101 in 1001 #5: See a Broadway show...on Broadway!

You guys, hi! I’m fresh off a very lengthy blog break (partly intentional, partly accidental) and a fantastic trip to New York City with my parents and brother to celebrate my dad’s birthday. We had an absolutely outstanding weekend – shopping, drinking, sightseeing, and dining to our hearts’ content – but the unequivocal highlight of the weekend, for me, was seeing my first (and second!) Broadway show and checking off my 101 in 1001 #5!

I’ve grown up absolutely obsessed with Broadway musicals. My first trip to a show, the touring production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond, took place at the tender age of six…and my family never looked back. As anyone who reads this space knows, we all fell HARD for “Hamilton,” my dad and I share an affinity for “Phantom” that goes back over a decade, and I’ve seen too many touring productions on stage to even count up at this point. As much as we all love musicals, though, I’d never actually seen a show on Broadway before. Needless to say, when my parents floated the idea of a trip for Dad’s birthday, including seeing shows, I was all over it.

One of my deepest recent Broadway obsessions is with “Dear Evan Hansen,” the darling of the 2017 Tonys which has been universally praised for its richly emotive performances and the gorgeous music, penned by Pasek and Paul of “La La Land” acclaim. Ben Platt, starring as the anxiety-crippled, socially awkward title character, is ending his run at the end of November, and I couldn’t not see his Best Actor Tony-winning performance – especially after my parents and sister Em had already seen it and unequivocally raved about it.

Despite the fact that the ticket cost me nearly a third of my monthly rent, Friday night saw me absolutely losing my mind in the third row of the mezzanine as this stunning show truly left me speechless.  I rendezvoused with my family during intermission (we weren’t all sitting together, thank GOD) and was near-incoherent in my awe. While Ben Platt’s performance is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the rest of the cast wowed in their own right, and the innovative staging and show design created a completely immersive experience.

I remembered with paralyzing detail how painful and awkward and stressful it was, at times, to be a teenager feeling like I didn’t totally fit in, to think in agonizing detail about how others perceived me and to worry incessantly about who I was. That teenage angst, coupled with the struggles of parents to understand their children and fulfill their own needs and desires, seemed to overwhelm everyone in the audience; the women sitting next to me had never heard the music and didn’t know the show’s premise, and collectively went through an entire packet of Kleenex in the first act alone.

After the show, we parked ourselves outside the stage door in hopes of seeing the cast up close and personal, but the closest we got was seeing Rachel Bay Jones (Tony Award winner for best featured actress!) drive by waving from her SUV after sneaking out the back door. I had a total fangirl moment, though, when we realized we could see into the reception room backstage, and watched Ben Platt greeting VIPs. To quote the musical, heavy-handedly, we were literally waving through a window...and it made my night!

While “Dear Evan Hansen” plumbed the deepest depths of my (admittedly soft-hearted, emotional, quick-to-cry) spirit, our Saturday night show, “A Bronx Tale,” left me grinning from ear to ear. We had originally purchased phenomenal seats to “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” but the show closed early in September after a fair amount of casting drama. We searched around for other options aimlessly as a few more shows we were interested in closed, and ultimately landed on “A Bronx Tale” as a nice change of pace from the wringer that is “Dear Evan Hansen.” Based on a true story, and the ensuing Robert De Niro movie, the show focuses on the early life of a young Italian boy growing up in – you guessed it – the Bronx, being pulled between the rival good-and-evil forces of his upright, moral father and a local mobster.

While the show won no Tonys and earned much less critical acclaim than my beloved “Hamilton” or “Dear Evan Hansen,” the music (by Alan Menken) and the dance-heavy, big bold cast created an enchanting experience for the largely Italian, New Yorker audience. I’ve had “One of the Great Ones,” a rollicking love song, stuck in my head since Saturday night- and let’s be real, if every show was an emotional rollercoaster, I’d never make it through an evening at the theater without crying my mascara clean off.

So incredibly thankful to my parents for letting us celebrate in the greatest city in the world with them, and for planning not one but TWO Broadway experiences for us! I’m so hooked on the theater world, and have a feeling there will be many more cross-country flights in my future…after all, “Frozen” and “Mean Girls” both open next spring, wheee!

four years!

Four years ago I signed up for a Squarespace two-week free trial. I taught myself to code a website (in the most rudimentary and experimental of fashions). I picked out a blog name, wrote a cheesy, oh-so-basic bio, and hit "new post" for the very first time. 

MinneapoLiz is four years old today. Looking back, I can't believe I've been writing this blog for as long as I was in high school, and in college, and at Travelers. Four years is a solid timespan, campers...the kind of timespan that typically culminates in diplomas, or graduation parties, or commencement ceremonies. Here I sit, though - no diploma in sight, no recognition or celebration or graduation to the next step forthcoming - and I find myself contemplating just what this blog, in all its iterations, has given me instead.

Reading back through four years of posts, it almost feels like this continual chronicling of my life has been a collegiate progression. My "freshman year of blog," with awful formatting and cheesy rambling about playlists and the boyfriend and finding my way. A sophomore year of growing pains and breakups and, oh god, most basic of all basicness, starting the Brunch Challenge. And a junior year of friends and travel and drinking and socializing way too hard, way too often...and loving every minute of it.

Three years of very distinct life phases, which bring me here to this "senior year" of sorts. As with college, "senior year of blog," for me, heralded a sea change. I've never lived away from Minnesota, with the exception of my (similarly monumentally significant) four years of college. Here I sit on the balcony of my California apartment, watching palm trees swaying in the breeze and smelling the salt of the bay mingle with wildfire smoke and my coffee. And had you asked me this time last year, or the year before, or, goodness, the year before that whether I would ever be here in this place, I don't think I could have even conceived that it was possible. 

And there you have it - a shift which, I think, really just goes to show how much I've grown. It's like sitting in the stadium on graduation day, black gown sticking to my sweaty shoulders, remembering what it was like to sit in this same crowd of my classmates during the Freshman Welcome Mass. I vividly, viscerally remember that moment - looking back with nostalgia and pride at the evolution and adventure of the last four years as I sat there at the end of it all. With this blog, I have put four years' worth of nostalgia down on paper, virtual though it may be, and I can revisit "freshman year of life" with a click of a mouse. I can look back at brunches with girlfriends, vacations with my family, inside jokes and stressful days and my continual stumbling quest for happiness and fulfillment, and, with awe, see how far I've come. 

From where I sit, that's the most beautiful thing about what I've done with this space. As I always say on this day, I'm incredibly proud to have kept this space up for as long as I have, and to have committed to continually experimenting and re-evaluating and challenging my own conceptions of what I can do here. Happy fourth anniversary to my beloved blog, and to all of you, thank you so much today and every day for reading, reacting, and giving me so much joy in this bizarre, lovely adventure.

Schwegmanigans by the Bay!

As fun as wine country with my Schwegfam was, it only took up one day of their 3.5-day trip to Cali, and the fun didn't stop as soon as we left Napa. In fact, it started before Napa, the second Dick, Jodes and Jonathan showed up at my place on Thursday afternoon...

Emily didn't arrive until just before dinner, so I took my parents and Jonny over to San Carlos for a lengthy lunch...of the mostly-liquid variety...at Cask. 

Emmy got in, we headed back to San Carlos for a fantastic dinner of small plates and wine pairings at The Wine Project, and then back to my place for a palm tree sunset...

...and a belated-birthday celebration courtesy of Sprinkles Cupcakes! (Em's birthday is July 2, so she was NOT expecting this almost three weeks later...but my parents are awesome and never let a birthday go uncelebrated!)

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Friday was Napa day, so we pick back up on Saturday. First, a bit of backstory - while my whole family has met Laura repeatedly over the last six years, Dave was a brand new face for them, and the Schwegfam likes few things better than new (victims) friends to (force to hang out with us) win over with our charming shenanigans. 

So when the Schwegs met Dave for the first time that week, it was kind of a bizarre love at first sight thing. Jonathan and Dave had, of course, already become bros during his earlier trip to the Bay, but my parents and Em were rapidly enchanted. To the degree that, when we decided to go out to breakfast on Saturday before heading to Stanford, Dave's attendance was NOT OPTIONAL in their eyes. Dave, however, had plans to enjoy one of his few days off going hiking. Fortunately, he's a gracious and lovely roommate/person and agreed to go to breakfast. At Stacks, when an extra mimosa showed up randomly, my parents, Jon, and Emmy all attempted to twist his arm into drinking it, despite his planned strenuous hike after food. 

Dave demurred, with the following exchange: 

Jodes: "Dave, honey, are you sure you don't want the mimosa?!" 

Dave: "Yeah, no, I just really don't like champagne." (Pause for look of slight horror on faces of entire Schwegfam.) "Oh, no, don't get me wrong, I LOVE alcohol...just not champagne." (Pause for look of dramatic relief on faces of entire Schwegfam.) 

Dave, you're a saint of a roommate and thank you for coming to breakfast with my wild and crazy family - we love you!

Long story short, Jonathan drank both the mimosas while wearing his sunglasses indoors because that's just how Jonathan rolls. 

I blame said mimosas for his incredible maturity the moment we rolled up to Stanford's campus...

I was so excited to show off campus to my family! I've really loved exploring it and spending more time there with work, classes and activities after-hours. The day, though, was rapidly nearing 90 degrees, and while the Schwegfam is incredibly good looking and very smart compared to the general population, we're not exactly known for our Stanford-level academic ability. So we just had fun instead...

Specifically, we walked around campus sweltering until we beelined for the bookstore, where Emily channeled her best inner Stanford student...

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Dick...oh excuse me, his frat-boy alter ego Rick...joined the class of 2021 and got his letter jacket to prove it...

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,,,and we screwed around making general fools of ourselves for a nice healthy amount of time. Schwegmans LOVE college bookstores. It's one of our things. 

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Since Em couldn't decide whether to go the business, medicine, or law route, we decided to throw in the towel and seek cooler temperatures in San Francisco, starting in the Mission at Clarion Alley, a graffiti project that focuses on protest artwork. (We were a teeeeeeny tiny bit out of place. Oops.)

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Once we saw our man Prince (RIP), we were good to go and headed toward Dandelion Chocolate for ALL THE SAMPLES and Brasserie St James for mediocre service and excellent cocktails. 

When we were in Northern California over the holidays, we stumbled into Fog Harbor Fish House on Pier 39 for a happy hour that turned into one of the best dinners of our trip. Dad, being a creature of habit, really wanted to go back, so we did! As much of a tourist nightmare as Pier 39 can be, it's worth checking out if you're a newbie to the San Francisco thing...and I highly recommend Fog Harbor for drinks, snacks, or a full meal. 

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One of the biggest draws of Fog Harbor? Their house-made sourdough bread is baked every hour and served HOT tableside...like so hot that it's hard to pick it up at first. Both times we've been there, we've devoured multiple baskets of it. It's crack-delicious. 

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Emily had insisted all evening that she wanted no further recognition of her birthday, but Dad is a sucker for any kind of party-style humiliation (and for free dessert). To get him back for the sneak-attack strawberry shortcake, Em, Jonny and I stealth-swiped the bill...a coup, if you've ever dined out with Dick and Jodes. 

All that was left was taking in a stunning San Francisco sunset to conclude our Saturday in the city...that Bay Bridge photo Em captured honestly makes my heart beat a little bit faster. 

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In true Schwegfam style, we were pounding mimosas by about 9am on Sunday at Mayfield Bakery in Palo Alto, a brunch we were all kind of eh on...cinnamon beignets aside. 

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After brunch, we headed back to Stanford to take in the panoramic 360-degree views from the top of Hoover Tower! I can access it for free anytime with my employee badge, and the day was so clear we could see all the way to San Francisco. 

After we wound down at Stanford, we took Jonny D to the airport and headed back to my place to relax and enjoy one last glass of California sauvignon blanc before my parents ran Em back. Little did we know, her flight would be delayed by three or four hours...so we turned right back around to pick her up and race back to my place for a little Iron Horse Reserve Cuvée!

Too soon, it was time to say goodbye to the rest of my Schwegfam loves, the only way I know how: with a raised glass and a "Cheers!" for the road. 

I can't wait for the next trip they make out my way...or for our next Schwegfam Five reunion in Minnesota over Thanksgiving! 

Bookworm: August/September 2017

I completely forgot to post a reading roundup in August, which is a crying shame because I have been on an excessively good reading kick in the last several months! In case you couldn't tell from my crowdsourcing of recommendations back in July, my rapidly-growing list of books to read is filling up and improving in both quality and quantity. 

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Loved:

Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari: Dave let me borrow this in August and it was such a great surprise to enjoy it as much as I did! I expected some kind of comedy-heavy, intellect-light book about the traps and pitfalls of modern dating, but Aziz's legit scientific research approach added an entirely unexpected depth to the book. Definitely recommend for anyone currently fighting his or her way through the world of falling in/staying in/getting over love!

Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead: This was on several reading lists of people whose taste I really enjoy, and it did not let me down. I'd previously read Shipstead's debut, "Astonish Me," and enjoyed it, but this was a much more mature, darker take on interpersonal relationships and the foibles and weaknesses of very flawed characters. Set at a wedding weekend in the wealthy enclave of Nantucket, I genuinely disliked and pitied most of the characters simultaneously - a coup for the author.

Eight Hundred Grapes, Laura Dave: Not going to lie, I mostly picked this up because the author's name is my roommates' names combined, and because the book I was looking for wasn't in stock at Barnes and Noble...that said, I fell HARD for the story of an unraveling vineyard family in Sonoma County. Had it not been set in one of my favorite places in the world, I think this would have gone in the "enjoyed" bucket - but it would be a great poolside read regardless!

The Hopefuls, Jennifer Close: I read this while I was in D.C. for training, kind of on purpose...after a weekend with Kaitlin in the capital, I was fascinated by the culture of the city. I loved the dramatic unraveling of two marriages and two friendships set against the ruthless, cut-throat, demanding world of major politics...a perfect "beach"/chick-lit read, but one that was well-written enough to transcend the genre a bit. (Side note: I ardently disliked Close's first novel, "Girls in White Dresses," so enjoying this so much more was a pleasant surprise!)

Being Mortal, Atul Gawande: Oh my goodness I chowed through this like a hangover cheeseburger. Gawande, a renowned surgeon and gifted writer, explores the American approach to aging, death, and end-of-life care in exquisitely sensitive, thoughtful depth throughout this book. I couldn't put it down - it truly changed how I think about elder care, nursing homes, hospice, resuscitation, a whole gamut of issues I had very little knowledge of or desire to research. I SO recommend this for a meatier, enriching read. 

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi: This is another one that I just couldn't put down...it's been on so many bestseller/must-read lists, and it completely deserves that spot. The story starts off with two half-sisters in Ghana in the 1700s - one of whom is sold into slavery, and one of whom lives a life of relative privilege married to a white Englishman. The story then splits and follows their family trees down through the generations to present day. The writing is stunning and the story is gut-wrenching in a completely visceral, intense way. 

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Enjoyed:

Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling: My first foray into audio books, mostly to use up Scribd credits, was charming and fun. Laura mentioned listening to comedians' audio books, so I've been doing that on the way to work. Kaling's narration was fun to listen to, but I just don't love the audio book format. I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if I had actually read it? 

The Girl With the Lower-Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer: Another audio book by a female comedian, one that I enjoyed a bit more than Mindy Kaling's, if I'm being perfectly honest. What made this a better experience, I think, was that it went a lot more in depth on very serious issues...sexual assault, body positivity, aging/dying parents, crises of faith in modern love...and Schumer's narration had a soulful, almost mournful quality that I found really engaging. 

A Little Bit Wicked, Kristin Chenoweth: Kristin Chenoweth is a soapy little bubble of light and fun, and that is exactly what this autobiography is. It's frothy and a little Jesus-y and occasionally veers into excessive self-praise, but I love Broadway and I love her, so I enjoyed it all things considered. 

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Tolerated:

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance: I picked this up primarily because the whole world seemed to be freaking out about it, and I was sorely underwhelmed (as was Dave, who read it at the same time I did). While the story offered a few new insights into the common tropes of lower-class/blue-collar/suburban poor America, the writing style was so simplistic it left me bored. I set this one down for other books and picked it back up again three separate times before I finished it. Eh. 

Option B, Sheryl Sandberg: I know I should have liked this book, hypothetically speaking. And not adoring Sheryl Sandberg in the cradle of Silicon Valley Lean In Culture might actually put me on the fast train out of here. But I genuinely didn't like this book and thought it could have gone a lot deeper into the act of grieving, into the power of interpersonal relationships, and into the resilience that has led Sandberg back to the top after an unspeakable personal tragedy. 

Sourdough, Robin Sloan: Another one that I feel like I should have liked better than I did! Boooo! This was a science-fictiony, sort of dystopian riff on San Francisco startup culture in which a woman dissatisfied with her tech job, where her company is literally attempting to automate all human-driven processes, finds herself oddly drawn into the world of making sourdough bread. A bizarre underground farmer's market, a sourdough culture with a mind of its own, and a mysterious benefactor behind the scenes all just added to the weirdness, and I never really felt like I got invested in anything or figured out who anyone was in the entire novel.

Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate, and the Throne, Christopher Andersen: THIS WAS SO EGREGIOUSLY TERRIBLE. Anyone who knows me knows I'm an ardent royals-watcher, and I was intrigued by the idea of discussing how women shape the behind-the-scenes power of the British throne. Instead, this was a gossipy, almost gross imagination of false rivalries in the British royal family, and it at times promulgated such glaring inaccuracies that I found myself audibly expressing my general disgust. Do not recommend. 

Re-reads: 

It's Okay To Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too), Nora McInerny Purmort: This collection of essays by a Twin Cities woman who lost her husband to a brain tumor a few years ago is raw, heartwarming, and refreshingly honest at every turn. Nora doesn't sugarcoat, doesn't make light of anything, and doesn't fall into the all-too-easy trap of triteness. I absolutely adore this book, even on the third or fourth read. 

The Taming of the Queen, Philippa Gregory: Not much to say about this one - it's a classic Gregory "Henry VIII bodice-ripper sex intrigue novel" and I had it on my phone on a day when I needed something to read between appointments. It follows Katherine Parr, his last wife, and also gets into the Protestant-Catholic thing quite a bit. A good read if you're into old-timey sex and power.

 

Schwegmanigans: Wine Country Edition!

YOU GUYS there are like fifty pictures in this post and I can't even begin to narrow it down further because this was SUCH a fantastically fun day. 

My family came out to visit me about six weeks after I moved this summer - ostensibly to see my new city, tour Stanford, etc. - but in reality, our end goal was simple: CHANDON. 

As I have told you all ad nauseum, my sister Emily is a ridiculously gifted designer whose work was selected by Domaine Chandon for their limited edition "American Summer" champagne bottles this summer. With wine country the same distance from my new home as cabin country is from the Twin Cities, I've made it my new favorite weekend destination - and Chandon has become the winery equivalent of Cheers for me. (This was my third trip, and I've subsequently made a couple more...oops!) 

We were so excited to bring Emily to see all her work in action - and the winery staff were almost equally excited when we told them she had done the design work. They comped us a bottle of their reserve label cuvée, one of my favorites, to enjoy outside! 

...and enjoy we did. In addition to the bottle that we received from Chandon, I also had a wine club shipment to pick up, and they waived the corkage fee to open it on site. I also receive free tastings or full glasses as a club member...so needless to say, we had QUITE a few bubbles in our systems by the time we rolled out a few hours later. 

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We quickly made our way to the Adirondacks out back, and while we started out perfectly respectable, I PROMISE...

...things rapidly devolved as we cracked into bottle #2. Jonathan will clearly make an excellent and HIGHLY professional sommelier someday.

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I absolutely adore these people beyond all measure and reason. We had way too much fun popping bottles, taking pictures, and telling, I shit you not, EVERYONE we came in contact with that Emily had done the design work. I think she was ready to absolutely murder Dad by the time we headed out. 

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Fortunately, Dad had provided for us with a massive haul at Bouchon Bakery down the street...he does this great thing where he kind of blacks out at any given bakery counter, and all of a sudden we have like three times as many pastries as any family of five could justifiably need. He also went HAM on the macaron selection, and they were an ideal re-up after all the bubbles. 

As temperatures soared into the 90s, we headed for our second stop of the day, Alpha Omega's gorgeous outdoor tasting patio. Could this setting be any more idyllic? 

The girls did a custom flight of white wines - perfect for the heat - while Papa Bear and Jonathan went full-out with the Beckstoffer To Kalon tasting - three wine archive-quality cabernets plus a current offering. It was, in a word, sublime. 

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A little bit wined-out, we turned to one of my favorite hidden gems in St. Helena, Goose & Gander. With a Michelin-recommended cocktail program in their charming basement bar, it was the perfect mid-afternoon stop to beat the heat and take a break from wine for a time. Bonus: Dad adores their hand-chipped, crystal-clear giant ice cubes... 

From there, it was back down the road to Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch for a happy hour glass of wine and some snacks while we waited out the worst of rush hour traffic back into the city. We loved their grass-fed meatballs and mini ham sandwiches!

As usual, an unbelievably lovely day in wine country with my Schwegfam faves :)