Tuesday, September 2, 2014

State Park #8: Whitewater SP

I needed to get into nature--nay, I craved some nature. After visiting Colorado in August, I yearned to go hiking and climbing and do whatever else you do among trees. Not just walking around a lake; I wanted elevation! I almost gave up that I'd find that in Minnesota. Not that the parks aren't green and vibrant here. They just lack that mountain-y feel.

I got a tip from some coworkers to check out Whitewater State Park near Rochester (Southeast MN) since it has bluffs with views. I had a day off from working at the County Fair so off I went on an Friday adventure. I wanted a park semi-close so I could still sleep in a bit. I had a full jumbo mug of coffee and an audiobook loaded.

I pulled into the Whitewater parking lot not knowing what to expect. I popped into the park shop, had a quick, non-informative conversation with a teenage worker and grabbed a map.

It was an absolutely beautiful day. Humidity was low, sunny but not hot, and a cool breeze. I did the Coyote Point Trail. It started with a steep climb--literally, wooden stairs straight up--that hugged the some dolomite rock walls. I squealed with glee that I was actually climbing albeit stairs. The climb led to a trail covered with oak and maple trees. Although I would have loved hiking with John or other friends, I enjoyed taking my time and going at my own pace. I could star at pretty flowers and listen to the birds. And I hardly saw anyone else around. I had "The Only Living Boy in New York" by Simon and Garfunkel strumming in my head (Thanks to The Current) which made for quite a nice one-song soundtrack to my day.

I sighed with relief and contentment at the first bluff I perched on. This is exactly what I needed. I needed to look down on the world to feel at home *insert joke about me being judgmental*. Whitewater has plenty of overlooks, but it also has surprising meadows that pop out of nowhere, too, full of wildflowers and bird boxes.

After finishing the Coyote Trail, I didn't want to stop hiking so I kept chuggin' to the Chimney Rock outlook. Then I saw I was close to a lookout called Inspiration Point. How can you not go to a place called Inspiration Point? Worth it! My faith in Minnesota has been restored.

I'm very satisfied to add Whitewater State Park to my state park countdown.

The first flight of forest stairs
Rock beats paper? 

Chimney Rock

Whitewater River

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Kayaking in Wisconsin

Back in one of those cold months like February or March, I saw a Groupon for kayaking with River Kayak Guides. What do you do in winter but dream of the things you'll do when it's not winter? And a 2 for 1 kayak trip sounded just right! I immediately purchased one for me and John then convinced my co-worker/conspirator to buy one for him and his wife.

Then months went by....

Then I realized we only had like 3 weeks to use these suckers! It was summer!

Perfect beer holder
John, Steve, Cerina, and I played hookie on a perfectly warm June Friday and headed towards Wisconsin. Our half day water excursion started in River Falls, WI, which from what I hear is quite the party area. As Cerina said, "[Kayaking] is the most grown up thing I've done in River Falls!" Our kayak company met us and four others to unload boats and push off down the Kinnickinnic River. It's mostly protected along the riverbanks so you don't see cars or roads or any other civilization. As the Kayak Guides website informs us:
"The lower canyon of the Kinnickinnic River is a natural spring-fed class I trout stream that runs approximately eight miles from River Falls to the St. Croix River. The river has little to no development and is actively protected by the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust."
Our 8 mile adventure couldn't have been better....well for everyone but John. The water was moving steadily, our kayaks had beer holders, and the weather was a perfect 80 degrees. I can't image the river being any shallower, which apparently, it gets. Our boats hit the bottom multiple times. John hadn't been kayaking in a looong time (maybe never, but he won't admit it), so he was a little rusty. He did alright for the most part except for a tree that wanted to take him out. Luckily, Steve was near by to help him out. Damn trees.

I had a fantastic time! I recommend River Kayak and the Kinnickinnic River. It took about 3 hours to float down. We topped off our adventure with a Diary Queen Blizzard. Best Blizzard of my life! Don't ask how we felt the next day. It wasn't pretty.

Summer To-do #20-- Done!!

This is an inside joke for Alicia.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rockin' the Garden

The high mark of summer in Minneapolis is checking out the line-up at Rock the Garden, a festival sponsored by The Currect radio station and the Walker "Arts" Center. This year they stretched the one day fest into a two-dayer, June 21-22. Sadly, even with two days chalked full of diverse music, none of the bands really appealed to me. I would've chosen Sunday for Spoon and Guided by Voices, but John and I wanted to spend the annual event with our co-Garden groupies, Rachel, Jenna, and Sarah. Saturday was when they wanted to go, so be it!

Rock the Garden is nestled on the hilly green next the arts center. In case it's not obvious, the fest is all about spending hours lounging on a picnic blanket, drinking beer and listening to music. We had a perfect spot on the lawn that was graced by the shade first.

John and I used our earned adulthood to have not just one but TWO Talenti ice creams as our main meal. Sarah B. devoured an extra-long corn dog. I also enjoyed Nitch's Kitchen's New Zealand meat pie. Yum! We were in luck this year since a friend of a friend was in the VIP tent where the Summit beer flows free.

The only band I though I might like to see was Best Coast, a surfer rock band that reminds me a bit of The Breeders. Sadly, I wasn't really impressed. They played fine but it was nothing to get excited about. Jeremy Messersmith put on a good performance but it's not my thing. Lizzo and De La Soul were respectable acts that I probably would have never seen if it hadn't been for Rock the Garden. The band that did rock my socks off was Matt and Kim. Holy Mother. They were amazing! They owned that audience. Kim stood on her drums to play them. They gave out balloons to the audience to heighten the visual stimulation. They had people crowd surf backwards. Cats and dogs were living together. Mass hysteria. 

I, of course, was impressed with the recycling and composting managed by Eureka Recycling with a zero-waste goal. They work with the vendors before hand to make sure the only things served are recyclable or compostable. There were a few surprises like the Talenti ice cream wrappers and balloons that Matt&Kim threw out to the crowd.

Things to Do #10 done! 

Sarah B and her 'dog
Can't beat the view

Girls with Post-It mustaches

Matt and Kim rocking out
Free water from City of Mpls

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Movie + Park + Friends

This is the best representation of Movies in the Park from the always-right-on The Onion:

Nation's Boyfriends Dreading 'Free Event in the Park' Season

I wonder if John feels the same. I'll err on the safe side and just not ask. I'll assume he enjoys it as much as I do.

Movies/Music in the Park is a full fledged must-do in the Twin Cities. I guess when you have the best park system in the U.S., you have to do something with them. Here are all the organization/businesses offering free movies in metro parks:
Lucky for us, ThrillList put together all the above movie schedules into a neat little package. Suburban cities have even gotten on this cinema bandwagon. Some items to not forget with movie-watching in the park:
  • Blanket
  • Tarp to put under blanket
  • Bug spray!!!
  • Drinks (water and other...)
  • Snacks or cash to buy food from food trucks
  • Sense of humor--don't come to a park movie if you can't tolerate some talking, audience participation, or airplane flyovers

We just completed the grand month of June and John and I have already been to two movies in the park. That's pretty remarkable considering it's been raining almost every day and most parks are underwater.

Our first flick was in celebration of Jess (John's sis) and Dustin's 20th anniversary. We all met at Van Cleve Park in Northeast for "front row" seats to The Goonies. Although you're not supposed to bring alcohol, you can generally sneak in canned beer or disguise it in some way. It was a perfect evening of family and an 80s movie. Heeey Youuuu Guuuuuys!

The second movie we check out was Rent at Lake Harriet Bandshell to kick off Pride weekend. We should have ridden bikes to this one because parking is always a cluster fuck. It wasn't too bad this time since we arrive way early. We staged some delicious ice cream from Bread & Pickle (a Hennepin County Environmental Partner) and cozied up with friends on our patchwork of blankets. I've got to say I wasn't too impressed with Rent although the singing was phenomenal; lyrics not so much. But I loved being there!

What else should we see this summer?

Grease, Back to the Future, Top Gun, Beetlejuice, League of Their Own? Too many to choose from!

Number 3 on the Summer To-Dos knocked off!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Peanuts and Cracker Jacks

A warm September evening, John took me to my very first baseball game. It was our third date and the night I realized this was more than a new-city fling. That might be why I have fond feelings for baseball or at least the Twins.

In less than two years, I've been been to around 10 games, all at Target Field. I love going! It helps that the stadium has great recycling, diverts all its food waste behind the scenes, and reuses water for the field.

Seeing the Twins play will be on my summer to-dos for the foreseeable future. This year I made a specific task of eating some peanuts and Cracker Jacks (#15 on the list) at the game. This June 5 game was my third of the season and I was enjoyed the evening with John, my friends/co-workers and company. John and most of the group got their early to get a free Puckett jersey which is a big deal apparently.

Towards the third inning of a very looong game against the Brewers, I busted open my bag of Cracker Jacks. Sad news: no more box and an insufficient amount of nuts. Semi-good news: there's still a prize. I got myself a sparkling Orioles sticker. Oh yeah.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The 2014 Summer To Do List

I don't want to get lazy in my second summer in Minnesota. Germaine and I agreed to make a list to live this summer as if it's our last. She might be moving in the fall and wants to enjoy every minute. I just like making lists and checking things off. Last year, I accomplished 18 of the 25. 

Let the fun begin...

Check out the list of 25 here

Monday, May 26, 2014

State Park #7: Lake Maria

John and I wanted a weekend away since I've been travelling quite a bit or busy with work/volunteering. We spontaneously decided to get away for the weekend. We looked at B&Bs and historic hotels within a few hours of the Cities. The only one in our price range that was available was the Palmer House in Sauk Centre, home to Sinclair Lewis and his Main Street. The hotel left much to be desired although it did have quite the Jacuzzi (yay!) and the attached pub was delicious.

On our way back home, we found the nearest state park to explore: Lake Maria State Park a little south of St. Cloud (about an hour from Minneapolis).

The park was just starting to emerge from winter with birds celebrating and flowers scattered about. Lake Maria is a big woods forest which means it has old-growth trees of maple, basswood, white and red elm, red oak, tamarack, and red cedar on the banks of numerous lakes. This section of Big Woods used to connect all the way to Nerstrand Big Woods in southern Minnesota. John and I visited that park last fall.

An unexpected characteristic of Lake Maria is the endangered Blanding's turtle that lives in park. I chuckled when we passed the "Rare Turtle Crossing" sign posted on the road. Then a mere 10 seconds later we saw a turtle crossing the road! (No wonder you're almost extinct turtle--get out the way, yo!) We found out later that guy was probably just a painted turtle. Blanding's turtles have yellow spots and are extremely shy (self conscious?).

I didn't bring adequate shoes with me so we ended up walking on a few of the "interpretive" trails. I use quotes because they weren't really interpretive. One trail had numbers that you followed but didn't really match to any info in the given brochure. Still, it was a beautiful day for a hike (walk).

First state park of the year! I'm still working towards my State Park Countdown.

Signs of Spring

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Parade Engagement or How I got lucky on St. Paddy's Day

As requested by some of our out-of-state friends, here's the excitement of John and my
engagement at the St. Patrick's Day Parade. More photos and video to come!

Jenny's perspective: 

John asked me to take St. Patrick's Day off of work so we could go to the parade. I just thought it was 'cause he was a crazy Irishman. But I did it anyway (with encouragement from Rachel) to make him happy. We arrived about a half hour early to stand around for awhile with his family and a few of our friends. The parade started at noon, and it was pretty normal: a bunch of people dressed in green walking down the street; tall boys of Guinness; and bagpipes blaring. Fun to be had by all!

After about 30 minutes of the parade, the St. Paul City Council group passed by. John got in front of me and went down on one knee. I thought he was taking a picture. Then suddenly a sign from the city council group was coming towards us. I thought the parade was coming was coming at us--I was so confused! Then I saw the sign and it said "Jenny, John has a question for you". I looked down and John was holding a box and opened it to a diamond ring. He asked "Jenny, will you marry me?" I screamed/exhaled/laughed and said "yes!". He got up and slipped the ring on my finger. I hugged him and buried my smile in his shoulder.

I looked around and everyone was smiling and saying "Congratulations!" and cheering. I saw a banner being held up behind me that said "She said yes!". To add to the excitement, a large camera appeared next to us. The news heard what was happening and came over to interview us (it didn't end up airing). Crazy! I can't believe I could put together a coherent sentence (well maybe I didn't). I must have been bright red!

My friends, Germaine and Rachel, appeared out of nowhere and John's friend, Jeff. They were across the street waiting. Is this happening!!? Well we definitely couldn't watch anymore parade after that. We headed down to the pub to start celebrating!

I am completely honored and humbled that so many people would go to such lengths to make our day possible. I know John is a wonderful, caring, supportive person. And it shows in the company he keeps. I am so blessed to have him in my life. I've said it before, but I'll put it down on "paper": the universe pulled me to Minneapolis for a reason.

John's perspective:

I first came up with the idea to propose on Saint Patrick's Day (now sometimes known as John Ward Day) back in July of last year. The first people I told were my coworkers Stacey and Kelley. They thought it was a good idea. My original thought for the place to propose was at Merlin's Rest (a bar in Minneapolis) where we met back in September 2012. I was going to do it in front of the whole bar. But late last year my sister Jessica suggested I use the Saint Paul Saint Patrick's Day parade. Since we would probably know several people in the parade she also suggested we put them to use.

So over the months we formulated a plan. We would make a sign that would alert Jenny to the proposal happening. The next step was to figure out who would carry that sign in the parade. I immediately thought of my friend Nicole who works for city council member Chris Tolbert. I asked her to see if he would be interested in carrying the sign for me. Then I also enlisted another city council member Amy Brendmoen to be the other person to hold the sign. They both quickly agreed and we were off to the races!

Slowly the plan began to take shape. About a month ago Jessica and I went to Joann Fabrics and Home Depot to get supplies to make the banner. We spent probably about an hour at Joann Fabrics alone. The most difficult part was choosing what fabric to work with. Finally I decided a simple white fabric that had shamrocks in the pattern. It fit perfectly with the theme of the day. Next up we chose a few decorations to go on the fabric. Lastly, we stopped at Home Depot to buy paint to make the sign come alive with color.

Some of my family got together a few days later to put the signs together. I say signs because we collectively decided to make a second sign that I will explain a bit later. So on a cold Saturday morning my mother, father, sisters, nieces, brother-in-law, and aunt got together to make the signs. After a little back and forth we decided the first sign would say: "Jenny, John has a question for you". The second sign would say "SHE SAID YES!!". So over about 6 hours we traced, cut, played with Mircosoft Word, glued, and painted. Now when I say "we" I don't mean myself. I know my limitations and got together a crack staff of crafters. The signs came together beautifully! (Oh and special thanks to Dave Zaffrann for being my excuse for being gone all that day. We were "watching soccer" at a bar downtown.) After the sign took longer than we thought I had to tell a lie (which I hated doing) and tell Jenny that my sister's car broke down and that I had to go help her. Sigh...

Now over the past month I was able to enlist a lot of help with various tasks that I needed on Saint Patrick's Day. My friend Alex agreed to take care of all communications (texts, emails, phone calls) for the day so that I could concentrate. Nicole took care of communicating where the city council group was and let Alex know so that I could be ready when they arrived. Two of Jenny's best friends, Germaine and Rachel, were lurking in the crowd (out of sight) so that they could take pictures and then surprise Jenny afterward. My friend Jeff came down from Fargo and took pictures and also hung out with me the night before to help me remain calm. Lastly, Alex's wife Erica agreed to be my official videographer of the proposal. This was a team that had my back.

The day of the parade my father drove us down to the parade. I was worried about not getting down there on time so I had set a very firm time for us to be there. We ended up being at the designated spot at 11:30 (on time!). Some of family and Alex/Erica were already there. They had staked a terrific upfront spot at the corner of 5th and Market in downtown Saint Paul. The parade began at noon and of course I was incredibly antsy. The excitement and nervousness were both coming to the forefront but overall I was able to maintain my composure.

Nicole let Alex know throughout the parade where they were in relation to the designated spot. I was ready. The signs were ready. The City Council group made it to our spot around 12:25. I waved the group over to us as they came nearer. Then Jenny saw the sign. I've never seen a bigger look of confusion in my entire life. As she realized what was happening I got down to one knee. I struggled to get out the words that I wanted to but eventually settled on "Will you marry me?" I suppose those are the words that matter the most! SHE SAID YES! Above her Jessica and my friend Tammy unrolled the sign "SHE SAID YES" sign! It was perfect timing. All around me I could hear whooping and cheering from the entire crowd as they figured out what happened. I slipped the ring on Jenny's left ring finger. Now this was no ordinary ring. Jessica had allowed me to our Grandma Keldsen's engagement ring. She had been given it by my mother and aunt years ago. Jessica knew it was a special day and allowed this additional special thing to happen. I can't thank her enough.

After the proposal was finished we were surrounded and engulfed by people. So many friends and family members congratulating and hugging us. It was amazing. I've never felt so loved or cared about. But the thing I couldn't get over was how both Jenny and I could not stop smiling. We both seem to know that this was right and that we had both found our special someone. Her and I took a moment after the parade to just look at each other and be happy. It was one of those moments I will never forget. She's the one for me and there was no doubt about it.

But all of that was the easy part. Now we have to plan a wedding and life. That's going to make all my planning look like child's play.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Look Back and Smile Forward (Part II)

Now for the fun part: thinking about all the hanging out, trips to foreign lands, new skills and maybe a few tears.

Party like it's 2014

A regular weekend coffee date with Alicia

I can't wait to see where this whole John thing goes. Buckle up, internet! I will continue to work on our communication (me=not being condescending; him=being patient).

I want to continue to keep in touch with all my friends. I miss them still and will think of new ways to let them know that. (carrier pigeon? stripper-gram?) Thank god for Skype!

I promise to go out more to meet new people. Maybe a book club, sewing class, outdoor adventure gang, boardgame nerdout.

I haven't seen my Texas family in over a year. I'd like to go see them and catch up and get mad at them and then make up.


I'd like to help out more with Sierra Club especially the Communications Team. Maybe dabble in some outings.

I want to become fluent in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop or at least make some cool flyers and edit pictures of my cats.

Home & Budget

John and I are apartment shopping. This will be our first time picking out a place, which might require some extra hard communicating (see above).

I want to play in the dirt again with John and maybe even grow some veggies. Our new apartment will probably not have a yard so we'll  be back at the community garden--not that I'm complaining.

John and I have continued to cook at home (with a few arguments) and have enjoyed healthy, yummy meals. Not surprisingly, we've saved some cash and cooked up some love (oh yeah). I'm hoping against hope that our new place will have a gas stove and a regular sized fridge.

Continue paying down debt. As many people know, I'm not ashamed to discuss my debt and foolish spending habits. (Of course I need to spend $30 in China-dollar-zone at Target.) I pledge to keep using the envelope method to increase my savings and pay off my Capital One card, ENT Loan and possibly my Lowe's credit card this year.

Spiritual & Intellectual & Physical

I NEED to find a yoga studio I like. I tried out 4 different places last year, yet nothing has appealed to me. I was spoiled at Fountain of Health with inspirational instructors that I could trust. But in the Land of 10,000 yoga studios, there has to be one that fits me (and is reasonably close and affordable).

Write in my journal more. I know it helps me tease out frustration and relieves some emotional constipation. I need to turn off the TV and pick up a pen!

Complete my Goodreads goal of 20 books. I probably could read more if those pesky Game of Thrones books ever ended. I read some amazing books this year. Fave fiction: The Poisonwood Bible Non-fiction pick: Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

I'd like to continue to blog. I think it might just be for me. I have no subscribers and don't get too many comments. Yet I feel a little more accountable for my goals and I like sharing my new life with my old friends.

More bikes, more hikes. I can't live in the #2 most bike friendly cities and not bike. I will bike to the lightrail in the summer and take that to work at least once a week. Two birds: save the world and firm my butt.

I will complete some of my cross stitch and craft projects that have been on the back burner for quite some time. They're probably burnt by now...

Experience & Travel 

So many places to go, so little money and time. Hopefully my budget skills will allow me to go to
these places this year:

  • California! in February with John to see Monica in LA, Sandi in San Francisco, Robin in Sacremento, and whales in the ocean
  • San Diego for Moriah & Kimberly lesbian beach wedding 
  • Visit Colorado to see everyone! 
  • The Big D to see my family (That's Dallas for everyone outside of Dallas)
  • Pop down to Branson to visit my mum 
  • The big trip: Ireland in the fall with John for some Gaelic action 
I will also stop into five Minnesota state parks to mark off my list and get to know my state. 

More music, art and all that cultural crap. I must take advantage of Minneapolis as a nest for new acts and shows galore. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Look Back and Smile Forward (Part 1)

As you know, I love traditions. One activity I've been able to keep up is reviewing the past year and looking at the future every new year with my best friend, Alicia. The last two years we've had to Skype but that hasn't stopped us! Here are my 2013 revelations and my 2014 expectations.

2013, you blew my mind! 


Simply said, I got to be with John. We created adventures, fought about trivial things (cheese?!), and decided to move all of our crap together for better or worse.

Friends, new and old. 

I made many great friends in Minnesota that I'm thankful for. Rachel, Germaine, and I have explored this strange Midwest world and had quite a few laughs because of it (you drive on ice?!). Couchsurfing, Sierra Club, work and volunteering have opened the doors for me to ask the hard question, "Hey...so...you wanna hang out...or something?"

I had quite a few visitors to my new home: Christina in January, Alicia in March, Julia in April, Mom in June, and Hannah in September. I hope to have many more visitors in 2014! (Hint: get your ass over here)

Explored my new home. 

With my new MN drivers license, I zoomed across the Cities and state to visit friends, go to events, and check off state parks. I got out during the winter to an kite festival on a frozen lake, ice fishing and ice skating. My summer was filled with To-dos (I did 18 of 25--not bad)

I turned 30!

I still feel like I'm 28. That's a good age. But alas, I'm going into my forth decade on this earth. My birthday was insanely awesome! A week of events with friends culminating in a surprise visit from Hannah for the big day. (Credit: Thanks John for my awesome birthday gift of Hannah.

I had longed to go to Italy for my 30 birthday with my sister, but that idea floated away when I couldn't make the finances work. Instead, Julia and I went to Costa Rica. I had dreamed of going since I learned about the cloud rain forests in elementary school. It was an unexpected and completely amazing trip.

Screw you, credit cards!

I am proud to say I met with a financial counselor from Family Means, a non-profit to help with your budget and debt management. I held to my budget and cash-only spending the whole year (a few hiccups occurred) and was rewarded with paying off 2 of my credit cards. I'm tired of being in debt and finally feel like I have control. I didn't use credit once last year even though I had many unexpected expenses pop up.

And now for 2014....