Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ode to the Skyway

I'm back in Minnesota, and having had the opportunity to wander around in downtown Minneapolis for an hour this morning, as I strolled from one building to another via the skyway system, I realized that I truly love it.

Not just in an "omg, I love The Big Lebowski!" kind of way, either. Emotions run thick through me in certain sections of skyway; memories of people, events, and jobs, and what they meant to me, are inescapable. Some buildings calm me; others make my pulse race. It's amazing the gamut of feelings I experience merely by walking past offices, restaurants, and shoe shines.

A view up 4th Street
You have to look closely - it's just past the Sheriff's office

One of the coolest parts of the skyway system isn't even a skyway: it's a tunnel that runs between City Hall, the Federal Courthouse, the Grain Exchange building, and Haaf Parking Ramp. If you blink, you'll walk right past the door. It feels like a secret hidden in the lower level of City Hall.

Stairway under City Hall, or Dracula's crypt entrance?

Then you go down a flight of stairs and end up in what feels like a lunchroom in Purgatory: gray, hard, and empty, but with free napkins and a few vending machines. It's a strange place and feels very in-between. I have rarely seen any other person down there - and the spookiness has just begun.

Once you leave City Hall, this is what you enter:
So welcoming!

Is this a Kafka-esque nightmare? Or am I actually still underneath the city of Minneapolis? One thing is for sure: it's super creepy. Other people are few and far between. The farther I get, the faster I walk, as the terror begins to set in. If you like feeling as if you're in a slasher flick or wish you could have been in The Shining, head down there ASAP.

View towards downtown

But my favorite chunk of skyway is a crossing over 3rd Avenue, between 3rd Street and Washington Avenue. It's between a quiet and usually empty Wells Fargo operations building (very calming - the HVAC system makes great white noise) and the new Parallel 45 building (and, on street level, Lickety Split and Rick's Cabaret).

View towards NE

One reason I like it so much is that it seems largely unused; the eastern end of the Skyway system is much less populated than on Nicollet or around the IDS Center, and it's between two buildings that don't see much action, so passers-by are infrequent. It's the only public space I've found downtown that gives me a sense of quiet privacy, and I used to go there to both think and zone out during the workday. I've had many contemplative moments there, looking out towards the 3rd Avenue bridge and Northeast Minneapolis.

I'm not sure what it says about my psychology that I love what are essentially huge hallways. The symbolism of a series of hallways speaks to a search for meaning? The sensation of getting lost in such a maze-like web? The feeling of being at once surrounded by other people, yet ultimately alone, is the physical experience of existential nihilism? Who knows. All I know is that I love it.

Monday, January 25, 2016

No Poo, Day 4: the Incredible, Edible Egg

Waking up to the 4th day of greasy/waxy hair after my failed baking soda wash on Day 1, I said "Enough!" and decided that it was time to get serious. I mean, if my hair was going to stay that nasty all the time, this experiment would be over by the end of the week!

So I chose an egg wash, hoping that it would get me back on track. I had to tweak the recipe due to a poorly-stocked kitchen - here it is:

-2 egg yolks
-juice of 1/2 lemon
-white vinegar
-distilled water
Directions: Break the yolks and mix them with the lemon juice. Wet your hair and apply the egg and juice mixture; massage it on your scalp and through your hair; let sit for 10 minutes. Rinse out with cold water. Pour a 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 1/2 cup of water over your head; let sit for 1 minute and rinse out with cold water. Allow to air dry.

I followed the recipe for the most part, except I used 3 egg yolks because 1) we happened to have 3 eggs left, and who eats just one egg, and 2) I was really paranoid about getting my hair clean, so the extra egg felt like it would have more "oomph." I also didn't have lemon juice so I added a little bit of water instead and mixed it up. I followed the rest of the directions exactly - standing wet and chilly in the shower for 10 minutes was not the highlight of my day - and towel-dried my hair until it wasn't dripping anymore.

Now that my hair is dry, I can happily say this was a complete SUCCESS!! My hair is clean, so gloriously clean, that I just want to kiss it. It's also soft and smooth. I have read in a couple of places that hair can "overdose on the protein" in egg washes, so apparently it's not a good idea to use it too often, but it will definitely be a permanent fixture in my hair-care arsenal.
Two thumbs up!
So fresh and so clean! clean!

Friday, January 22, 2016

New experiment, Day 1: The No-Poo Move!

I don't know what it is about being over here that makes me want to try new stuff - aside from the crushing boredom and loneliness - but my year in France has been a spontaneous time of trying new things (or, tried and previously abandoned things). The French language, baking, nail art, journaling, retro hairdos, makeup tutorials, sewing....these hobbies have all crossed my path. And now, not yet a full month into 2016, I am starting yet another new experiment: No Poo.

Yes, I still have BMs - "No Poo" is the shorthand for No Shampoo. That is, I am giving up commercially produced shampoo and conditioner in an effort to go natural with my hair. I bought an ebook by Lucy AitkinRead called Happy Hair - The Definitive Guide to Giving Up Shampoo as my reference and dived right in. (I really like spending money, but there are lots of free resources on the internet too - blogs, articles, etc.)

So here on Day 1, it was time for the first Baking Soda wash and Apple Cider Vinegar rinse! I used one "dessert spoon" of baking soda in 1 cup of water as my washing agent, and I'll be honest, I was extremely nervous about whether it would actually get my scalp and hair clean. Not having those familiar, comforting suds calling out, "Look! I'm cleaning you!" was strange, and so I massaged my scalp for a minute or so and then waited another minute or so before rinsing it out.

(Unfortunately, Ms. AitkinRead mentions several times in her book how hard water with lots of lime scale will not help the adjustment...which of course is exactly the kind of water we have here. This fact also increased my nervousness, so I decided to boil the water for the cleanse and rinse mixes first in order to get rid of as much of that lime scale as possible.)

Then came the 2 Tablespoons of ACV in 1 cup of water as the rinse/conditioner. I also let it sit on my hair for a minute or so before rinsing it out in cold water. And finally, the moment of truth: I unwrapped my hair from its towel and grimaced. Is it just wet, or still greasy? What is it going to look like dry?? OH DEAR LORD WHAT HAVE I DONE??

Love that wavy bit
next to my face...
...but UGH - that grease!

To be honest, now that it's dry, I'm seeing not-so-great results. The top layer of my hair looks fine - clean, normal, even a bit wavy in places - but underneath is a different story. It's grease city under there.

EWWWWW - super greasy in the back :-(

I'm thinking that my hair might be too thick to just pour a cup of water time maybe I'll double the recipe, or use a spray bottle and lift my hair up in chunks so I can really get it all over. Dang! I was really hoping for a great first time (aren't we all? WINK). I really have no patience for the learning process, but I guess I'll have to deal with it. Or just go back to normal shampoo.

And why this particular experiment, you wonder? Well, friend, I'm not sure how to explain it. Perhaps I have always been a dirty hippie hiding inside a corporate monkey's body, just waiting to burst out in all her glory; perhaps the EU regulation of chemicals in food and personal products has leached ever so ironically into my consciousness.
Dear God, no.....noooooooo!

Or maybe it's all that time I have to sit around and think about how I would rather not be exposing myself on a regular basis to formaldehyde, sulfates, or parabens, to name just a few of the less pleasant ingredients one might find in modern beauty products. (Thanks, corporate overlords!)

In fact, it's getting so serious that I'm planning a trip to the local organic/health food store to look for ingredients for homemade deodorant, body wash, and toothpaste...dear God....I AM a hippie now!!! Damn you, France! Damn you!!!!

But then again, if these next experiments all go as poorly as this first attempt at No Poo, I'll be back on the corporate spending treadmill in no time.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

This is what happens when I try to speak French

Part of a conversation while driving home from the dog park this morning:

Me: "Je pourrais ça imaginer." (I could that imagine.)
Alex: "Non, c'est 'Je pourrais imaginer ça.'" (I could imagine that.)
Me: "Oh."

2 minutes later:

Me: "Je peux expliquer tout!" (I can explain everything!)
Alex: "Non, c'est 'Je peux tout expliquer.'" (I can everything explain.)
Me: *commence rampage*

This is why I hate French.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fox's Scream Queens: Unrelenting Garbage, or Diamond in the Trash?

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am not a fan of the horror genre, for the simple reason that I am easily frightened. I am one of those people who cover their own eyes during scary or graphically violent movie scenes; I am not only very impressionable and easily influenced, but I also have vivid dreams, which is a terrible combination for a horror movie audience.

However, in an attempt to expand my horizons (aka Alex talked me into it), I recently watched the first two episodes of the new show "Scream Queens" (FOX). And, much to my surprise, I really liked it! Let me break it down.


1) I love the nearly-all-female cast. This passes the Bechtel test in the very first scene, which is rare for modern entertainment. In fact, the first 6 minutes goes without even a mention of any male character (broken only by the naming of a male goat). Granted, pretty much all of the female characters are total caricatures, but then, so are all the male characters.
2) It is ridiculous. I love how every single line of dialogue, camera shot, background, motive, and costume is a complete mockery of the setting and characters. It's some of the best parody I've ever seen; the absurdity that coats every scene is made even better by the earnest actions and reactions of the characters. Without it, the show would fall painfully flat, but imbued with the never-ending ridiculousness, it is thoroughly enjoyable.
3) Funniest death scene ever. I will give a minor spoiler here - Chanel #2 has the best death scene I have ever witnessed. I laughed out loud before and during her death, which actually disturbs me to some degree, but it was just too silly not to. It's about halfway through the first episode, so I encourage you to watch until at least that point before you come to any conclusions.
4) Jamie Lee Curtis. "I'm going to barf on your face unless you get out of here." 'Nuff said.


1) Bad language. I realize that I sound like my grandma now, but really...calling other women "slits" and "gashes" is about as gross as you can get. I know that it's part of the characterization of Chanel et al, but's icky. Ew.
2) A lot of things are offensive. Yes, this whole show is about a self-obsessed, privileged, doesn't-have-a-soul while girl, but still...I was uncomfortable more than a couple times. I can't tell whether they're trying to push the envelope of societal taboos or just trying to shock viewers for ratings' sake.

Overall, in spite of its baser facets, I actually have to recommend this show, as long as you go in knowing that it's going to be hilarious and disgusting at the same time. Its amazing sense of humor won me over, in spite of not being the type of show I would normally watch.

If you want a good laugh *and* are old enough to tell satire from serious drama, check it out!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Homemade bread, attempt #1

In my efforts to remain occupied during the day, plus a desire to eat fewer additives and processed food, I decided that I would try to bake a loaf of bread. My success with cookies and financiers gave me a confidence in my baking skills, and I found a "super easy" bread recipe on Jamie Oliver's website. So I bought a package of flour, some yeast, and went to town.

Flour water everywhere - bread FAIL

As you can see above, the results were less than successful. I "broke the walls of the well," as Jamie so simply warns one against doing, and lo, my efforts were rendered for naught within about 5 minutes of beginning. Better luck next time I guess!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Thoughts on feminism

I'm going to out myself: I am a feminist. Few things rankle me more than mansplaining, workplace biases against women, and when I pay but the cashier hands the change to my boyfriend. (Seriously, the change thing happens way too often. That's MY money, you moron!! *deep calming breath*)

Thanks to Facebook, I came across a comic strip on everyday feminism and I had a strong reaction to it. It's entitled "Why Saying 'It's My Choice' Doesn't Necessarily Make Your Choice Feminist" and, in a nutshell, it argues that the fact that you made a choice (like whether or not to wear lipstick, which is the focus of the comic) isn't feminist; it's the reason behind the choice that matters. As the editors state in the introduction, “…is every choice we make inherently feminist – or are we influenced by misogyny?”

I have let this comic and its argument rumble around inside me for a week or so, and I can see the illustrator’s point, which I understand thusly: that some choices made by women are greatly influenced by outside factors, and are ultimately made in order to conform to a male-oriented societal expectation. Therefore, if we call any one choice that a woman makes a “feminist” choice without examining the external pressures that affected that choice, we fail to acknowledge the pressure to conform, and thereby validate it.

So yes, if someone starts wearing makeup because of one too many “you look tired” comments, I can see how that choice was influenced by an expectation to look a certain way in the workplace (or in society at large). I get it. A woman making the choice to start wearing makeup in this context would NOT call this a “feminist” choice. Does that then mean, however, that the woman in the office (or, more realistically, cubicle) next to hers is also NOT making a “feminist” choice of her own if she has worn makeup since she was a teenager?

There are so many societal expectations of women that I think it would be hard to pin down a lot of individual choices as being a woman’s own in the way the comic suggests. Women are told to be thin but healthy, pretty but not unapproachable, sexy but not a “slut” or a “tease,” demure but available, fun but serious, kind and nurturing but not a doormat, assertive but not bossy or a bitch, mothers but still fuckable, etc…the list is depressingly long. (Or in shorthand, as my good friend Melissa used to say, “Lady in the parlor, whore in the bedroom!”)

My point is, any woman trying to openly be herself will inevitably fall either into or outside of (or both at the same time!) all of the insanely contradictory expectations society holds for women. Therefore, if we are going to judge the motive behind each and every choice that a woman makes, are we not placing her into or outside of these categories without her having a say in the matter?  And are we then not also judging every woman as either “enlightened” or “tool of the patriarchy” at the same time? Aren’t women taught to feel guilty and be ashamed of themselves too much already? What does the term “feminist choice” even mean if a woman is told she can’t use it as she wishes?

Yes, it sucks that women have these expectations and pressures put upon them in the first place, but I don’t think it helps to point fingers at women who choose to meet – or happen to fall into! – these expectations and label them as something other than/less than “real feminists.” I think the better choice would be to stop calling any choice “feminist,” and allow women to live their lives without fear of being policed, judged, influenced, or labeled by anyone other than themselves.

After all, as Lily Allen so eloquently puts it, “It’s hard out here for a bitch!”