September, 2015

...now browsing by month

 

My first trip to a casino

Monday, September 28th, 2015

When I moved to Minneapolis on July 3rd, if you would have told me that I wouldn’t leave again for 84 days, I would have keeled over dead.

In the last five years, I’ve gotten used to the pattern of skipping town roughly every other week: some business, some weddings, a lot of adventures. My suitcase was always packed, I had a separate set of travel toiletries, and both airline and hotel status. So it simply didn’t strike me as a possibility that the journey from Colorado to Minnesota would be my LAST TRIP EVER.

At least, that’s how it’s felt. After nearly three months of remaining within an hour radius of the city, I was going stir-crazy. It’s a cool place and all, but sometimes a girl just needs to get out.

Even if it’s to a casino.

My good friend Joey drums for Scotty McCreery (you know him, you love him), and a few weeks ago he let me know that they were playing a show in Minnesota at the end of the month. “Too bad it’s four hours from Minneapolis,” he said.

My escape had arrived. “I AM COMING.”

Which is how on Friday afternoon I found myself driving north on little back highways en route to the Shooting Star Casino. Have you heard of Mahnomen, Minnesota? Me neither – but I’m here to tell you that it exists, and I’ve been there.

This was my first real experience of a casino, and it was everything I feared it would be, everything I hoped it would be, everything I dreamed it would be. Smoking is allowed (it seems like everyone knew this to be true: casinos allow smoking. But I DIDN’T KNOW! Life is full of wonders). The food was wretched – avoid the Whispering Winds restaurant – and the people-watching superb. The drinks were weak, but hey, they were $4.

When I looked at Mahnomen on a map, I couldn’t understand how this show would draw very many people; there just isn’t much up in that area of the state. But I sorely underestimated the devotion of Scotty’s fans: the place was packed.

Women young and old go crazy for Scotty because 1) he’s talented, and 2) he’s darling. Throughout the show, he would occasionally fling a guitar pick out into the audience, at which point there would be a mass stampede of estrogen toward a tiny sliver of plastic. At one point he threw a pick in my general direction, and I got body-slammed by the woman next to me, her head straight to my clavicle. She never did find it, and after the show when the lights came on, every woman around me dropped to their knees to crawl all over the carpet looking for the missing pick.

IMG_8543

After the show (which was FUN – these guys are so good at what they do), I got a front row seat to the drunken-fan malarkey that reaches beyond Scotty (tucked away on the bus) to his backing band (out amongst the casino commoners). From the relatively harmless girls wanting to take selfies with each band member to the older woman in a Shania t-shirt making gauche jokes about the name of her town (Climax, Minnesota) to the sad man who bumped into my barstool moaning, “I’m fat, I’m lazy, and I just lost it all,” Mahnomen was impressively inebriated.

But the thing I will always remember about this night is how much I laughed. There was so much to laugh about – and it made me realize how little I’ve been laughing lately. Between the combination of my quick-witted company and our comical surroundings, I just got to sit there dissolved by the funny, like Alka-Seltzer in a glass, bubbling until there was nothing left except feeling better.

The guys left on the bus at midnight, and I stayed in a questionable but free-of-charge room at the attached hotel. I awoke to the faint smell of urine (not mine) – a most appropriate ending to the most bizarre adventure – and drove home with a smile on my face.

:::::

We all juggle a lot of things – our jobs and our homes and our families and our health. We watch our weight and our bank accounts and our mouths in certain settings. We work like crazy with the promise of vacation only to have a hard time powering down our minds and our screens, leading us to wonder if time is the new money. Life can feel like our own personal snow globe, turning and shaking and making it tough to remember which end is up.

But then we kick off early on a Friday afternoon, and drive like mad to the middle of nowhere just to see some familiar faces – because our people are what matter. And to me, that’s what friendship is: taking the time, buying the gas, and heading to Who-Cares-Where just to see your friends, just to laugh really hard for just one night. Just to be reminded who you are.

And if it can happen at a northern prairie casino with bad drinks and horrid lighting, it can happen anywhere.

IMG_8557 (1)

Doxology in darkness

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

By nature, I’m a worrier, a worst-case-scenario projector, a catastrophizer. I have an extra hard time trusting that everything (or anything) is going to be okay. Last night I tossed and turned with about ten million anxieties on my brain, and woke up feeling like my life is a disaster (I suppose I’m a wee bit dramatic, too).

Then Foxy came and nudged my hand, telling me to get up. We went on a walk before work, like we always do, and I prayed the prayer of the sad and the weary and the meek and the small: “Help.” I came home and had a cup of coffee and an egg on toast, and put the miracle that is smoothing creme on my flyaway hairs, and dragged myself into the day.

Then I read this quote:
“To be grateful for an unanswered prayer, to give thanks in a state of interior desolation, to trust in the love of God in the face of the marvels, cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces of life is to whisper a doxology in darkness.”
―Brennan Manning

A doxology in darkness. Holy shit, that is beautiful. Strength enough for today, hope enough for tomorrow.

How to save money and still be fabulous

Friday, September 18th, 2015

Here in Minneapolis, my financial situation is slightly different than it was in Colorado. I’ve always kept a pretty strict budget, but because of a few decisions I’ve made (with eyes wide open – none of this is coming as a surprise), these days I’m needing to batten down the hatches. And you know what? It doesn’t feel constraining.

Because this is not deprivation – it’s purposeful planning. I designate a little bit of fun money like it’s an allowance, and enjoy spending it. But it’s absolutely freeing to know where every single one of my dollars is going. By creating and sticking to a budget each month, I don’t have to worry that I’m going to overspend and not have enough.

1930418_514888307970_740_n (1)

Without my initiation, several people have recently asked about the logistics of how I manage my money. Some might find that question invasive, but I LOVE PERSONAL FINANCE. Ever since I got out of debt, I’ve discovered the empowerment that is fiscal intentionality, and I am more than happy to discuss what works for me (and what doesn’t) with the people in my life.

I could share about the ins-and-outs of how I stay on track (quick version: cash envelopes – actual paper money divvied out by category), but today I just want to tell you about some of the helpful ways I’ve been cutting costs.

Let’s get thrifty.

:::::

HAIRCUT
This week, I skipped the salon and went to the local Aveda Institute to have my hair cut by a stylist-in-training. Given that a head massage, shoulder massage, hand massage, shampoo, cut, and style was $19 and I’m used to dropping at least $60, I figured that saving $41 was worth the risk of being a guinea pig.

The short story: I got a decent haircut, and would do it again.

The other part of the story: the 23-year old cutting my hair told me about all of her dramatic Tinder dates, ending with, “It’s fine – I’m not worried about it. As long as I’m not single in my 30s.” To which I responded:

ap

WORKOUT PANTS
So many gals in my life swear by lululemon. They claim that these pants make their butts look better – and for $100, I SHOULD HOPE SO.

I admit, I don’t own a single pair of these pants – and maybe if I did, I would join the throngs of believers. But while my friends DO look awesome, here’s my thinking: if you don’t like the way your butt looks, no pair of skintight yoga pants is going to change that. All workout leggings are going to slurp onto your body like a fish sucking on algae, lululemon or not, great booty or not.

With that in mind, I recently bought a pair of black yoga pants at Costco for $16, and they’re my favorite of any pair I’ve owned. Voila – there’s $84 back in my bank account!

[Word to the wise: when at Costco, avoid Snappers and Toasted Coconut Cashews. They are crack and you will never stop eating. This will not bode well for your new workout pants.]

HOMEMADE CHIPOTLE
Chipotle makes me happy when skies are grey. But each $7 starts to add up. Given that it’s the simplest meal of any fast food (actually, I believe they’re calling it “fast casual”), I’ve started making my own.

I cook several chicken breasts in the CrockPot – just chicken stock and fajita seasoning. When it’s finished, I throw the meat it in the food processor for a few quick pulses, and there’s my shredded chicken.

Then I sauté bell peppers and onions in one pan, and simmer black beans and corn in another. A bag of microwavable brown rice later, and I have everything I need for a delicious burrito bowl. I can usually get six meals out of this.

CURB THE DRINKING
I recently found myself drinking a little more than I felt good about – as in, not thinking twice about drinking wine with dinner more nights than not. Not a huge deal, I guess, and it wasn’t exactly interfering with my life or anything – but a couple of bottles of wine a week is basically tossing away $100/month.

So now I’m sticking to the “no drinking on weeknights” rule – which is probably how it should be anyway. Instead, I drink half a La Croix a night, and save the other half in the fridge for the next night. It’s flat by the time I get around to drinking the second half, but whatever. I have a Benjamin in my pocket.

BUNNY EARS
I don’t have cable. I have ABC, CBS, PBS, and FOX.

NO CREDIT CARD
I don’t spend money I don’t have. This one always seems to strike people as the most radical, because what about the points? – but points don’t pay the bills, folks. Money is finite, we can’t spend whatever we want, and to only use the money I have just makes a lot of sense.

:::::

Being intentional about my spending is allowing me to pay all of my bills each month, save for retirement, set money aside in savings, and prepare for car repairs, Foxy emergencies, and that stretch of April/May/June when half my family has birthdays – all the while living in a little house that I adore. I even allow myself the occasional latté and pedicure – out of the “Personal Care” envelope, of course.

If you have any ways you’ve figured out to be thrifty, I’d love to hear them. Together, we can save the world money.

Solid Gold giveaway

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

This is the last week of Foxy’s trial run with Solid Gold food, and I’m happy to report that she’s continued to eat every single day. The past two days, she’s finished her bowl both in the morning and in the evening – and while she’s no Annie Parsons (breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, popcorn), she seems to be getting the nourishment she needs.

Her coat is extra soft, she’s been a little more playful, and when I come home from work, she’s back to greeting me at the door. I don’t know how much of this might be due to the food she’s eating, but I’m going to guess a good amount – because if you’re hungry, how happy can you be?

The folks at Solid Gold have generously offered up a prize for a giveaway, including:
· One 4 pound bag of food (winner’s choice)
· A t-shirt
· A bag of treats
· A tote bag
· Some coupons
· A few other goodies and surprises

I’m hosting the giveaway over on my Facebook page – to enter, just hop on over and upload a picture of your pet in the comments section of the post. In a few days, I’ll use Woobox to pick the winner at random. So easy!

A huge thanks to Solid Gold for including Foxy in their Free Spirit Challenge. We’ll be sticking with their food.

Foxy_WI

My top 5 favorite songs

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Even if better songs are written in the future, I will always love these best.*

*Not a guarantee. Except for the first one, which will never, ever be unseated.

Lori McKenna, “The Luxury of Knowing”

Jonatha Brooke, “Because I Told You So”

Court Yard Hounds (w/ Jakob Dylan), “See You in the Spring”

Lee Ann Womack, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”

Gretchen Peters, “Circus Girl”

:::::

Runners up:

Gretchen Peters, “Five Minutes”

Patty Griffin, “Trapeze”

Sugarland, “Want To”

:::::

Just ignore some of the YouTube videos, mmmkay? Just listen to the songs.

Also, I recently updated my About Me page. It’s nothing you don’t already know. But there it is.

The baby squirrel, and all that followed

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

My sister Becca has this story. And I’ve asked her to tell it to me, like, three times because it’s so good. Now I want to share it with you.

Awhile back, Becca found a baby squirrel alone in her driveway. Here it was:

babysquirrel

Her dogs were barking, and she knew she couldn’t leave it – so she did what any animal lover would do: she wrapped it in a towel, brought it inside, and put it in a puppy kennel.

She called Animal Control, but got a voicemail message. “If this is an emergency, call State Patrol,” it said. So she called State Patrol.

A gruff man answered: “State Patrol.”

“Um, is this where I should call if I found a baby squirrel?” Becca asked.

Silence.

State Patrol was obviously no help, so she did an internet search and got the contact information for a wildlife sanctuary called Squirrel Creek. She got in touch with the nicest man, who told her to yeah, sure, bring the squirrel on down!

So she and her husband Mike drove down to Littleton after work, and pulled up at a huge lodge. They were confused because it looked like a business – a restaurant, even – but when they knocked on the door, a lone man answered. “Come on in!” he said.

They walked into a huge, empty banquet room, complete with a full bar and everything. “So, what is this place?” Mike asked.

“Oh, it’s a wildlife refuge. Also, a restaurant and a bar and a swing club and an events center.” With visions of swing dancing happening on the dance floor, Becca and Mike left the squirrel and headed home.

Becca posted an update on Facebook, telling her friends that the baby squirrel had been taken care of, and gave a shout-out to Squirrel Creek for being so great. They told all of their friends about this cool place down in Littleton – and maybe they should all go sometime?

Until one of their friends googled it. And they found this:

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 9.42.48 PM

They’d invited all of their friends to a 50,000 MEMBER SWINGERS CLUB. (Also a wildlife sanctuary. Of course.)