Being a Guinea Pig

Last week was interesting. Monday, Thursday, and Friday were no-school days because of blizzards. The roads and sidewalks continue to be icy, with caked-on slabs of slippery snow, allowing me to delay my weekly grocery shopping trip and providing no incentive whatsoever to go for a walk.

Still, I had a good week. One of my personal goals was to try being a professional guinea pig. Just once, I wanted to know what it is like to get paid for contributing to science. I had given my name to somebody who does sleep studies and she emailed me last month about one that sounded appealing, so we set up a time.

On the big day, I drove over after dinner.  Feeling not a little self-conscious, I parked at the hospital and walked in with my bag to the CRU (Clinical Research Unit) where I checked myself in.  They have a whole unit for research… and some people spend almost a month here! They have a dining area, their own lab, not to mention patient rooms with all sorts of contraptions.

After some basic intake questions, consent forms, vitals, height and weight, and a normal EKG, they got me a snack and let me watch the Olympics.  Then the delightful sleep technologist came in and spent an hour getting me ready for the study. She put sensors on my arms, legs, and all over my head.  Here I am all dolled up with my electrodes, sensors, and a blue cap to keep things on.

(Note – this was before they made me put on the pulse oximeter on my finger and the nasal-cannula-like thing in my nose. You’d have to pay to see that picture).

Speaking of which… I got paid to sleep!

How did I sleep? Well, I won’t lie, it took me longer than usual to go to sleep, and I woke up a couple times during the night. But I did sleep for at least 6 hours, and in the morning after a few more relatively non-intrusive tests I got breakfast and a hot shower.

Some people do sleep studies like this for 16 or 21 days. They make really good money but they can’t leave the unit. Sometimes, people have sleep deprivation studies where they only get 4 hours of sleep a night, and the nurses and researchers make sure they don’t take catnaps during the day.  When they are there for that long, the sleep technologists glue the sensors on. They braid the girls’ hair so that the sensors can stay on for longer.

There are all kinds of other studies, too, of course. It all depends on what you can tolerate. Fat biopsy? CT scan? If you’re interested in making some money this way, here is the website: There is a link on the side for Healthy Volunteers, but if you have a health condition there may be a study or clinical trial just for you!

So after my sleep study I took the dogs for a walk and realized what a glorious day it was. I knew a blizzard was coming and this would be my last chance for a while, so I headed to Eastwood Golf Course and enjoyed a quiet solitary ski in the soft snow. AMAZING.

Here is my blissed-out selfie from my ski. Yay sunshine! Yay Vitamin D! Yay above-zero temperatures!

Then a blizzard came… and we are supposed to get more snow today… but at least I got one glorious ski in!

Next up: what is a Pisco Sour and how do I make one?!

Cute Dog Pictures Post

February, the month of loooove! One thing I’m not loving is winter. I am accepting it because I cannot change it, but I am not loving it. Warm up already!!

I think everyone gets a little Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) this time of year, this year more than most. Even the long-time Minnesotans agree it’s been a long, cold one… and it’s only half over! “Remember we got snow in May last year,” they say, shaking their heads when I try to brightly suggest that it may be coming to an end.

So no, I don’t love winter… not this year. But what I do love are my dogs and my husband, and to celebrate that – and because I haven’t tried anything really new or daring for the past few weeks – I have a few fun doggy pictures!

First of all here is Duke looking ADORABLE with his disgusting chicken (or, as we say, “Duke con pollo“):

Duke brought that chicken with him from his foster family and it’s still intact, having outlived many other stuffed animals. Duke’s favorite place in the house, as you can tell, is the bed.

Here is Earl con elefante:

Photo: Come on, Earl, have a little dignity!

Earl’s favorite place in the house is with the humans, wherever they happen to be – the kitchen, the laundry room, the bathroom. Sometimes getting out of the shower is a challenge. He absolutely loves that little pink elephant, even though he could swallow it whole.

These boys definitely love each other. Here is an example:

Please note that the crate door is open. We have 2000 square feet in this house, two perfectly good crates, and a bed, and they still decided to curl up together!

Well, that’s all for now, folks! “Like” this if you think my dogs are adorable!

Renaissance Fun

Last Sunday we waded through a severe traffic jam and made our way to the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee. I’ve always loved renaissance festivals as a “liminal space” where weirdness is celebrated (or perhaps a two-month-long Ritual of Reversal).  The ancient, magical, and the downright strange can all be found in myriad permutations. My first couple RenFests were in Houston, although to tell the truth I don’t remember much except jousting and disgusting turkey legs, and the fact my band teacher played trumpet there
We knew one of the street performers and therefore went for many years in North Carolina. We enjoyed watching the juggling show “London Broil” and the irreverent comedy duo of “Hey Nunny Nunny.” At one London Broil I had the rare privilege of being called up on stage while they threw machetes around me.
We have attended the Minnesota RenFest for 4 of the last 5 years, once in the pouring rain. The Minnesota RenFest is different. The shows are more serious, the food is better, and there are dogs – a lot of dogs. We toyed with idea of bringing ours but we didn’t want our arms jerked out of our sockets as they enjoyed the plethora of smells. Also, I was a little concerned that they would chase down one of the little tortoises pulling a cart (donations benefit the herpetological association!) and try to eat it.  So, dog-less, we enjoyed mead and hair-braiding, looked at snakes and turtles, watched people play chess, watch a sheep -herding demonstration, and generally enjoyed being away from Roch for a day.
We wanted a picture, and naturally you can’t take a picture at a Renaissance Festival without a photo bomb. I thought it was icing on the cake personally 🙂
Can’t wait for next year!!!

Dr. Boswell’s Day Off

Last Saturday was my husband’s day off. He works 6 days on, one day off, and most days are 12 hour shifts. The old guard of docs would shake their heads if they read this: “that’s nothing! Why when I was a whippersnapper intern we worked 120 hour shifts…”

And that was terrible, and this is better, but still rough! He deserved a real day off. So we slept in and went to Red Lobster for endless shrimp. I got a strawberry mojito and it was delicious. Lime, strawberries and mint… I’ve never enjoyed a regular mojito as they are too savory, but this was a delicious echo of the frozen mango mojito I enjoyed at the Grand Wailea in Maui. Sweet and herbilicious.

But I digress. After endless shrimp, we were full and needed a turn in the fresh air. Where better than Silver Lake,
Rochwster’s Central Park? We were thrilled to find the boating place open and we got a paddle boat and went for a spin.

The view from the boat!

The paddleboat has a little motor so we didnt have to do ALL the work. The breeze on the lake was pleasant. We rented for a half hour but once we were out we couldn’t turn back until we had navigated the canals all the way to Mayo park. There is something fun about seeing the city from another angle and of course we caught a glimpse of this mysterious symbol on one of the bridge buttresses.


After a rest we went over to a friend’s house for dinner, Sequence and our first taste of Chocowine. Note: Chocowine is wine-flavored Bailey’s.

All in all, Saturday was a great day off for both of us. Aaaand back to the grind!!


I heard about the Spam museum soon after we moved to Rochester, but I never could get anyone to visit with me. It doesn’t help that most of my amazing friends are fabulously healthy and wouldn’t stoop to eating “mystery meat in a can.” (Some wouldn’t eat meat at all!)

But last week, my grandparents came and they thought the Spam museum sounded like fun. So we made the 45 minute trek to Austin, MN to Hormel’s free and very interactive SPAM museum. We walked into the fabulous blue and yellow building and found… a great museum! A wall of SPAM cans, a movie about the history and marketing of the product (it really is pork and ham!), a cooking corner with chefs from around the world preparing the product, a place to try on the heavy metal mesh gloves that factory workers wear… Pretty fun! Plus it pulled up some great memories. My grandparents reminisced about eating fried spam during the war days when the meat was rationed and my grandmother recalled her mother heating up Dinty Moore stew.

For me the most intriguing part was a video about the Hormel Girls, an all-girl band/singing/dance troupe that did publicity for Hormel in the early 50’s. This article tells the story. I can imagine how interesting that must have been. The travel! The music! The drama! (Can you imagine the PMS?!)

By the end of the museum, after looking at pictures and movies of food, we were ravenous. But there are no free samples at this museum. So we took a picture:


Then we headed across the street to Olivia’s. While it doesn’t say so on their menu, you can substitute spam for any meat. (Spam burger… Spam ‘n eggs.. Spam, spam, spam and potatoes… )

I really enjoyed this visit. Whether you love it or loathe it, spam is part of our American food ways. So don’t be a judger. Put on your cultural relativism hat and give it a try!

Note: they do have lite, reduced sodium and turkey spam for those of you who want to be a little healthier. For the gourmands there are garlic, black pepper, jalapeño, bacon and probably many more.

Coming soon: will Ariel master her new musubi maker? Stay tuned to find out…

Fair Fun

Last Friday, Chris took me to the fair. And we had a BLAST. We got wristbands so we could do unlimited rides and made good use of that. A few years ago I said I would never do rides again because they had made me so nauseous but Chris convinced me to try them again, and I enjoyed them!

We did the tower drop twice. I love this ride – you ratchet up, slowly, slowly, looking out over the sprawl of fair rides and RVs, coming eye level with a helicopter, filled with a growing sense of dread
with no warning you plummet almost to the ground. I always scream.

The Ring of Fire (hanging upsidedown) and the Remix (whirling around) made me feel pretty dizzy and sick to my stomach, but I felt better after I ate some tamales from El Carambas (go figure!)

And it wouldn’t be a fair for me without a ride on the Ferris Wheel:


Chris and I walked around the buildings and checked out the quilts, flower arrangements and the vegetables and fruits. In previous years I have sweltered during the fair, so this time I was wearing shorts and a Tshirt. Perfect for July, right?

Wrong! It was like 50 degrees. I was shivering and had goosebumps. We ducked into the commercial tent for warmth.., and ended up with a Costco membership!!

We ate a tasty Minneapple fried apple pie. So tasty!!! Then we stopped by the petting zoo on our way out, where Chris’s picture with a goat got “photo bombed” by a lady in pink:


Afterwards we headed to Costco to enjoy our new membership, our “souvenir,” and gloat over all the things we could buy.

The fair is great for a number of reasons. It is a rare, once-a-year celebration of place, where farmers and 4H-ers mingle with the “cityfolk” and Rochester’s agricultural heritage is on display. In addition, the fair is perfect for families of all ages. Kids pet the animals and make sand art, young people ride the rides, older people listen to music at the beer garden, and everyone watches the tractor pull.

There are many other fairs in Minnesota, but the best fair is your own!

Wild Goose Chase… And Other Attractions

Last week my sister Anna visited us for a few days. We had a great time seeing the Rochester sights. On Tuesday we visited Niagara Cave, about an hour south of Rochester. This underground system was discovered when a couple pigs fell into a sinkhole about 80 years ago. We climbed down a long, long staircase into the damp depths and followed our guide to the waterfall, then along a circituous route to see some living cave rocks. Carlsbad this is not, but for a cave in the middle of a field in Minnesota… it’s neat! Warning: lots of walking and stair-climbing involved.

Adjoining the cave is the basic putt-putt course, which Anna and I also tried out.


Anna and I by the putt-putt course

After the long drive home, we curled up and watched Men In Black 3. The next day, Anna and I did what I call the Wild Rochester Goose Chase, taking photographs with the various goose statues around town. Back in 2009, the Art Center sponsored this brilliant project called The Goose Is Loose and now there are “art geese” at important Rochester locales all over town. Here is our first stop at the Olmsted County History Center:


We took pictures with about 6 of the 18, so there are a lot left to go. One of the most beautiful is located in the patient cafeteria in Gonda, made with the help of the Mayo engineering department and with glass taken from Mayo construction site work. The “Goose Chase” a great way to spend a day and you can drive all over the city (though many are within a reasonable radius of downtown). We were so dedicated that we went all the way to the airport for a picture. The map for goose locations is here. (Note: the RCTC and UCR geese are not where it says they are. Also, the Custom Alarm goose is outside.)

I had a great time with Anna and look forward to completing the photo Goose Chase with my next willing victim – I mean, visitor. Who’s with me?!!

Cleaning Sprees!

Last Saturday we rented a truck and our friends helped us move all our furniture to our new place. (How did we acquire so much furniture?!) On Wednesday we had a mad cleaning frenzy at our townhouse to get rid of 4 years of stains and grime in the hopes of regaining some of our security deposit. And today we had a mad cleaning frenzy to get ready for our golden retriever rescue home visit.

This is what our kitchen looked like this morning:


And this is what it looked like right before our home visit:


Chris did a great job!! Our house is starting to look like a home. Well the upstairs living area does, every other room is full of boxes.

We’ll get there!

Attitude and Gratitude

Have you ever had an “attitude attack?” I sure have. Those mornings when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and just feel negative all day. When everything sets me  off. When  nobody can do anything right. When the world just seems bound and determined to upset me. I think I’m a pretty easy going person, but some days I’m just downright irritable. I try not to snap at people – my behavior should be within my control even if my emotions aren’t – but I’m not always successful. My emotions are like the weather, somewhat predictable but not entirely controllable. Circumstances, hormones, cloudy skies… everything contributes to a bad attitude.

But today I’m having a “gratitude attack.” Everything is making me feel grateful. And believe me it’s not the beautiful weather we’re having because… it’s not beautiful. It’s drippy and rainy and gray. OK, so I’m not grateful for the weather, but here are some things I’m grateful for:

1) My amazing husband who in addition to all the other wonderful things he does, like buying me cute clothes and cooking delicious lemon meringue pies, CLEANED the toilets. Yes, you read that right, he took the chore I most dislike (tied with ironing which I never do… but that’s another post) and he volunteered to do it and did it! To paraphrase Proverbs “a good and capable spouse who can find? He is more valuable than rubies!”

2) My family, as previously mentioned, is awesome and I’m really looking forward to seeing them in the next week (and then again in May and June!) I am thankful for them and for their kindness to us and their willingness to visit. And our family of friends, who hang out with us at all hours and are loving and involved and help us become better people.

3) Rochester. Yes, as I ran my errands today in what has become a dear and familiar town, I thought about what a great place this is. (See? God made me grateful for something I was questioning earlier!) Rochester is a wonderful place and deserves its own blog post.

4)  My car (which just got a clean bill of health from the dealer). I must confess I’ve never named my white soft-top Toyota RAV4 – no offense but I just don’t get the naming of inanimate objects. I don’t think my parents feel the need either, after all they debated nicknaming their white Toyota Previa “the beluga” or “the jelly bean!”  But my RAV nonetheless has a personality for me. It’s a bare bones, hard working, tough, reliable, scrappy (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) little thing. Despite being rear ended a couple times and having the hood fly up on the highway, we’ve done pretty good. I’ve had this car for 3/7 of my life and I’m thankful to have such a good car. It’s not the prettiest thing on the lot, but it’s solid.

5) My job. I really like where I work, and the different people I work with, and the job I do. I even enjoy the (occasionally crazy) pace.

Well those are a few of the things I am feeling blessed by, and next time I have an “attitude attack” hopefully I will have the sense to look at this list.

Houses Across the Country

I’ve already talked about how different areas of the United States respond to snow. Recently, through discussions with family members, I have been thinking about how dramatically different houses (and labels for houses) are in different parts of the country.

This is mostly related to geography, of course. Is the land swampy or dry? Can you have a basement without it flooding immediately? Do things rot so fast that houses have to be made of brick to last more than ten years? The different kinds of houses in the place you grow up affects your own expectations of a house. Adjusting to the selection in a new place can be extremely difficult.

From five months to eight years, I grew up in a ranch-style house in California. It was a great house as I can see now – close to a park, lots of amazing plants, pretty good neighbors (except they did light the dog on fire by accident)… But when we went to visit my grandparents, I was always enchanted by their multiple story house and basement. What was a basement?! What was a second story?! I wanted stairs. They seemed so glamorous.

I got stairs when we moved to Houston. The three houses we lived in over the 11 years of our “Texidency” were all two-story brick buildings. A basement? In swampy, floody Houston? Ha! An attic? Is that what you call the little space above the ceiling that’s carpeted in fiberglass and soars to 400 degrees in the summer? Yeah, we have one of those.

I only ever lived in dorms and apartments in North Carolina, so I can’t really speak to the style of houses. But in Minnesota, there are a lot of basements. In fact, the most popular style in Rochester appears to be “split foyer” or “bi-level split.” (Apparently this saves money in the building – less building above the ground.)

My husband grew up in Virginia and has had to adjust to the difference Minnesota housing. To him, a ranch style house was always a “long, one-story” house. He’s accustomed to two story houses and only saw basements in older houses in Virginia.  What’s a bi-level split and why is it so popular?

In fact, when we talked with a realtor in another city, she mentioned that Rochester is known for its split foyers. This is probably related to the continuous presence of residents looking for affordable housing.

The type of house you are accustomed to affects your experience. Are you used to coming in, taking off your shoes, then trotting up the stairs to deposit your coat? Are you ready to move between the kitchen upstairs and the hang-out room downstairs? Are you willing to have your bedroom in the basement?

We have just begun the house-looking process, and I’m sure I will have more notes on this issue as our search progresses. For now, let’s just say this: every place is different. Adjusting to the different houses in different areas isn’t just a matter of environment or real estate or comfort. It’s a matter of culture.