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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.

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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.

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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.

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Consolation

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Recently, I was talking to a sweet man from overseas. I’ve known him peripherally for a lot of years, although this was one of the only times we’d really talked.

He asked, “Why are you not married?”

I laughed. “I ask myself that all the time! I guess I just haven’t met the right person yet.”

“But how old are you?”

“I’m about to be 32.”

He paused, and then spoke slowly. “It’s okay. You still look young.”

Trading for cantaloupe

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

So, on Saturday –

Wait. Let me back up. I’m currently in Nashville. I drove here.

I was in Minneapolis last week, flew back to Denver Friday night, loaded up the car, and headed east first thing on Saturday morning. A quick stop over at my mom’s house in Kansas City on Saturday night, and another in St. Louis on Sunday afternoon (to see one of my dearest friends, THE Juliette Genteman), and by last night, I was pulling into the driveway of Brandon and Miranda – or as I like to call them, Mirbranda. Everything about this trip has been tops.

Back to Saturday. In the middle of Kansas, I took a detour and wound up at Mushroom Rock State Park – probably the tiniest state park I’ve ever seen (5 acres), and the strangest phenomenon: gigantic alien rocks standing inexplicably in the middle of farmland, an agricultural Stonehenge.

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Foxy and I jumped out to snap a few pictures, and – oh. This is where I show you the vehicle I was driving.

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Nice and loud, right? It attracts a lot of attention. So I wasn’t surprised when a woman approached me. “You’re from Colorado?” she asked. “I’m heading there tomorrow. Anything I just gotta see?”

She looked to be about 65, maybe a little older. She was driving a little white pickup with Florida plates, the topper on the back packed to the brim with her things. Her spunk was all too clear, as I soon learned that she was en route to Wyoming to work on a ranch for a few months – much to the worry of her children.

“But you know, I just tell them, you’re only old once!” And she laughed with her entire body.

I asked her to take a picture of Foxy and me in front of the rocks, and she was happy to oblige, calling for the dog’s attention: “Roxy! Roxy!” I didn’t bother to correct her.

As I was leaving, I pulled out a box of bars and offered them to her. Her eyes wide, she immediately raised both of her hands, fingers spread, and aimed her palms at me: “Oh, nooooo, I couldn’t possibly accept!” I told her that it was okay, that I work for the company, and that part of what I do is give stuff away. I opened the box and showed her all of the different flavors, and said, “Please take them!”

She thought about it for a second, and then said, “Well, do you like cantaloupe?”

And before I knew it, she reached into the bed of her pickup and pulled out half a melon, covered in foil.

“Oh, that’s okay –” I started, but she cut me off. “No, take it! Fresh from the farmer’s market this morning.” And with that, I traded a box of bars for half a cantaloupe – because don’t you want to live in a world where melon is currency?

I opened the car door and Foxy jumped in, the lady calling after her, “Bye, Rocky!” And then she turned to me and said, “Remember – don’t talk to strangers. We never met.” I smiled and laughed and said, “I won’t tell if you won’t tell,” as I buckled up and got ready to leave.

When I started to pull away, I noticed her next to the car waving her arms. I stopped and rolled down the window. She trotted up alongside to say, “Don’t forget a spoon.” And she handed me a plastic spoon, because maybe I’d want to eat the cantaloupe out of my lap while flying down the interstate.

I never caught her name.

Trollhaugen

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Fear not, loyal readers – despite last week’s ridiculous debacle, Foxy and I have not been nabbed by the Canine Gestapo. It probably helped that I was out of town for the second half of last week, far from the arm of Colorado law in a mystical land called Wisconsin.

Actually, I was only in Wisconsin for one night. The bulk of my trip was spent in Minneapolis, a city I pop in and out of for work – but rather than holing up in a hotel room to order room service and catch up on “The Mindy Project” (not that I would have complained), I opted to spend Friday evening doing as the locals do. In this case, I was swept away to a truly bizarre place: Trollhaugen.

They call Trollhaugen a “ski resort,” but it’s really just a hill in Dresser, Wisconsin. Maybe they piled up some dirt with bulldozers? Who knows. What’s important is that the slopes are open until 3am, which, judging by the festivities I witnessed in the lodge, I can only assume leads to many a drunken concussion. But if there’s anything I’m learning about the folks up north (or as the ‘Sconcies* say, nort’), it’s that they are hearty stock.

Drinks were $3.50 (read: three dollars and fifty cents). I ordered the cheese curds, because when in Wisconsin – although upon delivery, I found them to be nothing more than string cheese nuggets that were battered and fried. Again – NOT COMPLAINING. Just giving you an accurate vision. College-aged kids swept in and out of the lodge all night, en route to another kamikaze run down the snowy hill. I kept my parka on the entire time.

And so the evening passed.

The only people I knew were the band that was playing, so during their set, I did something that I’m finding I quite like: I talked to strangers. For being an introvert, I really love people – and given the three significant moves to different cities in my adult life, as well as my propensity to go places by myself, I’m getting pretty good at talking to the ones I don’t know. The trick is to swallow your pride and get nice and comfortable with the awkward, because of course it will be awkward – at least for the first sentence or two, if not the entire interaction. Oh well, get over it. There are worse things in life than awkwardness (see: tapeworms, the DMV, velour sweatsuits, hangnails, loud talkers on airplanes, paper cuts, grenades, running out of hot water when you still have conditioner in your hair, litter, wet socks, people saying “irregardless,” slow internet, the way your hands feel after peeling an orange, cold sores, SeaWorld, stepping on a thumbtack, dental work, passive aggression, Styrofoam, perhaps the way this blog is ending?).

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*I have zero idea if people from Wisconsin are known as ‘Sconcies, but if it’s not already a thing, please. Let’s make it a thing.

How to be Social: A Guide for the Introvert

Monday, June 17th, 2013

I love a big party. I’m far from shy. I can carry a conversation, nail a job interview, draw a stranger out of her shell, and tell a good story.

But I am also an introvert, which means that if left to my own devices, I would hang out by myself basically all of the time. I don’t hate people, I don’t hate fun, I’m not (always) socially awkward – I’m just more content than the average person to be alone. I like being alone. I need it. When I’m alone, I feel creative, laugh out loud at jokes I make up in my head, drive my car in silence, and sort through my emotions like a boss.

But just because I’m an introvert doesn’t mean that I’m immune to loneliness. And just because my tendency is to choose solitude doesn’t mean that it’s always the best thing for me.

So I’m learning how to occasionally combat my natural disposition, because I believe that people are actually pretty spectacular creatures and it’s worth it to spend my time with them. Go figure.

So without further ado, here are my thoughts on How to be Social (and So Can You!).

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PLAN AHEAD
When it comes to social activity, introverts aren’t the best with spontaneity. For example, if I drive home from my open floor plan office where I’ve been within arm’s reach of people all day long and I don’t have any evening plans, chances are that I will turn down any last-minute invites to spend time with friends because LEAVE ME ALONE.

But when an introvert puts something on the calendar and has an opportunity to mentally prepare, the chance is greater for social success. So I’m trying to project out a week or two in advance and agree to at least one event each week. And then I spend the days before gathering up every ounce of energy I can muster in hopes that I’ll be happy and personable when I attend the event. Sometimes it works, sometimes it…

Sometimes it works.

TAKE RISKS
I don’t like to do things that I don’t know I’m going to enjoy or be good at, so I tend to stick with what I know. I eat the exact same thing for breakfast every single day, I don’t go wakeboarding, I ignore volunteer opportunities, and I hike alone so there’s no chance of awkward conversation with a companion. Then again, there’s more chance of death by bear mauling. I suppose that’s the trade-off.

But I’m learning to just say yes, even if I’m not so sure about it. Go see a band I’ve never heard of? Yes. Look a stranger in the eye at the grocery store? Yes. Head downtown to an event even though I don’t know exactly where to park? Yes. The little risks add up, and all of a sudden, I’m meeting new people and doing new things and the story of my life has literally changed.

HIDE IN THE BATHROOM
When I find myself surrounded by people, I’ve decided it’s okay to take breaks to clear my head. I politely excuse myself, shut the bathroom door, and lean my head against the doorframe like a crazy person about to lose her mind. It’s okay.

But I’m not allowed to escape out the window, and neither are you.

Take a deep breath, fix your hair in the mirror, and get back out there. Take it from me: introverts are fabulous, and it would be rude to withhold ourselves from the world.

SPEND TIME ALONE
Counterintuitive, yes. After all, aren’t we talking about how to be social?

But introverts are wired a certain way. We will self-destruct if we don’t take the time to refuel in solitude. If we pressure ourselves to DO MORE! SAY MORE! HANG OUT WITH PEOPLE MORE! all of the time, we will fall apart and probably be a miserable person to the people we’re trying so hard to interact with.

Hole up sometimes. You’ll thank yourself later.

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Yesterday, I didn’t leave my house until 4pm. I spray painted a picture frame and played guitar and watched three episodes of “The Bachelorette” (a topic for another time) and wrote a few emails and organized my bathroom and did laundry and reveled in extravagant silence.

Then, when it was time, Toad and I walked out the door and we drove to a party in Boulder. I chatted with people I had never met, caught up with the few I knew, and put two chicken breasts on the grill so I would have dinner for a week. Later on, I drove to Lafayette and walked into a house I’d never been and met a bunch of new people, and I took out my guitar and we all played songs and sang, and I learned 4 chords on the banjo so I could be as backwoods as I’ve always known I am, and I whispered about heartbreak to a new friend, and when the clock read close to 11 and I finally left, I put Toad back in the car and we drove through the darkness in silence and I thought, “Whatever today was, I want more of it.”

Slow cooking

Monday, December 10th, 2012

My sister Becca is getting married next month (NEXT MONTH), so this weekend, my mom and sister Sarah came to town from Kansas City to help me throw her a bridal shower. The past three days were packed full of tasks and events and baking and set-up, and the house was packed full of friends and family, and my heart was packed full of the catch-22 that is this: I love people more than anything, and people exhaust me more than anything.

I’m afraid that this weekend, the exhaustion won.

After a weekend of non-stop action and interaction, I didn’t want to come home from work tonight and think about dinner. So before I left for work this morning, I pulled out the Crock-Pot, and threw in the makings for the easiest, most low-key, most delicious meal. I think I saw this on Pinterest at one point, although I have never had to go back and look at the recipe because it’s just that simple.

Throw the following into a slow cooker:
1 cup salsa
2 tbsp. fajita seasoning
2 tbsp. lime juice
3-4 chicken breasts, thawed and cut into 1” strips
3-4 bell peppers, cut into 1” strips
1 small onion, diced

Turn it on low for 7-8 hours. Do not worry about dinner all day long. Come home from work and find your house smelling like Mexican food heaven. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and sprinkle with some cheese. Eat. Let the dog lick the bowl when you’re finished.

There. No me gusta STRESS.

Have any favorite slow cooker recipes to share? I’m all about the Crock-Pot these days.

False alarm

Friday, May 4th, 2012

I am spending the weekend in Boston with my dear friend Christina. Boston is one of my favorite cities, and Christina is one of my favorite friends, so in other words, everything is wonderful.

Before I boarded my flight on Thursday, I got an email from Christina saying, “Hope your flight leaves on time and that you’re not sitting next to another trademark weirdo” – bizarre plane-interactions seeming to be par for the course for me.

When I found myself seated next to a nondescript, completely silent gentleman, I was overjoyed. The 4-hour flight was without incident and without conversation – which equates to a hearty “hallelujah” from this introvert. We descended quietly into Boston, and I stared out the window at the clear night sky.

But as we taxied to the gate, something happened. Something surprising. Something shocking.

In the dark and silent plane, the man next to me suddenly yelled at the top of his lungs, “IT’S SNOWING!”

My head was suddenly on a swivel. Where do I look? Outside! At the man! Around at the other passengers! Back outside! Every person on the plane had turned to look at my row-mate, who was staring blankly ahead, ignoring all attention and acting as if nothing had happened.

It was not snowing.

He wasn’t even sitting by the window.

Eventually, I took a cue from the man and stared straight ahead, too.

Needing each other

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

One night last week, I called Julie on my way home from work. Julie is one of my best friends, knows me very well, and doesn’t mind when I leave long, rambling voicemails – which is what I did that night. Among various and sundry details, at the end of the message, I voiced a fear I have about my relationships: “I hope I’m not disappearing.”

In this disconnected world, as friendships change with time and distance, it’s easy for any of us to fear being unknown – if I went away, would anyone notice? Everyone is so busy, so involved in their own lives – if I disappeared, would it even matter?

The next morning, I woke to find an email from my next door neighbor. He was leaving town that day, and his dog-sitter had fallen through. Could I take care of his 140 lb. St. Bernard, Bo?

Over the years, as my income has slowly increased, I’ve found that so has my autonomy. A ride to the airport? No thanks, I’ll just pay for parking. Borrow a dress for a wedding? It’s okay, I’ll buy my own. Need help moving? I’m alright, I’ll just hire movers.

Post-college, increasingly more so year after year, I’ve found that we seem to need each other less and less. Independence is all well and good – but at what point does our self-sufficiency actually do us a disservice? At what point does our maverick mindset lead to a lonely detachment?

And when does our relational disconnect actually deprive someone else of being seen, being noticed, being needed?

I said yes to taking care of Bo. It was the smallest thing – feeding him, letting him out a couple of times, taking him on a walk which I would have gone on anyway. Arriving at the front door and having him shove his massive head into my hands for some love was the highlight of that day and a half – and for those 36 hours, I felt needed. I felt connected. I felt seen.

The next time I need help, I’m going to ask for it. Who knows – someone might need me more than I need them.

Barns and such

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Well.  My mom said that yesterday’s post made her want to throw herself off a building.

So there’s that.

But on another note, I got some emails from people who were saying that they’ve been there, felt that, got the t-shirt.  Go figure – it seems that loneliness runs in the culture these days.

Thank you, friends (W, C, M, L, H, and G), for your words of solidarity.  We should have a club.  It can be called the Walking Wounded.  Our mascot can be Toad the 3-legged dog.

Greta once heard a sermon in which the pastor (Richard Dahlstrom – holler) compared life to a barn.  You can keep your barn empty, and therefore, very clean and orderly – but that’s not what a barn is meant for.  A barn is made to house LIFE.  And if you invite life into the barn, then you’re bound to have to shovel some shit.

Except I think that Pastor Richard probably didn’t said “shit.”

Guys, I don’t even really say “shit.”  Sometimes the blog flies away from me, and all of a sudden, I’m a cusser.  In real life, I only say cuss words when I stub my toe (often) or Gabe drags the kitchen trash all over the living room (thrice now).

Anyhow, I’ve passed this barn analogy along to a few people, and it seems really pertinent to me all of a sudden.  To invite others in is to welcome the mess.  In a way, it’s what we’re made for.

A few months ago when I was in Nashville, I heard another pastor (Craig Brown – holler again) say that we’re so quick to say that we don’t need Jesus – that is, until we come into contact with other people.  Then, all of a sudden, people are bugging us and letting us down, and we’re failing and disappointing them and becoming the worst versions of ourselves – and without warning, we realize that we need a savior.

I tend to like the idea of being self-sufficient.  I don’t like to need anyone or anything – because what if the needing is met with… nothing?

But luckily, my needing isn’t met with nothing.  There’s grace enough for you, and – miracle of miracles – grace enough for me.

Heroes and imperfections

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

I promise to not make this blog into one never-ending series called “What I’m Reading – and So Should You!”  But – sue me, people – I’m reading a lot right now.  And unless you want to hear about my dream last night (I killed a wild hog), then thank your lucky stars that it’s a post about a book.

At the suggestion of my cutie friend Carrie Cohen (SHOUT OUT), I’m currently reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” by Garth Stein.  The narrator (who happens to be a dog – stay with me) gives an account of the family that he lives with, all the while waxing poetic about life, philosophy, and race car driving – which he has learned a great deal about from his master.  Maybe it’s a silly idea, allowing a dog to narrate, but so far, it’s a fun shift of perspective.

Here’s one of my favorite passages – and yes, this is the dog thinking:

“The true hero is flawed.  The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferably of his own making – in order to triumph.  A hero without a flaw is of no interest to an audience or to the universe, which, after all, is based on conflict and opposition, the irresistible force meeting the unmovable object.  Which is also why Michael Schumacher, clearly one of the most gifted Formula One drivers of all time, winner of more races, winner of more championships, holder of more pole positions than any other driver in Formula One history, is often left off of the race fan’s list of favorite champions.  He is unlike Ayrton Senna, who often employed the same devious and daring tactics as Schumacher, but did so with a wink and therefore was called charismatic and emotional rather than what they call Schumacher: remote and unapproachable.  Schumacher has no flaws.  He has the best car, the best-financed team, the best tires, the most skill.  Who can rejoice in his wins?  The sun rises every day.  What is to love?  Lock the sun in a box.  Force the sun to overcome adversity in order to rise.  Then we will cheer!”

Hilarious that Stein attributes thoughts like these to a mere mongrel of a dog – but also, a little bit poignant.  Because if we’re honest, even – and maybe especially – in our simplest moments, don’t we feel the exact same way?

Perfection is boring – and so it’s interesting to me that we often expect the people around us to be perfect.  Why do we insist on something other than just real life with others?  If we’re honest, wouldn’t we rather experience someone’s flaws – with the hope and expectation that they just might triumph over their shortcomings?  Wouldn’t we love to be a part of that?

Wouldn’t we love for others to give us that chance?

Wouldn’t we love to give ourselves that chance?