An Ode to Teachers

Here I sit. Sipping my coffee, a black Lab nestled in close, slowly starting my day. Being the natural planner that I am, my mind starts to put the hours in order. “Coffee now, eat a little something, read a little, get a workout in, shower and then head to mentoring.” I can feel the last item on my mental to-do list in my stomach.

When I first was hired to be a mentor/tutor at a local elementary school, I was excited and immediately romanticized the position. I had visions of my reading books to a small group of first and second grade girls. (Insert record scratch.)

Instead, my reality is this: eight fourth and fifth grade boys who literally NEVER stop moving. Or talking, or yelling, or texting, or running, or punching, or flirting. Nothing could’ve prepared me for their force of energy.

On top of all that, our tutoring program is specifically for new Americans. Most of my boys moved to US in the past two years under the status of refugee. This background adds many layers to an already challenging session.

Some of the older boys are having trouble adapting to the American school system – let’s just say they make frequent trips to the principal’s office. If the boys have secrets to tell or if they’re plotting anarchy, they simply speak in their native tongue. They also love getting away with saying naughty words in different languages in front of me. It’s only with the help of a few sweet, tattletale girls that I figure out what these words are.

And then there are the anger issues. Like all little boys, they like to push and play fight, but sometimes things get real very quickly. Insults are hurled at each other that I don’t understand, sweatshirts come off and punches are thrown. Yes, this has happened. Three times now. And I’ve physically had to hold two tiny, very angry boys apart.

Once the adrenaline has subsided in all of us, we try to talk it out, separate everyone and move on.

I can’t help but think there’s something more behind all the bad behaviors these boys are exhibiting. I’ve seen the sweet personalities that make brief appearances. I’ve seen the child-like excitement that crosses their face when we play a new game or learn a new word. Where is that boy all the time?

I can’t even begin to imagine what their lives have been like, what home is like or who they are outside of school. But some people can. There are school social workers and ELL teachers who are paid to help these kids succeed.

All I can do is try to connect with them during the manic three hours that we share Monday through Thursday. This task is tiring and overwhelming. How can I connect with these kids when I need to constantly reprimand them? Soon I’ll become another authority figure with too many rules.

And this thought brings me to something that crosses my mind every time I see my kids: Wow, I have the utmost respect for teachers. For the teachers who have kids like mine in their classes and do everything they can to understand the little person who is acting out. For the teachers who are compassionate and excited to show the world to their kids. For the teachers who have patience and empathy and see potential rather than “difficult” students.

I admire all the teachers of my past and present. You are doing invaluable work in this world that too many times goes without thanks.

So thank you. You are truly an inspiration.

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A Year Like This One

As you may have heard, we’ve had sub-arctic temperatures around Hotdish & Catfish-land these last few days. Waking up to -25 degrees sure does make one think about summertime. So, in an effort to cure my winter blues, I’ve been scouring the web for things to look forward to in the coming year. Thankfully, it hasn’t been a hard task; 2014 is shaping up to be a great year! Here’s to hoping this list will help you look forward to warmer times, too.

Art:

f_4591130_1Two things are on my radar: The Walker Art Center’s Claes Oldenburg exhibit, which has actually been around since the fall and  *gasp* it closes this Sunday! I’m already prepping for a busy weekend, but mark my words, I’m getting there! The second is a Minneapolis Institute of Arts exhibit opening on February 23rd: Matisse, featuring over 50 paintings and sculptures, and 30 prints. The perfect way to brighten a cold day!

Movies:

Some of my favorite books are becoming movies: The GiverGone GirlThe Fault in Our StarsMockingjay (Part 1) from the Hunger Games series. If any of these sound unfamiliar to you, get to your local bookstore ASAP!

Music:

Justin Timberlake is coming to town, and I AM GOING TO BE THERE SCREAMING LIKE A FANGIRL. Tickets are purchased, t-shirt ideas are being brainstormed. It’s going to be great.

Books:

12396528The year started off great with Kate DeCamillo, author of some truly incredible children’s and young adult books (and St. Paul resident!), being named Ambassador of Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. Check her books out – you’ll love them. In other news, one of the coolest stories I read in 2011 was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It has some of the spookiest illustrations (photographs, really) since the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. And as everyone knows, those books are seriously creepy. Anyway, Miss Peregrine’s follow-up, Hollow City, comes out next week.

Theater:

Just last week, Tom, a friend of ours, and I ventured to the Brave New Workshop for their annual holiday sketch comedy show. Though this may seem counterintuitive to my thoughts of warm weather, I can’t wait to go back next December and see what that hilarious group of people thinks up! It was like watching a ‘best of’ Saturday Night Live performance – we couldn’t stop laughing!

Television:

One of my favorite shows is back (on February 14th no less): House of Cards. It took me a bit to get used to this intensely dark Netflix show, but by episode eight I was hooked and binge-watching like a pro. So, you know where you’ll find me on Valentine’s Day (sorry, Tom!).

74703_10151700760917710_1519563359_nGardening:

Last summer, I went on the Tangletown Gardens tour with my mom and her friend. It was incredibly inspiring to see how landscape designers work their magic on intimate backyards around the Twin Cities. The tour takes place every July. Last summer, temps dropped into the 50s and it drizzled all day. Now, in retrospect, that sounds like a heat wave. Can’t wait to see what’s in store this year!

New Breweries:

Just last month, the Twin Cities became home to a brand new kind of brewery: Sociable Cider Werks, which focuses entirely on cider! Sold. I’m already impressed with our sheer number of tasty craft brewers. Here’s just one more reason to head out on the town.

Sports: 

And by sports, I really just mean the Olympics. For two weeks straight, I am looking forward to watching ice skaters, skiers, bobsledders, and every single person in a red, white, and blue uniform. USA! USA! USA!

Being a Spectator:

1381175_795862453505_553865678_nThis may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but I’m not an intense athlete. In fact, my summers are typically spent coming home from work and taking our dog Arnie for a walk. Emphasis on the word walk. That said, my partner in crime (Tom) has recently ventured into the world of half- (and maybe in the future full-) marathons. I never thought it’d be so much fun to cheer a runner on, but it is! I love it.

Happy 2014, everyone!

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The Tribe Has Spoken

photo 2We are hitting the time of year when it becomes imperative to bundle up and stay indoors. Soon snow flurries will give way to full-blown arctic weather, and we’ll buckle down for the coming months. Minneapolis is a great place for many reasons, one of which is its mole-like skyway system. Constant protection from the elements! Another is our incredible theater scene. I’ve written in the past about seeing shows at Mixed Blood Theater, the Cowles Center, and the Orpheum. This week, I ventured to the Guthrie Theater for the first time (I know! The first time!) to see a fantastic show: Tribes. I’m happy to report that the Guthrie is one of the most breathtaking buildings in the city, and the play was absolutely wonderful.

The show was written just a few years ago by a woman named Nina Raine, and was originally performed in London theaters. Tribes made its American debut in 2012, and has quickly won national awards. It’s a story about a family with three children, including a son, Billy, who was born deaf. Members of this incredibly loud family pride themselves on their linguistic abilities (all are writers or performers), and therefore never taught Billy sign language. They felt it was their responsibility to integrate him into the ‘hearing’ world, and did so by teaching him to read lips and speak. Years later, Billy meets a young woman named Sylvia who was born to deaf parents and is slowly going deaf herself, and an entirely new world is opened to him. Suddenly he is part of a deaf community that feels like the family he always wanted: understanding and willing to listen.

photo 1Billy begins to feel that his family used him as a mascot and forced him to speak, rather than trying to relate to him and learn sign language themselves. Tribes is a beautiful story, and reveals many complex issues that families deal with: belief systems, love, societies, and the role language plays in our lives.

This summary all sounds very serious – and it was. But there was also an incredible sense of comedy throughout the play. The role of family dynamics was ever-present, and often laugh-out-loud yelling matches ensued. Tribes is also an unbelievably tender show; though not a love story per se, it showed how family and community act as a person’s “tribe.”

I really enjoyed this play. So, I have no problem taking this opportunity to plug it: Tribes is at the Guthrie until November 10th. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and I have no doubt you’ll love it, too.

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Winter Isn’t Here Yet!

Have you noticed that mornings have started looking a little more gray lately? Or that the air has a slight chill as it blows over your skin? And then there are the beautiful (but anxiety producing) yellow and red leaves that are slowly starting to peek out. As of September 22nd, fall has arrived.

But I’ve realized, as this new season rolls in, I haven’t been enjoying it as much as I should. While I usually love a cozy, gray morning and pulling out my oversized sweaters, it’s different this year. I open my eyes to a dull sky and I miss the summer sun and choir of birds waking me up at 6 am. And yes, I’ve lived in MN my entire life, minus the two years I spent south of the Mason-Dixon, but I’m not ready for winter!

Just another day in paradiseI think the combination of Alabama’s lovely warmth and my first winter in Fargo scarred me. Not only did we have record amounts of snow, but winter lasted until nearly May. Oh and then there’s the wind. When you live in the middle of the prairie, there’s nothing to stop the movement of air. Most of the time it feels like the entire city is driving around with its windows down … on the highway. Add the frigidness of winter to that wind – you have chills just thinking about it, don’t  you?

BUT I refuse to let my premature winter blues get me down. So, I’m making a list (one of my favorite forms of writing) of all the things I’m looking forward to enjoying before snow hits the ground again.

1.     Heartland Table

Some of you may know I’m a fan of food shows. I mostly stick to watching Chopped, but I recently saw an episode of Pioneer Woman and I was hooked. Watching someone prepare a meal makes me feel like I did when I was little and watched artists on Sesame Street. Something about it just pulls me in and makes me want to try it myself. One of my most successful attempts was this creamy tomato basil soup. So when I found out that a MN woman was starting a cooking show, I was thrilled! I will most definitely be watching Amy Thielen on Heartland Table and trying out her recipes this fall.

2.     Leaves!

If you’re a fellow Midwesterner or you live in a state with seasons, you’ve said or heard this phrase: “Let’s go look at the leaves!” In fact, I just asked my co-worker what her weekend plans were. “Oh ya know, we might go to Maplewood State Park and look at the leaves.” To some of you these plans may sound odd, but I responded with (in my recently rediscovered MN accent), “Oh sure! That sounds so great!” and made a mental note to drag Jamison out there too. If only he found a fall hike as exciting as Grand Theft Auto V. In addition to looking at leaves, I’m hoping to finally use the tent we got for our wedding … over a year ago.

3.     Kegs & Canvas

Another outdoor activity that will be more in line with Jamison’s interests is the upcoming Kegs & Canvas event in downtown Fargo this October. Basically you get to explore cute shops, enjoy beer samples and watch local artists create beautiful things! If it’s anything like the Corks & Canvas event I attended this summer, we’ll walk away with a strong buzz and lots of new (seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time) purchases.

4.     Good books and Nerdy Things

One of my favorite fall (and winter, and spring, and summer) activities is cozying up with a good book. Like I mentioned previously, my fascination with food has been growing, so I’m excited to delve into M. F. K. Fisher’s “The Gastronomical Me.” Fall also makes me wish I were still a student. That being said, I plan to check out an awesome Moby-Dick-inspired art exhibit at the Plains Art Museum … but only after I read “Ahab’s Wife,” by Sena Jeter Naslund. This novel also inspired the collection and Naslund is coming to give a lecture in October. Should be a nerd-tastic blast!

 5.     Apple Orchard Shenanigans

The animals - Maria, Jamison and AliAnd no celebration of fall is complete without a visit to your local apple orchard. I mean, Instagram is begging for photos of apple picking, hay rides and farm-animal cutouts right now. I am most looking forward to making Jamison take embarrassing couple photos and eating any and all apple creations.

The time is now, people! Let’s put away our winter grumblings and seize the fall. The season is short and must be taken advantage of.

 

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The Great Minnesota Sweat-Together

The time has come to ignore all common sense and eat more fried food than imaginable. The Minnesota State Fair is in full swing, and as always, my family headed there to celebrate my dad’s birthday and to eat, eat, eat. The fair usually signifies the end of summer, but this week’s outrageous heat wave makes the winter months feel far off. I outlined our food trail with the temperature in mind, trying to balance between warm and cool treats (not surprisingly, it’s harder than you’d think!).

Planning the night’s meal actually began months ago when the State Fair announced their new foods and vendors for the year. Their web page was promptly bookmarked. Next up came last week’s Star Tribune article, listing the 10 best foods at the fair. Again, bookmarked. Then, last but definitely not least it was time to cross-reference between the Fair’s list and the Star Tribune’s follow-up story on new foods. Thanks to the many helpful resources out there, I felt truly prepared for the evening ahead.

So, once again, I would like to unveil the State Fair Food menu, courtesy of the Goelz/Nickerson clan. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

olive*Deep-fried green olives from Fried Fruit, outside the Grandstand: I happen to love olives in any form, so this was an incredible way to start the night. The tasty green treats were filled with cream cheese, deep fried, and served with a side of ranch. Salty, tasty, delicious. (9 out of 10)

*Turkey-to-Go, near the DNR fish pond: I didn’t actually have one of these sandwiches this year, but my family ate a few. As I’ve mentioned, this sandwich is our State Fair staple, so they are always given the highest of ratings. (10 out of 10)

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.27.44 AM*Northwoods BBQ Taco from San Felipe Tacos, inside the food building: A delectable new item. The savory pulled pork paired with coleslaw and a maple syrup dressing, wrapped in a corn tortilla was a great combination of flavors. (8 out of 10)

*Three Little Pigs from Manny’s Tortas, inside the food building: Tom and I weren’t impressed. Aside from the avocado heaped onto this sandwich, it was pretty bland. The pork (served three different ways) was chewy and lacked flavor. (5 out of 10)

*Cider Freeze from the Horticulture Building: The perfect ice-cold treat. Imagine a cup of hot cider. Now freeze it and put it in a plastic sleeve. Voilà: the cider freeze. (9 out of 10)

onionrings*Craft beer onion rings from Ball Park Café, outside the food building: Huge onions, dipped in Indeed Beer, served with spicy Excelsior Bitterschlappe Brown Ale mustard. Great taste and not too greasy. We almost felt like the basket was too much. Imagine that – onion ring overload! (9 out of 10)

*Mediterranean Lemonade from Holy Land Deli in the International BazaarNormally I don’t include drink suggestions on my list, but this was an incredibly refreshing treat. Tart lemonade mixed with basil, served as a slushy. Perfect for a hot day. (9 out of 10)

*Minneapple Pie: This has become an essential item for Tom. Their new addition to the menu is a Minnepumpkin Pie. We were tempted, but stuck with the original. As Tom said, the deep fried apple pocket with a side of cinnamon ice cream is perfect every time. (11 out of 10. Yes, 11)

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.29.23 AM*Double Bacon Corndog from Campbell’s Flavored Corn Dogs, near the Education Building: This was another new addition to the fair, and I wish we’d tried it earlier in the day. Unfortunately, by 9pm the corndog tasted overcooked and rubbery, and the bacon was nearly burnt. Not our favorite. (5 out of 10)

*Affagato from Minnesota Farmer’s Union: So simple, I don’t know why I haven’t made these before – we were served a cup of ice cream with a shot of espresso on top. The perfect jolt of energy after walking around for several hours. (8 out of 10)

Just when we were starting to feel extra crispy and ready to head home, we happened upon the free concert at the Leinenkugal Bandshell. You wouldn’t believe my surprise (and extreme excitement) when I realized it was one of my favorite groups from days of yore: Hanson! The super cute boy band that we all loved in middle school (Tom included) was just getting started, so of course we had to wait around for MMMBop (see video below). It was AMAZING.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.31.01 AM
Otherwise, due to the heat, we kept our path around the fairgrounds simpler than normal and actually avoided most buildings. Sorry horses, cows, and pigs, we missed you this time. We quickly breezed through the Art and Horticulture Buildings, stopping only briefly to check out the paintings, drawings, sculptures, and crop art. Lucky for Tom and I (and Lauren, too!) we’ll be back on Saturday for the Macklemore concert. Of course that means more menu planning – we passed on cheese curds and Sweet Martha’s cookies this time, but will definitely grab some later in the week. Two trips to the State Fair – it’s definitely a special year!

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Farming by Association

ParksAndRec

Unlike Ron Swanson, I happen to enjoy leafy greens.

There have been days this summer when I’ve eaten like a rabbit, snacking on lettuce and white radishes like it’s my job. Why, you might ask? It’s all thanks to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA for short), a membership-based model for obtaining fresh produce each week. CSAs are a farming system that have been available for nearly 25 years, but they continue to gain popularity with the focus on supporting community businesses and eating local.

CSAs not only refer to the food itself, but also to the relationship between farmers and consumers, and the network that is developed at the onset of a growing season. In late winter or early spring, farmers offer CSA ‘shares’ to the public. Payment typically comes once at the start of the season and weekly pick-ups spots are determined. There are tons of different options, as far as CSAs are concerned: full shares, half shares, organically grown produce, flowers-only, all-meat or all-cheese, and on and on. Minneapolis’ local paper City Pages provided a helpful list of ways to find the right CSA for you.

istock_000010591747smallcsaOur CSA is through the amazing Bridgewater Produce Farm in Northfield, MN – a family-run operation from the town in which we went to college (Um Ya Ya!). This is the first year Tom and I took part in a CSA, and so far it’s given us great opportunities to try new recipes. One of the many benefits to getting a grocery bag full of produce each Wednesday, is the weekly email that comes along with it – the farm includes recipe ideas and little details about the different fruits and veggies. I had no idea that grilled and seasoned radishes tasted so good! Also, nothing beats fresh asparagus sprinkled with a little parmesan. I can’t wait for sweet corn, and am already looking forward to the squash and pumpkins that will be delivered this fall.

The popularly of CSAs has also changed the way I eat in a group setting. This past weekend, I attended former guest blogger Maggie Matson’s bachelorette party in rural Wisconsin. Thanks to all of our CSAs, we ate like champs – eggs bakes with fresh arugula and basil, leafy greens, grilled kale. A few bags of potato chips could be found around the cabin, but each meal included a side dish featuring fresh produce.

Of course CSAs aren’t the only way to go. Local grocery stores and co-ops often have an incredible selection of produce, and farmers markets are a great way to grab-and-go. But after lunching for days on beautiful red strawberries, I’m hooked.  Three cheers for vegetables!

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The Right to Write

high plains readerCleaned the kitchen, washed some towels, hung the bird feeder, did some weeding – and now there’s just one more item on my to-do list: “write.” There it is in plain black ink: I have to write today. More specifically, I really need to write a post for you. It has been FAR too long since my last entry, and I apologize for that. I could make a range of excuses (just moved, new job, writing for a local publication, homesick for Minneapolis), but I won’t. The real reason I haven’t been writing is simple: I haven’t been making time for it. So what does my personality type do in a situation like this? Put it on a to-do list.

And actually, I have something exciting to share. On a recent plane ride, as I sat between the window and my new friend Paul, ideas of writing started filling my head. I politely cut Paul’s “When I was in the Air Force” conversation short, picked up my weapon of choice (a pen) and semi-clean sheet of paper and wrote this:

“I am currently high over the US on a plane bound for DC. I don’t have access to my computer, so this note paper will have to do. I’m bursting with excitement and ideas at the moment. Which is probably due to numerous things: 1. I had a lot of caffeine and a cold slice of pizza for breakfast 2. I just skimmed through an issue of Fast Company and was utterly inspired by all the social innovation out there and 3. I recently decided to start a journaling and creative writing class with my friend Dani.

The best part of this soon-to-be writing class? We’re offering it at the local YWCA women’s shelter in Fargo. And if there’s anything that gets me going, it’s the philanthropic process. Add writing to that and BAM! Instant excitement in Lauren’s world.

So far, Dani and I have brainstormed a few ideas of class topics (creating characters, composing poetry, developing short stories, writing fairy tales with your kids, etc.), but some of the ideas I’m most looking forward to trying out are the ones that involve collaboration. I know “teamwork” is a common trait among my generation, but I fully believe in working together. Why not tap into resources and create connections to do even more good?

Speaking of, I can’t wait to collaborate with local musician and writer Diane Miller. She is incredibly talented and graciously agreed to be a guest at our class. We’re hoping she’ll walk us through the elements of songwriting and help us create amazing jams like this one of hers. She has a brilliant mind and a heart for helping – I’m thrilled that our paths have crossed in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

My in-flight daydreaming also led to the eventual creation of a nonprofit that empowers girls through writing. I haven’t done a lot of research on what’s already out there, but as far as I know, there isn’t an existing nonprofit doing this work. But hey, if there is, let’s join forces and get even more good stuff done (there’s that teamwork again)!

The more I think about this concept, the more I’m getting excited. From my own experience, I know that writing can be such a therapeutic process, especially is times of trial. Not only that, but to call someone a “writer” is an empowering experience. I’ve kept journals for as long as I can remember, written papers for class, articles for publications, and I never thought to call myself a writer. But once someone else defines you in that way, believing it slowly becomes easier. I want to be that person in young girls lives. I want to help them recognize their emotions and put them on paper. I want them to feel like their stories are worth writing down. I want them to feel like writers. Everyone wants this recognition, don’t they? People want to be heard, they want their life story to mean something, to affect others.

Every big idea has to start somewhere, so this upcoming writing class will be a great experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m slightly terrified. What if no shows up? What if I can’t actually teach writing? What if no one feels inspired? But that’s the best part of giving back and putting yourself out there. Not only am I hoping the ladies in our class will gain something from the writing process, but I have a feeling that my future students will also help me realize my own writing aspirations.”

So if you’re reading and you have ideas, feedback or (constructive) criticism – let me know! I’d love to hear from you and make this next adventure even better.

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Mainstreaming Scandinavia

photo-6Though I attended St. Olaf College, Scandinavia always felt like a far-away place. Occasionally we might get a visit from the Princess of Norway as she publicized her new children’s book, or the Prince as he came to commemorate Norway’s centennial anniversary. Then there was always that dreaded (or celebrated, depending on who you asked) week in December. Christmas Fest: a week of nonstop Norwegian sweaters, concerts, and cafeteria-prepared lutefisk. But these reminders of St. Olaf’s Nordic heritage felt minor in the scheme of things.

Despite growing up in Minnesota, I never realized just how much Scandinavia has infiltrated popular culture. It wasn’t until Tom and I moved back to the Twin Cities three years ago that it really sank in. All of a sudden, the regional pride was obvious. And it wasn’t just coming from Lutheran churches waving their Norwegian and Swedish flags. Scandinavian décor, food, gifts, art, furniture, and music were undeniably mainstream.

Afghan_Room_DinnerTake, for example, the wildly popular Minneapolis restaurant Bachelor Farmer. It’s nearly impossible to get a reservation at this swanky Minneapolis establishment. When we finally ventured in for a bite to eat, I was struck by all the smoked, braised, poached, and pickled cuisine on their menu. Then again, as their website proudly explains, “The Bachelor Farmer draws inspiration from contemporary Nordic cooking, which emphasizes simplicity and fresh ingredients of the highest quality … And no, we don’t serve lutefisk.”

Swedish_Institute_s_Nelson_Cultural_Center_by_HGA_03Recently, we headed to the newly reopened Swedish American Institute for a Yelp event, aptly called Yelp du Nord. Dozens of Twin Cities’ restaurants and breweries set up shop in the ballroom, providing partygoers with an endless supply of Swedish pancakes and lingonberries, meatballs and gravy, and more Nordic delicacies. Many of the restaurants paid homage to the Institute’s roots, and it made for an awesome night. The museum is found in the Turnblad Mansion (the Turnblads themselves an immigrant family from Sweden), and endless amounts of Swedish paintings, photographs, and artifacts line its elegant walls. Plus, the modern gift shop offered a chance to check out Nordic jewelry, books, and art.

Further evidence that Nordic culture spreads far and wide: I was recently visiting Lauren in Fargo, and we noticed a Scandinavian-designed furniture shop. Upon returning home, a quick Google search provided me with an endless list of similar stores found throughout the metro area. Though Ikea is often perceived as the go-to for inexpensive dressers, desks, beds, and the like, it emulates the designs found at these more sophisticated shops.

This homegrown pride really hit home for me a few months ago when Mpls/St. Paul magazine dedicated an entire issue to Nordic shops and eats found around town – and it was HUGE! It’s easy to forget just how much the Twin Cities thrives on this culture, but it’s everywhere – on every street corner and in nearly every popular restaurant. And so, it seems, Scandinavia is here to stay.

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Run the World, Girls!

IWD 2013

As I sat with one of my best girlfriends last week, enjoying good beer and Thai food, we were unaware of an event that should’ve been at the forefront of our day.

It wasn’t until a server (a male server, I might add, who made witty comments every time he walked by our table on his way to the kitchen) stopped to say, in all seriousness, “Hey, Happy International Women’s Day.”

Bethany and I both paused, a bit bewildered that this tough looking, dreadlocked guy was genuinely saying this to us. His mama raised him right.

I laughed and said, “Thank you, but now I feel like a horrible woman because I had no idea it was International Women’s Day.” He replied with, “No! You are both beautiful and independent women.” And with that, his witty, sarcastic tone returned. I wasn’t offended. He was complimenting us in a way that any stranger would – joking around, but sincere.

Either way, this interaction made my night (a delicious meal at Mango Thai and laughing with a friend only improved it). His genuine acknowledgement of a day for women, made me want to continue the recognition. Although I’m a few days late, I’ll use this post to say Happy International Women’s Day! And take a minute to praise some pretty kickass women.

Disclaimer: This list is by no means comprehensive. The following women are just a glimpse, through the eyes of Lauren, into a world of some amazing human beings.

Oldies but Goodies

We’ve mostly likely all heard her name and are eternally grateful for the work of Susan B. Anthony. If it weren’t for her nerve and passion for social activism and equal rights, the world would look a lot different. Not only did she rally for women’s voting rights, but she was also the founding publisher of The Revolution – a weekly women’s rights journal.

Of course I have to mention an inspirational writer. And honestly, Emily Dickinson is the first to come to mind. Maybe it was because she was introduced to me at a young age or that her writing was some of the first poetry I encountered, but this unique and intelligent young woman’s words have stayed with me.

And they keep getting better …

India ArieIndia Arie’s soulful and reflective lyrics have always had such an impact on me. I first heard her wise words at the ripe old age of 15 – a time when most girls’ are feeling insecure about a changing body and other people’s opinions matter most. India’s songs reminded me that it’s ok to be exactly who I am and I’m more than my outward appearance. Hearing these ideas at such an impressionable age, I really took her message to heart. And for that, I’m grateful.

While these next women didn’t directly inspire my day-to-day activities, their actions opened up a new world for girls everywhere. Without the accomplishments of Dr. Sally Ride and Dr. Mae Jemison, stories about space travel wouldn’t speak to little girls in the same way. Now, after hearing about the first American woman and African American woman in space, the sky’s the limit (pun unintended … but I’ll leave it). And being a woman doesn’t define them – both are extremely intelligent scientists and astronauts. sally rideDr. Ride told Newsweek, “I did not come to NASA to make history. It is important to me that people don’t think I was picked for the flight because I am a woman and it is time for NASA to send one.” Instead it was her bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s and doctorate in astrophysics from Stanford University that helped her make history.

I realize I’m getting long-winded (I can’t help it when the topic is so easy to write about), so I’ll speed things up.

Eve Ensler caused necessary discomfort, enlightenment and empowerment with her work, The Vagina Monologues. I’ll never forget watching this play my freshman year of college and how I felt walking out of the theatre. I was a woman!

Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, winners of best short documentary at the 86th Academy AwardsAndrea Nix Fine of Fine Films and Kathryn Bigelow are both incredible directors. I admire Andrea’s ability to capture the beauty and humanity of all people in her raw documentaries – War/Dance and Inocente are two of my favorites. And while I’ve only seen Zero Dark Thirty (so good), Kathryn made history by becoming the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director … in 2008. About time!

And while I’ve recognized some of the giants of women’s history, no post about inspiring women would be complete with mentioning the most important women in our lives. The real women who build us up, mentor us, love us and continue to inspire our thoughts and actions daily. Here’s to our grandmas, mamas, sisters, cousins, wives, daughters, aunties, friends, teachers, coworkers, professors, co-bloggers … the list goes on.

To the women in my life – you all are extraordinary people and I feel blessed to know you.

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Don’t Wait Until a Latter Day

TMarqueehe night had finally arrived – I’d been waiting for this since I first wrote about it last year … and then again this year. At long last, The Book of Mormon rolled into town, and Tom and I eagerly made our way to the Orpheum Theater on Wednesday night with tickets in hand.

From the moment the curtain went up, it was easy to tell what all the fuss is about. Since opening in New York City in the spring of 2011, The Book of Mormon has won nine Tony Awards (including Best Musical), a Grammy (for Best Musical Theater Album), and continues to receive endless praise. In fact, the Star Tribune wrote an article on the play last weekend, saying that between the Broadway shows, the national tour, and a Chicago production, the musical brings in a whopping $19 million a month!

PlaybillCreated by South Park scribes Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Avenue Q writer/composer Robert Lopez, the play follows the lives of two newly minted Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda to convert and baptize an unassuming and tragedy-laden tribe. I had no doubt that crude jokes would abound (after all, a single viewing of South Park shows you just what Parker and Stone’s sense of humor is like). In that regard, they delivered. What I wasn’t expecting: full-blow musical numbers with sequins and disco balls and coordinated tap dancing. I knew once I heard the electric guitar chime in during “All-American Prophet” we were in for a real treat.

Stage The entire production is one big tongue-in-cheek parody, and is definitely not for the weak at heart. To be fair, it falls squarely in the South Park category of dark, farcical humor and is intended, to quote the television industry and the Federal Communications Commission, for “mature audiences.” Matt Stone and Trey Parker have never shied away from religions, political, or pop culture skewering. But I can honestly say I’ve never witnessed an audience laugh so hard, or whistle so enthusiastically, for three hours straight.

It was a great night, and definitely worth the long wait. For those of you interested in seeing Book of Mormon, it’ll be in town until Sunday, February 17. The shows are mostly sold out, but a few seats are available for a day-of lottery. In the words of another famous Parker and Stone character Eric Cartman, “That [play] has warped my fragile little mind.” And it was awesome.

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