Thursday, May 28, 2009

A day for the record books

So today pretty much goes down as one of the crappiest, most frustrating days of 2009.

Have I ever mentioned how much of a scatterbrain I can be? It's terrible. I was the kid in school that was always losing her mittens. I probably should still have mittens that attach to a string that you can string through your jacket. I just have such a proclivity for losing things, misplacing things, etc.

You'd think this is something you would grow out of. Wrongo batman.

Here's how my afternoon went. I got on my bus at 4:30 and got to the place where my car is parked around 5:15. About 5 minutes before my stop, I realized that I had forgot my coat at work... and my car/house keys were in my jacket.

I seriously wanted to punch myself when I realized this.

So I had to take a non-express bus back into downtown, but when I got my office, I couldn't get the elevator to go to my floor since I apparently don't have after hours access so I had to track down the security people in the basement so they could escort me to my office.

And then when I finally had the dang keys, I couldn't get out of the building. Every door I tried was locked. At this point I almost lost it, but luckily one of the cleaning guys let me out. Oh, and let me mention that it was only 6 pm at this point, and this building is in the center of downtown, so there is NO reason that the building should have been locked down like that!!

So then I took a non-express bus back out of downtown and got to my car at 7:15. Thank God I had a good book (The Time Traveler's Wife) to keep me from going berserk.

So I essentially lost 2 hours of my night. 2 precious hours that I had planned to spend making some of the dips/salsa/etc for my grad party this weekend. So much for that. I did still get a run in and went to the grocery store to get all the fresh produce ingredients for the food for the weekend. Oh, and while I was there, I was reminded of how much of a culinary moron I am. I couldn't for the life of me identify a Serrano Chile. And there was seriously no one in the entire produce section of the grocery store, or anywhere close bye. So I swallowed my pride and called my aunt Barb and she explained what to look for.

Criminy. I'm 28 and I have to use a life line when I'm in a grocery store. Thank God I have a patient and wise auntie to call on!

So yah. Today was not my best day. Plus 21 people got laid off in my division this week, so things are work are pretty down/somber.

But I figure maybe I got all of my bad luck out of the way. And hopefully the rest of the weekend will go really, really smoothly!

Early tomorrow morning I am heading back to my hometown for a bridal shower for my little sister, Saturday is my grad party at the lake where I am expecting 40-50 people, and then on Sunday we are celebrating my nephew's 4th Birthday. So it's going to be one full, fun weekend! I'm sure I'll have some pics to post next week!

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

Wow. Two book reviews in one week. Can you tell I am done with grad school & have a little more free time? It helps that I am now taking the bus 5 days a week instead of 3-4. Can I just say how much I love public transportation? I bet I get at least an hour of reading done each day!

Anyways, moving on to the book review! I started "My Sister's Keeper" on Sunday night & finished it last night. Here's the odd thing. A little over a month ago, I reviewed "Nineteen Minutes" by Jodi Picoult and was so sure that I had only read one other book by Picoult. Then my cousin commented & said that she was sure that I had read it and recommended it to her. But I had zero recollection of reading it. As soon as I started reading it, the book felt so familiar and I realized that I had, in fact, read this book before. I could remember some of the non-essential details of the book, but not the ending. So I burned through the book so I could get to the conclusion and find out what happens!

The book is about two sisters, Kate and Anna Fitzgerald. Kate suffers from a rare form of Leukemia. The Fitzgerald's older son is not a match for Kate, so they genetically screen embryos until a perfect match is found... and along comes Anna - the perfect match for Kate. Throughout Kate's life, she undergoes multiple procedures from the donation of her umbilical cord to the donation of bone marrow. In the book, we meet Anna at age 13. Kate is in need of a kidney transplant and the Fitzgerald's assume that Anna will willing donate. But Anna decides to file for medical emancipation from her parents so she can make her own decision about whether or not to donate an organ.

I'm pretty sure everyone and their mom has already read this, so I won't say much more. For those who have read it, I have a question. Did you think that the lawyer made a bigger deal about his condition than was necessary? When I found out why he needed the day I was like, 'Huh.' Yes, it's a major condition, but not something he needs to hide... But whatevs. I guess the mystery of his condition added to the plot line of the story.

If you haven't read this book, then I will definitely recommend it. Sometimes Picoult's books are just a little too heavy on the courtroom scenes (which is pretty much what she is known for), but this book had a good balance. Also, the book is being made into a movie - I believe it comes out in June. The trailer looks pretty good - I am a big Abigail Breslin fan, and she plays Anna. I'm a bit suprised that they cast Cameron Diaz as the mom... I don't have anything against her, but she doesn't match the person I envisioned in my head. If I had the chance to cast the mom, I'd choose Toni Collette. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised by Diaz, though. We'll see.

Oh, and I am still doing well on the 'not buying books' thing. I resisted the urge to buy this book and instead borrowed it from a friend from school. That's major progress for me!!!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Julia Child's Life in France

Yep, I am still on my France book kick. I think this is the last unread France-based book on my bookshelves, and since I am taking a break from book buying, I probably won't be reading anything set in France for a while... Aside from blogs written by people in France, of course!

I really liked Julia Child's book, "My Life in France." She is one interesting lady. I have vague memories of watching her tv show, "The French Chef" on PBS when I was pretty young. I just remember that she had the most peculiar voice. And she used a heck of alot of butter. Maybe even more than Paula Dean? I think I need to add her shows to my Netflix list to see if my memories of the show match up with what it was really like!

I was surprised to learn that Julia didn't learn to cook until she moved to France around the age of 36. I read this & thought to myself: 'maybe there is hope for me!' I'd like to be good at cooking, but it's really not my forte. But if Julia Child can go from a total flop in the kitchen to a master, then maybe I can learn a thing or two from her!

I was also surprised to learn that Julia didn't meet/marry her husband until she was in her 30's. In the 1940's, I imagine she married well above the average age. So once again, I thought - 'Again, maybe there is hope for me.' (side note: I'm not hopeless about meeting Mr. Right but do appreciate reading about people who get married in their 30s... It makes me feel like less of an old maid...)

Julia & Paul Child were definitely an interesting and unique couple... The best example of this is a Valentine's card that they sent out one year. They stripped down & took a picture in a bathtub w/ 'strategically placed bubbles' and a caption that read, "Wish you were here!" I tried to find a picture of this postcard to post (there is one in the book), but was unsuccessful. So you'll have to take my word on this one - it was downright odd!

I was actually inspired to read this book since the movie "Julie & Julia," which is based on the book by Julie Powell, opens nationwide this summer. I can't wait to see it. Julia Child will be played by Meryl Streep! I feel very prepared to watch this show after reading about both Julie Powell & Julia Child's lives. I just wonder if they will feature the dish that I was inspired to try while in France...

Yes, that is a bone. No, I did not enjoy it - the bone marrow was really greasy... but I am really glad that I tried it!

Anyways, back to the book at hand... If you have any interest in the life of Julia Child and how her legendary cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" was developed, I recommend checking out this book. It was a quick, easy read. At the end of the book, Julia concludes the book by saying that no one is born a chef. It's something you work at. It's a muscle you develop.

With all the extra time I have now that I am done w/ school, I intend to work that muscle!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

MBA Commencement

It's official - I have my masters degree. :)

I guess I needed to don a cap & gown for one final time so that it would feel official. I finished up my course work 2 weeks ago but, until today, it didn't really feel like I was 'done'.

The ceremony was this morning at 9. We really lucked out on the weather. It was sunny & gorgeous - which is sort of a rarity these days in my neck of the woods. Before I headed over to line up, my parents & I snapped a few pictures.

Dad & I

Mom & I

I lucked out & sat next to a girl that I studied abroad in Lyon with so I had someone to chat with during lulls in the ceremony. The keynote speaker was actually really good - she was one of Time magazine's people of the year in 2002 (I think?). She was one of the whistle-blowers at Enron so gave a great speech about Ethics in the workplace.

After the ceremony, I met up with my parents for some post-commencement photos and was suprised to see my aunt & uncle, Barb & Paul, walking towards me with my parents!!! They totally surprised me - I had no idea they were coming! So we snapped a few more photos before heading off to lunch.

My brother, sister-in-law, their 2 boys, and my cousin Suzanne joined us for lunch. It was nice celebrating with my family - especially my 2 nephews! I tried to get a picture with the 2 of them, but that is a bit of a tall order since they are 1 & 4!

I did manage to get a great picture with Andrew - he's doing a great "ta da" pose with his arms. What can I say - he loves the camera!!

Getting my MBA has been a wonderful challenge. As much as I have complained from time to time, I learned a lot and met a lot of really great people.

But I am definitely happy to close the book on this chapter of my life!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pomp & Circumstance

Does anyone else get emotional when they hear the processional march, "Pomp & Circumstance"?

Because apparently, I do. I am a total sucker for that song. Last night's mass was in honor of the home-school graduates, so they processed in at the beginning of mass to the tune of, what else, "Pomp & Circumstance."

I almost teared up. And then I thought - "Sheesh. Pull yourself together. This is ridiculous. You don't even know these kids."

I didn't even cry at my own high school graduation, so there is no reason for this song to stir up such emotions. I mean, I was pretty much void of all emotions at my own high school graduation. I didn't want to walk out of the gym at the end of the ceremony - I wanted to sprint.

That was 10 years ago, May of 1999. Tomorrow, 10 years later, I'll be walking through the ceremony where I'll receive my MBA.

So maybe Pomp & Circumstance elicited this emotional response in me because this degree was more difficult to obtain that my high school or undergraduate degrees. Sure, those degrees had their challenges. But balancing a full-time job, classes, homework & group projects, and a personal life was more challenging than I had anticipated!

But I am glad I did it. And I am glad it's over.

And I can't wait to celebrate! The ceremony is tomorrow morning at 9. Let's just hope I can keep it together through that song!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fueling a Fantasy

Last night, I was waiting for my bus in downtown Minneapolis, and I saw my dream guy.

He was waiting for his bus too, and was reading a book that appeared to be checked out from a library. Or purchased from a used bookstore. I tried to sneakily see what he was reading... Josh Grisham? Something by Stephen Crane?

I couldn't tell. I would have had to get really close and pretty much crouch down to see what he was reading... So I am going to guess he was reading something by James Patterson.

Regardless of what he was reading, he caught my eye. It's pretty uncommon to see a guy reading a book while waiting for the bus... at least in my city. There are lots of men on their crackberry or reading the WSJ or something like that, but not many novel readers. Oh, and he was good looking and well-dressed (yes Heidi, he was wearing nice shoes).

I thought - this guy must be really into reading! So am I! We would be perfect for each other.

I was also reading a book (My Life in France by Julia Child) as I waited for my bus. I stood a little in front of him & off to the side. I was wishfully thinking that he might notice that I was also reading. And would maybe notice my cloth bookbag from a bookstore in Paris. And maybe he would take notice of me.

But he didn't notice me. And unfortunately, I am too much of a chicken to walk up to a stranger and strike up a conversation.

He got on the 156 and I got on the 578 and we went our separate ways.

But for those 5 minutes when we were both waiting for our buses, he fueled a fantasy of mine. The fantasy of meeting a guy who loves to read. We'd go on dates to Barnes & Noble, sip espresso, and peer over the top of our books, exchanging flirtatious looks.

He's out there. Somewhere.

Friday, May 8, 2009

This is Progress...

So I've mentioned before that I have a bit of a book buying obsession...

It kind of started when I worked part-time at Barnes & Noble my first year out of college. Gah. I was so broke back then, at one point I was working 3 jobs. 1 full-time, and 2 part-time. Yeesh. I don't miss those days.

Anyways, while working at B&N, I got a nice little employee discount. That is when I started buying more than 1 book at a time. I would often buy 5-6. (Side note: I wonder how much of my check I spent on books??) Well, that trend has continued over the years. I am ever bookstore owner's dream...

This winter, when I was thinking I was going to list my place, I started getting my place organized. I put one of my bookshelves in storage, which required me to go through my books and figure out which ones should be left out. I started making a pile of unread books. Um, I have almost 2 shelves of unread books. Obviously I don't need to keep buying books - I have quite the back-up at home.

Knowing this, I've still gone on a few book-buying-sprees in the last couple of months. See, the reason I always buy multiple books is because I tell myself: "Self - if you don't buy these books right now, you are going to forget the titles/authors, and never find them again. So you better buy it now so you don't miss out on the opportunity to read what looks like a fabulous book."
But yesterday, I managed to walk out of B&N. And it's all thanks to a trusty little notebook that I have been carrying with me lately. Instead of buying the 5 books I wanted, I wrote them down in my notebook, and updated my "to-read" list. Here is what I came up with! They are all travel memoirs (my favorite genre).

Words in a French Life by Kristin Espinasse is a collection of short stories about an American women who falls in love with a Frenchman and moves to France to raise a family with him. Each chapter is themed around a french word that rarely gets taught in a typical French class. The book was inspired by her blog, "French Word a Day." I think this is the 3rd book that I've encountered that was inspired by a blog...

If you ask my best friend Brooke, "what is something that Lisa is obsessed with?" One of the things she'll probably list is Cuba. Yes, it is very random that I am obsessed with this country, but I am. Maybe it is because I can not travel there? I can't resist reading a book about the country. So far I've read Es Cuba, Waiting for Snow in Havana, and Thirteen Days. So when I saw Cuba Diaries by Isadora Tattlin, I have a really hard time not buying it. It is written by the wife of a European energy consultant who is posted to Havana in the 90's. The book sounds really interesting - at one point, they have a dinner party and Fidel Castro is one of their guests!!! I might just have to buy this for myself as a 'Congrats you are done w/ Grad School' gift.

Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk is a book about the history of the city. Pamuk was born and raised in Istanbul. In this book, he tells us on his city and the huzun: the sadness that comes of living amid the ruins of a lost empire. I am so fascinated by this part of the word, and would love to visit Istanbul some day. It's important for me to know as much about the part of the world I am visiting, so this is definitely a book I would read before traveling to Turkey.
Aside from possibly purchasing the Cuba book as a gift to myself, I am going to attempt to go an entire month without purchasing a book. This maybe sound like a small feat to most people, but to me, it will be quite the challenge!! Wish me luck! :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Must Read: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I just finished reading the most amazing book. If you look back on my book reviews, there are alot of books that I say I like, but I rarely state that it's a must read. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a must read. If you aren't a reader, then watch the movie. If you read the book, you should also watch the movie. It's one of those rare times where the producers of the movie actually got it so right, it actually enhances your appreciation for the book.

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby. In December 1995, Bauby was at the peak of his career. He was editor of the French edition of Elle magazine. He had planned to take his young son to a play in Paris. While in the car with his son, Bauby has a massive stroke which resulted in a condition known as "locked-in syndrome."

What does this mean? Bauby is paralyzed from head to toe, but his mind is 100% in tact. His only means of communicating is by blinking his eye. Bauby works with a speech therapist who has come up with a strategy for communication. After much research, the speech therapy field has figured out which letters are used most frequently. In order to communicate, the speech therapist reads through these letters (E S A R ...) - Bauby blinks when he hears the letter he wants to use. Blink by blink, Bauby spells out words, sentence, paragraphs, and eventually this book - letter by letter. Can you even imagine? And can you imagine the patience of the person that Bauby dictated the book to? It's no surprise that Bauby recognizes her on the dedication page of the book.

The title of the book represents the ups and down that Bauby experiences. A diving bell is a heavy chamber that is used for deep water diving. If you are curious, you can read a description and see a picture of one here. The diving bell represents the days when Bauby is weighed down by the diagnosis. He has much time for self reflection so looks back over his life and how he could have done things differently.

His escape from this diagnosis lies in his ability to mentally travel to another place. A lighter place. A happier place. Here is an excerpt that exhibits Bauby's butterfly-like thoughts:

"My mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas's court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face..."

I'll leave you with that. It is so beautifully written. And, not surprisingly, it is very short.

Read it. Or watch the movie. And let me know what you think.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo! I've been cooking lots of Mexican food in mi casa lately. It's so gluten free friendly - corn tortillas, corn chips, mmm. I've had tacos 4 times in the last week!

I also made a great Spanish Rice for a Cinco de Mayo party that I attended this weekend. I found the recipe here. It turned out really good! It's something I would definitely make again, although I think I'd halve the recipe next time around - it yielded SO MUCH.

It was pretty easy to make. Just saute some red pepper, onion, and garlic,

Roast some corn,

Add some other ingredient and bake!

I have so much left over, I'll probably be eating this 4 times in the next week as well!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

This is why I live here

This winter/spring, I sometimes often complained about the weather. The snow and subzero temps put me in a really bad mood and I was starting to think to myself: "why exactly do I live here?"

Well, there are many reasons, but these two are at the top of that list!

Today was my sister-in-law's Birthday so my brother asked me to come over and watch Andrew & Matthew so he could take her out for lunch & some shopping. I, of course, was more than happy to come over for the afternoon. These 2 are so easy to watch!

Andrew will be 4 in just under a month. He cracks me up. He has a little bit of a tough time telling me & my sister Abby apart. Back in February, Abby flew in late the night before my Grandpa's funeral. So when the boys woke up in the morning, Abby was there and probably sort of appeared out of thin air for them. Andrew was sitting on the couch with this confused smile on his face. He kept looking at Abby & then looking at me. After doing this a few times, he leaned over and whispered: "Why are there two Lisa's here?" I honestly don't think we look that much alike, but I guess we must. What do you think? Here's a pic of us from February (a terrible pic, by the way, but the most recent pic I have)

Anyways, now when I come over, he asked my brother is BOTH Lisas will be there. Today was no exception. After Kevin & Julie left, Andrew asked - "So are you the real Lisa?" I said yes and tried to explain that Abby was in AZ. I don't think he really, completely believed me!

I think Andrew might be a future chef. I gave him some strawberries and grapes for part of his lunch and he told me about Ratatouille's (great Pixar movie) perfect bite and proceeded to eat a strawberry & a grape at the same time - and then would throw up his arms as if to say "Delicious".

After explaining the "perfect bite" concept, he tabled all future conversation by saying, "Lisa, I can't talk and eat at the same time."

I had such a great time with the boys. So, as much as I hate winter/spring in Minnesota, I don't think I could ever leave this state. I love being 30 minutes from these 2, and driving distance from my other 2 nephews.

And with Memorial Day weekend fastly approaching, soon enough I'll spend my weekends hanging with my nephews and enjoying this view....

Friday, May 1, 2009

I used to be a runner...

The key word in the post title is used.

Back in the spring of 2006, I found a new addiction. Running. I had been dabbling in running for the past two years, but some switch was flipped in me in the spring of 2006. Err, maybe it was the result of yet another painful break-up (this time with a guy named Matt, whom I've never mentioned in this blog). Jeez, how many of these does a girl need to go through before she can find her prince? I digress.

Anyways, I started training for my first half and was hooked. Um, I am a bit of a planner, so I took well to the 1/2 marathon training regimen. I loved that there was a grid that told me exactly how far I needed to run each night (thank you, Hal Higdon). I loved adding up the number of miles that I had ran each week. When I hit the halfway point of the training, I thought: 'huh. This hasn't been bad at all. Maybe I should do a marathon.'

Let me pause and just tell you that out of all of the people in my family, I would have been identified as "Least Likely to Run a Marathon." Seriously. I've never excelled at any sports. Any. I'm not being modest when I say that. I am being honest. My dad was a great athlete - I think he took first at State in the 400m or 800m when he was in HS? Can't remember which one. So there are some athletic genes in my gene pool, but I wasn't the lucky recipient of those genes.

But for some reason, at the age of 25, I took to running like a house on fire.

I ran my first marathon in October of 2006. It was an amazing experience. I blogged about it here.

Flash forward to the present. I rarely run anymore. Working full-time and going to Grad school part-time in the evenings has kicked my arse. Seriously.

But it's all over on Monday. I'll sit through my final class and when the clock strikes 9:05 - I am free. No more group meetings, paper deadlines, or excel finance models to create. Alleluia. Many people have asked - 'So what are you going to do with all that free time?'

Easy. The 3 R's: Read, Run, and Relax.

A marathon isn't in the cards for 2009, but I would like to do a 1/2 this fall. I'm joining a running group - my first run will be tomorrow morning! I did 100% of my training for my first marathon alone. It worked for me, and I wouldn't change a thing, but for my next half/full marathon, I'd like to have some companions on those long runs. Especially the 14+ mile runs!

And after getting back on track, I plan on finding a marathon to train for.

I'll leave you with a funny little picture that I found here. This sign represents what my family was probably thinking when they were waiting for me at the finish line of the marathon in '06!