Sunday, February 28, 2010

Travel: Minneapolis

I have never been to the Minnesota state fair. I have never eaten walleye. I just tried cheese curds last summer and have yet to see curling. I still own a rear-wheel drive auto, which is horrible in this snow-heavy climate, just horrible, and I still print out directions to navigate around Minneapolis proper.

Normally I would not consider putting my favorite hotels, restaurants, spas, and shops that reside in the same city as where I live in a “travel” post but even after two years of living in Minneapolis, it seems fitting. I do own a home here but I feel like a tourist. I have yet to really enjoy Minneapolis and cultivate my love affair with it. However, my ignorance about Minneapolis brings me bliss. On a weekly basis, more often than not, I learn something new about this city. I do desire many new experiences here but I have acquired some favorites along the way.

Hotels (and their lounges)
I have not yet stayed at either of these hotels but if I were visiting I would most definitely stay at one of them.

Hotel Ivy: From what I hear, the hotel is gorge – it is a Mobil Four-Star, AAA Four Diamond hotel. Yes, I have not even been inside but I have friends who expressed interest in having their wedding there. I want to try Tea at Ivy, an afternoon (or low) tea. Tea at Ivy is from 3 – 5pm daily and for more information other than what is on its website, you can check out a City Pages blog post (please note the blog post is answering a question about “high tea,” which is generally served from 5 – 7pm and much meatier, thus, taking the place of dinner; thankfully the blogger was able to decipher the intent of the question).

The Living Room at the W Minneapolis – The Foshay: This place is decadent and its Art Deco interior is fabulous. I have enjoyed The Living Room several times for after-work drinks with friends and have on the occasional Saturday evening swooped in for some merriment and libation. The scene has always been lively and stylish, people were lounging and mixing it up, and on Saturdays, the crowd danced away to the musical selections of the DJ. Much fun was had. Oh yes!

Even with my newly-implemented dairy-free diet, my love for food is still a main priority. However, I would not consider myself a foodie. (I actually do not even know the true definition of a foodie. Irvin, if you are reading this, can you please define?) I can certainly appreciate good food and good service, though. A few favorites in a few words:

La Belle Vie: Top contender for my graduation dinner! ’Nuff said.

La Grolla: This St. Paul restaurant is hands down my favorite Italian restaurant in the entire Twin Cities area. But here is my caveat: Sadly, I cannot recommend any one dish because both times I was there I was too distracted conversing with my dining companions that my recollection of the food is feeble. However, at a high-level, I remember my friends all commenting how delicious their meals were. Also, the ambiance was lively and the staff was charming.

Meritage: This French restaurant in St. Paul reminds me of a small Balthazar in New York City. I have always been fully engaged with the food here but French food is my favorite, thus, I am biased. Meritage is extremely energetic yet simultaneously romantic. If you go for brunch before a show at the Ordway, consider the croque madame. It is delicious yet not too heavy like how many of them are made, so you will not feel full and uncomfortable during your show.

Nicollet Island Inn’s Champagne Sunday Brunch: I have had a lot of brunches in my day but this is by far the best I have had in Minneapolis and quite possibly one of the best I have ever had anywhere. It is a fabulous five-course menu champagne brunch. The first course is an assortment of pastries. The second course is where the fun begins. If I remember correctly, I had the crème brûlée French toast, petit croquet monsieur, strip steak (which could have been a meal in and of itself), and the German chocolate cake. I remember being a little overwhelmed with the choices and champagne but without a doubt, you will love it like a fat kid loves cake.

Pizza Luce: For years I have sworn by the X-Pepperoni pizza at Dewey’s in St. Louis but I now can also swear by the Pizza Athena made vegan by Pizza Luce. It is made with spinach, tomatoes, calamata olives, artichoke hearts, red onions, Greek oregano and toasted garlic with soy cheese on bianca sauce. It is so tasty; there are so many flavors. It probably is a good thing that I do not live within Pizza Luce’s delivery area otherwise the Athena would become a staple in my diet.

Salut in Edina: Aside from serving my favorite cuisine, there is something about Salut in Edina that brings me pure joy. Perhaps because it is conveniently located near my house, perhaps because the food is consistent, or perhaps because its croque madame is my utmost favorite? “I’ll have the croque madame with a side of Lipitor, s’il vous plaît.” Heaven! Three friends swear by the steaks.

Sea Change: There are only three things I know about this restaurant: It is a sustainable seafood restaurant. The chef is a James Beard award winner. And, the braised beef shortrib is brilliant! Back in August 2009, my friends and I experienced the lip-smacking goodness of Sea Change but my friend’s shortrib tasted like the good life. Yums! But another friend, who was coincidentally at a nearby table, said his arctic char was the best he had ever had, so that sounds worthwhile, as well. The next time I dine there, I may have to order both!

Wilde Roast Cafe: This coffeeshop is my favorite place to study when I need a change in scenery. I have spent hours in this café doing homework and enjoyed several of its goodies. It has a lovely selection of teas, sandwiches, and breakfast/brunch items. But really, it just serves as a nice escape, and the friendly staff and cute clientele are bonuses. :-)

Classic Retro @ Pete’s: There is an area in the Twin Cities called the St. Paul Retro Loop, which is a consortium of mid-century modern shops. And within the loop is Classic Retro @ Pete’s, which has some awesome pieces. I purchased this little Florence Knoll chair that I use in my dressing room and a brilliant Danish wooden bowl. Pete’s does not have a website, so its information is below:

2145 University Avenue West
St. Paul, MN 55114
(651) 224-5235

Hours: Wed–Sat 11–5; Sun 12–4

Intoto: Hands down one of my favorite boutiques in any city. The clothes are hip yet appropriate. I think Intoto buys one full run of each piece (do not quote me on that), so you risk someone else buying it if you do not buy it then. Trust me; I missed out on the opportunity to purchase this awesome green plaid Paul Smith jacket but I consoled myself with three cashmere Inhabit sweaters, which by the way, is the best cashmere I have ever owned. It feels like money. Anyhow, Intoto has (re-)introduced me to some fantastic brands: A.G. Jeans (its jeans are baby-making worthy and can make anyone look good!), Citizens of Humanity, Etro (guiltiest pleasure, more so than La Mer or Louis Vuitton), C.P. Company, Rag & Bone, and others. And store manager Michael B. and his team are super nice.

Art & Culture
Minneapolis has an amazing arts community which includes well-known visual arts institutions (Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Walker, Weisman), music venues (Orchestra Hall, First Avenue), and tons of theatre, I mean tons – it is second to New York City in terms of live theatre per capita. I have two absolute favorite ways of supporting the arts, both of which are at the Ordway and I would participate in either of them even without their young professional membership programs:

The Minnesota Opera: Enjoying opera is something that I have always aspired to and am finally mature enough to appreciate it. Without much thought, I realized that this is the first season that I am seeing all the operas (“The Pearl Fishers,” “Casanova’s Homecoming,” “Roberto Devereux,” and this Saturday is “La bohème” and in April is “Salome”) of a company within one season. The Minnesota Opera allows persons aged 21 – 39 to join its Tempo membership program and to purchase a pair of opening night tickets for each opera at a ridiculously discounted price of $30 each. This program is so generous.

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra: The way I felt about opera is the same I felt about classical music and luckily I can ease into it with SPCO concerts through its club2030. This membership program is available for 18 – 39 year olds and you can get a pair of tickets for selected concerts for $10 each. Since joining this program, I have only been to the “Welcoming Christian Zacharias” concert and it was super delightful. Prior to club2030, I saw “Beethoven’s 5th Symphony” and a concert with Dawn Upshaw but both were equally enjoyable.

If I were a florist I would be Bastian + Skoog. Without ever having met Liz Bastian and Heidi Skoog, I have been able to just convey a few adjectives and known facts about those that I have sent arrangements to and Bastian + Skoog was able to create floral arrangements that were gorge. I cannot wait until my Total Money Makeover days are over so that I can order weekly arrangements for my house from Bastian + Skoog.

So, thanks letting me share a few of my favorite things about Minneapolis. I look forward to discovering more things about this city and its fabulousness.



Sunday, February 21, 2010

At the Moment: Personal Mission Statements

Performance reviews are brilliant things. For some, they are fabulous. For others, not so much. Good or bad, they serve as a reminder that our perceptions are our own reality. But this time during the self-evaluation process, I was able to (off the record) commit a personal mission statement to my performance review, my center, and my purpose, both professionally and personally.

I found creating my personal mission statement to be a cathartic experience. It provided self-discovery, is unique to me, and constitutes my values, vision, and purpose. However, it will evolve.

My Personal Mission Statement

Overall Statement of My Life’s Mission
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw

My life’s mission is to come upon my undiscovered talents that best bring about perfection in the material and spiritual worlds, as well as be a giving and loving person in my important relationships and even in those that may extend beyond my immediate circle.

My Guide
“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” – Mikhail Baryshnikov

I believe that where I am right now is the right place for me to be; this does not suggest I take a passive role in my life.

Important Relationships
“To handle yourself, use your head. To handle others, use your heart.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Partner: The relationship with my partner shall be of mutual respect and where I can love and differentiate between that which is satisfactory and that which is perfect.

Child/Next Generation: Believe it or not, I do enjoy children, even though I talk to them as I talk to you. So until I have a child of my own, I extend myself to my nieces, nephew and Godson any way that I can but wish that I were physically closer to celebrate their birthdays, holidays, and special occasions with them.

Parents: I love all of my parents. I warmly welcome their unconditional love and advice. You would be surprised how right they are most of the time, but if you repeat that, I will deny it. :-) I shall continue to work toward transitioning our parent-child relationships into adult-adult relationships.

Siblings: I could afford to strengthen my relationships with my two sisters (on my father’s side) and brother (on my late mother’s side). Presently, my knowledge of the events in each of their respective lives remains at a high-level.

Friends: My friends are an extension of my family. I love to converse and explore new things with them, will always offer to bring them chicken soup if they are sick, and work harder to not be heavy-handed with advice.

Employer: I will use the power of communication, industriousness, and efficiency to get my work done and rise to any challenge, hopefully whilst ensuring that my goals and values are aligned with the mission, vision, and values of my employer.

Community: In August 2007, I moved to Minneapolis but have yet to engage in volunteer opportunities within the health and/or arts communities. I look forward to resuming my volunteering efforts upon the completion of graduate school.

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I consider myself a work in progress and a love of learning assists in my quest for self-improvement. By keeping an open mind and appreciating thoughtful academic research, well scripted television banter, provocative articles, friendly social networking sites, books of interest, and smart and funny conversations during hours of happiness, I hope to have a more tolerant, imaginative, and positive approach to my life, personally, socially, and professionally.

Self-Esteem and Security
“Be yourself. There is something that you can do better than any other. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are many ups and downs in life but as the above quote says, there is something that I can do better than anyone else. Now it is just a matter of inducing this competitive advantage and sustaining it.

I derive my worth from the quality of my relationships, the material and spiritual things in my life, and knowing that I have faith – all of which are measurable by my smile. I try my hardest not to compare myself to others since we are different persons with different experiences; but that is usually not the case, therefore, I seek to turn insecurities into opportunities or discard them as irrelevant.

“Anger is only one letter short of danger.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Two primary sources where I draw strength to achieve my life’s mission are from the feedback and interactions with my family, friends, and colleagues, and the ideas that challenge my existing way of thinking. Also, by being versatile in my communications with others and sympathetic to my surroundings, I can learn to be less demanding of myself and others – decreasing the disappointment when my demands are not met and reducing the potential for pessimism.

My Personal Mission Statement and My Daily Life

“The success of any great moral enterprise does not depend upon numbers.” – William Lloyd Garrison

It is through my daily observation, insight, and capacity that I try to apply conscientious care to all aspects of my life. The life choices I have made have contributed to my current way of thinking and approach to life, albeit right or wrong in the opinions of others. But part of my life’s mission knows that as an educated individual, it is my responsibility to give back to the community not only monetarily or by volunteering but also by working for a company to improve and sustain its ethical standards.

So I leave you now with the challenge to create your own personal mission statement. You never know, it may just help you keep the end in mind. You can find samples and templates online but you will be pleased with how yours reflects your own uniqueness. Good luck!


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Leisure: Renew Yourself

I love corporate America and its ladder. I love my family, friends, food, and the arts. I also love renewing myself regularly so that I can continue living and contributing to all of these things that are important to me. So, to ensure that I take care of myself, every morning I look in the mirror and repeat after Vanilla Ice: “All right, stop, collaborate, and listen.” Joking! However, I do enjoy very much taking a few moments out of the day or week to take care of my soul, mind, and body (and face).

Sometimes we put ourselves in cruise control and we just go, but where does that get us? We run around in circles, as they say, and we exhaust ourselves and start to lose our sense of self-confidence, self-control, and concentration. When I was in this state of mind last summer, my friend Erin Murdock suggested I see an energy healer, so I went to Tanya Sowards at Dharma Wellness & Spa (thank you for the recommendation, Jennifer David!). Tanya was fantastic. She helped me identify which chakras were unbalanced and for a month we managed my intentions. Being more self-aware of how I treated others, as well as myself, allowed me to be more compassionate, and from compassion came balance and then harmony.

Interestingly, wanting to find balance and harmony led me to dabble in yoga, golf, and even served as the catalyst for taking cello lessons. The goal was not to master each of these activities (which would have been in typical fashion for a Virgo) but rather to put myself in challenging situations where failure was likely. The goal also was for me to learn how to be empathetic toward others when they did not meet my expectations. Even though these activities were very different in nature, each questioned my confidence, control, and concentration. Each humbled and centered me, mentally and physically. Each impacted my soul, mind, and body.

And, for those who may be curious about the progress of these activities: I fell off the yoga wagon but am looking for a class that fits my schedule. It really was rewarding. Golf will be resumed when the weather permits. And cello, well, my lessons are postponed until I am done with school at the end of summer. Learning how to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on the cello was a challenging yet rewarding experience; however, my guess is that for me to play the cello well will require developing a little bit of an obsession. But watch out Yo-Yo Ma!

My best mornings start off when I can sit in silence for a few minutes, plan out the week, and drink a cup of Tazo Zen tea. My best afternoons and evenings are when I have a group of friends over because those moments come with good food, good drinks, and good conversation.

The food is always good thanks to many of the Barefoot Contessa recipes, which are predictably delicious but more importantly, manageable. The drinks are always good and plentiful, and serving a non-vintage Veuve Yellow Label or even a Gloria Ferrer is always a perfect and affordable way to start a party. But it is the conversation, the discussions about ideas, rather than people, that I value most, that make me laugh, or even challenge my dispositions. However, my last two events at my house were intimate but meaningful: afternoon tea and pre-opera bubbly. You know, simple. “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Cover Girl.”

As I mentioned above, yoga and golf were great for helping me find balance and harmony but for a rigorous, aerobic work out, OMG, there is no other place for me than the group fitness classes at Life Time Fitness. FIT, Strictly Strength, STRIKE!, and Total Conditioning are my favorites so far. Man do these classes work me. They push me, they shock my body, they are awesome, and they are perfect for someone like me who is not disciplined to do cardio and weights on his own.

LTF offers over 30 different classes varying in level and focus, and they are taught by instructors who are effective, enthusiastic, and entertaining. Where else will you hear an instructor countdown the reps by using the names of The Housewives of Atlanta (“Kim, Sheree, NeNe …” instead of “8, 7, 6 …”? (If you want a tour of the St. Louis Park or Bloomington facility, ask for Ryan Lewis or Tyson Norman, respectively.)

And if you prefer the outdoors, walk or run around a lake! Let it just be you, the concrete, and the fresh air. No frills, no money. But maybe wait until spring.

But for a more decadent way of renewing (and rewarding) yourself, try Sprinkles cupcakes. My dear friend Jocely Bowman – wife, mother of two little ones, member of the Junior League, and a buyer of beautiful cabinetry for an international manufacturer – introduced me to Sprinkles the last time I was in Dallas. Prior to managing her domestics, she renewed herself by shopping. But now with limited time, a quick stop into Sprinkles will do the trick. (My favorite Sprinkles cupcake is either the peanut butter chip or the vanilla.)

Or sometimes Jocely will do quick spa treatments for busy moms. However, if you are in St. Louis and want a new do and relaxing manicure and pedicure, I highly recommend David Brown and Kieu Connell, respectively, of Christopher’s on Clayton Road across from the Galleria. I followed both of them from their previous salons and was fortunate they ended up at the same salon. Quality and convenience are key drivers for me!

I really only have one thing that I do to renew my skin and that is once a week I use the Chantecaille Detox Clay Mask that my dear friend Melissa “SFM” Reel, a real life Mirabelle, introduced to me. It is so delicious. It is soothing and soft and does not dry and crackle like old school clay-based masks that my mother used to use.

However, even though this post is about renewing ourselves, I just have to mention La Mer, which I love and use daily. For the last five years, SFM has been my La Mer “dealer,” if you will, and I have since converted two friends to using La Mer products, as well. My daily regimen is to use The Cleansing Gel, The Tonic, and either The Moisturizing Lotion during the summers or Crème de la Mer during the winters. But The Eye Concentrate is my absolute favorite La Mer product. I think I actually look younger today at 34 years old than I did at 29 years old. Seriously.

But for the budget-friendly consumer, Consumer Reports has recommended Neutrogena’s Fresh Foaming Cleanser and Olay’s Total Effects 7-in-1 Anti-Aging Booster Eye Transforming Cream. I have yet to try either of them, though.

So on that note, sometimes you just need to take the day off from being fabulous to take care of yourself, to renew yourself.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

At the Moment: Winter Reads

Winters are the perfect time for me to catch up on summer reads, especially since the weather here in Minneapolis is predictably murky with below-zero temperatures to snowfalls of 10 feet. (Boo!) So for the last couple of winters, I have found great pleasure when chilling out in front of the fireplace while listening to Sergei Rachmaninov or Die Zauberflöte (and, I shall not lie, equally played on my iPod are Alicia Keys and Lady Gaga) and reading about astrology, management, or personal finance.

Now, I know personal finance is not romantic by any means, so I have asked a couple friends to share some of their favorite winter reads. But this past December I developed a love for books about personal finance, which is perfectly in sync with the philosophy of my favorite chiropractor and dear friend, Eric Peay: “Smart gays finish rich!” Ha! Perhaps David Bach has his next book?!

Anyhow, Eric’s and my friends, human resources rising star Cole and his fashionista wife Jocely Bowman, introduced me to The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, and let me just say – this book has changed my life. Mr. Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover provides seven baby steps which are unbelievably believable. It changed my paradigm on how to tackle debt and set realistic goals. I physically felt the downward spiral shift upward.

Some of the other books I recently read are Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey, The Seven 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen. R. Covey, and Stop Acting Rich by Thomas J. Stanley.

Then, there is The Hours by Michael Cunningham. This book is fabulous: three women, three stories, one choice. Each time I read it, it feels like I am reading it for the first time. I was introduced to it in 1999 and have had an affection for it ever since. (And the movie is equally as delicious.)

But currently, I am reading, err, skimming, The Secret Language of Destiny by Gary Goldschneider & Joost Elffers. This is 824 pages of pure enjoyment for those who believe in astrology and want (a refresher) to find their life purpose. And for you skeptics, do not knock astrology until you have tried it!

Now, the first friend to provide some recs is Peter Nguyen, a lawyer-turning-interior designer in San Francisco and the Edina to my Patsy. He and his partner Grant Kalinowski are unanimously “my fanciest friends.” He has introduced me to the fabulousness of lunching at the world famous French Laundry and then hours later enjoying spicy vegetarian Sloppy Joes, tater tots, and wedge salads in candlelight on the deck of their country house in Sonoma. His diversity is inspiring, and his choices are:

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraiser. Peter said “it is like being at the Court of Versaille and that Ms. Fraiser’s historical research is impressive but her writing is engaging and approachable.” As someone who loves royalty, well, Queen Elizabeth I, I cannot wait to read this!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen. Peter said for all you Austen geeks, this is a silly one!

Another friend I solicited recs from is Kathryn Frankson, my go-to Minneapolitan who has more energy than most people will have in their lifetime. (Her love of the group fitness classes at Life Time Fitness is unmatched.) Although Kathryn has provided her recs below, I need to take a moment to take full responsibility for her new-fangled appreciation for astrology, a topic that she was once quite skeptical about. (My perseverance paid off!) Kathryn reads The Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldschneider & Joost Elffers like it is a novel. Her commitment to being informed, engaged, and empowered is impressive, and her choices are:

BOOM! by Tom Brokaw. Kathryn found Mr. Brokaw to be “accurate and succinct” with the details of the 1960s. She felt that Mr. Brokaw’s use of personal stories and connections “really take you beyond the surface and offer a deeper look at this lasting impact” of this formative decade.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Kathryn said Ms. Lamott’s writing was “hysterical, interesting, and self-deprecating.” She felt it provided “critical insights for writers and small, simple life truths that we can all enjoy.” I concur! I read this book in 2003 and have a copy of it if anyone wants to borrow it.

And my last friend to suggest a winter read is Erin Murdock, a lifelong friend still living in St. Louis and the mother of the nicest young man, my godson. She is an undiscovered talent who needs to be published. Her writing is intuitive and warm; both characteristics she exhibits in how she handles her friendships, as well. You can always rely on Erin to be insightful and courageous in telling you the truth. I keep telling her to write a book; the world would benefit from it. Erin’s choice is:

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. Erin found this to be “an intriguing read … it succeeded in raising your awareness and awakens your spirit.” (Perhaps Erin should also read The Secret Language of Destiny!) She stresses, though, that “each chapter requires thoughtful attention, and perhaps, meditation.” This definitely sounds like my type of book. Namaste!

Well, that is all that I have for now, friends. Hope you have a great week and Valentine’s Day!