, after all."

"Do you mean in a metaphorical sense?  The pumpkin?  Let's make a dance about the idea of a pumpkin?  Like, what it represents?"

"Metaphor is dead.  I mean a pumpkin.  Let's make a dance about a f*cking pumpkin.  How do you grow a pumpkin?"

"We should research it."


"Well, I think that's good for this meeting."

Prize Pumpkin is being performed at Patrick's Cabaret in October.  We aim to make this piece while being totally diplomatic with -and nice to- one another so that we can, you know, stay married and keep liking each other and shit.

© This is the Blog That Laura Wrote All rights reserved . Design by Blog Milk Powered by Blogger