A Dream, Realized

A few months ago, the unbelievable happened: I won the chance to meet my favorite band, Hanson. Now, for a person who unabashedly idolizes musicians, this was HUGE. My all-time, forever-until-eternity, stranded-on-a-desert-island band!! And while I take pride in having varied and open-minded taste when it comes to music, there are several musicians who have remained in my inner circle over time: Journey, G'N'R, Josh Groban, John Mayer, Dan Fogelberg. However, only one band has held the top spot for the last 13 years. I've plastered my walls (dorm room, classroom - whatever) with their posters, I've traveled far and often to see 5+ of their concerts, I've set my alarm for 2 a.m. on a school night so I can catch one of their live webcasts, I've even tattooed one of their song lyrics on my leg. In short, I love this band.

I love the music this band makes, and that it's 100% self-generated. I love that this band has lived through crushing success and crushing lack thereof; I love that it's looked at the world with progressive eyes yet stayed rooted in its foundation. I love that its members - Isaac, Taylor, and Zac - are brothers, because they've made it a family affair, and that they've widened their family circle to include their longest-standing fans. I love the creativity, enthusiasm, and genuine joy that this band emits. I love that this band is philanthropic; it gives money and time and energy, and this inspires others to do the same. I love this band, and cannot imagine a world without Hanson. So - needless to say - learning that I would get to meet them, up close and personal, was monumental.

The Day I Met Hanson was a normal day, though my sister was in town and I took the last half of the day off to prepare for the event. This involved stressing over what I was going to say, i.e. how I was going to be cool. Finally, my sister informed me that since I am not (never have been/never will be) cool, I should just be myself. Basically, walk up to any of the Hanson brothers and say, "I'm not even going to try to be cool about this - I freaking love you guys!!!!!" You know, play up the humble/dorky/lovable thing. Sweet.

Convo plan in check, we headed over to the venue, which was located on The Hill in Boulder. To make a very long story short, we waited in line for awhile and endured endless verbal attacks from jerky CU college kids. Approximately 2 hours before the concert start time, I left my sister alone in line (she was thrilled, really) and met the other Meet & Greeters in front of the venue. Hyperventilation had ceased; I was ready to go!

There is a joke among Hanson fans about "Hanson time" - the fact that this band is always, always, ALWAYS late for an engagement. Be it a webcast, a concert, a philanthropic event...the boys are always running behind schedule. So I wasn't too surprised when the Meet & Greet (M&G) didn't start right at 6:30. However, nearly two hours later, I was feeling a bit peeved. Where the freak were these dudes? Panic and irrational thoughts crept in. What if the M&G was just a joke? What if there wasn't time for a M&G before the concert started? What if they forgot about us?

Just when all hope was lost, the venue door opened and a stage hand let us in. After having my identity questioned by a venue door person (wtf?), I joined the other M&Gers near the stage. We clustered in a semi-dark corner, anxiously watching the stairs to the left of the stage. Suddenly, there was the flicker of a video camera light, and three shapes materialized on the stage stairs.

In an instant, they were standing before us. Real, tall (taller than expected!), beautiful. I didn't have time to be nervous; I was too enraptured by the fact that each brother looked exactly as he does on a computer webcast. It was like having the characters in a movie come to life in your living room.

The boys broke the ice by having one of the M&Gers battle Zac in Hungry Hungry Hippos, and then told us that we'd all get to choose a shirt from the merch table - free merch! Sweet! I think they felt bad about the crazy delay and shortened M&G. Then, they spread out among the M&Gers. Taylor came over to me first.

Taylor: “Hi, I’m Taylor.”

Me: “I know (blushing). I’m Stephanie, it’s nice to meet you.” We attempted an awkward handshake; Tay is right-handed and had a Sharpie in his this hand.

Tay: “How do you spell your name? S-t-e-p-h…and is it just a-n-i-e?”

Me: “Yes, a-n-i-e. Nice shoes.” I was referring to his red TOMS, because I was wearing the same ones.

Tay didn't look down, and therefore didn't get my point. “Thanks!”

Me: “Um…we match.”

Tay: (finally looked down) “Oh, hey! Cool! Here you go." He handed back the CD cover and laughed. "Sorry, I kinda mangled my face.”

Taylor is tall…really tall, with a giant head. His hair bounced about 2 inches above the top of his head…thick, beautiful hair. I won't lie; wanted to run my fingers through it! Next, Isaac made his way over to me.

Isaac: “Hi, I’m Isaac.” He extended hand for a shake.

Me: “Hi Isaac, nice to meet you. Would you please sign this for me?”

Ike: “Sure!”

Me: “Thank you so much!”

Ike was the most genuine that day. He had a friendly smile and looked right into my eyes when he spoke to me. Finally, Zac made his way to my side of the M&Gers, as he was trapped in conversation by some random dude.

Me: “Hi, Zac!” At this point, I was warmed up and had no fear.

Zac: “Hi!” He grinned and shook my hand.

Me: “Would you please sign this for me?” He signed the cover and grinned again.

Just then, the girl next to me mentioned that all of the boys were taller in real life than she expected. This caused Zac to launch into a silly impersonation of himself playing the drums at age 11. “We’re only tall because you keep thinking of us as kids!” he said. Zac was the funniest of the three, and had the most memorable handshake: firm and purposeful.

Stagehand guy organized us into two groups so we could take a photo with the guys. I was in a group with three other M&Gers, and on an end. This meant that there was a spot for a Hanson brother right next to me. Sure enough, Isaac came to my sideand put his arm around me for the photo! So of course, I put my arm around him, too.

When the photo op was over, Ike extended hand to me again. “Well, it was nice to meet you!”

Me: “Yes, it was…thank you so much! You guys are so awesome!” I patted his left chest area in appreciation. OMG, I totally touched him!!!...though it's sort of lame that I did a "mom pat" - crap, I'm old.

So what did it feel like to meet my favorite band? In a word, surreal. And it felt the same as it does when any dream comes true - incredible and bizarre, a moment of elation tied into the deflation of knowing this dream has now been obtained. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it really DID happen, that I actually shook hands with the three guys I see on CD covers, on stage amid 1,000 adoring fans, and in truck stop webcasts. But the greatest part of it is knowing that Isaac, Taylor, and Zac are the kind, authentic, admiration-worthy people I've always thought they were. As if I needed another reason to love them.


Nigella's Baklava Muffins

Nigella Lawson is my all-time favorite chef.
Many years ago, I used to watch her first show, "Nigella Bites," on the E! channel...I think it was picked up off of some London network. Eventually the Food Network found her, and she had a show a few years ago that I would watch religiously from my tiny garden apartment in Oregon. Anyway, this morning
I delightfully discovered that the Food Network is once again airing a Nigella show! "Nigella's Kitchen" airs on Sunday mornings at 7 a.m. MST.

I love Nigella's passion, her messy cooking style, and how she adoringly describes food with big, poetic words. I love her thick, throaty, English-accented voice, and how beautiful she is - she's not some lollipop-headed chick trying to sell "skinny" recipes. I love how her shows always conclude with a shot of her sneaking into the kitchen late at night to munch on leftovers by the light of the fridge.

Mostly, I love her recipes. Some of my all-time favorites: chocolate gingerbread, Nana's hachapuri, North American salad, sage-and-onion chicken and sausage,
and of course, her nearly famous brownies! Today, I whipped up another favorite: baklava muffins. There's nothing better than a warm, honey-drizzled, sugary-walnut-filled muffin on a cold Sunday morning!
Nigella's Baklava Muffins
recipe from How to Be a Domestic Goddess

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup + 7 T. flour (I like whole wheat)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup + 2 T. buttermilk

1/2 cup honey

1. Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Mix all the filling ingredients together in a small bowl, set aside.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and sugar. In a separate bowl, mix the egg, melted butter and buttermilk.

3. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add gently mix in the wet ingredients. If the batter is too thick, add a bit more milk.

4. Fill 6 muffin cups 1/3 full, add a scant tablespoon of filling, cover with more muffin mixture until 2/3 full. Sprinkle any remaining filling on top of the muffins. Bake for 15 minutes.

5. Put the muffins onto a rack to cool and drizzle with honey (it may be easier to drizzle the honey if it has been warmed first).

Makes 6 jumbo muffins.


Goodbye, October

It hit me in the middle of class today, as I talked to my silly, smiley, sixth graders about narrative paragraphs...the realization that October is over. Panicked, my eyes searched the scenery outside of my classroom window, and sure enough, everything had changed. Gone were the brilliant reds and golds of the tenth month (because we really did have a beautiful autumn this year), replaced by muted, brownish versions; skeleton trees clinging to the last remnants of vegetation. Later, while walking to my car, the shiver I felt as the wind whipped across my face ran deep; a sign of colder days to come. And here at home, yesterday's freshly carved pumpkin now stares at me with wilted, rotting insolence.

Barry Manilow sings a song about the passing of October, and the tune's mournful tone is fitting now. While I know that soon I will be distracted by the upcoming festivities of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it's always these first days of November that leave my heart feeling bleak and dejected. I think it's really the same regret I feel each year for letting October fly so quickly; for not taking that walk on a golden afternoon or hosting that caramel-corn/cinnamon-cider autumn party. And, oh, how October flies. Like Christmas or summer vacation, my mind approaches my favorite month with a false sense of timelessness, as though October were filled with endless glowing days.

This October was no different, jam-packed with social events and duties, with Halloween happenings and parent-teacher conferences, with football games and pumpkin patches. October 2010 started with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: meeting Hanson, my all-time favorite band, and ended with a live performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In between, I escaped to the fiery colors of the Midwest (trees/NIU football/Morgan), and watched over 500 people band together in a fundraiser for my friend John. I laughed with my students every day, and formed a serious addiction to pumpkin seeds. I lost a grandfather, and gained a new (albeit painful) understanding of what defines friendship. I read books, for both pleasure and purpose. I listened to music...tasted pumpkin pie and caramel apples...and marveled at the saturated blue and orange hues of sunset that only October brings. It was, as always, a wonderful month.

The one upside to saying goodbye to my favorite month is the knowledge that it will return - that from this point forward, I get to anticipate the arrival of golden October once again. Oh, and the November 1st arrival of eggnog lattes at Starbucks helps, too. :)


Way better than V-8...

Thick, comforting, and loaded with vegetables...this soup from Clean Eating magazine is so much better than I originally thought! The base freezes well, and add-ins can be varied.
Green Goodness Soup
Serves 16

2 t. olive oil
1/2 diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 t. paprika
1 t. cumin
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 medium green zucchini, trimmed and diced
10 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup cilantro (or rosemary or thyme)
1/2 jalapeno, seeded
6 cups kale, trimmed and chopped
12 oz. frozen chopped spinach
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Sea salt and black pepper
Plain yogurt

1) In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium and add onion, carrot, garlic, and celery. Sweat vegetables for 2-3 minutes. Add paprika and cumin; stir and cook 3-4 minutes.

2) Add potatoes and zucchini; saute for 1-2 minutes. Add stock, cilantro, and jalapeno. Bring broth to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

3) Add kale and spinach to the pot. Simmer again for 8 minutes.

4) Remove soup from heat and puree with an immersion blender. Stir in lemon juice, salt, pepper, and any additional seasonings to taste.

5) Add selected add-ins. (I added 1-lb. chicken to the simmering broth for about 8 minutes, then stirred in 3/4 c. broccoli and 1/2 c. green beans. After 5 minutes, I added 2/3 c. quinoa and simmered for 10-15 minutes. In the last few minutes, I added 1 chopped yellow squash.)

6) Serve with yogurt or sour cream.

Green beans, broccoli, yellow squash, cabbage, tomatoes
Quinoa, barley, or brown rice
Various spices + seasonings (garlic salt, oregano, parsley, etc.)


For the moment...

It's autumn, and I'm excited about it. And for as full as the summer season seemed, it passed so quickly. The month of August whipped by me; I attribute this, in part, to my preoccupation with new + interesting diversions. My sister would call these things the "bright and shiny pennies" of my current affairs, and maybe that explains why the last few weeks have been such a blur. Here's what's been keeping me busy (just in case you're in need of a few new pennies):

The Lonely Polygamist - Bizarre and intriguing story of a man with multiple wives. Think "Big Love" but even weirder.
Crazy for the Storm - Autobiographical tale of Norman Ollestad, who at 11 was the only survivor of a plane crash in the mountains.

Taylor Locke & The Roughs - I'm seeing these guys in Vegas in a few weeks; lead singer is the guitarist for Rooney. Loud, upbeat, classic rock n' roll.
Coconut Records - Jason Schwartzman's solo project. Funky, quirky, and creative sound.

The Noble Pig - This blog is filled with awesome + unique recipes. I was thrilled to see a post today for Poppyseed Roll, which is one of my Baba's Macedonian recipes. Lots of decadent recipes on this site. http://noblepig.com/
One Forty Plus - This is John Mayer's blog, which means that it's always funny and a bit random. He has such an interesting mind! http://jhnmyr.tumblr.com/

Chocolate Avocado Mousse - Creamy, simple, and mostly healthy. Delicious with raspberries. This recipe is really from my friend, Abby, but here's an identical online version of it: http://www.lasates.com/2010/02/10/practically-obsessed-chocolate-avocado-mousse
Lemony Chickpea Stir Fry - This is a great weeknight dish because it can be thrown together in about 10 minutes. Great flavor and reheats well, too. http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/lemony-chickpea-stirfry-recipe.html


Hanging Lake

One thing I've wanted to do for several years is hike up to Hanging Lake, which is right outside of Glenwood Springs. Finally had a chance to make the trek up there - on a beautiful late-summer Saturday. Good friends, great views, lots of laughs, and a real sense of accomplishment. It may be cliche, but that quote about the value in climbing a mountain is true...the reward at the top was worth all of the struggle in getting there!


We could be friends. No, really.

“This song explains why I’m leaving home to become a stewardess.” – Anita Miller, Almost Famous

Lately, a lot of people have commented on my tendency to form obsessions with music/rock stars. They are not wrong; in fact, I don’t even have to step out of the bubble to see my behavior for what it is. It’s weird, yeah. But it goes way beyond the superficial assumption that I’m just lonely and have too much time on my hands. The reasons that I can identify are twisted and complex. So…how do I explain them?

It all started with Axl Rose.

Well, actually, I’m sure it really started with joining my mom as she whistled and clapped her hands to the Bee Gees, or my dad blaring Ricky Van Shelton’s “Statue of a Fool” in the car on the ride home, because that’s when I began to recognize a swelling in my heart, a spreading warmth of genuine love for a particular melody that just bubbled over as I played a song on repeat…over….and over again. And this was all before my discovery of beautiful lyrics, although I can credit Barbara Streisand (“Coming In and Out of Your Life”) for helping me recognize the effect of a soaring melody and meaningful words: a song that could stir my soul.

Anyway, I was 14 when Axl Rose walked into my life. It was 1992, and I hadn’t yet reached the true melancholy of adolescence (i.e. joined the grunge movement); I was still reveling in the opulence of hair bands and power ballads. And while I’d also always been a Top-40 kid, at this point, my hormones were in high gear as I became interested in rock stars for a certain level of “hotness” in addition to musical ability. Now before you wince at my suggestion that Axl was indeed “hot,” know that 1) I’ve always liked long hair on men (Steve Perry: yup; young Dan Fogelberg: oh yeah; Sebastian Bach: you’d better believe it) and 2) even bike shorts can be sexy when you’ve got the vocal cords of a banshee. Plus, Axl was a misunderstood, sensitive Aquarian, something I know a little about. G’N’R was big that year; the Use Your Illusion double album brought “You Could Be Mine,” “Don’t Cry,” and…(sigh) “November Rain.” There was nothing finer than that epic, indulgent, 9-minute piece of musical candy….except maybe the equally over-the-top video. Somewhere, there are pictures of me dressed up like Axl Rose, from a day when my friends and I reenacted the November Rain video.

So, from that point forward, music began to make its mark. And while I don’t recall any specific obsession during my high school years (grunge and 90s country: everything was awesome), though I do remember having a bit of a crush on country one-hit wonder Wade Hayes (long hair again). Looking back now, I see that a lot of my favorite songs from that time are tied to specific memories, and boyfriends. Go figure – the lyrical side of music was affecting me at full force by that time.

Freshman year of college, Hanson happened. I was home for the summer and bored out of my mind, and “Mmmbop” was all the rage. Thoughnot usually one for crazy bubblegum pop pieces, I was intrigued by these cute, talented dudes. They were so fun, so wholesome. My sister and I spent that summer dancing by/in the pool to Middle of Nowhere, racing to the magazine section of the supermarket to read three sentences about them in Teen Beat, and playing songs around my dad in an effort to convince him that these guys were just as cool as Elvis Presley. We were obsessed: posters on our walls, t-shirts on our backs, concert tickets in our hands. In a time before the Internet really went crazy, all we had was printed literature, and of course, the music, to get to know this band.

Why would anyone care about “knowing” a band? I don’t think this is something unique to my brain patterns; I think a lot of people in the world feel moved by music and want to know where it comes from. There’s the celebrity factor, too, I suppose. But I’ve always felt that it was hard to express my true feelings on a subject in words alone…and that’s where music comes in. So many of the emotional highs in life – feelings of hope, freedom, joy, peace – are best revealed through an incredible song. When I hear a song that moves me, I immediately want to know more about its origins. Who wrote the lyrics? Who determined the instruments and layered the melodies? If I find that the song has been created in a musical “factory” somewhere in L.A., it’s a big letdown, because I’ve always appreciated musicians who really make their own music, you know? My adult years have led me to an intense appreciation for the independent band, because it’s through their songs that I can get to the human roots.

These days, everything is accessible online, including a favorite band. I’m constantly amazed (and delighted) by the various ways in which I can investigate the human side to my favorite song. Beyond Facebook and YouTube is a world of Twitter updates (where some musicians actually respond personally to fans), musician blogs, and links to magazine article archives. Hanson does charity walks with their fans (yes – without bodyguards – they walk with and talk to fans with an ease that’s incredible). Robert Schwartzman, the lead singer from Rooney, posts regular video blogs for his fans that range from quick updates to extended Q&A sessions. I mean, after listening to the guy answer questions for 90 minutes, it's hard not to feel like you know him on some level. It’s a far cry from the days of hoarding People magazine at the library and secretly ripping out the articles so I could file them in a binder at home; then read and reread the content in an attempt to get inside a musician’s brain. Yes, I did that.

My sister says that I prefer to be misunderstood, which may be true. I think there’s a part of me that enjoys having a connection to a song or a band that is completely unique; a magnetic, electric force that exists between only that particular musician and me. In a weird way, these people feel like friends, which makes sense if you think about it. Sure, I realize that this is a one-sided relationship…but then again, you never know. That reminds me – I’ve got to go check my Twitter account.

I Can't Get Enough by Rooney

Yes, I'm posting this out of undying loyalty to this band, however, this song rocks. You won't be able to get enough of it. I'm serious.


Don't bug me, I'm watching the Olympics

I love the Olympics.

1988: It was a fifth grade project that started it. We had to create a scrapbook of important news articles to follow the 1988 summer Olympic Games and I remember being so interested in the events.

1992: I was obsessed with gymnast Kim Zmeskal (I made a scrapbook then, too). She was my hero – I even wrote her a fan letter. I just loved her incredible focus, drive, and steel will.

1996: I would watch the swimming competitions of the Games while working at my job as a maid at the Best Western. We weren’t supposed to have the TV on while we worked, but I figured an exception could be made for a national event. And, let’s be honest, I was headed to college and really didn’t give a rip if the manager caught me. But those swimming races sure helped to pass the slow, tedious time of making beds and scrubbing toilets.

2006: XGames interest had cued me into a little redheaded snowboarder named Shaun White. He won gold that year in the halfpipe and it was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen! Much like Kim Zmeskal 14 years prior, Shaun White was inspiring. But he was cool, too – I wanted to hang out with him and his laid-back snowboarder buddies…which is weird because I’m not laid-back OR a snowboarder.

2008: I cheered with the rest of the world late into the night as Michael Phelps took gold. Amazing!! Thrilling! And the next day, everyone was talking about it at work, and I was damn proud to be an American.

2010: Ah, a Games so big I’ve rearranged my life/schedule just to be a dedicated observer. Watching the competitions, the interviews, the medal ceremonies - makes me feel like I’m a part of some grand movement; a great band of voices unified in a support for the “home team.” It’s electric. It’s addicting. Current thoughts:

Short Track is the most dangerous sport I’ve ever seen! The speed, the blades, the incredible potential for wipeouts or slicing a body part…ahh! The relay confuses the hell out of me, Apolo Ohno is the coolest athlete to watch in the last few laps of this sport. Oh, and those crazy South Koreans need to chill out – what’s with the hateful spirit toward Ohno, anyway?

Uniforms: Ski Team USA’s look like pajamas. Whose idea was it to create matching, pastel star-covered jackets and pants, anyway? They are silly on the girls and downright embarrassing on the boys. Conversely, the USA Snowboarding uniforms are awesome! That faded/ripped denim look for the pants is genius – I want a pair and I don’t even ski/board. Oh, and I love you, Canada, but your Short Track uniform looks like the athlete spray-farted black all over the ass. Not cute.

Curling is just like a life-sized game of shuffleboard. Who knew?

Men’s Figure SkatingJohnny Weir was robbed in both the short program and the free skate. Sure, his flamboyant style and hot-pink-trimmed costume is over the top, but he skated much better than the score he earned. Plus, he’s pretty,

and that should count for something. Evgeni Plushenko scares the hell out of me with his pelvic-thrusting routine. His haircut channels Joe Elliot of Def Leppard circa 1983, and while I do love Joe, this isn’t a good thing. He’s the sorest, most arrogant silver medalist I’ve ever seen and, furthermore, has a routine in his repertoire that involves fake muscles, an ice rink strip show, and the song “Sex Bomb.” Horrifying…watch it here. And my newest love, Evan Lysacek, is the most humble and soft-spoken athlete I’ve seen yet. Determined, unique, adorable and genuine, he so righteously deserved that gold medal.

Snowboarding was sort of slow, believe it or not. Snowboard X was flat without Lindsey Jacobellis. Women’s halfpipe was blah compared to the men’s, and the men’s was blah compared to Shaun White.

...and speaking of my long-term love, Shaun White…that guy is such a rock star. Wins the gold and still throws down an even higher-scoring victory lap. Fierce, savvy, goofy, and sweet. A little conceited, but endearingly so. And just when you think he might be too far into fame to embody that surfer-dude snowboarder culture, he does the air guitar during the National Anthem at his medal ceremony. Freaking awesome. And the hair – oh, that beautiful hair! I wanna be his friend…maybe I’ll write him a fan letter.

I love the Olympics J