Monday, November 29, 2010

Snowstorms and Icestorms and Cold - Oh, well!

Yup.  We finally got our summer arses handed to us here in Minneapolis this month.  After a deceivingly September-like start to November, Mother Nature decided our warm weather karma had hit the goose egg.  Only a few weeks ago, I walked home from work in nearly 70 degree weather.  In shorts and a t-shirt!  In Minnesota!  The following night was so balmy that a few of us took advantage of an al fresco happy hour.  A very surreal experience, knowing we should be getting pelted with a cold, uh, November rain (sorry, GnR!).  However, there was no complaining as we sipped our Jamesons and Guinnesses and watched the sun set at a very non-summer hour.

Good old Mama Nature must be a fun-hater, because just a few nights later, I was watching snow falling in the glow of the street lights.  That would turn into what was apparently the biggest pre-Thanksgiving snowfall in 19 years.  A week after that fun, she treated us to the biggest ice storm in 20 years.  Mmm, interstate skating…  not so much.  Just to really stick it to us for enjoying the super-extended Indian summer, she slapped us with subzero windchills.

From near 70 degrees to -10 degrees in a mere 20-odd days.  And all before December.

Winter is finally here.  Some friends jump for joy and run for their sleds and cross-country skis.  Others (particularly some of my Southern pals) have a meltdown.  Having grown up in Chicagoland, it’s more like “meh” to me.  I'm not a fan of the first cold snap (especially this one), but after a while, you accept it.  After all, we just move happy hour indoors!

Knowing that the weather is only headed downhill from here, I’ve become quite interested in the down coats currently on display.  I have a great black, ankle-length down coat that’s been my Old Faithful for the last few years.  As you can guess, it’s already made its debut this month.  Whenever I wear it, which looks to be now through February, I refer to myself as a pizza roll.  Not really sure why.  I look more like that kid in A Christmas Story than something from the frozen food aisle.  On second thought, after 10 minutes of waiting for the bus in frigid temps, maybe not.  A pic of Old Faithful:

She's long, she's super warm, and she's also kinda shapeless.  Hence, pizza roll-ish.  Anyway.  The trusty coat is starting to show her age (yeah, like my Aersoles boots).  This isn't to say I love her - oh, I do, do!  But she needs a day off here and there (don't we all!) so I don't run her into the ground.  And I’ve been seeing a number of cute coats via all the emails and catalogs crowding my inboxes, both virtual and metal.  So, here are some toasty-looking ones that have caught my eye...  click on the images for more info.

My friends swear by The North Face.  I might have to see what all the gushing is about.  The length of this coat, which is called the "Triple C," isn't as long as Old Faithful's, but it's still a possibility.  I found this one on both the Bloomingdale's and The North Face websites.

Again, the North Face…  this time from Nordstrom, my favorite department store.  The black color makes it a little more stylin' than the grey coat above, but the latter boasts a slightly longer hemline.

A while back, I got a catalog from Bloomingdale's.  One of the pages showed off a great North Face puffer in a red color that I adore.  Granted, it's not nearly long enough, but I got suckered in by the deep red.  With apologies for the slightly distorted angle, here it is:

When I checked back online recently, I couldn't locate this coat on their website in the shown color.  I checked the North Face's website as well, and it showed the coat in a seemingly different red hue called "Squid Red."  Having flashbacks to my earlier post about J. Crew's color miss?  Me, too.  So I'm not sure who to trust here.  Bloomie's and North Face, help?  Are these the same color or did Bloomie's get an exclusive edition?

OK, you’ve gotta love a company like the Wisconsin-based Lands' End, which has its own share of nasty winters and lets you search for outerwear by temperature rating.  I mean, where else can I shop in the -15 F to -40 F range?  Yes, they offer that range and yes, I can guarantee you we will see temperatures that low.  On a particularly harsh winter day this past January, my husband used his trusty iPhone to search cities with a lower temp than Minneapolis.  He couldn’t find a major city that could beat us.  Even Moscow was comparatively balmy that day.

Anyhoo... here's their Womens Luxe Down Coat.  I appreciate the belt, since I need all the help I can get to not look like some blobby column of pouf.  The faux-fur trim on the hood is a nice touch, and it has fleece-lined pockets!

Their Dory coat looks pretty hardcore.  Not liking the absence of a belt, but it's not a deal-killer.  Hemline looks longer, too.

Here's one from Juicy Couture, which I found via one of my favorite online retailers, Revolve Clothing.

Last, we have a sweet-looking option, courtesy of another fave e-tailer, Shopbop.  The brand is Add Down.  Again, belted = good.  It's definitely the sleekest of the bunch, all shiny and kinda sexy.

I have to say, it can be hard to look even remotely stylish when it’s cold enough outside to make your head hurt after 60 seconds.  But the above pictures give me some hope.  Considering I could be wearing down for the next 3 months straight, methinks I need to alternate Old Faithful with a New Faithful.  Like I said, a day off for the old girl.

While I mull over my big, fat coat predicament, I feel compelled to share the love and ask you (yes, you!) what your go-to winter coat is?  A big wool coat with thinsulate?  A puffer like the ones I’m contemplating?  It could be you’re lucky enough to be in warmer climes, and something light and cotton-y is all you need.  (I’m jealous now, but not come summer…  I used to live in Texas and remember what that was like when June rolled around).  Wherever you are, whether it's the US or the UK, Muenchen or Seoul, I'd love to hear about your favorite cold-weather coat.

For my fellow US peeps, I hope you’ve had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend full of good food, drink, football, family and friends.  I’ve enjoyed the last few days and amply imbibed, and now that I think about it, calling myself a pizza roll isn’t so far off the mark J

Images:  all credits are noted in the above text, the Old Faithful image is my own, catalog photo courtesy of Bloomingdale's

Monday, November 22, 2010

Swan Kick, Part Two

Last year, I had the silly idea of taking ballet classes.  Now, let it be known that I’ve never (as in, ever) taken a ballet class.  In fact, dance classes of any kind are totally foreign to me.  I grew up on a steady diet of clarinet lessons and other decidedly geeky (but great) pursuits.  While my friends were taking jazz and tap on weeknights, I was squeaking away at Mozart and Poulenc.
But over the last few years, I kept thinking about ballet. 

Why, my friends asked, would I want to take up something that was associated with pain and forever messed up feet?  A number of them had taken classes as kids.  While most of them loved it, they always warned me of the toll it had taken on their lower extremities.  As one friend said, "You've seen my Frankenfeet, right?"  This is not to say they didn't support me.  They absolutely did.  My supporters merely wanted to give me a heads up on the physical icks.  I assured them I was only taking a beginner's class in regular slippers.  No pointe classes for me.  Although, I have to admit as a shoe fanatic, those torturous satin constructions sure are pretty.

One reason I wanted to learn ballet concerned discipline and grace.  Also, my last kickboxing instructor mentioned that ballet classes could help with balance and overall poise.  Because you do need poise to correctly kick the crap out of something, or someone.  And I like kicking and hitting.  This is why I’d been taking intermittent kickboxing classes for years.  We'll take a quick detour here, and I'll give you a brief history of that, since it's roundhouse kicks that ultimately led me to grands battements.

It all began back in, oh, 2002, while I was living in Chicago.  I'd joined a posh health club, and they offered a boxing circuit class.  So I signed up, figuring it would be a nice break from the elliptical and treadmill routines.  Taught by a former boxer, I quickly realized how much I enjoyed it all.  He made the class fun; we participated in drills like ducking back and forth under a rope and throwing medicine balls back over our heads.  And hitting, of course.  I loved it when we'd form a line and take turns just pummeling our instructor's arm pads.

Later, when I moved to Minneapolis, I joined other gyms and had different instructors.  More hitting, plus the excellent addition of kicking, but the recipient was always the instructor or a big old bag.  That changed when I moved to a little gym dedicated to kickboxing, run by a no-nonsense guy with a practical sense of humor that I liked.  At this place, you still kicked and hit, but you had a partner.  This meant sometimes you were hitting, and sometimes you were getting hit.  So you kind of had to be paying attention, lest you should space for a minute and get a cheekful of workday frustration swaddled in a stinky, sweaty boxing glove.  It wasn't really sparring, but there were some exercises where we were hopping around and waiting for our partner to take a swipe at us.

My partner was my friend Michelle, who’d been taking classes with me the prior year at a different gym.  We both ended up leaving after our teacher was laid off, and she convinced me to join her new spot.  Michelle was no less intense than anyone else in class, and I had to quickly learn to receive what I doled out (or tried to).  I have vivid memories of hugging a huge bag against my chest (I think they were called "blaster" bags), waiting for Michelle to do a running kick straight into my sternum.  I'm still surprised I didn't go into cardiac arrest at some point.  Sheesh.  While I was probably a less than stellar partner, it was great fun, a solid workout, and a good way to vent whatever was irritating me that day.

As mentioned earlier, I lucked into having an instructor named Suzanne, who was very encouraging and very nice.  You could also tell she could kick your ass in a moment flat.  It was Suzanne who seemed to possess the flexibility and grace that comes from a dancer's background.  I envied (and still do) her amazing and effortless spinning back kicks.

My interest in becoming a better kicker, coupled with the desire to try something new, led me to the doors of Zenon Dance School.  The school is part of the Zenon Dance Company, which boasts a solid reputation in the Twin Cities as one of the premier dance companies.  Not content to play second fiddle, the school was also recognized this year as the best place to learn how to dance by one of our local paper’s annual surveys.

I arrived for my first class in the stately old Hennepin Center for the Arts, a massive Richardsonian building located downtown.  It felt like school, it even smelled like school, as I walked down the hallway.  Since my new endeavor began in September, it felt all the more appropriate to enroll in a class.  Images of that TV show of my youth, Fame, and photos from the book, A Very Young Dancer, flashed in my head as I entered the room.  Three of the walls were lined with barres, mirrors took up one entire wall, and some very experienced-looking, sylph-like dancers were warming up in full-on dance attire.  I’m pretty sure I was the only one who looked like a lost gym rat in my shorts and t-shirt.  Making a fool of myself isn’t something I shirk away from, as you can see.

My instructor was a very high-energy lady named Becky.  She’d run around the room as we’d do our relevés, pliés and piqués.  And while I’d lumber through the exercises, Becky was always supportive and kind.  I mean, she’d correct you if your form was off, but in a way that your favorite high school teacher or aunt could point something out without making you feel like an idiot.  After hearing horror stories about stern ballet teachers from my friends, it's obvious that Becky is the complete opposite.  She wants you to try everything without the fear of being ridiculed.  She welcomes everyone.  In fact, I finally went to a class a couple of weeks ago after a (cough) three month absence.  She immediately said hello, addressing me by name, and said it was nice to see me again in class.  In fact, Becky gets a shout-out in the aforementioned poll.

It’s been over a year since I first walked into that classroom.  While I have not been very consistent with my attendance, I’ve probably racked up about 4 months worth of weekly classes.  I’ve learned a lot.  And I’ve found something I genuinely love.  You know how a lot of people have that thing that relaxes them?  Most of my friends swear by yoga.  Ballet is my yoga.  Similar to poses in a bikram class (or my experience of it), ballet makes me focus and relax at the same time.  It’s a workout.  Sometimes I even break a sweat.  Becky's class moves fast, and the last portion includes floor exercises.  My legs always feel like mush after the hour and a half class.  As for the discipline and grace I was seeking?  The German major in me appreciates the technique and rigor involved, and the little princess in me loves the grace in moving an arm up, out, and down.

I also love that the class is diverse, both age and gender-wise.  There’s a guy who’s probably in his late fifties; he shows up in his black leotard and is for sure in better shape than I am.  The general mood is casual and friendly.  One girl offered to sew the straps of my ballet slippers into the typical criss-cross pattern.  She’d spotted my decidedly un-ballerina-ish method of securing my shoes, which you can laugh at in my pictures.  Another gave me support when I admitted I’d never taken a class before.

So, there’s my ballet story.  I went into it thinking about kicking stuff.  Now, I relevé while waiting for the microwave to blast my dinner, and I'm currently practicing hopping forward onto one foot and staying there.  Like a clumsy old cat trying to pounce, I guess, but then keeping the back legs up in the air.  OK, bad analogy.  In any case, it's a lot harder than it seems.

Moral of the story here?  I went into ballet with a supplemental mindset, but instead, I found something that I really, really like.

Images:  my own

Monday, November 15, 2010

Swan Kick, Part One

It’s Monday, but my brain says it’s still Sunday.  Or maybe it just fast-forwarded right to Friday at 5:00 PM.  At any rate, it doesn’t want to help me write anything substantial tonight.  So, I thought I’d just share something I like and have been longing for.

Formerly for sale on one of my favorite e-tail sites,, this little gem is a t-shirt design that has since sold out.  It's called Swan Kick.  Click on the photo to get the 411 I was able to find on the designer.  Because you can request shirt re-prints, I’ve been pestering them to do just that.  Man, I love this t-shirt.  I waaant this shirt.  Heck, I would kick someone for this shirt.  Menacing, I know.

As a longtime Threadless fan, I’ve enjoyed buying a number of their great offerings over the past few years.  It’s set up so anyone (or it seems that way) can submit a design for a shirt.  The submittal then gets voted on by the Threadless-going public.  As you can guess, the most popular designs win.  They then get printed up and retailed out.  Love it.

Ish.  I feel like I owe this design words more eloquent than my braincells can muster.  It's fun.  It's bright.  And it involves kicking.  I love kicking.  But it’s also Monday.

So, happy lethargic Monday.  Enjoy the image.  I’ll follow it up with an explanation in the next post.  You’ll be amused, I promise.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vielen Dank!

Before wading into this blog any deeper, I need to pause at the kiddie-end of the pool and give some serious thanks to a couple of ladies. 

First, to my friend Elly, who is savvy in many things computer-related and writes her own blog.  One reason I decided to join the madness was the enjoyment I had from perusing her posts.  My good friend has had the privilege of work-related travel taking her to exotic places.  While I was flying over to Denver and Boston, she was jetting off to Amman and Beijing.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Mile High City (hello, my earlier marathon blog entry) and Beantown.  But, dang, her pictures are just a whole lot cooler than mine.

She helped me through some of my basic questions, such as “what blogging tool should I use”, “am I a total nutcase to start a blog”, and the always popular, “what if it sucks?”  She came over to my place one night and, with her steady confidence (and a couple glasses of red wine), we just decided to go for it!  So, a big thanks to Elly for helping me start the blog in the first place.

There’s another gal to thank as well, especially since fashion plays a huge part of her blog’s mission.  With a solid three years experience under her belt, Sally McGraw can be very proud of her blog, “Already Pretty,” which aims to help women conquer self-image issues through fashion and advice.  Given the barrage of media images and messages that surrounds us, this is no small feat.  I check into Sally’s blog regularly; her enthusiasm, upbeat tone, and breadth of relevant topics have won her many fans, as evidenced by the sheer number of comments she gets after her posts.  She also models ridiculously cute outfits to illustrate her points and give inspiration.  Love it.  You can see what it’s all about here.  In fact, I had to include a photo from her blog, posted today, because I may stalk her over the gorgeous skirt that she's wearing.  Covet, covet...

Sally was very kind to meet with me back in September to share her experiences with blogging.  Ever the supportive soul as I asked more questions and babbled on about my big ideas, she had me think about the larger picture, as well as how to manage details and navigate blog terms (“what’s a gadget?”).  Since her blog is quite public, it was also interesting to hear about the issues she’s dealt with, from advertising to comments to blog design and layout.

While their blogs are generally geared towards different audiences, both Elly and Sally gave me valuable advice and suggestions.  I’m sure I’ll be turning to them again when I’m wrestling with something on here.  Many of my friends have been supportive of my new endeavor, but if it weren’t for these two ladies, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. 

So…  to Elly and Sally – cheers and many thanks!

Image:  courtesy of Already Pretty

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Back To The Topic At Hand...

Lest we all forget what the majority of this blog is about, it’s time to steer my writings back to all things fashion-y.  And, before the last two posts about mile-high drinking and You Tube madness, it was about boots.

I’m still in a tizzy over boots, but not the winter ones.  Not right now.  The obsession with all things cozy and shearling was promptly forgotten the other day, when I discovered my favorite boots were starting to go to hell.  

You know how you have that one pair of boots…  the ones that are cute, classic, get tons of compliments and are totally comfy?  The ones that get worn for nearly eight months of the year (hey, remember, I live up Nord)?

Well, I have that pair.  Actually, I have three of ‘em.  Same style, different colors.  They've all celebrated their fourth birthdays and are, sadly, starting to show their age.

Ooh, you ask, "Are they Cole Haan?  J. Crew?  Via Spiga?"


My all-star boots are...  Aerosoles.  And better yet – they’re pleather.  I love them dearly.  So much, in fact, that I snapped some pictures to share with you, in all their beloved and beat-up glory.

You might be thinking – meh, fake leather boots.  So what?  Well, I’ll tell you what.  They are the best-fitting, most comfortable and reliable boots that I own.  We can all blab on and on and on about those stately Cole Haans and sexy Stuart Weitzmans, but in the end, they just mock me.

Why?  Alas, I have small calves (although my recent foray into ballet has about a 5% chance of changing that, I suppose).  I ogle and drool over gorgeous leather boots (real leather!) by those fine brands, but in the end, I look like a complete doofus.  Like a little kid trying on her mom’s "grown-up" boots.  It happens all the time.  I’ll be in the store and totally gravitate over to a pair of fabulous leather boots.  Why not, I figure, maybe this one will be different.  So I send off the poor salesperson to find my size.  Try them on.  Sigh.  Yeah, who looks ridiculous?  Me.

Quick tangent:  Granted, the recent trend of stuffing your jeans into boots has helped me with the toothpick-in-a-boot look.  I’ve got some good skinny jeans that have worked nicely and allowed me to buy, and actually wear, leather boots now.  I've snagged a pair of Frye boots as well as a couple pairs of more affordable black ones.  Casual Fridays at work are a lot more fun.

But, back to my tizzy!  Back to what to wear the other four days of the work week, when I live in skirts and not in Citizens of Humanity!

When I realized all three beloved pairs were starting to bite it, I panicked.  And hit the web.  I’m not sure what the company’s current status is, but I’m noticing Aerosoles are a little harder to find right now.  Zappos, that bastion of infinite shoe heaven, turns out to be finite after all.  In fact, it doesn’t even carry Aerosoles.  So I went right to the source: nearly screamed with delight when, at the bottom of their sale page, I found my old boots!  Score!  I thought they were gone forever-ever.  Even more sweet was the name of my boots - "With Love."  I mean, how appropriate is that?!

As happy as a clam as I was to find my old boot style still alive – and in both black and dark brown – I was disappointed to find that my tan pair seems to be discontinued.  Tan’s a tricky color, but oh I love that pair just as much.  I’ve got outfits matched to those boots, saving precious time in the morning from having to think about such coordination.

With no tan boot to offer me on their website, I quickly bought the two pairs I had found (On sale!  Free shipping!  Did I say "score" already?).  Then I took a virtual stroll over to eBay, where timing and luck seem to play a strong hand in what you'll find.

Since the purchase of the original trio, I’d turned to eBay before, to find back-up pairs.  I'd done OK in the past and found 2 pairs of black Aerosoles similar to mine.  One is holding up pretty well, but the material is stiffer.  The other is closer to the pleather material of my old boots, and more comfy, but it’s deteriorating already. 

Well, this visit to eBay was not as fruitful.  There was one tan pair being auctioned, but they were about as worn as mine, according to the honest description by the seller (which I truly appreciate).  So, the search will have to continue for those.

Anyway, it's not all bad.  I can't wait to get the boots from Aerosoles.  Here they are in their latest incarnation, all shiny and new on their website:

Mission is two-thirds accomplished.  It's almost the weekend.  I've got a friend's birthday happy hour to attend tomorrow, and a Saturday night ahead full of football, cheap Bloody Marys and cheese curds.

No complaining from me :)

Images:  first four - my own; fifth - Aerosoles website

Monday, November 1, 2010

Some Things Just Can't Be Explained

Since I probably fried your braincells and eyeballs with my last gi-nor-mous post, I thought I'd keep today's entry short and sweet.  And silly.

Boy, I guess I've been living under a rock, because I had never seen or heard this until my husband ran across it this weekend.  He jacked up the volume on his Mac, and, within seconds, I was hooked.  It was all the rage in 2008, or so I hear.

There are probably multiple reasons for me to *not* like this, but...  well, I love it, and I can't even really explain why.  Better to leave the theorizing alone and just start dancing like it's 199... 2?

Without further ado, and courtesy of the insanity called You Tube, I give you:  Das Racist - Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell.

Happy Monday!