California

2018 in review.

2018 is over and in the books, and as I alluded to yesterday a bit, I’ve got mixed feelings about it as a whole. It was a year with abundant positives, but equally abundant negatives that, I’m afraid, left me a bit sour at times. That said, if I learned anything in 2018, it was that I am gifted at keeping on keeping on even when life is kicking me in the proverbial teeth.

That said, looking back on this year was pretty damn sweet. How can you complain about a year with lots of travel, lots of friend time, and lots of Schwegmanigans? Just the way I like a year. Favorites:

Traveled:

New York City in February with Michael to celebrate our February birthdays! We packed so much into a long weekend - my first Met Opera trip for “Parsifal,” my third (and his first) time seeing “Hamilton,” adventures all over Brooklyn, staying up all night at underground jazz clubs, and WAY too much champagne. It was a truly exhausting joy of a weekend in a city where I definitely never slept.

Tahoe in March, for a much more successful ski trip than our family trip over the holidays last year! Dave and I nearly died on a blizzardy drive up - it usually takes 4 hours, and it took us 12 - but it was more than worth it for two bluebird days with over a foot of fresh powder. Honestly some of the best skiing of my life.

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Minnesota, several times! In March to see Leslie Odom Jr. with the Minnesota Orchestra, in May for a gala, in August for Labor Day (and my fourth time seeing “Hamilton!”), and in December for the holidays. Lots of lake time, the State Fair, my beloved orchestra, and of course Spoon and Stable…because why wouldn’t we?

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Colorado, a couple times, for quick little mountain getaways. Despite the complete lack of photos, I loved exploring Boulder and Denver, eating and drinking our way through amazing breweries and restaurants, and falling for the mountains…plus watching a Notre Dame victory over Wake Forest with bottomless champagne (and a Wake Forest fan!).

The absolute number one highlight of my year was my family’s trip to Tuscany over Thanksgiving. I could (and will) write volumes about it - the small, charming towns, the amazing pasta and wine, the history, art, and architecture - but for now, all I’ll say is that it was truly the best experience of the year. I already can’t wait to go back to Italy!

Celebrated:

my 29th birthday, in Sonoma and San Francisco in high style. We enjoyed private tastings at our favorite vineyards, cruised to Alcatraz to spend my actual birthday in a federal prison (as one does), and toasted at the Top of the Mark with - what else - champagne cocktails. Special thanks to Dick and Jodes for making the trip!

the Minnesota Orchestra’s annual Symphony Ball with a stellar crew of friends! Bonus to get to be home over Mother’s Day and spend it with my mama bear (over brunch at Spoon and Stable, naturally!).

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Cinco De Derby, in May, and Litmas, in December, with a ridiculously absurd cast of characters. One fact remains incontrovertible: I throw a damn good theme party. Case in point: in May, I oh-so-cleverly built a wall of Jell-O Shots to divide the “Mexico” half of the party from the “Kentucky” half of the party, and we filled a pinata with miniatures. I win.

Highlights:

My first Ring Cycle, at the San Francisco Opera in June with Michael! It truly surpassed my (very high) expectations - I’m definitely a convert to the Wagnerian cult.

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Living with this absolutely ridiculous delight of a human, who has truly become my best friend in the Bay Area. He’s taught me beer, ensured I’m conversant in any sport, and makes me laugh legitimately every day. Now if only he could get his toothbrush out of the shower in the morning… ;)

So many of my best friends made trips to the Bay this year to visit me! A wild St. Patrick’s Day weekend with Kaitlin, to Kelsie’s spring break full of adventures, Michael’s opera sojourn in the Bay, Hal’s mad sprint through DCI and Pride, and Nate and Margaret’s quick post-engagement trip…it’s so special that the people I love and care about are willing to come out here for me, and I love few things more than getting to show them around my new state!

Lots and LOTS of Napa and Sonoma time - with friends, family and my favorite wineries, of course! I’ve cultivated a taste for California cabernet, and love exploring the region…so much great food, spectacular wine and stunning scenery to enjoy. Getting to share it with the people I love just made it that much better, too.

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Best of all, another year with these people. I love my family more than anyone, and I treasure how amazing their presence makes any experience - whether it’s Spoon and Stable followed by “Hamilton,” sweating our asses off at the State Fair, yelling at each other over an aborted Michelin dinner in Florence, or even just getting drunk at 10am in our pajamas in Lakeville. They’re the best people in my life, and I’m so happy they’re mine.

life lately

Hi campers! Like I said Tuesday, my family spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Tuscany and it was the undisputed highlight of my fall. That said, I’ve gotten up to plenty of shenanigans since I last really regularly posted around here. I’m slowly going insane at work and all my free time is devoted to binge-ing on Hallmark holiday movies and the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2018 - because of COURSE I can combine the highbrow and lowbrow effortlessly. While I had the best intentions of recapping most of these things in a lot more detail, realistically December’s not going to be when that happens - and I want to share so, so many of my sister’s insanely gorgeous Italy photos with y’all next week, so, that’s my priority.

Quick peeks of a frenetic/fantastic California fall:

Bita, Andrea and I achieved peak basic with a trip to the Museum of Ice Cream, where we took approximately 500 photos, ate approximately 500 grams of sugar, dove in a sprinkle pool…

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…and I celebrated my life ethos, “eat dessert first.” Duh.

Dave and I continued our streak of falling in love with dogs all over the peninsula, including this sweetie-pie at Alpha Acid. I went in to pet her on the head and she immediately flopped onto her back, gave me the doofiest tongue-out, begging-eyes grin, and before I knew it, I was kneeling on the floor of the brewery in seventh heaven making both our days.

Rob and I made a trip to Berkeley to see The National perform at the Greek Amphitheatre, and it was easily one of the coolest combinations of venue and artist I’ve ever experienced. Amazing live performance, all their hits, and photos like these - not zoomed at all.

The evening’s low: my front tire got slashed while we were at the show, and I didn’t find out until it went flat suddenly on the 101, at midnight. Fortunately, I am resourceful and badass and capable et cetera, and with the help of several Youtube videos, I got my spare tire on ALL BY MYSELF. Next stop: world domination.

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One of the cheapest nights of entertainment in the Bay Area is the San Jose Barracuda, our local minor-league hockey team. Dave, Laura, Drew, David (yes, I need to diversify friends’ names) and I went to $2 Beer Night on a Friday shortly before we moved - there’s truly nowhere else in San Francisco/the surrounding area where for under $20, you can enjoy (bad) sports and (bad) (but cheap) beer:

Damages were done, campers, and I had a ball. Bonus: The Cudas won in epic fashion.

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Shortly after moving, Dave and I lucked into 3rd row, $40 rush seats to “Miss Saigon” at the Orpheum downtown. I had never seen it, and I cried embarrassingly hard and frequently. The production was outstanding for a touring company, and our seats were amazing - I really need to get to the theater more regularly, it’s one of the things I miss the most about the Twin Cities.

One of our first houseguests was four-legged - Charlie and Tiny Tina joined us for a Notre Dame gamewatch the weekend after we moved! While we still didn’t have a couch, they were champs and I for one fully credit Tina’s lucky Notre Dame bandana for the win we got that weekend.

Francesca, a couple of her colleagues, and I went to the San Francisco Symphony for “Jurassic Park: Live” in early November…I had never seen the movie, somehow, because I’m weird, idk. It was unbelievable, crew. Give me a live symphony, a John Williams score, and a bunch of dinosaurs running around and I’m a happy camper.

Snuck off to the mountains for a quick weekend trip before Italy. While I wasn’t expecting it, getting to see snow when we woke up on Sunday was such a surprise and I couldn’t have been more delighted. I ended up going for almost an hour-long walk outside - frozen toes and chilly fingers were well worth the (mercifully short) burst of winter wonderland.

Sadly, I left Colorado and came home to a Bay Area blanketed in smoke from the Camp Fire. While the Napa and Sonoma fires last year were terrible and I’m definitely not downplaying it, the Camp Fire’s impact on the Bay was way more severe. I went into the city to pick up a suitcase and go to a benefit with Kevin on Thursday, the night before I left for Italy, and this was the view where the San Francisco skyline is usually visible. Gut-wrenching…I’ve donated to relief efforts through the Red Cross and entreat any of you with a little spare cash and Christmas spirit to consider doing the same.

Post-Italy, I laid low for a week or so getting over let lag and catching up on mountains of work, but last weekend, Dave, Bita and I went to Sonoma - Dave’s first time actually wine tasting in wine country! He fit right in with the crew at La Crema:

…and a trip to Sonoma would never be complete without a stop at Iron Horse for the best views and bubbles in the state. Dave actually liked sparkling wine, guys - this feels like a major victory for yours truly! Such a fun day with my two favorite Californians - can’t wait for more shenanigans as Bita moves INTO our building in just two weeks!

Speaking of that building - it’s looking extra merry and bright in Apartment 630 these days, as my mama bear so sweetly mailed me my Christmas ornaments early in the week. It’s made me so happy all week to see my sentimental favorites hanging on our tree, even if there are palm trees outside the window instead of Minnesota snow.

Cheers to a great weekend ahead, campers! Stay tuned for lots of Italy talk, a little more merriment, and general debauchery to come…

Tuesday potpourri

I had the best intentions of having my shit really together this week, and failed utterly per usual. Starting to think adulthood is just going to perpetually be a to-do list with lingering items and hanging chads and endless reminders of the fact that I am a ridiculously ineffective person sometimes. Anyway, “BLOG!!!!!” (five exclamation points and all) has been hanging out on the list since the beginning of the month, and it’s the 13th, so hi MID-NOVEMBER. Here we go:

  • First and foremost, guys, the NorCal (and SoCal) wildfires are horrifying and terrible. I woke up on Friday convinced Dave had burned something in our apartment (at 5am, clearly very much a functional morning person). I was devastated to hop online and see the news, let alone the thick smoke haze covering my South Peninsula suburb, over 150 miles from the fires themselves. Our air quality is terrible - I’ve been waking up with nosebleeds, itchy eyes, and a sore throat daily - and I can’t begin to imagine how awful it must be closer to the fires, let alone for the families that have lost homes, possessions and loved ones this close to the holiday season. If you’re feeling generous this Thanksgiving, the New York Times has a great list of resources on how to help victims - I’m partial to the Red Cross and United Way, personally.

  • Fortunately, and on a much lighter note, I escaped to the mountains last weekend for a quick little getaway and missed a few days of smoke. While out of town, I discovered a ridiculous beer cocktail consisting of half dunkel, half milkshake IPA - the roastiness of a stout combined with the fruitiness and resin of an IPA was delightful. I also fell in love with a new bookstore, where I picked up “Cork Dork” by Bianca Bosker and bought Dave an ever-so-adult gift of “The Dogist: Puppies” - a must-own for those of us dying to get a pup (just me? No?)

  • I leave for Italy on FRIDAY and am completely mind-fucked as to how this trip is already here. Badly need to figure out what I’m bringing, pack, and coordinate all the random logistical things I’ve left to the last minute, eek. Work’s a nuthouse this week and the light at the end of the tunnel is that in just three more workdays and 24 hours of travel, I’ve got pasta, gelato, espresso and wine for ten straight days to look forward to!

  • In very exciting personal news, I was accepted to a finance program at Stanford that I applied to and thought I had zero shot of getting into, and I’m over the moon. The program kicks off in December and runs for eight months, and I already know it’s going to kick my ass in the best of ways. Looking forward to a major challenge and to diving deeper into this crazy institution I now not only get to work for, but study at - what a privilege!

  • Per Facebook Memories (which I use to delete all the old bs I spewed all over FB as a youth, oh god), today marks the five-year anniversary of my last day at EY. I was ruminating a bit on my time there last weekend in conversation, and it’s crazy to take a step back, look at where I am now and think about how far I’ve come since that day. To this day, leaving remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and especially in light of my acceptance to that program, it’s incredibly vindicating to see that I’ve succeeded way beyond what I had imagined as that stressed, angsty, audit-hating 24-year old.

  • Finally, Dave and I watched the first Netflix/Hallmark Christmas movie of the season last night - “A Christmas With A View,” and it was abysmally bad and cheesy in all the best ways. Paired with a pine tree candle, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas in our little apartment - plus, I’m thinking a roundup of our holiday movie-heckling extravaganza is going to have to happen in a few weeks here.

Happy Tuesday friends, have a fantastic day!

101 in 1001 #11: See the Ring Cycle at the San Francisco Opera!

Hey campers! This one’s coming to you from the security line at SFO – I’m headed home for a long weekend with my Schwegfam! We’re seeing “Hamilton” (yes, this will be my fourth time, and yes, I know that’s absurd), hitting up our favorite restaurants, and hopefully heading to the State Fair and out on the lakes, weather permitting. I haven’t seen my parents since May and June, respectively, and my sibs since March…so this is a long-overdue reunion!

After a long summer break from writing, I have a ton to catch up on from pretty much all of 2018. It’s been a banner year for having adventures, but not a great one for recording any of it…oops. The undoubted highlight of my summer was, indisputably, seeing my first full Ring Cycle at the San Francisco Opera in June! While I had seen “Das Rheingold,” the first of the four operas, in Minnesota, I had never seen the other three, and experiencing them all in just one week was a wild ride and total adventure.

Doing a full Ring Cycle is a cultish, hardcore, elite-opera-lover thing to do – so naturally I needed to do it. Over the course of our six-day cycle, I met opera fans who have done the full Cycle as many as 22 times – people who travel all over the world to experience it, spending thousands of dollars and years of their lives obsessing over it and discussing it with like-minded fans. As a first-timer, I found that the brotherhood of other Ring lovers was warm, welcoming, and enthusiastic – we made friends over the course of the week during intermissions, at restaurants beforehand, and even in the pool of my apartment complex.

Of course, who better to do a Ring Cycle with than my favorite opera friend Michael? He flew out to California early, spent the weekend in Yosemite being a beast and climbing Half Dome, and rolled into town on Monday night. We kicked off our week of operas with Rheingold on Tuesday:

First, cocktails at Laszlo. We went with mezcal-based drinks: a Melanie for me and a Margot for him.

Then we headed two doors down for an unbelievably good dinner at Lolinda – Argentinean wood-fired meats, including the most incredibly tender tongue I’ve ever had, and a Chappellet cabernet that was revelatory for me.

Rheingold was fantastic – we actually happened to see the same Wotan (the bass) that we had seen in Minnesota in November of 2016! The SF Opera production was set at the turn of the 20th century, and was set-designed gorgeously.

For me, Die Walkure, our second show, was the standout of the cycle. We raced downtown after a long day in Muir Woods and at Lagunitas, and made it to our seats with only three minutes to spare. At the first intermission, we discovered that the balcony of the opera house had been converted to a German beer garden, serving brats and giant soft pretzels with enormous German beers. Bonus: the view of the Civic Center is absolutely stunning from the balcony…

I was blown away by Swedish soprano Irene Theorinn singing Brunnhilde – her “Heilegin hoy” aria at the beginning of the second act got a spontaneous ovation from the audience, which is incredibly rare for Wagner. The entire third act, where Wotan curses her (his daughter) to sleep, left me in tears- the music is ridiculously rich, evocative and moving, and they really left it all out there during the scenes. As soon as my tears dried, we headed out and made it home…after midnight, after four and a half hours of opera! The Ring Cycle truly is a marathon, and I think we were really feeling it after an early morning, strenuous day, and mad dash downtown.

We fortunately had Thursday off from opera for a rest day, so we didn’t pick back up until Friday. This time, to avoid another frantic rush-hour race into the city, we packed formalwear and spent the day downtown exploring, thinking we would grab drinks and change before the show. So we popped to Epic Steak for oysters and Iron Horse champagne (of course). As we finished, I headed to switch my jeans out for a gown, and almost shit myself when the zipper zipped onto the dress midway up. The restaurant manager, who happened to be in the other stall, tried to fix it and, instead, ended up ripping the entire zipper out of the dress.

Not going to lie, I had a moderate panic attack. I didn’t have a gown, and we had dinner plans with another couple in an hour, and I was NOT about to wear jeans to the opera. Thankfully, there’s a stand-alone Rent The Runway in the downtown Neiman Marcus…

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…where an absolute angel staff member hooked me up with a gown in five minutes flat. (She seriously deserves a prize for dealing with my panic-sweating, tear-stained, frantically-rushed spaz self with such grace and patience.) That gown was definitely out of my comfort zone…I tend to default to black dresses for the opera just because they’re elegant, understated, and most of all, safe. I’m not the kind of person who likes to stand out, and nothing stands out quite as much as full-length gold sequins…

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…especially when coupled with a very low neckline and a very slinky fit. The funniest thing, for me, was that as uncomfortable and self-conscious as I was, I was besieged with compliments all night. Michael, being who he is, found it more and more amusing as I felt more and more awkward…and ended up making a game of it. So there you go… “Siegfried” was most memorable, for me, for the fact that I dressed up like a human disco ball.

(The opera, for what it’s worth, was spellbinding.)

Saturday was another day off for us, and we spent it in Napa…our non-opera activities will have to be a post of their own, because this is getting long. Sunday brought us the six-hour behemoth that is “Gotterdammerung,” “the fall of the gods,” which legit ends in fire, flood and death to all parties. It is heavy, and it is dark. And I adored it.

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I found myself in tears again as the opera drew to an end – in part because it was so ridiculously emotional, but also because I was so sad that this gorgeous, immersive adventure was coming to an end. It felt like coming up for air having held my breath for a long time when the lights came up after the show…I was completely jolted.

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We went to The View Lounge to dissect a little over cocktails while enjoying, you know, the view…and immediately started discussing the Cycle. Both our opinions were largely favorable – the casting was impeccable, the staging innovative and cohesive, and the orchestra faultless. The Ring is extraordinarily demanding of every person involved, and the way the San Francisco Opera rose to the challenge of putting on three consecutive weeks of Cycles was insane. I’m already thinking ahead to trying to catch it at the Met in New York next May…anyone feeling like 16 hours of German opera?!

Summer break and a Safeway story.

Hi crew!

It’s been a while and a half, hasn’t it? I decided I was going to take a summer break, primarily because I did the Classic Lizzie Thing in which I totally overload myself with two classes, thirteen discrete projects at work, a slew of visitors in town every weekend, and a social life that has been nothing if not overcommitted. Oh and also trying to go to the gym regularly and get a new car (my lease was up) and plan out the NEXT several months of my life. So some things had to give, and my blog was one of them. Alas! Alors! Anyway!

I’m hopping back in with a happy little moment from yesterday, involving me being a scatterbrain and the world being kinder to me than I deserve. I’ve been a bit homesick lately, after a rough month or two in general, and it was such a great reality check.

It started with a Sunday afternoon trip to my local Safeway, which is generally a mistake. I’m actually coming to think that going to my local Safeway, period, is generally a mistake (someday I’ll tell you all of my passionate love for Trader Joe’s, oh dear). Sunday afternoons at my local Safeway are overcrowded, understaffed, and always frenetic, and I am never at my best when faced with that combination of circumstances. I was also post-gym and pool on this particular Safeway trip, which meant salty hair, minimal makeup, and a “weekend T-shirt” (my designation) of the variety that really shouldn’t see the light of day. This particular “weekend T-shirt” was a just-because gift from my mother with the old Dayton’s department store logo on it. This is relevant, I promise!

After gathering all my ingredients for coconut curry chicken meatballs, Mexican corn, and a week’s worth of salad lunches, I popped the prettiest bunch of perfect white hydrangeas into my cart on a whim. The checkout lines, per usual, were minimum five people deep, so I settled in and whipped my phone out to read while I waited. The guy behind me had different ideas, and struck up a conversation:

“You’re not from Minnesota, by any chance, are you?” he said. I goggled at him, completely dumbfounded. I hadn’t said anything, so the accent hadn’t given me away. I wasn’t wearing any sports gear or anything. So I affirmed, cautiously, “I am – how on earth did you know?”

“It’s your shirt,” he continued, “it’s the Dayton’s logo. I haven’t seen that forever.” And I laughed, and we started the most pleasant conversation about where we were from, how much we missed Minnesota, et cetera. He had just been home at a family cabin on the Whitefish Chain, and he hailed from a suburb right by mine. I was having so much fun chatting with him, in fact, that as I unloaded my cart I completely neglected to grab my hydrangeas out of the child seat basket.

So I got all rung out and the cashier had already started scanning my new friend’s items, and all of a sudden as I was wheeling my cart out of the lane I spotted my flowers. In typical Lizzie form, I spazzed, offered to go to the back of the line, offered to go put them back, and all the while the cashier and bag boy are looking at me like, “what the eff, lady,” which just made me more self-conscious and embarrassed.

My Edina guy, cool as a cucumber, swooped my flowers out of my cart and said, “Don’t worry about it, let me buy your flowers.” Guys, I could feel myself turning beet-red with mortification as I dug through my purse looking for cash to offer him and came up empty-handed. And again, he goes, “It’s no big deal, it’s just a nice thing to do – let me buy a fellow Minnesotan a bouquet, seriously.” And I’m simultaneously utterly charmed and incoherent, so there was much stumbling over words and profuse thanking and bumbling around like a dork.

I’m not sure why this was such a monumental big deal to me. Maybe it’s that I’ve been a little cynical lately about humankind in general and Californians to be specific. This is not the sort of thing that happens here, and I realized that I took all of that very much for granted at home – the door-holding, the bag-carrying, the general demeanor of pleasantness and assiduity. It felt, for just a minute, like I was home and surrounded by people who cared, just a little bit, about making other people’s lives easier and happier and brighter. And that, in that moment, was not only nice, but kind of essential. So we said our goodbyes, and I headed to my car, smelling my hydrangeas all the way and feeling just a little more faith in the goodness of humanity.