Saturday, December 31, 2011

The "Fight to be Fit" results are in!

The verdict is in, folks! I'm declaring this fight a victory, despite the old Iron Man scale delivering one last kidney punch with a metabolic age reading that made me want to throw it through the window. (But then, it wouldn't be the Iron Man if it didn't elicit cuss words and seething rage.)

Without further ado (you have waited a whole year for this, after all), here are my year-end physique numbers ...

Total pounds lost: 74

Total inches lost (this was my favorite!): 48.25 inches!!!

Visceral Fat Reading: 8
(1-14 is the healthy range, so this was excellent news in terms of cardiovascular health, diabetes and the risk of certain cancers)

Metabolic age: 50 ...

As you may recall, one year ago my metabolic age was 50. Five months after that, it had gone down to 42. And now, 74 pounds lighter, it says I'm 50 again. Gah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hate you, Iron Man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, there are my stats, folks.

I'm pretty darn pleased, going into the New Year, with this new lease on life. And I fully plan to keep it going and lose even more. The post below outlines my gratitude for those folks who played a huge part in my success this year, and it also lays out my somewhat humorous plans for the future. : ) Happy New Year!

Yesterday, TODAY! and the next chapter

New Year's is a time of reflection. Despite all the goal-setting going on for the future, it's only natural to look back at the previous year and assess.

I lived out 2011 quite publicly, and as many of you will recall, it had its share of ups and downs as I battled weight loss in my "fight to be fit" for Free Press readers.

Just to recap: The first half of the year, I lost 50 pounds with the help of a personal trainer. Then I took the entire summer off, which basically meant I hit the junk food, stayed away from the gym and kept myself out of the public eye for a while. With my retreat into Sugar Town came a gain of 12 pounds back. (Can you imagine realizing eight months into your public weight-loss battle that you are only down 38 pounds? Devastating.)

At the end of September, I came to my senses. I remembered all of the things my trainer Jackie Vroman taught me, and I got to work, vowing that this time the words "lifestyle change" would stick.

Well, it's the last week of December now, three months after my reawakening, and I'm happy to report that this time I feel like I've won the fight.

In 2011, I lost 74 pounds and 48.25 total inches from my body. And, folks, they're staying off.

The journey
As I look back on this year, two major players stand out in my fitness journey: the Y, the facility where I lost the weight, and Jackie, whom I think of every single time I put on a cute outfit that I could never fit into before now.

I first asked John Kind, the CEO of the Y, to lunch in early December. I told him how grateful I was to the Y and his staff for helping me whenever I needed it this year and for answering all of my questions. I told him how much Jackie (a former trainer for the Y) had been a part of my success.

And I asked him what he thought it was about the Y that seemed to result in so many success stories. As you walk the halls, the stories of members are even framed on the walls.

"It's not uncommon to get an email every couple of weeks (that says) the Y changed my life," he said. "I think it's because you're not doing it alone."

The Y fosters a sense of community, he said. Families come together. Sitting areas are often full of people pre- and post-workout hanging out to socialize. Classes, many of them free, encourage a group fitness mentality, which makes people feel accountable.

All of this hit home for me, but he could have been speaking about me directly when he said this: Most people who come to the Y are "Health Seekers." They're not athletes. They're regular people who want to try and live a healthier life. At first, they're intimidated to work out in the Life Center, thinking only people in shape will be there, judging those who aren't. But then they become acquainted with the Y and realize that people of all fitness levels fit in.

I couldn't have summed up any better the reasons I found my success at the Y this year. For numerous reasons, memberships to gyms in the past didn't work out. The difference now is that I WANT to go to the Y, and I will continue wanting to go there because the experience is about much more than exercise.

"You've got to be inspired," John said.

Most cathartic of all was sitting down for coffee with Jackie before she left for a volunteer trip to an orphanage in Romania over Christmas. I was able to give her a big hug and remind her again how much she changed my life. And I was able to hear the words that mean more coming from her -- the person who stood next to me when I stepped on that scale a year ago, when we learned my starting weight -- than anyone else: "You look amazing."

The next chapter
So what's next? Staying the course is No. 1 on the agenda. I'm in a place now where I'm happy with how I feel, how I look, how my clothes fit, and my physical capabilities at the gym. So No. 1 with a bullet is keeping it that way.

Do I have more to lose? Yep. There are always those last begrudging pounds. But I'm not too worried about that. The last ones take the longest, so I'm not setting goals with deadlines. I'll just keep on keeping on with my new lifestyle, and eventually it'll come off.

But I don't feel like this is enough. Last year at exactly this time, this is what I wrote to all of you:

I turned 30 three weeks ago. Dear God, did I ever turn 30. ... Didn't take it well. I remember a time not so long ago when the idea of growing old was so far into the future that it wasn't even worth thinking about. I don't feel that way anymore, and it's making me seriously examine where I'm at in life, sort of letting it sink in that every day is precious and I'd better start making good use of my remaining youth.

Well folks, two weeks ago, I turned 31. Feels a lot like 30, so I'm not taking it too badly this year. But the rest of that statement is still true. Still feeling like my youth is precious, and that it's time to grasp it and keep tackling new challenges.

I can honestly say now that my first challenge is successfully tackled: I battled my weight, and I won.
So this got me thinking about what other challenges I could take on. When I return from vacation Tuesday I'll be the reporter in charge of education, which is new for me. And I started thinking, "In honor of my new beat, and in honor of having learned something new last year -- how to live healthy -- how about I make it my life's plan to learn something new every year?"

Sounds good to me, and it sounds like something that could equate to pretty funny blog entries, just like my "fight to be fit" last year.

So here it is, folks: In 2012 ... I'm going to learn ... to dance. A girl with no rhythm will soon be queen of da clubs.
At 31, I'm about a decade too old for Red Rocks at 1 a.m. (which also happens to be three hours past my bed time). But perhaps there are dance classes I can take at civilized hours in Mankato and then take my new moves to the Twin Cities club scene. Ow!

Ballroom sounds most appealing. A nice classy waltz, and when I'm feeling feisty, salsa, baby. But the tiger in me wants to go a little crazier. ... So I'm considering hip-hop, which is the absolute furthest from my comfort zone.
Do you have any idea how my attempt at the moonwalk would end? I do: a broken leg and a really funny column. (Are people still moonwalking?) I'll keep you posted.

Amanda's Health Tips
People on their own quests for fitness always ask me the same things: What are your secrets? How did you do it? Do you have any tips?

While I still very much maintain that weight-loss is a total mental game -- that we all have the information; it's just a matter of applying it -- I do have several tips that I employ almost every day that have been life changing for me.
Here they are:

1. Start an account at It's a free website where you log your fitness goals, as well as daily exercise and calories. The site keeps track of how much you should be eating and helps you realize how much you actually are eating. I log in several times per day, and I even have the app on my Smart phone.

2. Log in to Myfitnesspal BEFORE you go to the gym with the number of minutes you plan to exercise. You'd be amazed the effect of knowing you pledged to do 60 minutes on the elliptical. When you want to quit at the 45-minute mark, your recorded goal will be enough of a push to keep you on 15 minutes longer.

3. Whatever time of day you feel the most "snacky," distract yourself with something else. I'm a night eater, so every night that I'm home and watching TV, I put my pajamas on and watch the TV in my bedroom. Putting myself into the jammies is a mind trick that gets me thinking about bed time instead of snack time. By going upstairs, it takes me away from the kitchen.

4. Count calories or points. There are a million diets out there from low-carb to low-fat. But in the end, it's about calories in and calories out. If you do not have a calorie deficit, you will not lose weight. Find out how many calories you need to be eating to maintain your current weight -- based on your height, weight and activity level -- and then make sure, at the end of each day, you have consumed less than that amount. (Google BMR calculator.)

5. This tip isn't for everyone, but for me personally, I do not enter exercise into the equation of how many calories I can consume each day. I often hear people say, "I exercised today, so I can eat more than I normally would," or, "I exercised, so my metabolism is faster, and I can eat more." The average person burns 300 calories at the gym, and that amount can be made up in one bag of chips.

6. Leave it all at the gym. If you're leisurely strolling on the treadmill and reading the paper, you're not getting a good burn. Your heart rate needs to be elevated, you should be sweating and you should feel at least a little uncomfortable. I like to push myself the hardest toward the end of my workout when my muscles are warmed up. It helps me to have a song that I play at the end of every workout: No Doubt's "Sunday Morning." It's sort of become a little personal mantra.

Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks so much for reading this year!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The "Fight to be Fit" countdown is on

The countdown is on, folks. Today, the morning of Dec. 16, I have lost 68 pounds. But I have 11 days left before I have to report my final number to the copy desk here at The Free Press, so that my year-end story for my "Fight to be Fit" can run in the Jan. 2 paper. (You'll have to look for it. The Health & Fitness page runs inside one of the two sections; not on the cover.) The C section works in advance, which is why I can't wait until New Year's Day to report my final weight-loss number.

However! You, folks -- my most dedicated and vocal supporters of my "Fight," my BLOG READERS!!! -- you will get the most up-to-date numbers. You'll get the actual Jan. 1 report, including the weight-loss total, total percentage of fat loss, loss of inches, metabolic age and more. It will all be so very exciting, I'm sure, and you can read all about it right here on New Year's Day.

I'll also post the pictures that will run in the newspaper, including before and after shots, and a funny picture of me in my old "fat pants."

So, for the newspaper, I have 11 days left to kick some butt at the gym and hopefully lose another four or five pounds, which would bring me to a respectable 72 or 73-pound loss to report. Here on the blog, I've still got a whopping 16 days to get 'er done. So who knows, maybe I'll be able to claim a 75-pound loss to you by New Year's Day.

I better get busy! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Awards Season is almost upon us!

Today is the day!!!

This is absolutely my favorite time of year, for so very many reasons. For one, I love Christmas. For two, my birthday is Sunday. Hurray! And for three, the nominations start coming out for my second-favorite time of year ... AWARDS SEASON!

Thursday, bright and early, the nominations for the Golden Globe Awards were announced live on TV.

The list is usually my reference guide for the movies I absolutely have to see before Oscar night in March, although I try to have a good portion of the list accomplished by the end of January, when the Awards Season kicks off with the Screen Actors Guild awards and the Critics' Choice, and of course the dumb ol' People's Choice (where movies like "Twilight" actually have a shot at winning things -- ho-hum).

So, folks, I'm excited to announce that these are a few of the movies to look for this season (best picture-drama candidates): "The Descendants," "The Help," "Hugo," "The Ides of March," "Moneyball" and "War Horse."

Funny enough, I've actually seen half of these: "The Help," "The Ides of March" and "Moneyball." And frankly, I'm a little bit surprised how mainstream this list is. Usually there are titles I haven't even heard of.

Could this be the year of the award-winning blockbusters instead of the indie darlings?

For you indie lovers, some acting and writing award nominations were included for movies like "Albert Nobbs" (Glenn Close for best actress-drama); "Iron Lady" (Meryl Streep for best actress-drama); "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (Tilda Swinton for best actress-drama); and "Shame" (Michael Fassbender for best actor-drama).

Other indies up for nods that I am looking forward to seeing include "The Artist" and "My Week With Marilyn." I hate to call it early, folks, but I'm thinking this Awards Season is going to be quite kind to Michelle Williams who plays Marilyn Monroe. Best Actress Oscar? It's quite possible.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Killer Beth: the perfect after-Thanksgiving Step instructor

It was fight or flight time at approximately 8:35 a.m. today when I walked into the aerobics studio at the Y. I had seen her in the life center during the past year, killing it on the elliptical like someone cross-country skiing away from a polar bear. But I hadn't seen her in this setting for five years.

Killer Beth.

Years ago, the first Step aerobics class I ever took at the Y was at 5:30 p.m., and it was so hard, I had to leave halfway through. I asked someone the next day if Step classes are always so vigorous, and the woman asked me which class I had attended. When I told her the time, she said, "Oh no, honey. That's Killer Beth. You have to work up to her."

Never were truer words spoken. During the past week, I have been incorporating Step classes back into my routine, proud of myself for jumping right in with the risers and being able to finish the morning classes without water breaks. But I was not ready for Beth. Many of us weren't. A few people left. We were all taking water breaks. It's amazing how different that class can be with each instructor, considering it's the same equipment and the same basic movements. But Beth uses a faster tempo CD, so every movement is a half step faster. She's a fan of double and triple movements, which ups the ante again. And when class begins, it's work time. No messing around getting warmed up with easy movements at first. She's all in. All bidness. And yet, from start to finish, she has the sunniest demeanor, kindest voice, never out of breath.

The woman is like a beautiful machine.

And I was like a dumptruck stuck in neutral, grinding gears to try and lunge forward ... then backward ... then forward.

It's as if she knew what we all had eaten yesterday. She saw the words "pumpkin cheesecake" written on my forehead, and she responded accordingly with lunges. So many lunges.

It was agony, and it was exactly what I needed. So at the end of class, I asked Beth if she still teaches regularly. She does, at 5:40 p.m. on Thursdays. So I told her, "Well, I better start coming because that about killed me."

And fittingly, as I gingerly lowered myself into my car, glasses fogging up from my hot, red face, the song "You Must Be Out of Your Mind" was playing on the radio as I turned on the car.


Monday, November 21, 2011

My two-part Thanksgiving plan: the Y and FOOD

Last week I went to South Central College to talk to a weight-loss support group, which was really fun. It's always cathartic to commiserate with folks going through the same junk you are. (And incidentally, I've lost 61 pounds at this point, and they gave me a round of applause, which absolutely warmed my heart.) But at the end of the session, a woman asked me how I planned to handle Thanksgiving. Until that moment, I hadn't given it much thought, and so like I do with everything else in life, I just said what came to mind: "I plan to eat a lot," I think I said.

Of course, I qualified the statement by saying, "There are times when it's OK to indulge. The trick for me is just to make sure that I get right back on track the next day."

From her expression, I don't think it was what she wanted to hear. And I can understand why. For many of us -- including me in the past -- a bad day tends to lead to several more, and before you know it, you're back to your old bargaining practices: I'll do better starting Sunday ... I'll just eat what I want the rest of this month, since there's only a few days left, and I'll start fresh on the 1st ... etc. So a day like Thanksgiving can trigger those behaviors, especially when you tend to have copious leftovers for days.

So all of this led to me carving out a plan for this week. The two-fold plan involves the Reebok Step classes at the Y, and food consumption on Thanksgiving. Part one was Step, which began today ...

I've been doing an hour on the elliptical in the life center with relative ease lately. It sucks that your body gets used to certain kinds of exercise, especially exercise that you actually enjoy (somewhat). And I knew that was what was happening, because I'd find myself looking down at the clock on the elliptical and seeing that 30 minutes had gone by without me wanting to kill myself. It's important that you experience a certain level of discomfort while working out, otherwise you're not getting a very good burn.

That led me back to Step class this morning to up the ante on my workouts, give my metabolism a boost, and burn more and lose a bit more before Thanksgiving -- sort of a preemptive calorie deficit before Turkey Day. ... I walked in, and I was so excited to see Lynette leading the class. Years ago, and several pants sizes ago, she was the one who whipped my butt into shape. She has a way of making me love her for the first 20 minutes and not-love-her-so-much during the last 20, which to me, is exactly what a good workout experience should be like.

By the end of the 40 minutes today, I was red in the face, sweating profusely, and rubbing my quads for comfort. I did that drunken sort of walk to the car, sort of meandering and disoriented. "Do I drive a blue car? I think it's blue. Maybe I'll just wander this way and I'll run into it." Now THAT'S a good workout.

I plan to get three good workouts like that in before Turkey Day on Thursday, when the second part of my plan will come into play. And here it is, folks: I plan to eat a lot. ... I know, I know. It doesn't sound healthy. But folks, sometimes food DOES equal enjoyment. Some events ARE planned around food. We associate certain memories from our past with grandma's Christmas Eve casserole and mom's famous pumpkin cheesecake. I would hate to look back on Thanksgiving with my family and remember that I weighed the ounces of turkey before I put it on my plate, and I passed on the gravy, and I asked mom to go easy on the butter in the mashed potatoes, and I skipped dessert. For some of you, that might be what you need to make your fitness goals work, and that's totally fine. But for me, I plan to enjoy myself with food on Thanksgiving.

And then the very next morning, I'll be in the upstairs studio in the Y getting my butt kicked.

Monday, October 31, 2011

'Runway' finale: I guess I got what I wanted

In one of the most boring "Project Runway" finales in history, the best way for me to sum things up is to say, "I got what I wished for," and as we all know, that's not always a good thing.

I had been rooting for Anya from day one. Who wasn't? A gorgeous, exotic, sweet young woman with four years of sewing experience. You can't write a better underdog story. And yet, she kept performing better than some of these other designers who constantly knocked her about construction. I was so happy to see all season that the judges, for the most part, were more concerned about her incredible design skills than her ability to fully execute them with a needle and thread. As an aside, here, I find it very hard to believe that somebody like Michael Kors would sew ANYTHING these days. My bet is that designers have plenty of seamstresses to execute their ideas. So perhaps Anya isn't as much behind the curve as bitchy Josh would like to think.

Did I think Anya should have won, however? No. No, I did not. The collection was not her best work. Not one piece had construction work. It was the same note of flowy beach wear the whole way through. Beautiful stuff! Don't get me wrong. But not worthy of being crowned the champ.

I was actually pretty horrified when I saw how much the judges loved Josh's stuff. It scared me to death when he was left standing on the runway beside Anya, that there was a chance for him to take the win. Can you imagine? Josh being crowned the winner of "Project Runway"? It's enough to make a girl swear she'll never watch again ... although, I'm sure I've said that before.

Viktor, who I was sure was the clear front-runner, choked when it counted most. He had a lovely collection of print garments that were inventive and chic. And he had a cheap collection of black translucent hooker get-ups. Who needs to be a better editor now, Viktor?

All in all, I simply can't say there was anything very dazzling about the final runway show. Nobody wow'd me to any extent. But they strategically showed previews for the next season of "Runway," something they've never done before ... All-Stars, baby. How fun will it be to see all our old favorites and foes come back to dook it out yet again? Love it. I'm in.

Friday, October 28, 2011

17 is not a good number for some of you!

I'm on my way out of town for the weekend, but I had to pop in briefly to say, "Don't worry!" I've gotten a bunch of concerned folks coming forward saying something to the effect of: "Losing 17 pounds in less than a month isn't healthy!" Trust me, I'm not doing anything unhealthy. Remember, when your diet has consisted of high sodium and fat and sugar, you retain lots of water. I'm betting half of the weight I re-lost this month is water. So to borrow the words I say to my dog, Squishy, when she gets too worked up, "Heyyyy, heyyyy ...shhhhh. It's OK. Settle down." ; )

Some of you were also quick to email in response to my "Ang" anecdote, to counteract the negativity with positivity, as one reader said. You guys are awesome. Thank you.

I'll have a post Monday about last night's "Runway" finale, too. But all I have time for right now is a quick "Woo hoo!" for the surprise Anya win. Love it.

Be back soon! And thanks for all your messages!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Back in the game

I kept a folded-up piece of paper in a hidden compartment of my makeup bag while I was working with my trainer this year. She thought it would be a good incentive for me to write down my weight-loss goals, tied to completion dates, with rewards for reaching each milestone.

So I had outlined exactly where I wanted to be by the first of each month, and my prizes were things like a new mp3 player for the gym and a new pair of jeans because, as I wrote, “my old ones won’t fit anymore by the time July 1 rolls around!”

I found that list the other day. (I had forgotten all about it because I had pretty much taken the entire summer off from dieting and exercise.) I looked all the way to the bottom, at where I was supposed to be by now, the end of October.

“Goal weight! Now, the hard part: Maintenance,” I had written in mid-January, all bright-eyed and determined.

I couldn’t help but have a brief self-pity moment when I read that. Because, as many of you know, I am not at my goal weight.

But, as I said, the moment was brief. At the start of October, I had one of those bright-eyed and determined moments again. At the time, I had gained back 12 pounds of the 50 I had lost, and I decided it was time to do something about it.

So all this month, that’s what I did. I got my food in order. I got my exercise in order. I got my attitude in order. And I took off the 12 I had gained plus five more.

In total, I’m down 55 with two months to go before the end of the year.

On the Health & Fitness page on Jan. 2, 2012, I plan to run an update on my progress, as well as my “before and after” pictures. I plan to include Monty Meyer in that story as well. The story we ran on his incredible weight loss on the cover of the January 2011 Mankato Magazine was the inspiration for my “fight to be fit,” so it seems fitting to update his story right along with mine.

With that deadline looming, I truly feel like I have something to prove to all of you, which has been the real blessing about being so public about such a private issue: accountability. Another huge blessing has been the reader response. Thank you all for your supportive letters and emails, especially those who have told me that my column inspired you to lose weight. I LOVE that.

Thanks also to those who haven’t been so nice. A woman named “Ang,” short for Angela, wrote to the editor about how she’s had enough of “the fat lady with the big head to match.” I laughed when I told my coworkers about this, and several of them said something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, that’s really mean.” But it doesn’t embarrass me to get the occasional email like that. Seems to me the people who are capable of being so unkind are the ones who have something to be ashamed of. (I hate to call her out publicly, folks, but surely when someone sends an email to a newspaper they don’t expect it to be private.)

And, anyway, when Ang writes that reading my column makes her “lose her appetite,” it just makes me want to keep doing it. The best way to get me to excel at something is to tell me I can’t or shouldn’t do it.

So thanks, Ang. I hope you’re reading this after breakfast. I’d hate to spoil the most important meal of the day for you.

And just so you know, my head is a perfectly average size. It’s my tush that needs the work.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"The Biggest Losers" have left my building

Meeting and interviewing famous folks is one of the perks of my job. Highlights: talking with Rob Zombie for 45 minutes as he articulated the purpose of extreme and grotesque violence in his films. Sitting 10 feet from Mason Jennings for what I liked to refer to as a private concert as he warmed up for a show. Singing along with Carole King when she visited Gustavus (strong-armed into singing while she had a terrible cold). Sitting in an empty classroom with Peter Krause, discussing, in part, my favorite show "Six Feet Under." Sitting one on one with Elizabeth Edwards in a Mankato family's den, when she was helping her husband campaign for vice-president on Kerry's ticket.

What I love most about these moments is the constant rediscovery of what tends to be a letdown for others when I explain my takeaway each time: People are people are people are people.

In person, or on the phone, when it's just you and Famous Person, all pretense melts away. FP becomes just another friendly (usually) human being that you meet along the way. I love that about my job. I love realizing over and over with each person I interview, famous or not, that we all have so much more in common than we realize. That we all, pardon the cliche, put our pants on one leg at a time. What a great testament to the human condition.

Not that these two are humongously famous, but I found myself having these thoughts again when Rebecca Meyer and Daniel Wright stayed the night at my house. Daniel was a contestant on seasons 7 and 8 of "The Biggest Loser," and Rebecca was on season 8. The two of them met on the show and fell in love. Daniel, from North Carolina, moved to Des Moines, where Rebecca is from, and the two have since made numerous speaking appearances and have otherwise been planning a life together, unsure where they'll end up, but happy to be seeing the country in the meantime. They were in town to run the Vikings 10K (at Mankato Marathon) for Rebecca's campaign to run 50 races in 50 states by the time she's 30.

It didn't take long to learn a lot about the two. They're both open and kind -- not at all guarded, despite the world being a Google search away from seeing so much of their lives on display to judge at will. And you would think, staying in a journalist's home, of all people, would tighten those lips even more. But I found them to be candid and trusting, knowing I wouldn't splash secrets around if they chose to share one or two.

It was fun to gain some insight into the show and to learn what is "staged" and what's actually real. They confirmed my suspicion that, before the weigh-in at the end of each episode, the contestants are weighed-in behind the scenes so producers can order the on-camera weigh-ins in the most dramatic fashion for viewers. But the contestants themselves aren't able to see the results until it's filmed. They also told me that, while they don't know for sure, they think cameras throughout the house and in the bedrooms are monitored to find out when contestants get "deep" into emotional stuff so the trainers can be alerted and the camera crew can film those compelling moments in the gym when the trainers get to the bottom of why certain contestants overeat.

Other items of interest ...

1. Before the weigh-in, if contestants are dehydrated, they make them drink a ton of water, despite the extra weight registering on the scale.

2. They aren't allowed to listen to headphones in the gym, so some contestants in season 8 would sing to each other.

3. The food is provided on the ranch, but the contestants are solely responsible for preparing it and for what they choose to eat.

4. The show never shows how sore and stiff the contestants are in the beginning of the show, but THEY ARE. Rebecca joked that they practically cry when they just try to sit down at the beginning.

As far as Rebecca and Daniel's lives have been after the show, they seem pretty happy. Rebecca, as you may recall, won the $100,000 at-home prize. She bought a Mini Cooper and paid bills. Both get paid to come to towns and give talks, which helps pay bills. They live with Rebecca's parents right now, but are planning to buy a house. And they also are starting their own personal training business. They each have clients they're working with now, one of whom has lost about a hundred pounds. They seem so excited to be passing on what they learned at the Ranch and afterward to other people.

Both admit also to continue to struggle with weight. They always will. They've had lifelong habits that they finally were able to combat just two years ago, so naturally, they continue to learn and there will never be an "end point." With a lifestyle change, each day's renewed goal is to make healthy choices, which isn't always easy.

Rebecca got down to a very thin 140 pounds to win the at-home prize at the season 8 finale, and she has found that weight wasn't healthy for her, so she's found a happy medium, and she will always be "playing with about 15 pounds" up or down, she said. Daniel's goal is to lose about 30 more pounds. But needless to say, that's a far cry from the extra 100 or 200 they had before they started the "Biggest Loser" journey.

Over lunch at the Tav on the Ave on Saturday (I tried to give them the Mankato experience by keeping it local -- dinner at Number 4 the night before helped, too), they were eager and passionate about bringing up my own "fight to be fit" this year and help me pin down areas where I did things right and where I may have veered off track. It was nice of them to offer me their insight and also to offer me a discount to "The Biggest Loser" Fitness Ridge Ranch in Utah, although I have a feeling the price tag would be far greater than I could afford.

When they left Saturday afternoon to go camping with friends in Mapleton, I felt like I'd made a couple of new friends. And truth be told, had they just been a couple of kids I'd met in Mankato who weren't ever on a TV show, they'd be just the kind of people I would want to hang out with.

So while it's probably not what most people would consider the "best story," here's my takeaway from hosting a couple of "Biggest Losers" at my house this weekend: Rebecca and Daniel are a couple of nice, normal kids, who, as Rebecca put it, "just happened to be on TV."

Friday, October 21, 2011

America's sweetheart lets us all down on 'Runway'

Anya!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You're killing me!

How could she do so well all season only to choke when it matters most? I worried immediately when Tim Gunn made his house call to Trinidad during part one of the "Runway" season finale last night. All the other designers had about 10 pieces they had completed before he arrived. All Anya had was fabric. Just fabric. Not even a single sketch. What in the world was she doing for the few weeks between last week's episode and this finale?

When she got back to New York, Anya still wasn't ready. Her collection was completely uninspired. And I expected so much more. If she was able to create such inventive and beautiful shapes during two-day challenges, without much sewing experience, I could only imagine what she would come up with in her own time, at her own pace. I think America was sorely disappointed last night.

Viktor definitely fulfilled his prophecy as the clear front-runner. His clothes are always well made and innovative. I see him winning next week for sure. And I'm actually really bored with that thought. His work doesn't inspire me, doesn't fire me up.

I'll tell you whose work does fire me up, for all the wrong reasons: Josh. It pained my heart when the judges sent him through to Fashion Week FIRST. First. I agree that a couple of the pieces from the three-piece collection weren't horrible. But that "Olivia Newton John" unitard, as Michael put it, was absolutely hideous. The fabric choice was hideous. The peek-a-boo butt was hideous. And the plastic collar was hideous. My theory about how he made it this far is that he always performed one step better than the worst during each episode. He sucked, but just a little less than someone else during each challenge. In my mind, he's made it to the finale by default, alone.

I actually liked Kim's stuff. I was surprised the judges got on her case so much. I guess I was relieved, though, because between her and Anya, I think Anya deserved to go home Thursday night. So while the judges were cowardly in allowing all of them to go through, rather then sending home America's sweetheart like she probably deserved, I'm one viewer who's OK with that. I'm pulling for Anya to take these last couple of days before Mercedes Benz and do her usual last-minute miracle work.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Project Runway finale has one too many designers

It's not that I wanted Laura to get through into the finale. That circle dress ... the one that looked like a craft project ... the one that puckered in the a** area ... the one the model couldn't walk in ... the one the judges seemed to APPRECIATE FOR ITS CONSTRUCTION AND INVENTION (???) ... I just loathed it. I loathed all three pieces in her mini-collection, inspired by Governor's Island (which was the challenge).

So, yes, go home, Laura. You're awful. What upsets me is that Heidi gave me hope. She said, and I quote, "One or more of you will be out." ONE OR MORE. That left room for them to decide it was high time Joshua packed up his 10 suitcases worth of attitude and headed back to whatever small-time Soho sewing club he came from. If I have to hear about his $100,000 worth of schooling that taught him the oh-so important mechanics of construction -- which apparently also taught him nothing about fashion-forward design -- I'm going to start muting the television whenever he's on. Plastic fabric, Josh? Really?

And yet, he goes through. He's in the finale. Why, oh why couldn't Kimberly have pulled out another miracle last night? She's got the talent. She just can't deal with deadline pressure. So it's so frustrating to watch her make mistakes, knowing that if she had the time, she could rethink and come up with something great. Isn't that how most of us do our best work? Trial and error until we come up with a surefire winner? I think that's how her mind works, and the two days for challenges just isn't enough time for her process. (Although, there was no saving those fabric choices: orange wool and silver plastic. Huh?)

Meanwhile, we have Josh, who when give more time to work, just keeps adding sh** to his clothes that make them worse than they were before.

Thank goodness they sent Kim through. I think, deep down, the judges know she'll turn in a great collection and that Josh, given months to work on a collection, will wheel out a rack of sad clown outfits. Maybe, if I'm very lucky, it'll be a Runway first, and Tim will see Josh's collection and say, "I'm really sorry, but we simply can't soil the name of 'Project Runway' during fashion week by letting you send this catastrophe down the Runway. Forget Heidi, I, personally, am auf-ing you." If only ...

But, I digress. Anya, once again, turned in the best collection last night. Chic and beautiful, fashion-forward, and she didn't even use prints this time, which is her old standby. Go Anya, go Anya, i's yo' birthday. ...sorry.

So, who will it come down to in the finale? Anya and Viktor, of course. Kim will come in third. Joshua will be humiliated. And all will be right in the world.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Collaborative scavengers take over the CSU gallery

About 100 people walked down the stairs of the Centennial Student Union to the lower-level gallery space for the opening reception of “Vulture Culture,” a collaborative installation exhibit. And a taxidermied buck head with an irritated look on its face was the first thing they saw as they grew closer -- appropriately illuminating the themes of discarded materials and scavenging.

What laid below the head proved the most intriguing. A dirty toilet exploded upward with installation foam, colored hot pink and orange. To the left, a collage of black and white paper raccoons spread upward over a floral wall paper, beginning atop a green bucket filled with cupcakes. And sandwiched between was the curator of the exhibit and artist behind the piece, Dana Sikkila. As a performance piece during the reception, which was held Oct. 4, she wore a cutesy pink dress and at one point spit out pink liquid, to suggest overindulgence or "overdosing on something that's good."

The piece, called "Peppermint Puke," certainly is a focal point of the exhibit, which features nine artists from the Minnesota State University art department, each representing a different discipline in the program. Even though someone mistakenly cleaned up the pile of cupcakes, and obviously Sikkila's presence in the piece was limited to opening night, "Peppermint Puke" is nothing if not eye-catching in the gallery space.

The most intriguing aspect of the piece, however -- as well as every other piece in the installation -- is the fact that it's relatively unclear where Sikkila's piece ends.

Having met as early as the summer to plan the exhibit, the artists decided that each work should blend into the next, creating a unique collaborative effort that speaks to a larger idea.

Sikkila, a master's candidate and experienced artist who was approached to put on a show in the CSU, said while many people in the program have shown work in gallery spaces, she wanted to give an opportunity to others who may not have had as many opportunities. Represented in the show are Ian Roberts, Tyler Anderson, Krista Heinitz, Broc Toft, Bill Lundblad, Curt Germundson, Ty Abrahamson and Gina Hunt.

Hunt’s piece, "Thin Skinned and Fleeting," a digital print on Japanese paper, is an installation of three pieces that originated with the same image: Hunt's naked back after she had received injections for pain. She manipulated the images to appear worn and almost decayed. The idea was to be confrontational and vulnerable at the same time. Hanging from the ceiling and staggered, viewers are meant to walk between the pieces and see them also from the back side.

Hunt’s piece leads into "Cell," a painted wood sculpture by Abrahamson. Other mediums featured in the exhibit include sticks, fabric, acrylics, photography and even digital projections and sound.

Erik Waterkotte, an MSU art faculty member, said the show is the first time a student has put together an exhibit that wasn't for course work, and it's the first time an installation has covered all of the gallery's windows, which Sikkila said "reforms" the space and envelopes the viewer.

Waterkotte said he's glad to see students working to build the art community on campus.

If you go
"Vulture Culture," an installation featuring nine artists from the MSU art department
Runs through Wednesday, Oct. 19, in the CSU lower-level gallery

Monday, October 10, 2011

Voting ending soon for CityArt Sculpture Walk

It's getting down to the wire. Only a few days left to vote for the People's Choice winner of the first CityArt Sculpture Walk. Voting goes through Oct. 28. Ballots can be found at any of the ballot boxes that line the walk, at Emy Frentz Arts Guild or at sponsoring businesses and organizations.

Ballots can be turned in at the ballot boxes or Emy Frentz. So far, about 800 votes have been cast from people from 18 states and four countries, said Shannon Robinson, executive director of Twin Rivers Center for the Arts. The winner will be announced in mid-November. Twenty-five sculptures have been on display in downtown Mankato and North Mankato this year, and come next year, a round of new sculptures will replace them to keep the walk fresh.

However, one piece -- the People's Choice winner -- will be purchased. The sculptures range from bronze, molten resin, steel and even one cast out of bicycle handles welded and constructed together. The artists are from all over the United States, including Minnesota, New York, New Mexico, Colorado and South Dakota.

The tour is a collaboration between the City Center Partnership and Twin Rivers Council of the Arts and will also include an award for Best in Show. At the end of year, individuals and businesses also will have the opportunity to purchase any of the sculptures, except for the one chosen for the People's Choice award.

For more information, visit Twin Rivers or City Center Partnership online.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Project Runway is for the birds

At first sight of those birds, I was like, "Have you run out of ideas, 'Project Runway,' or are you just egregiously lazy." But as the challenge unfolded -- pitting two designers against each other, piling on a second look and then GASP! taking a second look out of the equation after all that work has been put in! -- I was on board. Totally on board.

It was an edge-of-your-seat evening for "Runway." The Kimberly drama was pretty intense. She's so talented, but she always gets caught up in thinking too much. One thing after another kept going wrong because her attitude and confidence were spiraling downward. And when that glue gun made a whole in that dress she'd been laboring over for hours? I gasped out loud. Clasped my hand over my mouth.

Yet, I kept thinking to myself, the designer who wins and the one who goes home always play a larger role in that respective episode. So all of the attention they were placing negatively on Kimberly, and I thought for sure she would actually be the winner. Somehow, she would pull it out.

Well, she didn't win. But that dress (white and silky, inspired by the cockatoo) that she delivered was TO DIE. Loved. If I didn't have mid-chub, I would LOVE to wear that dress. You pretty much have to be flat around the middle to rock a dress that bares skin down to the waistband. The white LEATHER waistband. Gorgeous.

My favorite dress of the night -- for once -- was the winner. Anya, my love. She pulled out another win on a $20,000 challenge. Inspired by the raven, the black structured dress was an innovative shape with super interesting details at the shoulder, waist and back "tail" area. I could not believe Joshua's attitude when he didn't win. He barely looked at Anya because her sewing skills aren't up to par. Well, dummy, it's a design competition, not "Project Seamstress." And hello? He put an orange bird corsage on the sleeve of his dress. Who would reward that with 20 grand? And I quote: "Then she had to get I-was-drunk-in-the-Caribbean corsage on her shoulder." -Michael Kors.

I have left the best news of Thursday night for last. Many of you have waited a long time with me for this, so let us savor these words together: Bert "the codger" Keeter has left the building. About ... d
amn ... time. His inspiration is a green parrot, and his princess dress from the 1980s is GRAY. The bodice is snake-skin silver, and the top layer of that flowy, ankle-length monstrosity is the same shade of metallic boredom. There was a pop of green underneath, which Heidi was like, "I get what he was trying to do." Good god, Heidi. How about YOU wear Bert's outdated rags and leave the rest of us out of it.

Anyway, he's gone. We can all breath a sigh of relief.
And if you're wondering who won over who in the bird-challenge smackdown, here goes:

Bert vs. Josh, team parrot -- Josh takes it.

Viktor vs. Kimberly, team cockatoo -- Kim pulls out the steal in the last three hours.

Anya vs. Laura -- Anya wins by a landslide, with Laura turning in her usual literal mess, only this time in pants.

Friday, September 30, 2011

One of the worst outfits I've seen in a long time - Heidi

At a certain point during the "Project Runway" season, front-runners appear. But I don't remember it ever being as obvious and exclusive as this year. If it wasn't so much fun to continuously watch the bad ones fail, there really wouldn't be a point to watch the weekly episodes until the finale. I mean, seriously.

Top Three: Viktor, Kimberly, Anya.

This fact was abundantly clear Thursday night as well. With the exception of Laura's second look, none of the other designers (those not listed above) made looks that were at all tasteful or wearable. The challenge was to make two 1970s looks that are also modern. So not literal is what they were looking for.

I was stunned Joshua didn't go home -- considering Heidi called one of his pieces "one of the worst outfits I've seen in a long time -- although the decision wreaked of a purposeful shock move, since Anthony Ryan has actually performed well in the past. Not Thursday, though, and he was booted for some fugly clothes.

Anya was the winner of the challenge. She had lost her money at Mood, and she created an outfit better than the majority with $11.50 donated to her by other designers. Her second look was cute, too. But I saw Kimberly as the clear winner with her pencil skirt and crop top.

And still, we can't seem to get rid of Bert. I thought for sure his Barbie-esque fabric selection and booty shorts would result in some Bert-bashing by the judges. But once again, they continue to kiss his old butt.

He'll get his soon enough. It's only a matter of a few weeks before Viktor, Anya and Kimberly make it to the finals. Mark my words!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

This 'big loser' has backslid

Wednesday's breakfast: skipped. Lunch: turkey and bacon club (with mayo) and steak fries (with lots of ketchup). Dinner: Kwik Trip corndog and a bag of candy orange slices. Dessert: Fruit and yogurt and granola thing, with two glasses of red wine.

Yeah, folks, I've backslid. Many of you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's when the "keeping it off is the hardest part" statement starts ringing in your ears. It's when you look back at a couple of months before, when you SWORE there was no possible way that junk food for dinner and zero exercise for days could possibly be your lifestyle anymore. I mean, how in the world could you ruin all of your hard work?! There's just no way.

Oh, there's a way. You know it, and I know it. There's always a way that the old lifestyle can come creeping back in, with a tiny whisper of a promise in your brain that it's only temporary. It's just a break. Tomorrow you'll do better. But for today, live it up. Embrace what tastes good and don't worry about having to zip up those jeans tomorrow, which, for some reason, just keep getting tighter and tighter.

Well, today is "tomorrow," I guess. I haven't gained back a ton of the 50 pounds I lost this year. But it's a bit. Enough to make me worry. Enough to make me come clean to all of you, and to declare that my summer of carefree fun with candy and cookies and avoidance of the gym is OVER.

I won't be bombarding you with numerous columns about said subject, as I did for a solid seven months. But once in a while, I'd like to check in to gain back some of that accountability that helped so much a while back. Maybe that will help ensure Wednesday's 2,500-calorie day of sugar, fat and alcohol won't happen again anytime soon.

Thursday's breakfast: honeycrisp apple. Hurray! Off to a good start.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'Biggest Loser' stars are crashing at my house

As a somewhat local public figure -- and that term, in this case, is as loose as a wizard's sleeve -- I'm asked to do some strange, but interesting things. Judge beauty pageants, essay contests, chili feeds. Speak at schools and meetings. For anyone who knows me real well, it's odd anyone would want me in any key role for an event. I'm just a silly, TV-addicted, candy-loving writer.

But, as I've come to notice, when you slap your mugshot on a column and write in the first person, people start identifying with you, even if you're just spouting off about an episode of "Project Runway."

So, once again I've been surprised by a request. ... Folks (or at least one folk) at the Greater Mankato Convention & Visitors Bureau read my blog for the first half of this year when I complained several times a week about losing weight. In total, 50 ell-bees. ... A week or so ago we published a brief stating that Rebecca and Daniel, contestants on Season 8 of "The Biggest Loser," would be coming to Mankato Oct. 22 or thereabouts to run the 10K during Mankato Marathon. The two, who met on the show and fell in love (awwww), were looking for a host family to stay with while in town. ... The Chamber put two and two together, and voila! "Why not have two famous 'Biggest Losers' stay with Mankato's very own public 'Biggest Loser.'" Lol.

Sure! Why not, right? I don't live in a palace. And I have a smelly dog. But I've been known to be hospitable to guests. And how often do we get the chance to have TV stars stay in our homes?

Several concerns: What do you feed 10K runners the morning before the big race? What will they want to watch on TV? Should I record that week's episode of "The Biggest Loser" so we can watch together? Do they even watch that show? Maybe "Project Runway" is more their style. Or maybe, since they're all totally healthy now, they'd rather take a walk in the woods or something naturey like that. (In which case, do I have to go?)

Anyway, this could be interesting. Hopefully they'll be as laid back as I am and we can just rent movies or something. My mom's already begging to come over and cook dinner, though. So I guess I'll be able to add bodyguard to my roster of public duties, too. (She's a hugger.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Olivier designs for a 'plus size' man ...haha

I honestly think that the producers have sat around and thought, "How can we make this the funniest episode of 'Project Runway' that we've ever had?" And they're doing it! They're doing it!

Last week was awesome with the designing for straight guys' girlfriends. But designing for actual straight dudes? In a band, no less? Priceless.

They just floundered! It was as if none of them had ever seen a man before, and most of them actually are men, as you may recall. I was surprised that none of the male designers had ever made clothes for themselves before.

Once again, Olivier made a fool of me for having chosen him in the beginning as one of my favorites. He went home and for good reason. He kept calling the poor lead singer of the Sheepdogs "big." "He's just so much biggah than anyone I've eva seen in real life. He's just enormous." Well, something like that, anyway. He even referred to the poor man as "plus size." Isn't that a female clothing term? And isn't that also completely inaccurate? He was fairly average, if you ask me. ...Anyway, he chose yellow and blue fabric with swans on it for the shirt. Enough said. He was auf'd. Big time. Although if I'm being honest, I thought Kimblerly's orange bowling shirt was much worse.

The winner was Viktor. Hated the shirt, and really? A fringe jacket? But given the competition this week, it was the right decision.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fall TV is causing some scheduling conflicts

On the eve of the Fall TV Kick-Off -- aka Sunday night -- I had a problem. A big one. My digital cable had been “blinking” on and off for a while. Everything I had recorded came up with these freeze-ups every 30 seconds.

But it wasn’t all the time with every single channel, so I decided to see if it would go away. When it interrupted extremely important Sunday night programming -- I mean, come on, Sunday is THE DAY to watch TV, if you’re going to at all -- I knew I had to get somebody over to my pad fast before it messed up premiere week.

I’m not going to name the company. But gee whiz, I always have trouble. They keep you on the horn to “troubleshoot,” which never frickin’ works, and then they make you wait two hours for somebody to show up, only so they can show up 20 minutes past the two-hour window you were warned to be home during. Frustration mounts! It just mounts.

So, anyway, this morning, alas, I was given a digital box. Hurray, hurray. No more blinks. But it also means my series recordings are gone. They’re just gone. So I have some work to do.

What do I mean, you ask? Check out my fall TV lineup (and this doesn’t include those fun filler shows, such as House Hunters, Color Splash, Pawn Stars, Hoarders and other creepy TLC programming.)

I have color-coded new shows in a lovely shade of pink for your reference.


Dancing With the Stars, 7-9 p.m., ABC

*Two and a Half Men, 8-8:30 p.m., CBS

American Pickers, 8-9 p.m., History

Weeds, 9-9:30 p.m., Showtime

The Big C, 9:30-10 p.m., Showtime

EXTRA: Emmy special Fashion Police, 9-10 p.m., E!


The Biggest Loser, 7-9 p.m., NBC

New Girl, 8-8:30 p.m., Fox

Raising Hope, 8:30-9 p.m., Fox


The Middle, 7-7:30 p.m., ABC

Up All Night, 7-7:30 p.m., NBC

Modern Family, 7:30-8 p.m., ABC

Storage Wars, 9-10 p.m., A&E


Parks and Rec, 7:30-8 p.m., NBC

The Office, 8-8:30 p.m., NBC

Project Runway, 8-9:30 p.m., Lifetime


*Little People Big World, 7-8 p.m., TLC

Desperate Housewives, 8-9 p.m., ABC

Dexter, 8-9 p.m., Showtime

Breaking Bad, 9-10 p.m. AMC

PanAm, 9-10 p.m., ABC

As you can see, I keep my DVR pretty busy. Often I'm faced with difficult choices when unexpected programming pops up. I sometimes have to record two programs downstairs (that's the maximum allowance) and watch a third program upstairs, just so I don't miss anything.

: )

Did I mention that when I was a baby my mom used to put me in a crank-up swing and park me in front of the TV? Did I mention my first sentence was the early 1980s Coca-Cola ad slogan "Coke is it." Did I also mention that, nowadays, you will find me in a rocking chair parked in front of the TV drinking Coke Zero like it's going out of style?

Anyway, happy fall TV everyone!

(*Footnote: I consider Two and a Half Men new because of Ashton Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen, and I consider LPBW new because it went off the air for a bit and now it's back, see.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wow, the Emmys are really fun!

My longtime readers (bless all three of you) know I love a good awards show. After the holidays I light up when I realize awards season is on deck, with the Oscars waiting at the end like a giant unwrapped package with silver ribbon.

But tonight I remembered just how fun the Emmys are, and I wondered why I haven't paid closer attention in the past. I never have really included it in my must-see awards show lineup, but dang! I've been missing out. What a fun show! Jane Lynch ... amazing as the host. So funny. And it's as if they read my mind with every single award. All my favorites cleaned up.

I have to give mad props to my favorite comedy, "Modern Family," for wins for Ty and Julie, for best supporting. (Kind of funny that all four men were nominated in the same category.) The show also took directing and writing awards and best comedy again! So well deserved. I laugh like an idiot, knee-slappingly loud, even during repeats. Especially recently when I rewatched the episode where the Dunphys change up good cop and bad cop roles. "You poked the bear, girls. You poked him!" ...Oh man...

I was also so excited to see Melissa McCarthy win for best actress in a comedy. I'm not a huge fan of "Mike and Molly," but I will always think of her as my Sookie -- the ORIGINAL Sookie, before Stackhouse stole its identity. Sookie St. James, as some of you know, was a beloved character in "Gilmore Girls." (How awesome was it that all the best actress in a comedy nominees took the stage when their names were called as nominees? Nice touch.)

When it got to the drama portion of the show, however, all I kept thinking was, "Where the hell are all the 'Breaking Bad' nominations? Doesn't Bryan Cranston win every year? Not even a single nomination?" It sent me Googling in the middle of the show, where I learned that the new summer schedule for "Breaking Bad" means season 4 won't be eligible until next year's Primetime Emmys. The more you know (shooting star).

As far as fashion goes -- because it is, after all, a crucial part of all awards shows -- I've got to give it to Kate Winslet, hands down. A beautiful, classic Elie Saab with capped sleeves, but in a smoking' hot red. She can do no wrong.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gay designers + straight men = Big laughs


The funniest series of moments in "Runway" history: Olivier, in a fake British accent, "Whaht iss double dee? What duss thaht mean?" (All serious to the camera) "I think the biggah boobs, they will be a prohblem for me."

Oh man ... a bunch of gay designers sitting around with heterosexual, boosie-loving men talking fashion ... now THAT'S good TV. Geriatric Bert standing by while some horned-up Italian motorboats his dress-making dummy? Come on! I'm dying over here ...

But let's get onto the business at hand. Bryce. He had such potential! He was one of my original choices, as you may recall. And if I had it my way, he would have skirted by last night with that pink mini and Anthony Ryan would have been sent packing for his 1987 V-neck monstrosity. (I was just having a conversation with a friend who was like, "Anthony Ryan's going all the way. He's got it." I'm like, "Got what? Crappy taste? Indeed, he does have it." Inyoface, anonymous friend.

As for who should have won but did not, Anya rocked it AGAIN last night. She was my No. 1 since day 1! Holla!!!! ...Oy, did I just say holla? I should be sent packing for that one.

Anyway, Viktor won. I don't object. It was a cute look. But it wasn't the best look of the night, not that the judges ever care about that.
ADDENDUM: I was wrong! Viktor did not win. I think I blocked out the fact that Joshua won, with his blah black cocktail dress. Why? I have no idea. I DO object!

Until next Runway ...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mason Jennings plays intimate show at the Hag

I got to the Coffee Hag super early Monday night, about 5:30 or so just to make sure I was in the lovely Jenn Melby's way as she and her staff were clearing out tables to prepare for the Mason Jennings concert at 7:30. The Hag is an intimate space for a concert, and with 90 or so people expected, I wanted to make sure I got a seat up front to take pictures.

The concert was part of The Current radio station's Road Trip series to outstate cities that carry The Current's signal. DJ Jill Riley was the host of Monday's concert at the Hag. The two of us were on a journalism speaking panel together at MSU last year, and I interviewed her for the preview story on the concert that I ran in the Currents section last week. So she was kind enough to put me down as her "plus one" for the show. (The tickets were free, but they were gone in four minutes, so I was too late to get into the show without pulling a media string or two.)

What I didn't anticipate was that Jennings would be at the Hag just as early as I was to meet people and do sound check. So I sat at my little table for two against the brick wall with my laptop, doing some homework and quietly observing. Several employees and friends of the Hag gave Jennings demos of their bands, which he graciously accepted. Several people approached for photos, which he didn't at all seem to mind. Several people asked him questions and exchanged stories about the Twin Cities area music scene, where Jennings got his start in coffee shops a decade ago.

Being a fly on the wall in a situation like that is priceless to any arts journalist. We get the opportunity to speak with musicians on the phone to ask a few questions before a local show, which at times can yield insight into actual, true character. At times. But rarely do we get to see them in any kind of natural way, guard down, no pretense.

From his music you'd expect Jennings to be kind, laid back, insightful. And from what I could tell, he absolutely is. A true Minnesotan: NICE (even though he joined us here in the great Midwest as a young adult).

Jenn closed the Hag around 6:30 and cleared everyone out except a handful of employees mingling in the back. I got to stay. And sitting 10 feet from the stage, Jennings sat in front of the piano and started to play. For a few minutes, I got a private concert. And it was one of those moments where there was nowhere else I'd rather be.

When Jenn turned the lights down and let the audience in, a few dozen people sat on the floor in front of the stage. Jill introduced Jennings to the crowd, and he started into the piano-based "Bitter Heart," and it still felt like he was playing just for me. Chatting with a woman near my table a while later, she said the same thing. Intimate, melodic and peaceful. Music you can listen to all day, as another concert-goer put it.

After every couple of songs Jennings played, Jill would ask him a few questions, including the sound of the new record, "Minnesota," which came out today. He talked about appreciating the contrast between his last record, which was louder and electric, and the quieter piano-driven music on this new one. He talked about how the actor, Jason Schwartzman, also a musician (Coconut Records), played instruments on the record.
He talked about how the concert at the Hag was his first in a coffee shop in 10 years, so it was a nice return to his roots. Both of them talked about stopping at Jim's Apple Barn on the way down to Mankato, Jennings for Zestar apples, a recent discovery of his, and Jill for candy. And he told a funny story about having to sing the "National Anthem" at a Twins game, where there was a one-second delay between the words he was singing and the echo in the stadium, making delivery extremely difficult. At one point he started rocking back and forth like a frightened child, sure he was massacring the song. To his surprise, his slower delivery (due to extreme concentration) came off as intentional and moving.

But the most interesting Q&A came from the audience.

Q: Who does your hair?
A: The wind.

Q: What is the most musical food?
A: Chocolate chip cookies, because trumpets go off in his head when he sees them and he can't resist.

Q: Which one of his songs should Danny and Ashley in the audience play at their wedding?
A: He wouldn't go there. Such a personal decision should be made by the couple, but he was touched they would choose his music at all.

Q: Will he bless Jen and Justin's unborn child?
(A pregnant couple in the audience.)
A: Yes, with a chord he played on the piano.

Q: Dogs or cats?
A: Dogs, but more recently. He suddenly felt the urge as an adult to hug a dog. His family now has a retriever named Rosie.

Q: Will you play at the Coffee Hag again?
A: "I hope so. This place is great."

For you Jennings fans who plan to catch him on tour, here's the setlist:
1. Bitter Heart "Minnesota"
2. Raindrops on a Kitchen Floor "Minnesota"
3. Rudy "Minnesota"
4. Hearts Stop Beating "Minnesota"
5. Clutch "Minnesota"
6. No Relief "Minnesota"
7. Ballad for my One True Love "Birds Flying Away"
8. Ulysses "Use Your Voice"