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. :)