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.