When in Playa…

Ernesto and I have been to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico seven times. Playa del Carmen, or just “Playa” as the locals refer to it, is a coastal resort town in Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Playa is located 70 km south of Cancún and 20 km west of the island Cozumel.

Avenida Quinta, a.k.a. 5th Avenue

caravanWe have certainly seen Playa grow into a more commercial resort city, but I think it has its charm intact. There are more convenience stores that sell cheap trinkets and t-shirts, but there are still quaint restaurants and artisanal stores that dominate the avenue. I did notice that some of the local vendors have become more aggressive in trying to draw tourists in to their stores. One particular vendor prodded a tourist by saying, “Hey, where are you from? I have something to show you. Stop! Hey, I said Stop!” Read more

Why I love the Fair

When I was a kid, I loved going to the Fair with my Dad. We’d go on the big yellow slide, order a foot long hotdog with all the fixins, take in a few rides in the Midway, and the sun always seemed to be shining. Much later, the Fair wasn’t as appealing. It was all about eating cotton candy, French fries, all you can drink milk and anything deep fried on a stick. The Midway rides weren’t like the real ones at Valleyfair and they didn’t seem all that safe. I thought, “What’s the point of all this?” Why do thousands of people come to this place for a week at the end of summer every single year?”

2014 MN State Fair #mnstatefair 3


For the past five years, I’ve looked forward to the MN State Fair and I go at least twice in that week at the end of summer to take photos. I’ve found that this is the best place, even better than all the block parties, to take photos. Here there are all walks of life; young and old, extremely obese to rail thin, disabled, and the most diverse group of people gathered in one place. I really think it’s a good sample of what our city and surrounding communities are all about.

I can see all the different stages of life in people walking by. The young couples enjoy each others’ company, young families balance toddlers on their hips, pushing strollers with the second child, middle-aged sons and daughters wait patiently for their elderly parents, teenage girls giggle with braces on their teeth, short tops and short shorts, and cautiously eye the young boys as they pass.

Young couple


Before the last stint in the Midway, I make my way toward the big yellow French fries stand. I don’t eat the deep fried pancake breakfast on a stick, but I do indulge in French fries and beer. As the sun reaches the golden hour, I’m in the Midway capturing people on my lens coming toward me; they are completely in the moment and oblivious to being photographed. The rides shine in bright colors as people line up to board the swiveling cars. I’m capturing these active scenes at the end of summer where everyone meets before the school year starts, the next business quarter and the cooler weather marks the first day of Fall.

2014 MN State Fair #mnstatefair 4

2014 MN State Fair #mnstatefair

2014 MN State Fair #mnstatefair 2



6a00d8341f7e1253ef00e54f1faf6a8834-800wiThe other day we went to IKEA to purchase a stainless steel kitchen counter. We first located the item, along with its wire shelves, on the IKEA website. So, all we had to do was go over there, find the counters, and place an order in the warehouse and we’d be on our way. We approached the parking lot and immediately found the yellow entrance sign. While taking the escalator up, we started salivating when we saw the brightly colored ad for poached salmon with dill and red potatoes. We decided right then and there to have dinner first.

6a00d8341f7e1253ef00e54f1fab388834-800wiThe IKEA dining room was a bit sparse, but, according to my Swedish mom, the open-faced shrimp and hard-boiled egg sandwich was not to be missed. The two tired ladies were at the ready, their ladles anticipating the floating poached salmon with béarnaise sauce, along with the red potatoes and very overcooked greens. The next stop was the densely packed apple torte resting on a lake of vanilla sauce. I had to have the black current sparkling juice to wash it all down. We passed the high top tables and chose the lower seating with the comfortable dome lights hovering just over our heads. Once we took the last bite of apple torte, we were off to the showroom to find our new “Udden“, with its parts.

The escalator took us to the grand showroom that really just moves you around a very large warehouse from kitchen to office, to bedroom. The signs lead you around, with promises that the checkout is near. We finally saw our Udden, its stainless steel gleaming in the distance. We decided that two wire shelves would create a lot of space for all our appliances, pans, and cutting boards. We took the name and number down and made our way around the showroom toward the warehouse where we would pick up our countertop in boxes, ready to assemble.

We made it to the warehouse where there were sturdy shelves holding multiple IKEA products ready to be loaded onto large dollies. After about ten minutes, we spotted a guy in a yellow IKEA shirt. We sighed with relief that we could finally be on our way. We showed him our order form and he promptly asked us what the shelf number and bin number were on this item. We didn’t notice any such thing, only the name “Udden” and the wire shelf names. He informed us that, since the item didn’t have a shelf number or bin number, we had to go back to the showroom to order it from one of the sales people. As we rolled our eyes at the thought of trudging through the showroom once again, we made our way back, found another Udden and, after several minutes, we located a yellow shirt. This sales person was very noncommittal; somewhat annoyed that we had spotted her. Even though we were standing right in front of our Udden, she said that she really needed a visual of the item! We thought that maybe the IKEA magazine could point this out in a clearer manner.

She walked us back to the warehouse and found one of her yellow-shirted colleagues who was stationed at a computer. This new yellow shirt was fairly new and entered our Udden serial numbers not once, but twice. All she had to do was make a printout and we’d be on our way to the cashier. Unfortunately, the printer was blinking red. A very youthful yellow shirt rescued her and our order form was in our hands. The cashier was very automated with directions and a smile as she motioned toward the pickup counter; the blue counter. Ernesto said, “Well, which blue counter? They’re all blue!” It was indeed the blue counter at the far end of the store. Once we were all packed in the car, our boxes in the back seat, we were relieved to realize that we were actually done with the IKEA shopping experience. Now I know why IKEA is a multi-billion dollar industry. They don’t spend money on training their staff.


Playa Fun

6a00d8341f7e1253ef00e54f1d9a2b8834-800wiErnesto and I went to Playa del Carmen last week. This was the fifth time there. I just can’t say enough about this wonderful place. I go to Playa for a truly relaxing vacation. The days started with running on the beach. It’s quite a challenge to run on sand because it has very little resistance, and the tide coming in moves you from left to right. The big reward at the end of the run is to take off your running shoes and dive into the ocean. Breakfast included the usual huevos rancheros and plenty of fresh papaya with a generous sprinkle of lime juice. The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent on the beach body surfing, soaking up the sun, and looking forward to a cold Victoria and octopus, shrimp, and cod ceviche. Later on we’d meander over to the new gay Tukan beach and sit back at the bar with a piña colada while we’d watch people bake on the beach. There were usually a group of guys doing acrobatics, assisted by an embedded bosu ball in the sand. Some days they had drummers to accompany them.

By around 4pm we’d head back to the hotel room for our nap in the hammocks. I really like the Shangri La Caribe hotel. This is the second time we go there. The “garden” rooms we stayed in have two levels. They look like they were designed by an architect influenced by Swiss chalets and Mayan palapas. The second floor rooms, where we stayed, have vaulted ceilings since they are part of the palapa. They all have balconies with hammocks. After our nap, we’d get ready to go out on the town. “La Quinta”, or 5th avenue, runs parallel to the beach. La Quinta has lots of restaurants, most of them Italian. There are plenty of ex-patriot and quaint Mexican bars, and gift shops with hand made crafts. I realized that thousands of people walked up and down the beach during the day, and in the evening, thousands of people walked up and down La Quinta. We did the same, and eventually we actually had to make the one decision for the day. Where should we go for dinner?!

Mum’s the Word

Day One
6a00d8341f7e1253ef00e54f01e9d38833-800wiI just completed day one of jury duty. There must have been at least 100 people in the jury assembly room this morning. We watched a short video about the jury selection process and then we were free to sit for hours, until our name was called. I managed to keep myself preoccupied with work all morning; copying over all of the website files to the new site. We broke for lunch, a generous hour and a half. I am amazed at how many new restaurants there are in the skyways. It’s like a little, elevated city flowing with suits, long cues at all the soup & sandwich places, all abuzz during lunch rush. The afternoon was very long since I ran out of work and I just didn’t feel like starting a new book.

Day Two
9am. I am ready to hear my name. I hope that, at least, the case is interesting. Two large groups of people have been called this morning. The judge and the lawyers will question them, apparently in front of the other jurors. That must be really strange to have to disclose personal information in front of complete strangers!

11:40. Apparently I’m not going to be called this morning since lunch time is drawing near. They probably give an hour and a half for lunch to throw you off. I’d much rather get called and get it over with instead of killing time in the skyways. I feel like I have one of those ankle bracelets on that monitor a felon’s whereabouts. I am free to go home, but I need to make an appearance every day, check in, check out, and check back in.

1:37pm. I moved to the “business center” this afternoon, where I plugged in my laptop yesterday, to avoid any unsolicited chatter. It’s quiet in here and it doesn’t smell like stale cigarettes. Fortunately, I am still able to hear the loudspeaker in this room that is just off the main room. I am reading Dan Brown’s “Deception Point”. It’s not exactly a Grisham; a few levels above. It’s an easy read with good character development, and it transports me to another place. I had to buy it again because Frida knocked over some massage oil, soaking the last five chapters beyond legibility.

2:10pm. Still no word. Am I supposed to sit here all day, every day for two weeks? What kind of a silly system do they have for calling jurors? No wonder people dread jury duty.

I hear my name as the loudspeaker cracks. Then I hear it again. I fumble for my things and make my way out of the “business center.” I frantically enter the main room, saying “Here!” so as not to miss my jury call. We lined up in the hallway, waiting to ascend to our jury room where we would be selected. The curly-haired judge called each of us and motioned toward the “comfortable chairs.” We were all seated and asked, in order, a series of general jury-related questions. Next, each potential juror was summoned to the witness chair to answer random questions posed by each lawyer. Some were accepted, based on their possible contribution to the case, and others were indirectly excused. The excused were inevitably sent back to “the pen.”

Day 3
9am. It could happen today. I could be chosen as an actual juror. The case is slated to end in two days. The remaining potential jurors are given a chance to answer questions on the witness stand. The two potential jurors answered questions asked by the lawyers, abbreviated dialogues meant to speed up the process, since we had to wait for an hour and a half to get started. Fortunately for them, they were the last two chosen, and the three remaining stooges, including me, were sent back to the pen. All the rejects were there, including the ones not chosen and the jurors who had finished their cases. Even though their cases were over, there was still a week and a half left of service. By the end of the day, when we were released early, I felt like a prisoner on “Lost“.

Day Four, Thursday
I sat in the big room today, just to do something different. The two young guys at the next table were babbling about a lot of things, one guy doing all the talking, and the other simply acknowledging with his “ah-hahs.” After the first group was called, without me, I slipped into a pseudo slumber, staying awake with all of the chatter, ring tones, and distant laughter. I opened my eyes at some point and went for my designated five minute break. Fortunately I brought the camera today. I took a number of shots in the skyway with the sun spilling in and people walking briskly to their next engagement. Something to do…edit photos. I read the paper again, just in case I missed something. I meandered into the quiet “business center” with a dog-eared paperback of Othello. I just couldn’t concentrate on the Shakespearean English, so I reverted back to reading “Deception Point” again, just in case I missed something the first time around.

Déjà vu was sweeping over me when lunch was called. Once again, I didn’t make the morning jury cut. Would I be so lucky in the afternoon to be one of the chosen ones? It’s really just a stupid lottery. Yesterday, the odds were definately in my favor since I was among the last 25 people, qualifying for a full group. Sure enough, as soon as the jurors ended their case, they rejoined the pool, as well as several people from the “on call” list. So, I was back at square one, a mere number among many potential jurors.

I was happy to discover that the Royal Orchid, which used to be on “Eat Street”, had a new skyway location. The very animated owner was there too, doling out Thai curries and crispy rolls. I said that I remembered how he used to carve beautiful flowers out of watermelons and cantelopes. I sat down for a quick green curry with vegetables and continued taking skyway photos. Most people were too busy to dodge the photographer, so I had some willing subjects. When I arrived at the pen, I realized that I had forgotten to buy another book. Perhaps I could doze off again. There was only one group called late in the afternoon, but they were sent home because the judge wasn’t ready for them. Surprisingly, the rest of us were given Friday off. We were finally elevated to “on call” status for the following week. I guess that my civic duty was simply to be a potential juror.

Francine’s lost “babies”

Francine just has a way of entertaining herself. She now has five multi-colored, catnip-filled mice that look a lot like her. So, we call it her "baby". We went out of town for a week and came back to discover that none of her “babies” were in sight. So, like before, I put a flashlight underneath the couch, the shelves, and even the bed. We still haven’t solved the mystery. We’ll probably buy another litter of the catnip-stuffed mice, they’ll go missing again, and some day we will find a mountain of dust-bunnied mice in some obscure place.

The Great Guthrie

Ernesto and I went to the first show, the Great Gatspy, at the brand new Guthrie Theatre on the bluffs of the Mississippi and the former grounds of the old flour mills. I was really impressed with the architecture. On the outside, there are giant screen prints of the great playrights and Tyrone Guthrie. The view from the “bridge to nowhere” was the aquaduct-style Stone arch bridge, the mighty river, and the Gold Medal flour mill.

Guthrie600On the inside, it felt like a cross between a modern European airport and Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey. I was thrilled to realize that the thrust stage was retained, the best part of the old Guthrie on Vineland Place. The Great Gatsby was well acted, although a bit week toward the end. This adaptation had a few jokes about Minneapolis and the lesser known Saint Paul where the main character grew up. We wanted to explore the place a bit more, so we headed up to the “bridge to nowhere” toward the narrow bar at the end. The ceilings became lower and lower as we approached the bar. We sat at the bar, staring at the others around the bar who were also patiently waiting for the one busy bartender to make eye contact. After ten minutes, we willingly offered our seats to an older couple and wished them luck. We made our way down to Cue, a beautiful restaurant on the first floor. They don’t serve food after ten, so we looked elsewhere. Fortunately we ran into the cozy Spoon River, one of Brenda Langdon’s latest successes. We had a savory smoked salmon salad with spinach and crostini with hummos, red pepper spread, and kalamata olives.

Asphalt Territory

ducksI was heading back home from Morrie’s Imports in the claustrophobic Pontiac loaner car, after leaving the Saab, once again, for another repair job. I signaled my turnoff toward the Dunwoody-Hennepin exit when I spotted the mother mallard duck and her ten ducklings. They were just going about their business, making their way across the busy highway. She was swiftly leading them past the idling car in the next lane toward the next speeding lane of cars and the median, to get to the other side of the highway. I looked around and saw that everyone had their hands in the air, wondering what she was going to do once she realized that the little ones wouldn’t be able to hoist themselves up over the concrete median to the other two speeding lanes. To my horror, I visualized squashed little ducklings all over the buzzing road. I exited the highway, realizing that their fate was out of my control. Later, at the end of the workday, I picked up the car, now purring like a kitten. I conned myself into thinking that this was the end of all of the major repairs. As I approached the turnoff toward the Dunwoody-Hennepin exit, I slowed down to see if there was any evidence of duck carnage. I was pleased to see clean, black asphalt, knowing that someone cared enough to send the mother duck and her ducklings to safety.